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Tour de Georgia - 2.HC

USA, April 16-22, 2007

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Stage 3 - April 18: Rome to Chattanooga, TN , 190.2km

Complete live report

By Sue George & Mark Zalewski

11:46 EDT   
Greetings, everyone. We are here at the start in Rome, Georgia, preparing for today's 118.2 mile (190.2 km) stage which finishes in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Skies are overcast at the moment, but temperatures are still reasonable. Some racers are wearing armwarmers, but they will probably shed them at the start of the race.

11:55 EDT   
Before the start of the race today, we asked George Hincapie how his wrist was doing. He said it bothered him a little on first day, but it's been getting better ever since and racing here is definitely not as hard on it as riding the cobbles in Belgium. Now, he's working to build back his wrist's strength. Hincapie broke his wrist in the Tour of California in February and has had to skip the Spring Classics in Europe this season.

11:58 EDT   
The race will start in about 3 minutes. Today, they have a 1 mile (1.6 km) neutral section before the official start. Hopefully, there won't be any crashes during today's neutral. Yesterday, a few riders tangled up during neutral.

12:01 EDT   
It's noon, and they are starting! Today, we'll be generally heading north toward the finish.

12:04 EDT   
We have officially started after the 1 km neutral. We take a quick turn and the race kicks off here in front of Floyd County prison.

12:08 EDT   
The racers are going at 30 mph (48.2 kph), so we're not starting slow today. The first KOM today is at 19 miles (30.6 km) into the race. It's the first of four KOMs.

12:11 EDT    4km/186.2km to go
As we wind through farm country headed toward bigger roads, we are joined by a special guest in our car, Beth Seliga, CFO of Team Slipstream. Of course, we also still have Grover as our mascot out in front, so give us a wave as you see us pass. Grover got a bath this morning at the car wash - we had to get the bugs out of his fur after all.

12:12 EDT   
10 or 11 riders are off the front now.

12:15 EDT    9.6km/180.6km to go
It's actually nine riders with a ten second gap. They are Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), Mauro Facci (Quick Step), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff Credit Systems), Danny Pate (Team Slipstream), Trent Wilson (Jittery Joe's), Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel), Christophe Brandt (Predictor-Lotto), and Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step)

12:19 EDT    12.2km/178km to go
The pack is all together again. With the first KOM coming up so soon, we'll probably see the action continue. It's single file. We're on winding roads with sharp turns, so it's a good place to get away. We've seen Quick Step on the front and now BMC is up there, too.

12:22 EDT   
Tinkoff is at the front of the field. The wind is really calm today. The flags are just barely moving, and if anything we've got a tailwind. Two Slipstream riders have moved to the front and a small group of riders has a slight 50 m gap, but they aren't making much progress to get away.

12:24 EDT    16km/174.2km to go
David McCann (Colavita/Sutter Home) is solo slightly off the front. McCann is the Irish National Champion. Two riders are trying to bridge: Michael Lange (Team Slipstream) and Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step).

12:26 EDT    18.7km/171.5km to go
We've turned onto a wide, 5-lane highway and it's coming back together. McCann looks over his shoulder. Lang is not pulling through. They are caught. Many riders are counterattacking, but no one is able to make anything stick.

12:29 EDT    20.6km/169.6km to go
Karl Menzies (Health Net) and Valery Kobzarenko (Navigators Insurance) are attacking together. But another rider is trying to bridge and it comes all back together again as the pack heads down Huffaker Road.

12:35 EDT    25.6km/164.6km to go
We have 5 km to go before the KOM. Two riders are away with a six second gap: Jeffry Louder (Health Net) and Scott Zwizanski (Priority Health). 20 racers are chasing and then the peloton is behind them.

12:42 EDT    29.5km/160.7km to go
We have a group with a one minute advantage going into the KOM. The KOM climb kicks up early on, then it flattens out until near the top, when it kicks up again. The climb is winding and roughly 2.5km long. We've got about 20 spectators at the top of the KOM.

12:43 EDT    30km/160.2km to go
Our group off the front, as best we can tell at the moment, is Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel), Scott Zwizanski (Priority Health), Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval - Prodir), Tyler Wren (Colavita/Sutter Home), Christian Vandevelde (Team CSC), Timothy Johnson (Health Net), Evan Elken (Jittery Joe's), Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel), Scott Nydam (BMC), Ciaran Power (Navigators Insurance), Ivan Santaromita (Quick Step), David Canada Gracia (Saunier Duval - Prodir), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), Jeffry Louder (Health Net), Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream), Cody Stevenson (Jittery Joe's), Christian Vandevelde (Team CSC)
Preben Van Hecke (Predictor-Lotto).

