Cavendish Wins First Stage 2010 Amgen Tour of California

May 16, 2010 Updated: May 17, 2010

Mark Cavendish races to the finish line ahead of J.J. Haedo of Argentina of Team Saxo Bank during Stage One of the AmgenTour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Mark Cavendish races to the finish line ahead of J.J. Haedo of Argentina of Team Saxo Bank during Stage One of the AmgenTour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Mark Cavendish, HTC-Columbia’s nearly unbeatable sprinter, showed that he has returned to form after a slow start this year, winning the first stage of the 2010 Amgen Tour of California.

HTC-Columbia, which has been the most successful cycling team in the world for the past two seasons, used their precision leadout to launch Cavendish over the final half-kilometer, and when Cavendish gets a clear road, very few people in the world can keep up, let alone catch him.

Saxo-Bank rider J.J. Haedo made a terrific effort, but Cavendish has that second kick which propelled him across the line a bike-length ahead.

New Date, New Route, New Status

The Amgen Tour of California has taken a place in the pantheon of globally important bike races. The organizers took a chance this year, switching the race from its original February starting date up into May, where it is competing head-to-head with the classic Giro d’Italia.

The gamble has paid off, as many of the most popular international teams sent their best riders to compete.

Along with America stars like three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimner, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, and veteran George Hincapie, the field boasts international stars like Fabian Cancellara, Jens Voight, Andy Schleck, Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, Bernard Eisel …

Lance Armstrong of team Radio Shack rides to the start of stage one of the Tour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Lance Armstrong of team Radio Shack rides to the start of stage one of the Tour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Lance Armstrong’s new team Radio Shack turned out in force to win Levi Leipheimer his fourth Tour of California, as well as to test the team’s form and fitness preparatory to the Tour de France, where the team intends to win Armstrong his eighth Tour.

U.S. teams: Garmin-Transitions, Bissell, Jelly Belly, HTC-Columbia, Kelly Benefit Strategies, United Healthcare, Team Type 1 and of course radio Shack, make up half the field.

Quick Step, BMC, Rabobank, Cervélo, Saxo-Bank, Liquigas: teams familiar to anyone who follows European cycling—are all represented at the Tour of California.

The peloton passes through Nevada County during Stage One of the 2010 Tour of California from Nevada City to Sacramento. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The peloton passes through Nevada County during Stage One of the 2010 Tour of California from Nevada City to Sacramento. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
With the improved weather, and the new, tougher route profile, the Tour of California has stepped up to take a place as an essential event in the racing season.

The eight-day, 800-mile Tour covers the entirety of the state, with different terrains and climates. The first stage is a very fast105-mile, mostly downhill run from Nevada City to the city of Sacramento, capped with three laps within the capital city. With beautiful weather and easy access to the course, fans turned out in large numbers, lining the route from end to end.

Sprinter’s Stage

The first stage was perfectly suited for sprinters—no big climbs to sap the sprinters’ legs, and a gentle decline for the final forty miles. The only possible problem lay in the final six miles: there laps around downtown Sacramento, a very technical route that invited chaos and crashing.

The only way to avoid the melee would be to lead it, which HTC resolved to do.

Cyclists ride through downtown Nevada City at the start of Stage One of the Tour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Cyclists ride through downtown Nevada City at the start of Stage One of the Tour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
A breakaway formed about twelve miles into the stage, consisting of Maarten Tjallingi of Rabobank, Chad Beyer of BMC, Mark De Maar of United Healthcare-Maaxis, and Paul Mach of Bissell.

By the halfway point the four had a gap of nearly four minutes, but with the long flat finish and the light wind, it seemed unlikely they’d be able to stay away.

After loafing along for sixty-five miles, the peloton began to get serious about running down the break. From nearly four minutes, the gap dropped to less than three in a few miles’ time.

With thirty miles to go, HTC-Columbia moved to the head of the peloton, leading the chase. With the “Manx Missile,” Mark Cavendish on the Tour, Columbia assumed it could win the stage if it could deliver Cavendish anywhere near the front for the final kilometer. (Cavendish won five stages in the 2009 Tour de France.)

