SLO-based cycling team misses chance to win stage at Tour de France

San Luis Obispo-based Team HTC-Columbia missed a chance to win today’s fourth stage of the Tour de France when its heralded sprinter Mark Cavendish was beaten to the line by Alessandro Petacchi of Italy.

A group of four HTC riders brought Cavendish close to the front in the closing kilometers, and in a scene recalling last year’s tour – when Cavendish was a multiple-stage winner – teammate Mark Renshaw led Cavendish down the final 200 kilometers and put him in a prime position to sprint to the end.

But Cavendish faltered when Petacchi made his move, and slowed up when he saw he could not close fast enough.

Cavendish, an English rider, finished 12th overall.

Today’s stage was a 95.4-mile leg from Cambrai to Reims that was mostly flat, and for that reason favored the sprinters. Petacchi, of the Lampre-Farnese team, won in 3 hours, 34 minutes, 55 seconds. It marked his second stage win this week.

Overall leader Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland crossed in the main pack and retained the yellow jersey.

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong also finished safely a day after losing time because of a punctured tire. The American leader of Team Radio Shack stood at 18th in the overall classification.

HTC officials said their team entered this year’s tour with the goals of having Cavendish win as many sprint stages as possible and having rider Michael Rogers of Australia compete for the overall title. Cavendish has yet to taste victory in this year’s tour. After today’s race, Rogers is in 28th place, three minutes behind Cancellara. Tony Martin of Germany, another HTC rider, is ahead of Rogers in 21st place overall.

-- Tad Weber