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Tour de Georgia - 2.HC

USA, April 18-23, 2006

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Stage 4 - April 21: Dalton, GA - Dahlonega, GA, 191.4km

Commentary by Kristy Scrymgeour with additional reporting by Mark Zalewski and Kirsten Robbins

Complete live report

Welcome back to Cyclingnews’ coverage of Tour de Georgia. Yesterday we saw the big hitters battle in out in the race of truth, with Phonak’s Floyd Landis taking the honours and winning the 39km event by four seconds over last years overall winner Tom Danielson (Discovery). Rounding off the all-American podium for third place was CSC’s David Zabriskie another 20 seconds down. Only one other rider came within a minute of Landis and that was time trial specialist Nathan O’Neill (Health Net Maxxis) but his time was 55 seconds down.

Today the Phonak team will be on guard protecting their leader in the first mountain stage. We saw from last year that every second counts and that strength in the time trial was very important but that anything can happen in the mountains. We are set for a very exciting race.

Last year on this day, the weather was a huge factor, with skies darkening and a huge thunderstorm moving in as the riders crested the first mountain climb of the day, Ford Mountain. Already this morning at about 7am we had some thunderstorms and the roads are still wet, but its not actually raining right now. More rain is expected though so we’ll see what the Cycling Gods have in store for us today.

We are witnessing huge crowds at the start line which is the home town of Saul Raisin. Many of Saul’s fans are here to pay tribute to him and wish him a speedy recovery. The riders all have green tape on their bars today as a tribute to Saul as well. Our reporter Kirsten Robbins has talked to a few guys on the start line. Everyone is wishing Saul a speedy recovery. In particular we talked to Robin Zellner who is the director of Sierra Nevada on which Saul used to ride. “He is a great guy with a great personality and we all wish him well and very speedy recovery.”

10:34 EDT   
The race is just about to be underway. They are doing a neutral lap of 3km in the downtown area of Dalton. They are cruising along very slowly and will hit the 0km mark as they head out of town. Its very overcast but still try.

10:36 EDT   
The first sprint line is only 22km into the race and just before the race hit Fort Mountain. Currently Freddy Rodriguez is winning the sprint competition so we may see him going for some points here.

10:38 EDT   
Freddy said yesterday, "I still have the sprint jersey and it is now important for us to keep this jersey. It is our main focus. I have tomorrow and Sunday to get a bigger lead on those points."

He also said, "I am the best climbing/sprinter here. I can get over the climbs better than any sprinter here. So I may be the only real sprinter in the finish tomorrow because I don't think the others can climb well enough. But, Brasstown bald is completely out of my league."

10:39 EDT   
The race has just hit the official start. 191.4km of racing to go.

10:40 EDT   
They're still going pretty slow though because a few riders had a service in the neutral zone and are still getting back into the bunch.

10:45 EDT    5.4km/186km to go
Targetraining and Kodak/Sierra Nevada starting setting the pace for the day but now we have a Discovery rider up there. There has been an attack. 11 riders have a slight gap on the field.

10:47 EDT   
Davitamon Lotto probably won't let this go anywhere as they'll be wanting to get some sprint points for Freddy. The gap is now 20 seconds as we go over some winding rollers. Breaks can get out of sight fairly easily on these roads. This is definitely a quicker start to the race.

10:48 EDT   
We are passing a pick-up truck with some guys holding up a sign "Welcome to the mountains - Yeeha."

10:57 EDT   
The gap is now out to 40 seconds. In the break we have Ryan Blickem (Targetraining), Doug Ollerenshaw (Health Net), Francisco Ventoso (Prodir), Egoi Martinez (Discovery), David Zabriskie (CSC), Olivier Kaisen (Davitamon Lotto), Nick Reistad (Jelly Belly), Michael Lange and Lucas Euser (TIAA CREF), Tyler Wren (Colavita Olive Oil), Michael Dietrich (Kodak Sierra Nevada).

There is a lone chaser in the middle. It is Matteo Tossato (Quick.Step)

10:58 EDT   
Dave Zabriskie is in this break so Phonak are not going to let this get anywhere.

