Francesco Chicchi wins Stage 4; Lance Armstrong nearly crashes


Reporting from Modesto -- Francesco Chicchi needs his Italian translated into English, but his bike language says Chicchi likes racing in the United States.

The 29-year-old, who races for Liquigas-Doimo, beat out Juan Jose Haedo of Saxo Bank and sprint star Mark Cavendish of HTC-Columbia at the finish line to win Stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California on Wednesday. Chicchi won the 121.5-mile stage in a time of 4 hours 55 minutes 2 seconds.

There was no change in the overall standings, with Garmin-Transitions rider Dave Zabriskie keeping his four-second lead over Michael Rogers of HTC-Columbia and his six-second advantage over three-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer of Team RadioShack.

RadioShack’s Lance Armstrong gave the enthusiastic crowd a momentary “uh-oh” moment when he nearly crashed within the last two miles. Armstrong’s bike slammed into the curb but he didn’t hit the ground. After that Armstrong and his RadioShack teammates rolled slowly through town and safely to the finish.

Zabriskie, who lives in Los Angeles now, wore the leader jersey for his first time in this event, and it was an experience he valued.

“My mind-set today was that I’m an excited individual,” said Zabriskie, who last year won the other big U.S. race, the Tour of Missouri. “That was great,” he said, “but this is a special one for me.”

Chicchi, who also won a stage last fall in Missouri, said Wednesday’s sprint finish was special because he is a good friend of Cavendish and so he relished beating the man who won six stages of the 2009 Tour de France.

“Obviously we’re rivals on the bike,” Chicchi said. “But we’re really good friends. Winning is always good and to beat No. 1 is even better.”

Zabriskie said he especially enjoyed one perk of being the leader. He was able to stay protected near the front of the pack and watch other teams do hard work around him. He also said that so far he is enjoying the switch the race has made.

In the first four years, the Tour of California was in February, when the race was bedeviled by cold and rain.

Even though it rained continuously during Monday’s stage into Santa Rosa and sprinkled again Wednesday outside of Modesto, Zabriskie said, “It’s been a good decision. I enjoy the month of May. There’s a song about it in Camelot. It’s a great month. I’ve been enjoying the month of May.”