In a new feature, the Cyclingnews team pick their rider of the day from the Tour of California. Mark Cavendish is the fourth rider to be chosen, and we will be selecting a rider after each stage.
It's not every day that one of the top sprinters in the world decides to jump into the breakaway halfway through a stage race. The sprinter's job is to wait patiently in the bunch, shielded from the wind while his teammates grind away on the front, chasing down the day's escapees in the final kilometers so the fast man can go to work in the last few hundred metres. Mark Cavendish blew that model apart on Wednesday during stage 4 from Morro Bay to Laguna Seca Raceway.
Cavendish trails only Wednesday stage winner Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in career stage wins at the Tour of California, with nine victories to his credit in the Golden State. But while Sagan has won two stages so far this year, Cavendish has struggled with the increased climbing of the 2016 route. His best finish so far this year was 31st on stage 1.
Wednesday's effort may have looked to some like an attempt to salvage some pride, or possibly just a chance to shake things up in a week that may not have gone to plan so far. But Cavendish said his escape was about setting up his teammate Nathan Haas with a chance for the final sprint [Haas finished third behind Sagan and BMC's Greg Van Avermaet – ed.] and flying the Dimension Data colours on TV in support of the Qhubeka charity that lies at the heart of his South African-based team.
"We had a good card to play with Nathan Haas in the final, which he wanted to but we didn't want to have to ride to do that, because we wanted as many guys as possible in the final to help him," Cavendish said in the post-stage press conference. "So the option to support that was to get in the break."
Cavendish is quite familiar with California's scenic Highway 1, which comprised most of the route for stage 4 up the California coast, and he was "virtually" familiar with the finish at the legendary racetrack outside of Monterey. So, despite the breakaway's inability to stick it to the line, Haas podium finish and a beautiful route with a unique finish made for a special day
"I've raced many times on Highway 1 there," Cavendish said. "It's one of the most spectacularly scenic routes in the world there. Normally we come form north to south, so this is the first time I've ridden north up it. So I know it quite well from the many times we did the Amgen Tour of California, and many times in training as well when I spent time here.
"To come here and finish at Laguna Seca was quite special," he said. "I'm a massive moto bike fan. Moto GP is not here anymore, but Super Bike is. I've always wanted to come here, you know. I play around here on my Playstation, and I couldn't help but just go a little bit fast down the corkscrew there in the final even though we were a little bit behind. It's really nice to be here and to finish a stage here on a world famous moto circuit.
Pat Malach Says:
When race radio started reading off the numbers of the riders in the breakaway, I thought maybe there had been a mistake, because dossard No. 31 belongs to Mark Cavendish, and they were saying he was off the front in a group of seven. But it obviously wasn't a mistake when they repeated the numbers several more times. Cavendish had indeed made the escape after a very difficult hour of racing. It's rare to see a sprinter of his calibre sneak off the front in a road race, so watching the Manxman, who certainly did not shirk any turns on the front of that group, sneak away and try to win a stage in a new way made for plenty of chatter in the press room and a fun day of racing.
Ted Burns Says:
A sprinter's luck can be fickle, and it's always interesting to see how they respond when things aren't going their way. To see Mark Cavendish, one of the sport's biggest stars, make his way into the daily breakaway made for an exciting and entertaining race. As we've seen with this parcours, you never know when a move might stick, so why not take a gamble. Cav's willingness to put his nose in the wind is the sign of a good teammate with an unrelenting desire to win.