10:58 EDT   
The new time gap is 1'25". Tossatto is still in no mans land.

11:02 EDT    18km/173.4km to go
We are 4km to the sprint now. Tossato has been absorbed by the bunch which now sits 2'15" behind the break.

11:04 EDT   
Phonak sits on the front of the peloton just setting tempo. There's no panic at this point. They will obviously not want to let a break with Zabriskie get too much time but its early days yet.

11:09 EDT   
We are at the sprint line now. Four riders contested the sprint. Ventoso won from Dietrich and Nic Ingels (who is in the break, not his teammate Kaisen).

11:10 EDT    25km/166.4km to go
We have just gone over a small roller and we're starting the climb up Fort Mountain. This is about 15km in length. Its fairly steady and kicks up in a few areas but nothing really hard. Its just long.

11:11 EDT   
Zabriskie leads on the climb right now. Setting a nice tempo. He looks very comfortable. Behind him is Reistad from Jelly Belly. The team cars have been allowed to go up to the break.

11:13 EDT   
Zabriskie has just rolled off the front and is taking off his jacket. Must be getting warmer for them as they start the climb.

11:20 EDT   
Its all Phonak on the front of the peloton right now. The gap has gone up a little to 3'20". Landis sits at the back of his team and the entire Discovery squad is behind Landis.
Its very dark out here now. There is no sun whatsoever. Its starting to spit a little.

11:21 EDT   
The field is at the 28km mark and they've reeled the break in a little bit. Its not 2'20. Its starting the rain more heavily now.

11:22 EDT    31km/160.4km to go
One rider is being dropped from the break. Its Ryan Blickem (Targetraining).

11:23 EDT   
The climb is fairly steep here and the rain is quite steady. A few fans stand on the side of the road regardless. They will be drenched at the end of this.

11:25 EDT   
Woah, the rain is really picking up now. Lets hope this doesn't get as bad as last year! Otherwise its really beautiful through here. Winding foresty roads.

11:27 EDT   
Those of you who have been following this race for a few years will remember that this is the stage that Jason McCartney went in that epic breakaway to win the stage. Last year he was also sent out in breaks to a bit of a guinea pig and makes other riders chase. We caught up to him before the stage and he thought he might have to do the same again.

11:28 EDT   
Speaking of which, McCartney has just attacked!

11:28 EDT   
He has been caught by the field but he's relentless and is trying again and he has a ten second gap at this point.

11:30 EDT    33km/158.4km to go
The gap between the break and the peloton is 2'10" right now with McCartney in the middle. A few other riders are being dropped by the break.

11:30 EDT   
McCartney has been caught again as Phonak set tempo on the front.

11:31 EDT    33.3km/158.1km to go
The leaders are now 5km from the KOM. There are reports of very heavy rain on the descent side of the mountain. Its not an easy descent either.

11:33 EDT    33.7km/157.7km to go
Blickem is about to be caught by the field now. The climb is still steady and smooth. A few flat sections at times but mainly steadily up.

11:35 EDT   
A Quick.Step rider has attacked the field. On the side of the road, Santa Klaus is running around with an American flag. There's a whole school bus up here to watching the race go by. The school kids are watching too I imagine.

11:41 EDT    37.3km/154.1km to go
The gap is down to 1'20" now as the break reaches 1km to the top of the KOM. Jason McCartney (Discovery) has attacked the field again taking Remmert Wielinga (Quick.Step) with him. They have a small gap on the field.

11:43 EDT   
As we reach the KOM the chase group of two riders are one minute behind the break with the field another ten seconds back.

11:50 EDT   
Lucas Euser (TIAA CREF) went over the KOM first earning himself a $1500 prime donated by a local business. He was followed by Doug Ollerenshaw and Tyler Wren.

11:51 EDT    46km/145.4km to go
They are on the descent now. Its pouring and there's a lot of fog. The break still has a minute on the field.

