Another day in the Californian sun, and another win for Mark Cavendish. The British sprinter makes a habit of winning in batches and so it was here as he took sprint win number two into Paso Robles.
At the end of the race's longest stage the last few kilometres were again a battle of the lead out trains, and again Columbia came out on top, putting Cavendish in the perfect position to kick for the line.
Once again Cavendish had to overcome Tom Boonen, but after the Belgian pushed him so close yesterday, Cavendish made sure of it today staying well ahead with Boonen glued to his back wheel all the way up the finishing straight.
"I was on Mark?s wheel and the guy just kept speeding up, it was impossible to pass him," Boonen said. "If Mark starts his sprint under perfect conditions like he did today then it?s almost impossible to pass him. But it?s the same with me, it?s the same with [Oscar] Freire, there are only four or five sprinters in the world that when they start sprinting it?s impossible to pass them.
"They have to make a mistake. Today I was waiting for him to lose some speed, but it didn?t happen, he kept accelerating and that?s when you know you?re beaten."
Mindful of how close Boonen had come to pipping him on the line yesterday in Clovis, Cavendish didn?t take any chances today. "I had to sprint extra hard today," Cavendish said. "I could see a shadow to my right and I thought it was Tom coming round me, but I?ve just watched the video and I was actually sprinting against my own shadow."
Cavendish rises to second in list of all-time British pro winners>>
Resting his head against the microphone for periods in the press conference, Cavendish admitted to feeling the previous day?s efforts, but the severity of this year?s Tour of California should be perfect preparation for his assault on the Tour de France?s green jersey this July.
"It?s been a hard tour with the bad weather, the speed this year and the standard of the field," said Cavendish. "The parcours has been a lot better than it has been in the past and it?s starting to get tiring, but it?s the same for everyone."
Today?s challenge came in the form of a well drilled six-man break that built up a maximum lead of eight minutes. With the route taking the field of 108 riders across long, straight, wind swept roads that cut straight through textbook American scenery the bunch was always going to reel them in. But the effort took its toll as weaker riders at the back let wheels go as splits opened up.
Levi Leipheimer retains the overall lead going in to tomorrow's crucial time trial around Solvang. Although the two-time winner has looked like the strongest rider in this year?s race he has three strong time trailers poised behind him in the form of Michael Rogers, David Zabriskie and Lance Armstrong.
Although the final two stages of the nine-day race are far from formalities, whoever comes out of Friday's 24km time trial in the lead will be hard to shift. Could Armstrong do it? In his former career, making up a deficit of 30 seconds in a tt wouldn't be out of the question, even over such a short distance, but it might be too much to ask of him this week.
Win or not, he's unlikely to drop down the general classification, and considering the opposition he's faced this week, he's already shown that his powers are far from on the wane.
Cavendish also secured the lead in the points competition, meaning he'll wear the green Herbalife sprint leader's jersey in Friday's time trial.
Get involved with the ToC chat on the CW forum>>
Mark Cavendish sprints ahead of Tom Boonen in the fifth stage of the 2009 Tour of California in to Paso Robles. Picture by Graham Watson.
Tour of California stage five: results
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-Highroad 216.1km in 5-07-28
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3. Pedro Horrillo (Esp) Rabobank
4. Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas
5. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo
6. Sebastian Haedo (Arg) Colavita
7. Freddy Rodriguez (USA) Rock Racing
8. Martin Elminger (Sui) AG2R
9. Bernard Sulzberger (Aus) Fly V Australia
10. Karl Menzies (Aus) Ouch all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana in 23-41-20
2. Michael Rogers (Aus) Columbia-Highroad at 24 secs
3. David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 28 secs
4. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 30 secs
5. Christopher Horner (USA) Astana at 34 secs
6. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana at 38 secs
7. Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Columbia-Highroad at same time
8. Jose Rubiera (Spa) Astana at same time
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at same time
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 39 secs
77. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 29-30
Sunshine at last on stage five
Crazy eagle man accompanies the peloton. His horns and flag seem to get bigger every year
Ivan Basso and Lance Armstrong have a chat
Jeff Louder (BMC) heads the six-man break that was away for most of the day, but were reeled in by the sprinters' teams
2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA: LINKS
Stage four: Cavendish battles over hills to wins stage
Stage three: Hushovd sprints home
Stage two: Leipheimer takes the lead
Stage one: Mancebo's stage one win raises Puerto demons
Prologue: Cancellara Express derails the Armstrong show
NEWS & FEATURES
Armstrong's time trial bike handed in to police
Boonen set to ride Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne after Tour of California
Cancellara abandons Tour of California
Armstrong's bike stolen in California
Cavendish poised to take leaders jersey
Tour of California blog
Armstrong and Astana train for Tour of California
Mark Cavendish: Rider Profile
Lance Armstrong: Rider Profile
Cycling Weekly photo gallery
2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA PREVIEW
2009 Tour of California race preview
Start list: all the riders
Team list: all the squads
2009 TOUR OF CALIFORNIA STAGES
Saturday, February 14 Prologue details
Sunday, February 15 Stage one details
Monday, February 16 Stage two details
Tuesday, February 17 Stage three details
Wednesday, February 18 Stage four details
Thursday February 19 Stage five details
Friday, February 20 Stage six details
Saturday, February 21 Stage seven details
Sunday, February 22 Stage eight details
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