Mark Cavendish is now batting .600 at the Amgen Tour of California after winning his third stage in five days on a rainy Thursday in Santa Clarita.
Despite a valiant effort from Danilo Wyss (BMC) to stay away in the closing moments of the 95.7-mile stage, the sprinters and their teams were not to be denied in stage 5.
With heads bowed against the pelting rain, the peloton rushed into Santa Clarita, and, as has been the case so far this race, Etixx-Quick-Step was on the front, with Mark Renshaw leading out Cavendish.
“I had Mark Renshaw at the end, and as always he was cool and calm, but we had to dig deep,” Cavendish said. “Daniel Oss attacked in last km, and Mark was cooked, so we couldn’t go as fast as we wanted in the end. It was a headwind finish, and I knew I didn’t want to jump early. I’m super happy to get the stage win for the team today, and I will try again on Sunday.”
Though Renshaw fizzled a bit soon in the last kilometer, Cavendish was quick to jump on the wheel of Giant-Alpecin’s Zico Waeytens and re-launch his sprint to win.
Waeytens was second, and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished third.
Five riders animated the day with an escape: Wyss, Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin), Geoffrey Curran (Axeon), Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly), and Javier Megias (Novo Nordisk).
The gap held around three minutes for most of the early part of the stage.
On the category 4 Balcom Canyon climb, Chris Butler (Team SmartStop) attacked out of the field as the breakaway’s gap held around two minutes.
As the rain began to fall more heavily, Butler had a lead of about 30 seconds over the peloton and was 1:35 behind the breakaway, with 37 miles left in the stage.
Just under 30 miles to go, Butler made the catch, and the break’s gap was 1:35.
Coming off the descent of the last hill before the long run to the finish, Wyss, Howes, and Curran got a gap on their breakaway companions. Morton was 10 seconds adrift, and Butler and Megias were a further 10 seconds back with about 24 miles left.
With 20 miles to go, Morton joined the other two chasers, one minute behind the leaders, who were 2:10 ahead of the peloton.
Brutal, rainy weather lashed the peloton as the break held a mere 1:10 lead with 10 miles to race.
With four miles left, a crash occurred about halfway back in the peloton.
Ahead, Wyss took matters into his own hands, attacking the breakaway as the gap continued to fall.
“We had a good group; we were working together all day,” Wyss said. “They never gave us much of a gap, the best was 3:30, not enough. At the end I tried with Alex Howes, caught at four km to go, so it was close.”
Try as he might, the lone leader could not fend off the peloton. The catch was made with two miles to go, and the sprinters’ teams cued up for the finale.
Cavendish’s lead-out man, Renshaw, was forced to open up the sprint early on the wide-open finish straight.
As Renshaw faded in the final few hundred meters, Waeytens moved up the right side, and Cavendish hopped on his wheel then made the final jump to win.
Toms Skujins (Hincapie Racing) kept the overall race lead going into Friday’s relocated time trial in Santa Clarita, although he ceded two seconds to Sagan, due to the time bonus the Slovak speedster earned in stage 5. Sagan is now 18 seconds back in second, while Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick-Step) is third on GC, 44 seconds back.
“[My] guys did amazing; with help from Etixx, we managed to not let [the break] get too far ahead, kept them close, 3:30 or so, we knew after the last descent that it could be tailwind, or tail-cross, fast finish, had them at two minutes, [it] didn’t get too out of hand,” Skujins said. “It was a bit hectic in [the] final with rain, [but I] managed to keep the jersey. I’m happy.”
“To be fair, I can’t say we were the only team working today,” Cavendish added. “Over the last few days, the Hincapie team has been phenomenal in controlling the race. The peloton has been lined out the whole day. We just swapped out guys all day.”
Neal Rogers contributed to this report from Santa Clarita.