11:57 EDT   
One reader has just written in about Woody Gap with an interesting story. He says, "The biggest crowds (apart from the Start and Finish) have always been on Woody Gap because you had the chance to watch the riders come by twice. Crowds have lined the climb all the way from the bottom to the top. Last year, just as the weather was clearing after the hail storm, a bolt of lightning hit near the road at the bottom of the climb sending quite a charge up the guard rail all the way to the top. I don’t thing anyone was injured, but it was quite a spectacle seeing all the spectators sitting on the guard rail get zapped in the rear-end and knocked off the rail."

This year, because that loop was taken out, riders only go over Woody Gap once.

11:58 EDT    51 km/140.4km to go
The break is just coming off the descent now. McCartney and Wielinga have caught the break making it a group of ten now and they have 1'40" on the peloton.

12:01 EDT    53.5km/137.9km to go
The next Maxxis Sprint of the day is in the town of Ellijay in about 10km time. The leaders have increased their gap to 2'15". It looks like they're all taking pretty even turns along this flat to undulating section at the bottom of the descent.

12:10 EDT    57km/134.4km to go
The break is working well together and have increased their lead to 2'45". Phonak is still just setting tempo on the front. Discovery have sent McCartney up there so that Danielson and Popovych can just sit and the the rest of the Discovery team don't have to be too worried about chasing. This puts full responsibility on the Phonak team to do the work to chase things down.
For CSC, having Zabriskie up there makes it vital for Phonak to chase but the rest of the riders in the break probably wouldn't like to too much because their chances of this break working is lessened. So its likely that if any of those riders in the break want this to work, they'll have to get away from the break without Zabriskie. Not an easy task.

12:11 EDT    60.4km/131km to go
We are 2km to the sprint now. Its all downhill into Ellijay. Once they get into town they have a few turns and a round-a-bout before the line.

12:12 EDT   
The latest time split is 2'50".

A nice crowd lines the road in Ellijay to watch the sprint.

12:14 EDT   
Lots of cheering going on as the break goes past. Ventoso won the sprint followed by Reistad and Wren, so Ventoso must be moving up in the sprint classification now.

12:17 EDT   
From here its rolling terrain, but gradually up to the feed zone which is appropriately sponsored by Subway. Not that any of the guys will be eating a sub at this point. Nice gooey stuff would more likely be the case.

12:21 EDT    67.5km/123.9km to go
The gap is up to 2'50". Phonak doesn't seem too worried yet. They do have about 90km until the major climb of the day, which is Wolfpen Gap. In between there is a cat 4 climb up Hicks Gap, but they'll be aiming to bring this back just in time for Wolfpen.

Reistad and Wielinga have attacked the break on a small rise and have a small gap now.

12:22 EDT   
They've been caught again now though. The break has gone back to rolling along nicely. 3'25" is the latest gap.

12:23 EDT   
The guys in the break are out of the saddle on a small rise. McCartney's on the front at this point. They are not as organised as they were before, but they are climbing.

12:32 EDT   
The terrain around here is really quite pretty. Lots of winding wooded roads. Perfect training grounds for anyone living in the area. No shortage of climbs to train on.

12:37 EDT   
Off the back of the field is a group of 13 riders who were dropped on the climb including Danny Pate (TIAA CREF).

12:38 EDT   
They have a long way to go and will be thinking now of trying to keep it rolling through so that they can make the time cut at the end of the day.

12:44 EDT   
Phonak continue to set tempo on the front of the peloton. The gap is 2'55". McCartney has attacked again up in the break. He has taken Ventoso with him and Euser. They have a small gap right now.

12:46 EDT    83km/108.4km to go
McCartney is again being persistent. He's in good company if this break succeeds. Ventoso is a good rider to be with. He has won Philly before.

12:47 EDT   
We are at 4km to the feed zone. McCartney is doing all the work so far and the other two are sitting on at this point. They are going over some rollers here and have about 20 seconds now on the rest of the break.

12:52 EDT   
Meanwhile at Woody Gap, our reporter Kirsten Robbins reports big crowds as usual. She says there are lots of tour groups here riding the course and watching the race go by as has become a very popular past-time at the Tour de France and the Giro etc.

