A great sprinter in cycling usually relies on another great sprinter to win.
Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw, teammates from different countries on two different squads throughout their long careers, work the synergy better than any duo in the sport.
Cavendish, a British rider born on the Isle of Man who’s considered cycling’s best sprinter, relied on his Australian teammate again Sunday to win the opening stage of the Amgen Tour of California.
Facing a long, wide and flat straightaway to the finish on L Street, Cavendish bolted around Renshaw, his teammate on the Etixx-Quick Step team, in the waning meters to claim the 126.2-mile road stage in 4 hours, 43 minutes and 27 seconds.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) – a Slovakian who has won 11 Tour of California stages, the most in the race’s 10 editions – finished second in the mass sprint after taking the early finishing-stretch lead. John-Pierre Drucker (BMC) of Luxembourg was third.
Renshaw, an aggressive and powerful rider, rarely wins. He prefers his role as a lead-out rider pacing teammates, most notably Cavendish in the Tour of California’s opening day for the second straight year.
Cavendish, 29, often credits many of his 129 career wins to Renshaw.
“I thought Mark might have gone a bit long, but when I saw Sagan in the wind, I knew I had it,” said Cavendish. “I didn’t go too early, or too late.
“I went with 200 meters to go, and we timed it just right. I didn’t have to think about anything. I just followed.”
About three hours before the men’s finish, Germany’s Trixi Worrack, who rides for the Velocio-SRAM team, claimed the three-stage women’s race by five seconds.
Worrack, 33, a two-time German national road titlist, finished fourth in the final stage. But after gaining 13 bonus seconds in intermediate sprints, she moved ahead of second-day race leader Lauren Komanski.
Canadian Leah Kirchmann (Optum-Kelly Benefit) claimed the third stage, her second straight stage win, and finished second overall.
“It was such a really nice race, especially with the organization,” said Worrack. “It was a really nice Tour of California.
“The first two stages were really hard for us because it was at altitude and today was a criterium, also really hard. But with lots of spectators, it was really good.”
Kirchmann, who rode to a single-file solo win in Stage 2 in South Lake Tahoe, moved to the front within the final 100 meters and was victorious in the 34-mile, 17-lap Sacramento criterium around Capitol Park in a mass sprint in 1:16:04.
Komanski (Twenty16), a Winston-Salem, N.C., resident who began the final stage with a three-second race lead over Worrack, finished sixth in the stage and third overall.
Hannah Barnes (UnitedHealthcare) of Great Britain was second in the final stage. Erica Allar (Colavita Bianchi) of Tucson, Ariz., was third.
The men’s race began with aggressive racing. Australian William Clarke (Drapac), American Steve Fisher (Jelly Belly-Maxxis) and SmartStop teammates Rob Britton of Canada and Robert Sweeting of the United States formed the break of the day within the opening miles of the stage that took 143 riders through much of the Sacramento Delta region.
The main field let the leading foursome power down the road at nearly 27 mph. The foursome’s lead grew to nearly seven minutes 15 miles into the stage.
Britton fell back into the field after a mechanical problem. But the three remaining riders rode at the front until they approached the three finishing circuits in downtown Sacramento. A few seconds later, only Sweeting and Clarke remained. But they, too, were soon caught.
Cavendish, whose stage wins in the Tour of California date to 2010, will be the race leader for Monday’s second stage, a 120.4-mile road race from Nevada City to Lodi. The second stage also is expected to be a sprinters’ stage. Cavendish also won the opening stage last year.
“First and foremost, there are no hills in Sacramento,” said Cavendish. “So it comes down to a big sprint. It’s big, wide, straight roads. It’s a great finish. But all the great criterium riders are here, so it freaked me out. It’s best to stay at the front.”
American Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), an overall title favorite who finished 10th in the 2013 Tour de France, withdrew from the race after about 60 miles with an upper respiratory problem contracted Saturday night.
James Raia is a Sacramento-based freelance reporter. He has covered the Amgen Tour of California every year.