JEFFERSON CITY - J.J. Haedo was the first to cross the finish line in the fourth stage of the Tour of Missouri on Thursday, but one cyclist's presence could be felt long before the race was over.
That cyclist, former race leader Mark Cavendish, did not even line up to start.
Just hours before the fourth stage was to begin, Cavendish unexpectedly withdrew from the competition. Bob Stapleton, the owner of Columbia-HTC, the team for which Cavendish rides, cited fluid in the lungs as the cause of Cavendish's early departure from the race.
"Mark has been fighting an infection since traveling to the USA, which has spread to his lungs," Stapleton said in a written statement. "He is on antibiotics and will rest here in Missouri for a few days prior to returning to Europe."
Stapleton could not be reached for further comment on Cavendish's condition. It is unclear whether Cavendish, a 10-time stage winner in the Tour de France, will be able to return to racing this season.
Cavendish won the first two stages of the Tour of Missouri but had ceded the yellow jersey to Thor Hushovd following the conclusion of the third leg of the race. Nevertheless, he had remained in a virtual tie with Hushovd going into Thursday's stage.
The withdrawal of Cavendish from the race left the field wide open for Haedo, who needed only to make up a four-second deficit to claim the top step on the podium. After riding over 100 miles from St. James to Jefferson City, he did just that--and it was the first time Haedo, who is known more for his sprinting than for his endurance, had ever worn the leader's jersey in a bicycle race.
"I'm not going to be the one with it tomorrow," Haedo said, spurring laughter from onlookers, "but even if I don't get the win tomorrow I'll start with the yellow jersey for the first time."
Cyclist Moises Aldape, who was awarded the King of the Mountain jersey for the fourth time following Thursday's stage, said the absence of Cavendish had a major effect on the race outcome.
"It was different than the last few days," Aldape said. "Without Cavendish, it is a different race. It's more open for more guys."
Sean Weide, communications director for Aldape's team, Team Type 1, agreed the strategy of the race was altered with Cavendish no longer competing.
"The Columbia-HTC team no longer had any reason to control the race. They've controlled the race everyday to set Cavendish up with a win and because he wasn't in the race...it wasn't in their best interest to control it," Weide said.
The Tour of Missouri will continue Friday with a time trial in Sedalia. Haedo and Hushovd will begin the stage in a virtual tie for first.