Reporting from Sacramento -- Mark Cavendish, the brash 24-year-old sprinter for the California-based HTC-Columbia cycling team, sat up in his bike, first as he predicted, after the first stage of the Amgen Tour of California on Sunday. Cavendish finished the 104.2-mile trip from Nevada City to Sacramento in 4 hours 4 minutes 6 seconds, just ahead of Juan Jose Haedo of Saxo Bank.
The route encompassed rolling hills and tricky turns, and the closing circuit, three times around downtown Sacramento, produced two crashes within the final mile and a half.
One of those crashes took down, among others, U.S. national champion George Hincapie riding for his new BMC team and former Tour de France sprint-stage winner Tom Boonen of Belgium. Boonen left the course with big chunks of his shoulder, forearm, thigh and leg missing, and Hincapie bounced on his back and head and cracked his helmet.
Most of the top overall contenders, including three-time champion Levi Leipheimer and his RadioShack teammate Lance Armstrong, stayed out of trouble and were careful to conserve energy.
RadioShack director Johan Bruyneel said, “Our objective today was not to lose time [to contenders] and not to crash. Fortunately, seven of our eight didn’t crash. Only Chris Horner did, but no injuries. So all was OK.”
Armstrong, who is riding his second Tour of California in support of Leipheimer, made his only race comment via Twitter, where he said, “I was blown away by the amount of spectators along the route — impressive! Congrats to Cav.”
Runner-up Haedo said his objective had been to beat Cavendish, but at the end Haedo didn’t have the legs. “To beat Mark Cavendish is not as easy as it looks on TV,” Haedo said.
Cavendish would like to take another win in Monday’s 109.5-mile stage from Davis to Santa Rosa so he can hawk his new book. The British star eagerly held up his autobiography, “Boy Racer,” after his third stage win in two years here, eager to tell a U.S. audience that it’s now available in the States.
Race director Andrew Messick noted that the crowds on the roads Sunday were large and enthusiastic. “I’ve never seen more people on a stage in the U.S.,” Messick said.
Cavendish agreed. “It’s cool to be here with all the people,” he said. “It was crazy on the last circuit, but we made it through all the crashes, so I’m happy about that.”