12:47 EDT    30.6km/159.6km to go
We had 13 riders cresting together over the KOM. The top four were Jeffry Louder (Health Net), Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), and Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream).

They are headed down a tricky descent, with several switchback corners.

12:52 EDT    36km/154.2km to go
Our lead group has 55 seconds and includes Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) , Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel), Christian Vandevelde (Team CSC), Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval - Prodir), David Canada Gracia (Saunier Duval - Prodir), Ivan Santaromita (Quick Step), Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), Timothy Johnson (Health Net), Jeffry Louder (Health Net), Ciaran Power (Navigators Insurance), Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream), Tyler Wren (Colavita/Sutter Home), Scott Nydam (BMC).

Next up is a sprint in Summerville, Georgia, at mile 49.9 (km 80.3). There is only one sprint today, but four total KOMs.

12:56 EDT    43.5km/146.7km to go
The gap is now 50 seconds. Our lead group is a double rotating paceline. Everyone is taking quick, short five to ten second pulls.

13:06 EDT    46.7km/143.5km to go
CSC and Navigators are driving the break on what is relatively flat terrain on Big Texas Valley Road running through farmland and past sheep.

Back in the peloton, it's all Predictor - Lotto on the front with six riders leading the chase. We're not quite sure why they're working so hard - it's early to work for a field sprint. Six riders from Lotto.

It seems like the ProTour riders will be looking to shed some excess from the peloton today. The four KOMs may help them with that.

The gap is at 30 seconds and falling.

13:12 EDT    50km/140.2km to go
Quick Step is helping Predictor Lotto chase the break. We're going through James Floyd State Park. The gap is at 35 seconds.

13:15 EDT   
Cyclingnews' Kirsten Robbins spoke to Navigators' Sergey Lagutin this morning. Lagutin is the strongest rider on the Navigators team, and he predicted that today's stage will come down to a group of 20 after the climbing weeds out some weaker riders and non-climbers. He believes he is the strongest sprinter out of the climbers that are at the race. He's not a pure climber, but the climbing won't be selective enough today to get rid of him, so he's aiming for a stage win.

13:24 EDT    61.5km/128.7km to go
The gap dropped to 30 seconds, but it's increasing again. Now our lead group has worked their advantage back up to two minutes.

13:26 EDT   
One of the two Quick Step riders in the break had a mechanical. It was either Ivan Santaromita and Kevin Seeldrayers. We don't know which, but both dropped back to address the problem and then worked their way together back up to the break.

13:32 EDT   
Saunier Duval - Prodir team director Matteo Alegri spoke with Kirsten Robbins this morning. He said the team is working for two riders this week: Gilberto Simoni and David Millar. Millar is a favorite to win the time trial, but Alegri said he's also climbing "better than ever before," so it wouldn't surprise him if Millar could win the overall. With two good cards to play, look for action from Saunier Duval in both the time trial tomorrow and the on Brasstown Bald on Friday.

13:40 EDT    72km/118.2km to go
We're on Lick Skillet Road. Predictor - Lotto must have stopped chasing because the gap has risen to 4 minutes. The break riders are taking a slight break to eat. Christian Vandevelde was having some fun with a photographer - giving him a view of what's for lunch. Some team cars are coming up to the break for the first time today to support their riders.

13:48 EDT   
The gap has grown again to 6:20. Tinkoff is at the front of the peloton now.

We'll be spending some time on Sloppy Floyd Lake Road and we can't help but notice how many times the word "Floyd" has appeared in local place names today. Maybe that's why Floyd Landis did so well last year when he won the overall? He'd have felt right at home.

13:53 EDT    80.3km/109.9km to go
The group just went for the first sprint. Results are 1. Timothy Johnson (Health Net), 2. Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), 3. Ivan Santaromita (Quick Step). Some of them sprinted. Ciaran Power (Navigators Insurance) went for the sprint first, but didn't get it. Not all the racers in the break contested it - some chose instead to save their energy.

The gap is back down to 5:00. Health Net and Tinkoff are on the front, but the pack isn't chasing too hard. Some are eating.

13:58 EDT   
Tyler Hamilton is not among the three Tinkoffs at the front of the peloton. The racers and fans today are enjoying wind-less conditions. We passed by a nice crowd when we went through that last sprint in Summerville. Next up on the docket is a KOM as we enter Walker County.

