Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) started the Tour of California with a narrow victory over John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and ended the race in the same manner. An early celebration almost opened the door for Degenkolb pip the Great British national champion on the line but Cavendish held on to become the only multiple stage winner of the 2014 edition of the race.
Despite suffering a flat during the race and unsure as to whether he was even going to pin on a race number, Cavendish fought his way back to the front of the bunch and finished off his team's good work on the 122km stage around Thousand Oaks.
"To be fair I wasn't anticipating a sprint today," Cavendish said after claiming his eighth win of 2014. "I wasn't going to start today, let alone finish. But then I just thought I'd start. I'd maybe get dropped the first time, maybe do another lap for training, and then that would be it. I had a small breakfast and we started. A few guys suffered the first lap, but the second lap I actually punctured on my own at the bottom of the climb. So I had my wheel changed by neutral service and rode the second climb alone.
"But, I had good power. I was passing a lot of guys. Then over the top I could see the group and I was chasing the group. Then I got back on, on the descent. I thought if I could do that, then I've got a shot of getting over on the last lap as well. So, I just thought I would try and hang in there on the last lap. I got dropped a bit, but I had Mark Renshaw and a few strong guys from other teams with me. The guys who were with me wanted to get back on.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step had placed both Niki Terpstra and Carlos Verona in the break but when they were reeled in, it was all about delivering Cavendish to the stage win.
"Matteo Trentin put me in perfect position for the last kilometer," Cavendish said. "Niki Terpstra also did a great job. I just wanted to follow Peter [Sagan]. Then Giant-Shimano came, so I got in there, squeezed in, and that's about when Peter launched. I knew with 200 meters to go, on that finish, I would be able to to have the speed after a week's racing. So I just went and I was a bit fortunate.
It was only after replays of stage one on a phone that Cavendish knew he had the win and it was almost another photo finish today with Degenkolb once again just coming up short.
"I celebrated early and John nearly beat me," Cavendish said. "But overall I'm super happy with the group and my condition. I'm in good shape and the guys rode really incredible today. They really had some guts and I'm proud to again finish the job of a great team effort."