(CNN) -- Britain's Mark Cavendish claimed his second straight stage win in the Tour of California on Thursday as Lance Armstrong remained in contention for overall victory as he continues his comeback to professional cycling.
Cavendish is congratulated by a team-mate after wrapping up his second successive stage victory.
Cavendish again proved too quick for his fellow sprint specialists after the 216 kilometers from Visalia to Paso Robles, winning by over a bike length from former world champion Tom Boonen of Belgium with Rabobank's Pedro Horrillo third.
Astana's Levi Leipheimer finished in the main bunch to retain his overall race lead ahead of Australia's Michael Rogers and David Zabriskie of the United States.
But seven-time Tour de France champion Armstrong remains in fourth position, only 30 seconds back ahead of Friday's decisive 24km individual time-trial in Solvang.
Armstrong will be riding his specially-designed $10,000 bike, which was stolen from his team's trailer earlier in the week, but later recovered by police. He told his Twitter blog: "I'm riding the old "hot" TT (time trial) bike tomorrow. Had a replacement made too. Only diff was a line that said, "ride it like you stole it". Haha!
The 37-year-old, in the second race of his comeback also paid compliment to Cavendish, who is establishing a reputation as the fastest finisher in cycling after winning four stages on the Tour de France in an outstanding 2008.
"Congrats to Cavendish on winning another stage. Kid's fast," added Armstrong.
Cavendish himself paid compliment to his Columbia-Highroad team who had targeted the predominantly flat stage before the nine-day race.
"This stage win is massively important," he told the official race Web site www.amgentourofcalifornia.com.
"It's big for the team, and this one is a bit more personal because it's close to home. Every other stage is important, but this one is a bit more personal."
Two-time defending champion Leipheimer is well aware of the threat of Armstrong on Friday's stage but knows he faces opposition from two noted racers against the clock in Rogers and Zabriskie.
"It's going to be a big showdown tomorrow," he said.
"You have the three-time world champion Michael Rogers and Dave Zabriskie, the U.S national champion, so it will be special. I'm actually really looking forward to it. I feel good; I've felt great throughout the whole race. I feel pretty awesome about keeping the lead."
Thursday's stage was notable for a six-strong breakaway which stayed away for most of the day, but were caught close to the finish as team's with sprint specialists such as Cavendish and Boonen worked at the front of the chasing bunch to catch them.