SACRAMENTO -- British star Mark Cavendish gave the Amgen Tour of California a rip roaring start Sunday at the state Capitol.

The "Manx Missile" whizzed past John Degenkolb of Germany by a wheel rim to win the closest stage in the tour's nine-year history.

Belkin Pro Cycling's Moreno Hofland was third, Bissell Development's Tao Geoghegan Hart finished fourth, and Cannondale star Peter Sagan was fifth.

"I've won by 10 centimeters, and I've lost by three," said Cavendish, a member of Omega Pharma-Quick-Step. "That was the first time in my career I had no idea who won."

Race officials had to review a photo of the finish to determine Cavendish was the victor over a Tour of California newcomer.

"It's not a shame to lose to Mark Cavendish," Degenkolb said.

No, it isn't. Cavendish, from the Isle of Man, has won 25 Tour de France stages and is a two-time world track cycling champion.

The women's race Sunday also offered a dramatic conclusion with Carmen Small of Durango, Colorado, winning a four-lap circuit around the Capitol Mall. Coryn Rivera of Tustin was second and Walle Brianna of Portland, Oregon, third.

Hardly anyone was surprised to see Cavendish in the yellow jersey after Day 1. Four years ago, the Brit won the opening stage from Nevada City to Sacramento with a sprint along the same finishing course.

Before the race Sagan, who has a record 10 stage victories in California, predicted it would be tough to win with the likes of Cavendish in the field.

"It was hard, that line was coming up too fast, and John was strong today," Cavendish said. "But my Omega Pharma-Quick-Step teammates did a perfect job to keep me up there."

As expected, the longest stage of the eight-day tour that ends next weekend in Thousand Oaks came down to the final kilometer.

The main group of riders chased a breakaway that built a 5-minute lead. But the big teams didn't seem too concerned because none of the overall favorites were involved.

Fighting shifting winds the group, called the peloton, slowly reeled in the leaders outside of downtown Sacramento.

By the time the field hit the three-lap circuit finish, only United Health Care's Kiel Reijnen of Washington was left in the lead. The favorites swept up a tired Reijnen on the final lap.

Green-suited Cannondale Pro Cycling moved to the front on the final lap to give Sagan a chance. Then Omega brought its group to the front for Cavendish.

With 1,000 meters left, Giant-Shimano took the lead while Cavendish waited. And waited.

With only 300 meters to go, Omega's Tom Boonen tried to deliver a victory for Cavendish with what is called a lead out. But Giant-Shimano's Degenkolb wouldn't go away.

With muscles screaming, the German just tried to hold on long enough.

"I knew Mark was straight behind me," Degenkolb said. "My strength is to do a long sprint, and I think I timed it well. In the end I saw him on my right side, coming not really quickly, but slowly and surely."

Cavendish might have wavered about the outcome but not his rival.

"I knew at the line he had the victory," Degenkolb said.

However, Cavendish proved a bit testy when asked if he thought he could realistically catch Degenkolb in the mad rush to the line.

"I'd better retire if I don't feel I can win," he said. "They pay me a lot of money" to win races.

The 123-mile stage took just under 5 hours on a windy spring day that followed a course into Gold Country near Auburn.

The tour continues Monday in Folsom with a 12.6-mile time trial and then comes to the Bay Area on Tuesday for the "Queens Stage" -- a climb over Mount Hamilton and a 10.8-mile ascent to the finish atop Mount Diablo.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

MONDAY'S STAGE 2

12.6-mile time trial in Folsom

TUESDAY'S LOCAL STAGE

Stage 3, San Jose to Mount Diablo State Park