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Mark Cavendish wins 1st stage of Tour of California (w/video)

  • Mark Cavendish, of Great Britain, of the Omega Pharma-Quickstep Cycling Team, celebrates after winning Stage I of the Tour of California cycling race in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, May 11, 2014. Cavendish completed the 120 mile stage in 4 hours, 44 minutes, 7 seconds to earn the overall race leader's yellow jersey. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO — Mark Cavendish has more than 100 wins around the world, including 25 stages in the Tour de France, but he never had a victory like the one he had Sunday.

Cavendish surged ahead of John Degenkolb in a thrilling sprint to win the first stage of the Tour of California in the closest finish in the event's nine-year history.

"It's the first time in my career I really didn't know the result until it was confirmed to me," he said.

Tour Of California, Stage 1

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Degenkolb broke away from the most decorated Tour de France sprinter ever in the final stretch before the British "Manx Missile" burnished his legacy again. The two raced shoulder-to-shoulder as Cavendish came up along the right side and threw the rim of his bicycle's tire ahead at the line.

Neither rider celebrated until learning the results, which were confirmed by photos, though Degenkolb looked dejected waiting for the final word. After the results were announced, he congratulated Cavendish with a heartbreaking hug.

"I knew that I lost," Degenkolb said. "Sometimes it's really just 1 or 2 centimeters, but normally you feel it straight away."

Cavendish completed the 120-mile stage in 4 hours, 44 minutes, 7 seconds for the Omega Pharma-Quick Step Cycling Team. Moreno Hofland of the Netherlands and Belkin Pro Cycling was third. Slovak sprinter Peter Sagan, who has won an event-record 10 stages, got buried in the pack and finished fifth.

The longest stage of the eight-day, 720-mile journey through California's eclectic climates came down to a drama-filled finishing stretch just steps away from the state Capitol — and even then it took a minute to know who actually won.

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