May 12th, ’14. Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step won the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California in a very close finish. After a fierce battle for a good position in the sprint between a number of teams Cav came from behind to beat GIANT-Shimano’s John Degenkolb in the sprint with Belkin Pro Cycling’s Moreno Hofland edging out Cannondale’s Peter Sagan for third place. George Bennett put in a great ride to make the top 25 on the stage.
May 12th, ’14. Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step won the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California in a very close finish. After a fierce battle for a good position in the sprint between a number of teams Cav came from behind to beat GIANT-Shimano’s John Degenkolb in the sprint with Belkin Pro Cycling’s Moreno Hofland edging out Cannondale’s Peter Sagan for third place. The day was a good one for all of the New Zealand riders present, with each of them finishing in the bunch at the same time as Cavendish. Pick of the trio though was George Bennett who put in some sterling work for teammate Sagan in the finish and came home in the top 25 himself.
After a threatening move went clear briefly, featuring pre-race favourite Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky and Orica GreenEdge’s Matthew Goss all was together until the move of the day went clear with three riders going off the front of the bunch with around 32km of the day’s 198km around Sacramento completed. Jacob Rathe of Jelly Belly-Maxxis, Keil Reijnen of UnitedHealthcare and Bissell Development Team’s Gregory Daniel were the protagonists, with the trio working hard together; although as the kilometres ticked away Daniel and Rathe both faded. Keil Reijnen was the only one left in the end and he put in a spirited effort in the final stages of the day’s racing with the Cannondale led peloton bearing down on him. With 4km to go though he was finally caught and the field settled in for the sprint.
Cannondale looked to be the team in control with a huge train – including George Bennett – leading the way at the front of the race. But in the final lap of the short finishing circuit both Omega Pharma-Quick Step and GIANT-Shimano came through to challenge for control at the front. In the finish it looked like GIANT-Shimano had the pick of the positioning, with John Degenkolb looking extremely strong and favoured for the win. Mark Cavendish was left with it all to do, in spite of a great lead out by his train that included former world champion Tom Boonen, and he had to weave through the bikes to challenge for the win. In the end it was just a matter of tyre lengths that separated the two fast finishers; but Cavendish was the right side of them, squeezing the win; his seventh of the year.
Cavendish’s reaction summed up the closeness of the win brilliantly, “I won Milan-San Remo by 10cm and I knew I won, I lost a stage of the Giro [d’Italia] by three centimetres and I knew I had lost. Both of those, I knew the outcome. This is the first time in my career I really had no idea. I had to wait a little bit until they confirmed. So, I’m super happy,” he said. “I could feel the work we did earlier in my sprint and I could see it in the guys setting up for the sprint. But they still kept me up there and led me out perfectly. We gave a good show for Omega Pharma-Quick Step and we got the best result from our effort. I’m really proud of what we did today.”
We caught up with James Oram of the Bissell Development Team after the stage to see how he’d found the day, “Fairly uneventful for the first 140km until the road turned and we hit the crosswinds.” How did he find it racing against former world champions in the form of Thor Hushovd, Cavendish, Boonen and all the rest? “Completely different level at [the Amgen Tour of] California compared to the NRC racing here in America. Far more controlled, and when these boys turn it on, it’s much harder.” Although it’s not all hard work all day, “While the bunch is cruising along it’s easy to forget who we’re racing against, but when the pace is on it’s obvious how much experience and class these top rider have/show.”
Tomorrow sees the field take on the short 20.1km time trial around Folsom. Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky is expected to do well here, but he will come under fierce competition from US rider Taylor Phinney of BMC Racing. Also look out for New Zealand’s Jesse Sergent of Trek Factory Racing to be present at the top end of the results over an out-and-back course that’s largely flat.
By: Ed Wright