With a flat, speedy course featuring a series of downtown circuits, the Stage 4 finale in Modesto matched up exactly like the Stage 1 ending in Sacramento — but this time, British sprinter Mark Cavendish could not muscle his way to the top.
Francesco Chicchi of Team Liquigas-Doimo bulled his way past Juan Jose Haedo and Cavendish in a gripping sprint to the finish of Stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California, winning the race in a time of 4 hours, 55 minutes, 2 seconds.
Cavendish and his HTC-Columbia teammates appeared to be making a move for another stage victory, lining up in an attack position just a few meters before the finish, but the triumph was not to be, as Chicchi, a burly Italian sprinter, shot past the field to capture the win. Haedo, a tough-luck runner-up to Cavendish in the tour’s opening stage, again came up just short, losing to Chicchi in a tight finish.
Chicchi’s victory marked the fourth different stage winner in the event, but for the first time in this year’s race, the tour leader from the previous day — American David Zabriskie — was able to retain his yellow jersey.
Zabriskie finished in the lead pack just moments behind Chicchi to maintain his grip on the overall lead through four stages. Michael Rogers and Levi Leipheimer, who entered the contest four and six seconds off the lead respectively, maintained their spots in the second and third positions.
Unlike the previous two stages, where the cyclists had to endure steep climbs during the latter portions of the routes, the last major ascent of Stage 4, which began in downtown San Jose, came just after mile 70 — some 50 miles before the conclusion of the race.
A break of four cyclists led for most of the stage, and for a brief moment, it appeared that one of the foursome, Lars Boom, of Team Rabobank, could possibly hold off the peloton, but the Dutch cyclist could not hold off the field as it entered downtown Modesto.
Lance Armstrong, who entered the contest 12th in the overall standings, took a spill while the field descended upon downtown Modesto, but because he fell within three kilometers of the end, his time mirrored that of the first-place finisher, a rule enacted to prevent intentional dives.
Stage 5 will bring the cyclists on a 121.5-mile journey through the Central Valley, from Visalia to Bakersfield.
Flat finish a welcomed break for riders
After enduring brutal, lengthy climbs to finish up the previous two stages, the cyclists on the Amgen Tour of California got a reprieve of sorts on Wednesday, with a long descent and a flat, speedy finish marking the end of the Stage 4 leg from San Jose to Modesto.
Compared to Bonny Doon, the ferocious, seven-mile climb that hit the cyclists on the 90-mile mark of Stage 3, and the two-tiered set of hills that comprise the Oakville and Trinity ridges near the end of Stage 2 in Santa Rosa, the flat, downtown Modesto finish to Stage 4 was a relative walk in the park — and an opportunity seized by the event’s top sprinters.
Speedsters Francesco Chicchi, Juan Jose Haedo and Mark Cavendish set the tone for the flat finish, ending up 1-2-3 in the Stage 4 standings.
Instead of dealing with the toughest climbs at the end of the race, the cyclists got punched in the face immediately off the bat on Stage 4, having to scale the 2,000-foot crest of Sierra Road just 10 miles into the race.