Thor Hushovd of Cervélo, one of the few riders who has beaten Cavendish in a heads-up sprint, couldn’t make the Tour because he broke his collarbone in a training accident.

Twenty-five miles out, different teams began assembling near the head of the peloton. Jelly Belly, Radio Shack and BMC moved up, waiting for a chance to attack.

The wind picked up a bit through the second half of the stage, but never became a hindrance. Different teams made small surges, trying to catch their opponents off guard when the wind direction changed. But most of the riders’ energies were focused on running down the breakaway, which was now barely a minute ahead.

The peleton rides over a bridge in Auburn, California, during stage one of the Tour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The peleton rides over a bridge in Auburn, California, during stage one of the Tour of California. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Because the final six miles were three laps around the streets of Sacramento, the sprinters needed to come to the front before the peloton entered the city. Some of the sprinters (Cervélo’s Theo Bos, Quick Step’s Tom Boonen) stayed near the back, perhaps not properly calculating the final laps.

With ten miles left, the  peloton caught the breakaway, and charged on towards Sacramento. HTC set the pace, with Radio Shack and Liquigas setting up on the flanks.

The peloton passes under a bridge in Auburn, California during Stage One of the 2010 Tour of California. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The peloton passes under a bridge in Auburn, California during Stage One of the 2010 Tour of California. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

On the Streets of the City

As the riders entered downtown Sacramento, the crowd was packed many ranks deep, cheering their favorites on. HTC continued to control the peloton, with Tejay Van Garderen leading at 35 mph.

Liquigas and BMC tried to muscle in but HTC-Columbia was simply too skilled at the game. HTC-Columbia has been the most successful team in professional cycling in the past two years, because they have trained for exactly this situation.

Finally the other teams’ sprinters started to move to the front, but they had left it too late. With two miles to go, the peloton was too chaotic for teams to line up or for sprinters to move up. The tactics that might work on a straight road were useless on the streets of Sacramento.

At the start of the final lap, Fabian Cancellarra led a contingent of Saxo-Bank riders to the head of the peloton, briefly catching HTC off guard. It suddenly seemed as if HTC had planned it wrong, and had started their charge too early.

Cancellarra had ironman Jens Voigt with him to lead out for J.J. Haedo, a serious group of riders with plenty of power and speed. But HTC simply regrouped and charged back to the front, pushing past Saxo-Bank with determination. Halfway through the lap, HTC was back in control.

The final lap saw the first crash, as United Healthcare rider Andrew Pinfold hit the pavement hard. Near the end of the final lap Tom Boonen and Saxo-Bank’s Stuart O’Grady went down. Boonen paid for waiting too long to try to move to the front.

Up front, the ending was classic HTC-Columbia: Mark Renshaw launched Mark Cavendish, and even though J.J. Haedo was right on his wheel, no one can catch a flying Cavendish. Some people call him cocky, some see him as supremely confidant, but it is undisputable that for that final five hundred meters, Mark Cavendish earned the right to call himself the fastest man on the planet.

Tomorrow’s stage, 110 miles from Davis to Santa Rosa, features four short, steep climbs interspersed with long flats through some beautiful California wine country. There is one each of a first, second, third, and a fourth-category climb.

The end of the stage is a downhill leading to another flat, so any sprinters who decided to do the work on the few steep climbs could be rewarded with another chance to show their skills.

Watch daily coverage of the Amgen Tour of California on Versus, starting at 5 p.m. each day or follow the race live each day on the Amgen Tour of California web site.

 

Top Five—First Stage 2010 Tour of California

 

Rider

Team

Time

Gap

1

Mark Cavendish

HTC-Columbia

04.04'36"

00.00'00"

2

J.J. Haedo

Saxo-Bank

04.04'40"

00.00'04"

3

Alexander Kristoff

BMC

04.04'42"

00.00'06"

4

Robbie Hunter

Garmin-Transitions

04.04'42"

00.00'06"

5

Jonathan Cantwell

Fly V Australia

04.04'43"

00.00'07"