12:54 EDT    88km/103.4km to go
The McCartney group is making time and now have 1'10" on the rest of the break. They are all pulling through evenly now after McCartney did the work to initiate thing. The field is back at 3'40" with Phonak manning the front making sure it doesn't get out too far.

12:56 EDT   
At the back of the race Francesco Chicchi of Quick.Step and Kyle Wamsley (Colavita Sutter Homes) have abandoned the race.

12:59 EDT   
We are approaching Fannin County now. Home of Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains. Its very scenic around here.

13:01 EDT    90.9km/100.5km to go
Ollerenshaw has also attacked the break and is currently between the three leaders and the rest of the break. The leading riders have 4'35" on the field. Ventoso has fallen off McCartney's pace.

13:02 EDT   
McCartney is on a mission here. He does have good memories of this course and seems to be on fire here every year.

13:09 EDT   
Jason McCartney put in a good ride yesterday too finishing 6th in the time trial 1'38" down, so he's essentially the leader on the road right now. Ventoso is back with the break so the lead group is three again. Ollerenshaw is still in the middle 1'35" behind.

13:16 EDT   
Ollerenshaw has decided to sit up and will get caught by the rest of the break. The gap to the main field from the front guys is now 4'45".

13:19 EDT    103km/88.4km to go
Just over 100km into the race now which gives us about 50km until we hit the top of Wolfpen Gap. Between now and then though its really not easy terrain. Its all undulating with a few nasty little peaks. Before Hicks Gap there is another little peak that is not categorised but looks about the same as Hicks Gap.

13:23 EDT   
We have fan mail for Lucas Euser. "The gang from Napa Valley, Lucas Euser’s home turf, would like to wish him well. Go Lucas Potter!”
Lucas had a pretty good year last year. He finished Tour de L’Avenir which is a tough U23 race in Europe. He got best young rider at Tour of Connecticut and some good results in the San Dimas stage race but this is a big day for him.

13:24 EDT    108km/83.4km to go
The lead group of three now have 3'20" on the rest of the break and 4'00" on the field right now. So the main break is being reeled in by Phonak. Meanwhile McCartney powers away - as he does.

13:28 EDT   
McCartney and Ventoso are doing the majority of the work now. Euser is pulling through but not as often and for not as long. This is quite sensible considering the company he keeps. Its a great experience for him.

13:32 EDT   
Alden Tanaka is the Director of Western Collegiate Cycling Conference has written in about Lucas. He says, "Lucas Euser was one of our strongest collegiate riders last year here in the Western Collegiate Cycling Conference. He participated in the U23 program last summer, and it seems to have really helped him grow in leaps and bounds. I spoke with him the evening after stage 1, and he said that he's feeling pretty good, and was looking forward to the latter, hillier stages of the TdG. He's a great guy with a good head on his shoulders, and a strong rider. He's going to go places - I'm absolutely certain of it."

13:34 EDT    114km/77.4km to go
The leading trio is going over that small pinch on the profile that says Union County. They're out of the saddle keeping their rhythm. McCartney and Ventoso leading the way. Our reporter Mark Zalewski just spoke with TIAA CREF Jonathan Vaughters who has been up following the break for quite a while now. He says Euser is feeling good. He's doing some turns and looks quite comfortable.

13:38 EDT   
One spectator has just written in from Woody Gap. He's been reading whats happening on the Cyclingnews wap service. http://live9.cyclingnews.com/wap/ for all of you out there who might need to leave your computers for a while. He says "we have grill, iTunes, big PA, race radio on scanner, the whole works – wish ya’ll were here – crowds atop Woody Gap about 500 people, but growing." Thanks Todd.

13:39 EDT   
Lots of fan mail rolling in for Euser, McCartney and Tyler Wren. These guys are popular out there.

13:41 EDT    119km/72.4km to go
We are 5km to the next KOM at Hicks Gap. The group of nine has just been caught by the peloton and its just the lead trio still out there but maintaining good time.

13:44 EDT   
The lead trio have about 3'30" right now. Phonak is gradually trying to bring this back without panicking. If they can they'll try and time it so that they catch the break on Wolfpen or even Woody Gap. We'll see what McCartney has to say about that. He knows he's just a pawn out there but he's doing a great job of it and he's succeeded here before.

