In a Who's Who of top sprinters in the Tour of California, the "Manx Express" Mark Cavendish (Columbia) took the stage today ahead of rivals Tom Boonen (QuickStep) and JJ Haedo (Saxobank), who has the most stage wins in this Tour's history.
Stage Four today had many small mountains to climb, a total of five in succession in the middle of the stage.
The beginning of the race was very dicey, as attack after attack came from the peloton before the final breakaway of the day stuck. The KOM and Sprints leader Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing), teammate and US Champion Tyler Hamilton, Jason McCartney (Saxo Bank) and Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam) set off.
Mancebo took maximum points on the the first two mountains and the first sprint points to pad his lead in both competitions. He subsequently dropped out of the breakaway and headed back to the peloton since he was a threat to Levi Leipheimer's (Astana) overall lead and the breakaway was not building up any time advantage.
With Mancebo back in the pack, the breakaway leaders built up a lead of over five minutes.
Snow-covered roads on the last KOM made the riding difficult, and sprinter Oscar Friere (Rabobank) and Columbia's GC contender Kim Kirchen crashed and abandoned the race.
With the mountains behind them, the sprint teams chased down the breakaway in earnest, and caught them with a few kilometers left.
Happy to reverse his misfortunes yesterday, where Team Columbia's leadout train got dismantled by other riders, Mark Cavendish did a textbook sprint and won the day, ahead of Boonen and Haedo. Yesterday's winner Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) came in fourth.
Leipheimer stayed safe in his leader's yellow jersey today.
Also, congratulations to Velonews.com's race announcer Jim Sumner for correctly predicting today's podium in the correct order.