Manxman Cavendish out-paced sprint rival and the previous day's stage winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) to win, with Sagan also being bettered on the line by Belgian Zico Waeytens (Giant-Alpecin) in second. Cavendish's win means that he extends his points classification lead over Sagan - it's also his 12th victory of the season, no rider has won more in 2015.
Cavendish commented on the day's grim conditions after the stage: "The thing is, when you're going so fast there's the wind chill as well. It's one thing to be wet and to be cold when you're wet, but with the wind coming on you're freezing to the absolute bone. But it was good," said Cavendish. "It was also nice to see so many people out here despite the weather."
"It was a bit hectic in the last kilometre and Mark Renshaw was cooked, so we couldn't go as fast as we wanted in the end. It was a headwind finish, and I knew I didn't want to jump early. Waeytens went first and I timed it well enough to catch him before the line."
Latvian Toms Skujins (Hincapie Racing) held on to his overall race lead, now just 18 seconds ahead of Sagan after you factor in the Slovakian national champion's time bonus for finishing third. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) moves up to third, with British national champion Peter Kennaugh (Sky) now in ninth.
Skujins's Hincapie team had done a good job of chasing the day's escape group down with some help from Cavendish's Etixx squad, and despite a crash in the final six kilometres the majority of the peloton held together for a bunch finish.
>>> Tour of California time trial stage relocated due to snow
The riders now face a revised individual time trial stage on Friday. An adverse weather forecast for snow and low temperatures has meant that the stage has been moved from Big Bear Lake to Santa Clarita in the interests of rider, team and spectator safety. The American stage race concludes on Sunday.
Tour of California 2015, stage five: Santa Barbara to Santa Clarita, 156km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Etixx-QuickStep
2. Zico Waeytens (Bel) Giant-Alpecin
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo
4. Jean-Piere Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing
5. Danny van Poppel (Ned) Trek Factory Racing
6. Guillaume Boivin (Can) Optum
7. John Murphy (USA) UnitedHealthcare
8. Matthew Goss (Aus) MTN-Qhubeka
9. Mike Teunissen (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo
10. Justin Oien (USA) Axeon all same time
Overall classification after stage five
1. Toms Skujins (Lat) Hincapie Racing
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo at 18 secs
3. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx-QuickStep at 44 secs
4. Robert Gesink (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo at 47 secs
5. Dion Smith (NZl) Hincapie Racing at 47 secs
6. Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing at 47 secs
7. Lawson Craddock (USA) Giant-Alpecin at 47 secs
8. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo at 47 secs
9. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky at 47 secs
10. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) UnitedHealthcare at 47 secs
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