13:49 EDT    124km/67.4km to go
500m to the KOM. Its not really a hard climb until this last kilometer when it gets steep. They are all pulling through on the climb, working well together. They're gap is 3'32" to the peloton.

13:55 EDT   
At the finish the crowds are the biggest we've seen yet this year. There's two expo areas here instead of one and there's a huge screen 100m to go before the finish for the crowd to watch whats going on out on the course.

14:00 EDT   
Euser went over the KOM first followed by McCartney and Ventoso. Back in the field Robbie Hunter was on the front of the peloton as the Phonak team steadily set pace. They have now descended the cat 4 climb of Hicks Gap and have less than 20km to go before they start climbing Wolfpen. The gap between the break and the peloton is still 3'30".

14:11 EDT   
Phonak still has all hands on deck at the front of the peloton. The chase is smooth and without panic. Very reminiscent of last year.

14:15 EDT    144 km/47.4km to go
We are at the base of the climb now. The gap is holding and has even grown a little to 3'40". The guys in the break are looking good. This will be where all the action starts here. We'll be waiting for attacks from CSC too on this climb I imagine.

14:22 EDT   
Jason McCartney has attacked and has a gap of 50m. Its very twisty and turny now and he can easily get away here because he can get out of sight. He looks back to see if anyone's following.

14:24 EDT   
Announcer Dave Towle is taking bets at the finish that McCartney will win.
McCartney looks very smooth. He keeps looking back but he is out of sight. He must have 30 seconds on Ventoso and Euser now.

14:27 EDT   
The official gap is 15 seconds on the other two now. He's 5km from the top of Wolfpen Gap. This climb is very twisty and turny and steep in parts. The pavement is nice and smooth.
Meanwhile Phonak is on the front of the peloton. They are still pretty relaxed and not pushing too hard but just keeping it steady.

14:29 EDT   
In the field Floyd is tucked in, last man of the Phonak team. Health Net is just behind him.

McCartney is seated on this climb now and has a good rhythm. The support cars have moved in behind him.

14:31 EDT   
At the finish a BMX competition is going on and the crowd is growing.

McCartney is on a steeper section now. He's out of the saddle. He has the grimace on his face but he looks smooth. There's a lot of switchbacks, not real tight switchbacks but very twisty.

14:32 EDT   
He has 1'20" on Euser and Ventoso and 2'00" on the peloton.

14:34 EDT   
Jason is on a little bit of a plateau of this climb. Its a great atmosphere up here. Painted names all over the road and the fans are pretty thick near the top. He has about 2km to the top. Its and incredible course. The roads are narrow, country, wooded roads and a great mixture of terrain.

14:35 EDT   
Phonak is really stringing it out now. They are putting on the pace and have the guys rolling through consistently.

14:38 EDT    153km/38.4km to go
Its about 66 degrees at the top here. It turned out to be a pleasant day for a race. Ventoso and Euser have been caught by the field. Its just McCartney on his own and his gap is 2'10".

14:40 EDT   
Tim Johnson and Nathan O'Neill (Health Net) are tucked in behind Floyd and his team as they drive the pace up this climb.

14:41 EDT   
McCartney has gone over the top of Wolfpen and is descending. Its a very fast descent. He's pedalling as fast as he can. You don't really need to break on these corners. He on his bars as if he's time trialling and he's flying.

14:42 EDT   
The peloton is going over the top now. Phonak has split this up. The main group is a lot smaller now, probably 30 guys left. The groups will probably come back together on the descent. They're all in tuck position going down this descent.

14:45 EDT   
McCartney is in time trial position. He's got that ever present grimace but it doesn't show in his style. He still looks good.
Euser managed to hang on to his lead until the top of the KOM and took second place just before the bunch swallowed him up. Three Phonak riders took 3rd through 5th place.

14:47 EDT   
Phonak is bringing this gap down and have it at 1'15" now as they head to Woody Gap.

