Cavendish (Dimension Data) suffered a mechanical around the base of the hors categorie Mt Hamilton ascent and waited more than a minute for a spare bike to arrive.
Television cameras didn’t return to the 33-year-old after he was serviced and left to chase back onto the grupetto and some 70km to the finish in Morgan Hill.
Dimension Data head of performance director Rolf Aldag said the delay was due to Cavendish’s spare bike being on the second team car, which because of its position in the race convoy took time to move up.
“Bernie Eisel was waiting for him … they’re really good descenders, so they came back on the downhill and finished with the grupetto. But it’s never nice to be on your physical limit and then suffer a technical,” said Aldag.
Austrian road captain Eisel similarly helped pilot Cavendish back on Stage 2 when the former world champion dropped off the back some 80km from the finish at South Lake Tahoe. Aldag said Cavendish had struggled with altitude through the 214.5km stage that took in more than 4,000m of climbing, which the latter likened on social media to “sitting on an indoor trainer for seven hours”.
“That altitude - once we come to 1600, 1800, 2000m - he just can’t cope with it. He said he was dizzy. He didn’t feel well. I think he was even throwing up. So that’s what it is then, it’s a super hard stage and especially riding at altitude, he’s not really made for that,” said Aldag.
Tour of California race organisers billed this edition as the hardest yet, with few opportunities available for pure sprinters. Cavendish didn’t figure in the bunch kick that decided the pan-flat opening stage in Sacramento last week.
“Stage 1 we don’t really know what it was. I mean, the team was fully committed, he thanked everyone for the support there. [We] tried to move him up and it didn’t really work out,” said Aldag.
Cavendish and the sprinters may have another shot at victory on Stage 4 from Laguna Seca to Morro Bay, which is punctuated with three short categorised climbs along the Pacific coastal route.
The 30-time Tour de France stage winner Cavendish has returned to racing this season following several months off at the end of last year with Epstein-Barr virus.