Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A day for the sprinters

Stage 4 of the Tour of California began in San Jose and snaked it's way along the torturous Mines Road, before heading downhill into Patterson and finishing with two circuits of Modesta, which was sure to see the sprinters shine. Early speculation had this stage earmarked as one for Cavendish to take. With 40 switchbacks along the way, this was definately a technical stage, making for spectacular riding.

Earlier in the day across the pond in Italy, a breakaway of 56 riders with a 17 minute lead proved that anything can happen in cycling and while Cavendish himself had already stated that he wanted this stage for himself, there must have been quiet voices reminding the teams that anything can happen.

A four man breakaway was kept on a tight leash of 5.30 minutes as the pelaton headed into the last 90 km. At 68 km Garmin and HTC Columbia worked together to close in on the breakaway well before the descent. Cavendish looked comfortable at 65km sharing a joke with a team mate as they worked to bring the time gap down to 4.10 to ensure the much-awaited sprint in Modesta. With less than 50 km to go the time gap came down to 2.55 as the scenary changed from dry wasteland to a more urban setting and the crowds started to gather on the sides of roads to watch the pelaton thunder by. With 42.50km left, the roads opened up and the crosswinds were evident. As the field came into the area of Patterson the roads were jammed with spectators as the scenery changed once again to a real All-American sub-urban highway with big wide roads that really gave HTC-Columbia and Garmin a chance to dig back into the time gap that had slowed to 3.15 minutes as they prepared for the possibilty of headwinds and crosswinds in the open countryside. At 37km a major crash took out many of the Radioshack team but most got away unscathed. By 33.80km most had managed to pace themselves back into the main fold as the panic subdued and the pack prepared for an almost inevitable bunch sprint. At 31km the pelaton was fractured by the winds but mist of the main contenders, having avoided the earlier crash, were right up front working hard to reduce the time deficit to 1.40 by 30km.

Stuart O'Grady and the ever-present Lance Armstrong joined the foremost group headed by Cavendish and 4 of his HTC-Columbia leadout men and the Garmin boys and by 28km the gap was down to 50 seconds. With 40 seconds to the breakaway and 27km to the finish the pelaton were whole once more, a beautifully-colourful swarm ever gaining on the 4 brave riders who had spent so long out in front.

A little game of cat and mouse amongst the breakaway boys gave a little light relief and comedy before the unevitable drama that would unfold in around 25km time but also stretched the time gap back out to a minute. At 17km Lance Boon kicked away from the breakaway in a possible brave bid for glory. But with the main field closing in it seemed unlikely he could maintain the pace needed to ensure victory. At 14.90km the main field caught the first of the breakaway boys just before the right hand turn into Modesto. At 13.70 Van de Walle and Britton caught up with Boon and at 11.80 the gap was knocked right down to 30 seconds. At the 10 km marker the gap was down to 25 seconds and Boon was off again in a desperate bid for glory as the swarming pelaton brought the time down to 15 seconds. At 8km they caught Britton and Van de Walle, leaving the lone Boon with just 10 seconds until he was finally caught at 6.60 and HTC Columbia took controll once more, along with Cervelo team and T, Bosse. With 1.90 to go HTC Columbia hit it out to bring back Martens who made a late dash fir glory. At the last km the drama started and HTC Columbia did what they do best but it wasn't quiet enough as from out of nowhere Francesco Chicci snatched victory from Cavendish who finished third.

Once again the sprinters had their day with many well known names fighting it out in a bid to outwit HTC Columbia but a job well done for Liquigas. Zabriski stays in gold with no change to the GC.

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