14:01 EDT    83.7km/106.5km to go
Today's stage finishes in Chattanooga in Tennessee, one state to the north of Georgia. Chattanooga is in the midst of undertaking an ambitious project to increase the amount of mountain bike trails to 100 miles of singletrack within a 10 mile radius of Chattanooga by 2010. The effort is being spearheaded by Chattanooga Area Singletrack Alliance.

Our gap is holding fairly steady - it's at 4:10.

14:11 EDT    93.5km/96.7km to go
The gap is up to 9:50 with 5km to go until the KOM. The racers are going several minutes faster than the fastest predicted schedule.

All the major teams are represented in the break including Discovery. While it's not one of their team leaders Levi Leiphimer or Thomas Danielson, it is Janez Brajkovic, so they won't chase to bring him back. Brajkovic was good here last year, and has a good shot at winning, so this could very well be the race-winning move.

In addition, teams like CSC have Christian Vandevelde in the break, so they, too, have no reason to chase.

The major teams that aren't represented - the ones who might help chase - are Toyota United, Priority Health, Tinkoff, and Jittery Joes.

14:13 EDT   
Tim Johnson (Health Net) is leading up the KOM. Lucas Euser is following (Slipstream). Then a Saunier Duval Rider is coming in third. It's a gradual pitch - 6 to 10% at the most.

14:15 EDT    107.6km/82.6km to go
We're 1.5 km from the top, and all 13 break riders are climbing together. The climb is smooth, wide, and straight. Gap is up to 11 minutes.

14:21 EDT    109.3km/80.9km to go
They are going for the KOM. Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream) is eating up the climb, Jeffry Louder (Health Net) is behind him. Then Louder comes around in the last 50 meters to take the KOM points.

Results are: 1. Jeffry Louder (Health Net), 2. Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream), 3. Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval - Prodir), 4. Scott Nydam (BMC)

14:22 EDT   
A crowd of about 50 people greeted racers at the KOM line. Racers were also serenaded by a community band. Louder will pocket a bonus US$1500 for taking that KOM.

14:25 EDT   
We're moving through big rolling hills now in Cloudland, Georgia. Gilberto Simoni reported to us this morning that he's feeling really good right now. He said he's here to race for a win in the GC, and while yes, it is training for the Giro, it's not just training. He wants to do well, too. Simoni predicted that today's climbs won't be selective enough to completely shatter the peloton, but will whittle it down to maybe 40 people riding together. Simoni also said he is time trialing well right now. He'll get a chance to show us tomorrow.

14:38 EDT    106.2km/84km to go
The gap is still growing. Now it's at an amazing 13:50. The break riders are taking turns leading with Scott Nydam (BMC) at the front for now.

Tyler Wren's friends from Philadelphia and New Jersey have emailed us to tell us they are rooting for him and hoping today will be his breakout race. We'll be watching to see how the Colavita/Sutter Home rider does today.

14:43 EDT   
This morning, Scott Moninger (BMC) told Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewsi that he's a little tired today. Moniger came directly from Redlands Stage Race and didn't have much rest in between. He said the first stage of this race on Monday was a blow-out-the-legs kind of a day, but he's been feeling better every day. Moninger is not in our break, but his teammate Scott Nydam is.

14:51 EDT   
Italian Daniele Contrini Tinkoff Credit Systems is in the leader's jersey today. Unlike many teams here who have eight riders, Tinkoff only has six members here.

14:55 EDT    120km/70.2km to go
The break's lead is now up to 17:20. We've got about 70 km to go. It seems as if the peloton has given the race away today and that someone in this break will walk away with the leader's jersey at the end of the stage.

15:04 EDT    120.7km/69.5km to go
The peloton has just finished a challenging descent with six hairpin curves. The 180 degree turns were lined with hay bales for extra padding, but fortunately, no one needed it.

Though strung out at the bottom of the descent, they are bunching back up, now 18:25 behind the leaders. Judging by their relatively leisurely pace, no one in the pack seems concered about the huge gap.

15:07 EDT   
Looking at our GC results yesterday, the highest placed rider in the break going into today's stage is Saunier Duval's David Canada Gracia,and therefore he is the virtual leader on the road. Gracia was sitting at 1:19 back after Stage 2. Six other break riders came just behind him on the GC at 1:22 back, and all but one of the break riders were within 1:51 of the lead after yesterday.

