California 5: Mark Cavendish takes another

Columbia-Highroad sprinter unstoppable

Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia-Highroad won the 216km Stage 5 of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California between Visalia and Paso Robles Thursday, his second in a row.

The 23-year-old Cavendish once again got the better of QuickStep's Tom Boonen in the bunch sprint. Rabobank's Pedro Horillo filled in for his fallen leader Oscar Freire, who crashed out in Wednesday's stage, with a fine third place finish.

"This was the stage I was targeting since we got here, it worked out perfectly," said Cavendish. "The guys worked so well for us. It was touch and go whether we were going to get the break back. Once again it was George [Hincapie] and Mark Renshaw – once I get dropped off in that position there's no way I can do anything but win."

Levi Leipheimer (Astana) finished the stage well up in the top 20 to maintain his lead in the overall classification.

Stage five from Visalia to Paso Robles was the longest day of this year's Tour of California, and as usually occurs when the peloton is facing a long day in the saddle, the early break was given a long leash. Familiar with the protocol, teams which have not scored a stage win went on the attack from the gun.

At mile seven, the six lucky men formed the day's breakaway: Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Jeff Louder (BMC Racing Team), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Curtis Gunn (Fly V Australia) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing). They built up a 6:50 lead on the long, pancake flat valley roads of King County.

The break added another minute and change to its lead on the way up to the highest point of the stage at mile 95, putting Weening into the virtual overall lead. Weening picked up time bonuses at both of the intermediate sprints: three seconds in Cholame and two in Shandon behind Evans.

Louder and Gunn were dropped from the breakaway on a small climb in the final 20 miles, but the other four persevered, still holding 1'30 with 10km to go. The chase was touch and go, but the four up front failed to cooperate on the rolling approach to Paso Robles and were caught with 5km to go.

Astana controlled the peloton until an attack by Tim Johnson put the pressure on the sprinters' teams to get the race under control. Columbia-Highroad and Liquigas took the front of the peloton as Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) bridged up to Landis. A Liquigas rider also joined the brief breakaway until Columbia closed it down to set up the sprint for Cavendish.

The peloton split on the wide highway finish, with Cervelo setting up on the right and Columbia on the left, but another massive leadout by Mark Renshaw delivered Cavendish to his second consecutive stage victory.  

For complete results and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com. For BikeRadar's Twitter postings, visit www.twitter.com/bikeradar.

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