14:51 EDT   
Lance Armstrong is poking his head out of the car talking to Jason McCartney. Back in the field Danielson is sitting in comfortably. This is perfect for him as he can just watch Phonak so all the work.
Jason is taking a feed from the car. He's still powering away to make Phonak chase hard. Jason is now on the final climb up Woody Gap.

14:54 EDT    164km/27.4km to go
The gap has gone up again to 1'35". McCartney is not quite on the climb. He was just on a roller before. He now has 5km to the top of Woody Gap. He's labouring right now. He looks like he's pushing a big gear and he's feeling it more now.

14:58 EDT   
McCartney is starting the climb proper now. The gap has fallen to 1'05". He has 25km to the finish.

15:00 EDT    167km/24.4km to go
Saunier Duval is on the front of the chase group now helping with the chase.

McCartney is still in the big ring on this climb. He gets out of the saddle. He's is and out of the saddle which means he's getting tired. As he would be after this long away.

15:01 EDT   
Landis, Zabriskie and O'Neill are all gathered together behind the Saunier Duval guy who is still in the lead with the Phonak train behind him. The Discovery train is right in behind Floyd and co.

15:04 EDT   
The gap is falling. Its 45 seconds now!

15:07 EDT   
McCartney is over the KOM and on the descent. He only has 20 seconds now.

15:07 EDT    172km/19.4km to go
Its all downhill to the finish now. Its a long straight road but 20km.

15:09 EDT   
McCartney is descending fast. He looks good but its going to be hard for him to keep this up with a chasing bunch on this long downhill.
Back in the field quite a few riders got shelled on that last climb but as on the previous one, many will be able to get back on on the descent.

15:10 EDT   
15 seconds now!

15:10 EDT   
If this comes down to a sprint Freddy Rodriguez backed himself in for the win today saying that he was the best climber out of the sprinters. We'll have to see who's left in that bunch.

15:12 EDT   
We can see Hunter still in the bunch so he could be one for the sprint although he's probably done a lot of work today.

15:13 EDT   
The gap is down to ten seconds. Hard to be caught after this much effort but he's done a great job for Discovery today. Lets see if we get some counters from other teams now.

15:14 EDT   
McCartney has been caught. Kudos to another great ride on this course.

15:17 EDT    178km/13.4km to go
McCartney has attacked again! This guy is crazy. He has a Quick Step rider with him who is driving the pace.

15:18 EDT   
The Quick Step rider is Leonardo Scarselli. Davitamon Lotto is chasing. They have a 15 second gap.

15:18 EDT   
CSC is moving up with Phonak to chase. They are less than 10km to the finish now.

15:19 EDT   
Leonardo Scarselli is doing all the pulling here and is driving it. McCartney pulls through occasionally but must be exhausted.

15:21 EDT    185km/6.4km to go
The gap is ten seconds now. About 6km to the finish.

15:21 EDT   
Its a long straight road with nowhere to hide to Davitamon can see their prey! Phonak is up there too.

15:22 EDT   
5km to go! What an amazing ride by McCartney. This course has to be named after him one day. Or maybe thats going a bit far but...

15:22 EDT   
Another rider is attacking from the peloton.

15:24 EDT   
4km to go. They have a 100m gap but look like they're going to get court. The finish is different this year. McCartney has sat up and getting caught. Looks to be about 40 riders left in the field.

15:25 EDT   
Discovery is on the front now leading for these final kilometers of the race.

15:26 EDT   
Only 1.5km to go. Its all together!

15:27 EDT   
They're flying!
The group is spread across the road. Its a 40 rider bunch sprint.

15:27 EDT   
An attack. They are taking the final corner. Its Freddy Rodriguez! He takes the win.

15:28 EDT   
Matteo Tossato is second and Popovych is third. Freddy pulled it off!

15:31 EDT   
Landis finished safely in the field and will keep the jersey going into stage 5.

15:32 EDT   
Thanks for tuning in to our live coverage. See you back tomorrow.

Results

Provisional
1 Freddy Rodriguez (Davitamon Lotto)
2 Matteo Tossato (Quick Step)
3 Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery)                      

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