Check out this photo by my buddy Kristian shot an instant before Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen crossed the finish line in Clovis on Wednesday afternoon.
Cavendish won the race by inches, and he very well could have lost it by relaxing like he did here. You can bet Bob Stapleton showed the finish line video to this cocky young Brit. Ironically, Team Columbia High Road provided this wonderful quote from Cavendish in tonight’s press kit:
“This win was massive for me and for the team,” continued Cavendish. “I was really driven and I wanted this win bad. The team stayed so well together on every climb and it played into our ends today.”
The majestic views of the field flying along with the snow-capped Sierra Mountains in the backdrop amidst brilliant blue skies and sun made for a perfect day of racing.
“The scenery on the course is awesome,” said race leader Levi Leipheimer. “It’s very pretty and there were a ton of people, even in the snow, cheering for us.”
Jason McCartney (USA) of Saxo Bank drove several early moves, finally getting clear at the 26-mile mark with Serge Pauwels (BEL) of Cervelo Test Team and Rock Racing’s Tyler Hamilton (USA). Hamilton’s teammate Francisco Mancebo (ESP) joined the break as well, hoping to defend his sprint and KOM jerseys.
The first dry day of the race was marred by serious injuries to three high-profile riders: Kim Kirchen (LUX) of Team Columbia-Highroad fractured his right clavicle and scapula and Oscar Friere (ESP) of Rabobank fractured two ribs on his left side when about a dozen riders, including Floyd Landis, touched wheels and went down together in a heap. Scott Nydam (USA) of the BMC Racing Team fractured his left clavicle in a later crash. Eight other riders also dropped out on Stage 4 due to injury and exhaustion, leaving 108 cyclists to start Stage 5 in Visalia.
As the peloton continued their charge, Cavendish’s confidence grew. Mancebo stayed up front long enough to consolidate his leads, then retreated to the field to give teammate Hamilton a shot at staying away. The lead quickly climbed to more than five minutes with 50 miles to go, but with the mountains and motivated sprinters behind, the breakaway had no chance. They were finally swallowed by the fast-moving peloton at the Clovis city limits, where the Cervelo Test Team pulled to the front. But, Team Columbia-Highroad’s infamous sprinter Cavendish quickly took over for the win.
“I was looking after so well after the climbs; my team really put me in a perfect position,” said Cavendish. “Mark Renshaw (Team Columbia-Highroad) helped me; it was the first time we got the lead-out right.”
In what was a photo-finish bunch sprint to the “gateway to the sierras,” Boonen took second and Juan Jose (J.J.) Haedo (ARG) of Saxo Bank took third.