15:20 EDT   
Given the size of the gap, we can only conclude that Tinkoff gave up defending their leader's jersey. Before the stage, we asked Chris Wherry (Toyota United) about the extra work each Tinkoff guys had to do to defend their leader.

"I think Tinkoff realizes they only have six guys so they're doing all they can," said Wherry. The other teams generally have eight riders. He added that his Toyota United team has been working for field sprints that might yield stage wins while teams like Discovery have been targeting the overall.

Wherry had predicted that today's stage would not be a field sprint even though it's a new stage course this year and few riders had scouted it. The last climb of the day (Burkhalter Gap) is pretty brutal - it's a category three climb with KOM part-way up.

In the meantime, we'll have another KOM coming up fairly soon at km 144.9.

15:30 EDT   
We're on the third of four KOMs today. Johnson is setting pace followed by Nydam. Louder is near the front, being set up by teammate Johnson. Brajekovic is up there, too. It's similar to second KOM. Nice wide road and even grading (8%), but it's much longer, maybe 4 or 5 km.

15:32 EDT    144.9km/45.3km to go
Tim Johnson won the KOM. We're working on the other places - they were all sprinting for it.

15:37 EDT    148km/42.2km to go
Results from the third KOM are as follows: 1. Timothy Johnson (Health Net), 2. Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream), 3. Jeffry Louder (Health Net), 4. Scott Nydam (BMC)

Nydam's brother Trevor wrote in to tell us the Scott recently moved to Santa Rosa, California, to the train with Levi Leipheimer. We'll see if it has paid off today.

15:40 EDT   
The time gap is so big that 6 or 7 miles (9.6 to 11.2 km) now separate the leaders and the peloton.

There is a tailwind, just a light breeze right now.

Grover says he's picking Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) to win the overall, but we think he's biased because they're both wearing blue.

15:44 EDT    150.8km/39.4km to go
The gap is up to 23:10.

The breakaway is coming up to a descent which is marked with a "dangerous" sign. It's pretty smooth and wide road. It's beautiful all around us.

After the descent, we'll have a little way to go before we get to the final KOM of the day. #4 at Burkhalter Gap.

At the end of today's race, there will be no ciruits. The finish is similar to last year's time trial finish on Riverfront Parkway.

15:48 EDT    157.7km/32.5km to go
Now we're getting big switchbacks on the descent. The difference between these and the ones earlier is that there is a longer distance between each of these, so they pick up more speed and go faster into each one, making them more dangerous in general.

They are going at least 50 mph (80.4 kph) down them. Probably even more than that at some points.

The break has made it down safely.

15:52 EDT    170km/20.2km to go
We are at the bottom now between the two KOMs. We're soon to start the last KOM, which is 5km long. The gap is holding at 23:10.

The break seems a little disorganized at the moment. It looks like they are getting some last minute food and taking some nature breaks.

Both Discovery riders are at the front of the break.

15:54 EDT   
Tim Johnson just took over the pace making and he's radioing back to the team car. They are climing an 8 to 10 % grade. It's really straight and steady.

One of the Saunier Duval riders is on Johnson's wheel.

No one is getting dropped yet, but a few riders look like they are starting to struggling.

15:56 EDT   
The group is still all together. Johnson is on the front, followed by Louder. Discovery follows, then Saunier Duval.

It's kicking up again to about 10% and almost everyone is out of the saddle.

Vandevelde is coming up to Johnson.

15:59 EDT   
Both Discovery riders are side by side. There's one lone fan in this 2 km stretch running alongside the riders waving a clapper.

One Colavita guy is near the back, struggling a bit. It must be Tyler Wren. Both the Quick Step riders are near the back, too, looking a little rough.

15:59 EDT   
After the KOM, the racers will descend almost to the end. The final, flat 3 km will be the same as the finish of the time trial last year, right next to the river.

16:02 EDT   
Tim Johnson is still setting the pace. He spent some time in the ProTour for Saunier Duval a few years back, so he's got a lot of experience among his domestic team members. He's been setting the pace up the climbs all day today.

Vandevelde is tight on Johnson's wheel.

23 minutes is the gap. It's come down slightly.

16:04 EDT   
One of the Saunier Duval guys has attacked. He's being marked by another rider.

Looks like they are are Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) and Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval - Prodir). They are 800 m from the KOM.

There are about 500 spectators. Many are cyclists who rode up here.

16:04 EDT   
The KOM is the top of a road with a turn, but the course keeps rolling and generally going up afterward. It's not like the cross the line and drop straight down.

