SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Mark Cavendish of Britain surged to the front in the waning meters with the help of his teammates and won the opening stage of the Tour of California on Sunday.
Cavendish, a 10-time Tour de France stage winner who rides for the American HTC-Columbia team, was timed in 4 hours, 4 minutes and 46 seconds in the 104.3-mile road stage from Nevada City.
Juan Jose Haedo (Saxo Bank) of Argentina was second and Alexander Kristoff (BMC) of Norway third in the same time.
"It's seven weeks to go for the Tour de France and it gave the team confidence," said Cavendish, who claimed his third win of the season. "We should get the same results as we did last year at the Tour de France."
With his 10-second bonus time for his win, Cavendish will have a 4-second race lead over Haedo and a 6-second margin over Kristoff for the second stage Monday from Davis to Santa.
Three-time defending race winner Levi Leiphiemer (RadioShack) and teammate Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, finished safely in the main field in the same time as the winner.
Five riders, including former world titlists Tom Boonen (Quick Step ) of Belgium and Stuart O'Grady of Australia crashed on the final circuit. But all of the fallen riders finished and were given the same time as the winner.
Cavendish, who claimed his third career stage in the race's five-year history, stayed behind several teammates as the field of 128 riders approached the beginning of the three final circuits around the State Capitol. He then moved to the front inside the final half-mile and was briefly but unsuccessfully challenged by Haedo.
Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Marc De Maar (United Healthcare) both of the Netherlands and Americans Chad Beyer (BMC), Paul Mach (Bissell) emerged from the field after about 10 miles. The foursome built more than a five-minute lead and rode at the front for 84 miles and nearly four hours before being caught about 10 miles from the finish.
The 810-mile event, eight-day event concludes Sunday with a circuit race finishing in Agoura Hills, Calif.