Cavendish breaks away with 200m left to win first stage

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Mark Cavendish waited with the main group, then jumped from the wheel of one Columbia teammate to another, working his way toward the front for one final kick.

And what a kick it was.

Cavendish burst around American Tyler Farrar with less than 200 meters left to take the first stage of the Tour of Missouri on Monday, his first official win in the United States.

"Tyler jumped 200 and I just slid in on his wheel and gave an extra two seconds of rest," said Cavendish, of Great Britain. "Then it was just a case of kicking past him and crossing the line."

Cavendish finished the 90-mile first stage from St. Joseph to Kansas City in 3 hours, 15 minutes, 14 seconds to just beat Farrar, riding for Garmin/Chipotle. Italian rider Francesco Chicchi of team Liquigas finished third and defending champion George Hincapie, of team Columbia, also was in a group of 90 riders credited with the same time as Cavendish.

It wasn't much of a surprise to see Cavendish wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the day.

The Brit has had quite a run of late, winning four stages of this year's Tour de France, a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, and three stages at last week's Tour of Ireland. He also won a stage at the Tour of California in February, though was moved to the back of the pack for holding onto a team car during the race.

The sprint specialist could have competed in the Tour of Spain this week, but instead opted for the rolling hills of Missouri for a chance to win in the U.S.

"We're an American team, an American sponsor and yeah, I had a point to prove here in America," Cavendish said. "It just made sense to come here and ride. There's a really good field here and with a majority of flat stages it's easier to win here. I'm really happy I'm here."

Stage 2 of the 623-mile race is Tuesday, a 125-mile ride from Clinton to Springfield. The weeklong race ends Sunday in St. Louis.

The first stage started with a 3½ mile ride through downtown St. Joseph into a residential area, where kids from local schools lined the course waving, ringing cowbells, holding signs. The course then turned to western Missouri's rural roads, the riders fighting slick sports from overnight rains and a strong crosswind as they moved past farms and cornfields.

A downpour hit briefly around the 50-mile mark and the conditions remained wet and windy for the rest of the race.

"It was unpleasant at times," said Farrar, of Wenatchee, Wash., "When we started it was more or less dry and we were kind hoping we'd get lucky and it'd stay dry all day, but that's bike racing -- sometimes you've got to ride in nasty weather."

Swiss rider Martin Kohler of BMC Racing and American Tom Zirbel of Bissell made the first run, breaking free around the 15-mile mark, eventually building the lead to 5 minutes.

The main group, led by team Columbia, stayed with reach of the breakaway riders before starting to close the gap with about 40 miles left. The peloton split briefly around 75 miles, then reformed to catch the leaders as the race wove its way into downtown Kansas City.

Cavendish stayed with his teammates as the peloton made it to the finish circuit for three laps on the 14-mile loop in the Country Club Plaza area. Canadian rider Will Routley led by 15 seconds halfway through the finish circuit before the group caught him and Cavendish made the final kick down the last straightaway to edge Farrar.

"It was a little bit hectic on the last lap with the big downhill on the circuits it was easy for people to swarm," Farrar said. "My guys did a pretty good job brining up there and I tried to get the jump on him around 200 meters, but it didn't quite work."