The 2014 Amgen Tour of California began and ended a historic first day of racing at the foot of the State Capitol building in Sacramento, with Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team’s Mark Cavendish (GBR), the victor in what was the closest finish in the event’s nine years.
In the longest race day (120 miles) this year (with seven days yet to come) and a finish designed to favor sprinters, the 128 cyclists in the ninth annual race, May 11-18, ended the Stage 1, with three two-mile laps around the State Capitol building. Prior Amgen Tour of California finishes in Sacramento have been some of the most memorable, and 2014 was another one for the history books, with the most accomplished pack of sprinters in race history vying for the first stage win to the cheers of several people-deep crowds.
Photos © Darrell Parks
The final circuit saw Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team and Team Giant-Shimano battling for control and position to propel their sprinters to victory. In a thrilling photo finish, Cavendish (GBR), the 2012 World Champion who also holds the third most Tour de France stage wins, came blazing from behind in the very final meters to lunge over the finish line just a tire rim past Team Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb (GER). With Cavendish donning the Amgen Race Leader Jersey following his fourth career Amgen Tour of California stage win, Degenkolb’s second place finish will put him in the Visit California Sprint Jersey tomorrow. Belkin-Pro Cycling Team’s Moreno Hofland (NED) rode through the line fractions of a second behind the two leaders to claim third place.
“I’ve won a sprint by 10 cm before, and I’ve lost a sprint by 3 [cm], and both of them I knew the outcome. That was the first time in my career I really had no idea who’d won…I’m super happy,” said Cavendish of his seventh win of 2014.
With 128 of the world’s elite cyclists (16 teams) all vying for an early hold on the race, an early breakaway of six riders included the peloton’s youngest member, 19-year old Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBR) of the Bissell Development Team, who was awarded today’s Crunchies Best Young Rider jersey for his efforts. They held the gap, which was more than five minutes at times, until about 30 miles to go when Team Sky began to control the tempo of the peloton and Cavendish’s Team Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, which helped close down the breakaway.
From there, a flat section of farmland saw 15 leaders at the front of the pack, many of whom retired back into the peloton after battling the heavy crosswinds. Coming into downtown Sacramento, three leaders held a :10 advantage over the peloton going into three 2-mile circuits lined with thousands of screaming spectators. UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team’s Kiel Reijnen (USA) held onto a 20-second advantage until the final lap. In the second circuit the green train of Cannondale Pro Cycling could be seen forming in a bid to lead out their decorated sprinter Peter Sagan (SVK), who ultimately was swept up away in the final meters and ended the day in fourth place.
Today’s result sets up the battle of the sprinters for the overall green jersey, which Sagan has won four years running, along with the title for the most Amgen Tour of California stage wins (10). Cavendish won the overall green jersey five years ago.
Other jerseys awarded today include: the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer® Most Courageous Rider Jersey to Team Novo Nordisk’s Charles Planet (FRA) and the Michelob Ultra King of the Mountain Jersey to Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies’ Will Routley (CAN).
108 OF THE WORLDS BEST WOMENS CYCLISTS ALSO RACED ON DAY 1
After the men rolled off the start line, 20 top professional women’s teams (108 riders) in the world competed on a 1.25-mile circuit race course surrounding the State Capitol building. In the first of two days of professional women’s racing presented by SRAM, Team Specialized-lululemon’s Carmen Small (USA), the current National Time Trial Champion and a podium finisher at the National Road Race Championships, catapulted her way to her first win of the season. She sprung to the front of the tightly packed bunch in the final moments of the exciting, all-out sprint to the finish line. The one-hour race featured aggressive riding and attacks from the beginning, with speeds on the four-corner course averaging 27.5 mph. Other contenders who shaped the race today included UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team’s Alison Powers (USA), who with meters left to go appeared to have victory in hand until teammate Coryn Rivera (USA) caught her to claim second place, followed by Brianna Walle (USA) taking third for Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies.
The Amgen Tour of California is the largest and most prestigious race in the U.S. and has become known for attracting top international talent. Among the riders at the start line today were Olympic gold medalist and Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky); Omega Pharma – Quick-Step Cycling Team’s Tom Boonen (BEL), a former World Champion; BMC Racing Team’s Taylor Phinney (USA) and Thor Hushovd (NOR), a former World Champion; ORICA-GreenEDGE’s Matthew Goss (AUS), one of the top sprinters in the world; Jelly Belly Cycling Team p/b MAXXIS’ Fred Rodriguez (USA), the only four-time U.S. Champion; and perennial crowd favorite Jens Voigt (GER) of Trek Factory Racing, in what will likely be his final Amgen Tour of California appearance.