Britain's Cavendish wins first stage with help from his team

05/17/2010 5:43 AM

05/20/2010 1:08 AM

Mark Cavendish stuck to the plan, let his HTC-Columbia teammates do the work and then let loose with a finishing sprint to win the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday.

The 24-year-old British sprinter beat J.J. Haedo of Saxo Bank by less than a bike length in the 104.3-mile jaunt from Nevada City to Sacramento, with Alexander Kristoff third.

Sacramento police estimated the crowd within the city limits at 100,000.

Cavendish, whose unofficial finishing time was 4 hours, 4 minutes and 45 seconds, then donned the leader's yellow jersey, which he will wear in today's second stage from Davis to Santa Rosa.

"I'm lucky I can trust these guys in front of me," Cavendish said of his teammates. "They performed near perfectly."

The peloton reeled in a breakaway of four riders as it roared down Folsom Boulevard in east Sacramento. That set up a finishing sprint, with HTC Columbia moving to the front for the three 2-mile laps around the state Capitol.

"It's seven weeks to go for the Tour de France and it gave the team confidence," said Cavendish, a 10-time Tour de France stage winner.

Three-time defending race winner Levi Leiphiemer (RadioShack) and teammate Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, finished safely in the main field in the same time as the winner.

Five riders, including former world titlists Tom Boonen (Quick Step) of Belgium and Stuart O'Grady of Australia crashed on the final circuit. But all of the fallen riders finished and were given the same time as the winner.

Cavendish, who claimed his third career stage in the race's five-year history, stayed behind several teammates as the field of 128 riders approached the beginning of the three final circuits around the State Capitol. He then moved to the front inside the final half-mile and was briefly but unsuccessfully challenged by Haedo.

Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Marc De Maar (United Healthcare) both of the Netherlands and Americans Chad Beyer (BMC) and Paul Mach (Bissell) emerged from the field after about 10 miles.

The foursome built more than a five-minute lead and rode at the front for 84 miles and nearly four hours before being caught about 10 miles from the finish.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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