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Cavendish captures fifth stage

MARK Cavendish won a stage for the second straight day and two-time defending champion Levi Leipheimer kept his race lead for the fourth straight day after the fifth stage of the Tour of California on Thursday.

Cavendish completed the 216-kilometer stage -- the longest in the event -- from Visalia to Paso Robles in 5 hours, 7 minutes, 28 seconds. The Briton beat Belgium's Tom Boonen for the second straight day. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who began the day in fourth place, finished 19th in the main field.

Armstrong remained 30 seconds behind Leipheimer.

Leipheimer finished 15th in the stage and kept his 24-second margin over Michael Rogers of Australia.

"It's been a really hard and fast day," said Leipheimer, who took the overall lead on Monday. "At some point, it looked like the contenders might give some time back today."

American David Zabriskie, a former stage winner and leader of the Tour de France, remains third overall, trailing by 28 seconds.

After five days of inclement weather, the field of 108 from a starting field of 136 last Saturday, rode a primarily flat stage under sunny conditions. A group of six riders emerged at front and built more than a seven-minute lead. The field caught up to the leaders in the waning kms and Cavendish's teammates negotiated their designated sprinter toward the front in the final 800 meters.

"This was the stage I was targeting since we got here, it worked out perfectly," he said. "The guys worked so well for us. It was touch and go whether we were going to get the break back. Once again it was George (Hincapie) and Mark Renshaw who got me there. Once I get dropped off in that position, there's no way I can do anything but win."


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