CLOVIS (February 18, 2009)
Considered by many as the world's fastest cyclist, Mark Cavendish (GBR) of Team Columbia-Highroad sprinted to an impressive win in Stage 4 of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California. Two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Astana was able to retain the overall lead and will wear the Amgen Leader Jersey heading into Stage 5 of the race. The impressive and challenging Stage 4 course, which took the riders from Merced to Clovis, included five King of the Mountain (KOM) and two sprint competitions.
After a fast and furious start to the race, which began with immediate attacks, Cavendish celebrated a narrow victory over Tom Boonen (BEL) of Quick Step.
"This win was massive for me and for the team," said 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."
Though the 115.8-mile stage saw no major changes in the overall general classification, the field faced multiple challenging aspects, including the five categorized climbs between the morning start in Merced and the final flat run-in to the finish line in Clovis.
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 Leipheimer. "It's very pretty and there were a ton of people, even in the snow, cheering for us. I think it's great that the Amgen Tour of California can come to new places and spread the word."
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; Oscar Friere (ESP) of Rabobank fractured two ribs on his left side; and Scott Nydam (USA) of the BMC Racing Team fractured his left clavicle.
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.
The only change in the jerseys is to Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer™ Most Courageous Rider Jersey, which was awarded to Hamilton. The other jersey winners remain unchanged with Leipheimer in the Amgen Leader Jersey, Robert Gesink (NED) of Rabobank in the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey and Mancebo in the Herbalife Sprint Jersey. Mancebo also retains the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey, but McCartney, who is second in the KOM competition overall, will wear the jersey tomorrow, since Mancebo will be wearing the Herbalife Sprint Jersey.
"When we were planning for the inaugural race in 2004, our vision was to become the greatest race," said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports. "One that was important to cyclists and teams and important on the global cycling calendar, and I think we are making progress. It has been a difficult race so far, but the crowds have been fantastic, we are broadcasting in more than 200 countries, we are on live television, reaching more than 200 million households."
"Amgen has delivered on the promise of biotechnology by discovering and developing innovative and vital medicines that have helped millions of patients fight cancer, kidney disease and other serious illnesses," said Stuart Arbuckle, vice president and general manager of Oncology Business Unit, Amgen. "Through the Amgen Tour of California sponsorship, we are able to raise awareness of the medical breakthroughs possible through biotechnology while also helping support cancer patients and caregivers through the Breakaway from Cancer™ initiative."
Amgen created the national Breakaway from Cancer initiative in 2005 as a complementary component to its sponsorship of the inaugural Amgen Tour of California. The Breakaway from Cancer initiative is designed to empower patients by connecting them to education, resources and hope.
Amgen invited local cancer survivors to participate in start activities in Merced, and in Clovis cancer survivor Lisa Burnett had the honor of awarding Hamilton Amgen's Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider jersey.
For the latest information on Breakaway from Cancer and ways to support those living with the illness, visit www.breakawayfromcancer.com