Roule Britannia

Brit love-fest in Santa Clarita

It was enough to make you raise a St George cross and belt out a few bars of "God Save The Queen". Hell, no-one ever accused me of being a flag-waver, but even I felt a tingle of patriotic pride watching the last five kilometres of today's sixth stage of the Tour of California in Santa Clarita.

There was David Millar's scintillating attack with five kilometres to go, Bradley Wiggins's final, trojan effort for his High Road team-mate, room-mate and countryman Cavendish four kilometres out, then Cavendish's coup de grace in the closing hundred metres. There were stirring embraces between all three men after the finish-line.

"I'm just so pleased for Mark," beamed Wiggins. "He had a tough winter and, after the Ghent Six, I think he even started doubting himself a bit. I'm proud of him..."

That was at about quarter to four. Little did Wiggins or Cavendish know that the race commissaires were about to break up the big British love-in and announce that Cavendish had been fined 20 seconds and demoted for drafting behind his High Road team car as he strained to regain touch after a fall eleven kilometres from home. In plain English - the language he best understands - Cavendish hadn't won, and the Brazilian Luciano Pagliarini from Saunier Duval-Scott had.

As you can well imagine, we can't print much of the vernacular with which Cavendish greeted the news. His High Road team manager Bob Stapleton was more diplomatic but no less mystified,

"I think it was very harsh," said Stapleton, who was watching from the High Road team car when the alleged infraction took place. "The thing I can't understand is that the commissaire was right there, watching what Mark was doing. He could have just told Mark to stop. I'm not too upset for the team, because one win more or less won't make or break our season. I'm just sad for Mark, because it took an absolutely superhuman effort to get back to the group then win."

Those words won't console Cavendish, but British fans can draw immense satisfaction from the performances of their riders this week. It's not over yet, either; tomorrow's final stage to Pasadena could end in a sprint and a shot at redemption for Cavendish, but it could also throw up another opportunity for second-placed Millar to threaten Levi Leipheimer's 49-second lead on GC. The 150km route features the 1463-metre ascent to Millcreek summit, followed six gnarly circuits of the famed Pasadena Rose Bowl.

Millar's Slipstream-Chipotle manager, Jonathan Vaughters, told me tonight: "I think tomorrow's much more conducive to attacking than today. Last year it was super aggressive, and that was when there was a three-quarters headwind, which isn't  ideal for attacks. I think Astana did look a little bit edgy when Dave attacked today, but they have a lot of good climbers, and they're also one of the few teams which hasn't been hit by this illness....We'll see. We certainly haven't give up hope".

What half of the Slipstream team do seem to have given up is shaving:  Steve Cozza and Dave Zabriskie have spent the entire week trying to out-moustache each other, and there was still no sign of any razor action today.

Apparently even Zabriskie's pregnant wife Randi doesn't even care for the D'Artagnan facial topiary. Sorry Z-man, we ain't about to disagree with her.

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