The front of the break is coming back together.

16:08 EDT    176.1km/14.1km to go
Tim Johnson, Jeff Louder, Tyler Wren are off the back. Rubens Bertogliati and (Saunier Duval - Prodir) and Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) have a twelve second advantage over the rest of the break.

KOM #4 Results: 1. Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), 2. Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval - Prodir), 3. Christian Vandevelde (Team CSC), 4. Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel), 5. David Canada Gracia (Saunier Duval - Prodir)

16:14 EDT    170.2km/20km to go
We still have our two leaders at 12 seconds: Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step), Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval - Prodir). Then a group of 7 remaining breakaway riders follows.

We still have a bit more of descent to go down into Chattanooga.

16:14 EDT   
Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel) is trying to bridge up.

16:16 EDT    172.2km/18km to go
Our leaders have 15 seconds. We're on some rolling hills before a big descent.

16:20 EDT    175.2km/15km to go
Our duo has 18 seconds over six chasers after the seventh rider Scott Nydam (BMC) has dropped off the chasers.

16:21 EDT    176.2km/14km to go
The gap is 25 seconds to the lead duo. Nydam has caught back up to our chasers.

This descent has plenty of blind curves, off-camber descents. They just entered Walker County and are entering Lookout Mountain.

16:25 EDT    180.2km/10km to go
Halfway down the descent, we will pick up last year's time trial course, and the going gets a bit gnarlier.

Our lead duo of Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) and Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval - Prodir) had a 9 second gap. It's starting to come back together.

16:26 EDT   
When we get to the bottom, we have 5km of flat road. The break is at 8 seconds. They will not be able to hold it. Expect the counterattacks to start soon.

16:27 EDT   
A rider is down on the descent.

16:28 EDT   
Ciaran Power (Navigators) has crashed. He is up and rolling now.

16:29 EDT   
It's all together again now, excepting Powers. We have eight leaders now.

16:30 EDT    185.2km/5km to go
One rider has gotten away.

16:32 EDT    186.2km/4km to go
Jeffry Louder (Health Net) is off the front at 12 seconds

16:33 EDT    187.2km/3km to go
Louder is going for it solo off the front. This is his chance.

16:33 EDT   
Louder is on his brakehoods and he's driving it. He's not looking back. The gap is at 8 seconds. IT's coming down. Vandevelde is chasing.

16:34 EDT   
No, it's Scott Nydam who's chasing Louder.

Discovery passes Nydam.

16:34 EDT   
Its Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel). He passes Louder.

They are five seconds ahead of the chasers. Nyder is back with the chasers.

16:35 EDT   
The chasers have caught the leaders.

16:35 EDT    189.2km/1km to go
They're turning right.

There's another attack, it's single file. They are all across the road.

Discovery is on the front looking around. He's flanked by both Prodir riders on the right and left.

16:36 EDT   
Louder attacks with 700m to go

Now 500m

16:36 EDT   
Prodir is tring to catch up. 400m to go.

16:36 EDT    189.9km/0.3km to go
Louder has gap...

16:37 EDT   
Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel) passes Louder.

16:37 EDT   
Gianni Meersman (Discovery Channel) takes the win.

16:38 EDT   
Everyone is now congratulating Meersman on his win.

16:39 EDT   
Meersman was at 7:51 after yesterday's stage 2 in the GC, so we're not expecting him to add a yellow jersey to his stage win today.

16:44 EDT   
Cieran Powers did finish the race after his crash. He just walked into medical after the finish under his own power.

16:46 EDT   
We heard that he flipped up and over a guardrail

16:47 EDT   
Second and Third places today are David Canada Gracia (Spa) Saunier Duval and Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery.

The new overall leader is David Canada Gracia.

16:49 EDT   
Health Net's Jeffry Louder (USA) takes the KOM jersey after today, and teammate Timothy Johnson (USA) gets the most aggressive rider award after steadily driving the break up most of today's climbs.

16:52 EDT   
As a summary, our today's Stage 3 results are

Stage 3
1 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Discovery Channel
2 David Canada Gracia (Spa) Saunier Duval
3 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery.

General Classification after Stage 3
1 David Canada Gracia.

Mountains Jersey
1 Jeffry Louder (USA) Health Net

Most Aggressive Racer
1 Timothy Johnson (USA) Health Net

16:56 EDT   
That wraps up our live coverage for today. Grover said he has to go do some interviews. Please stay tuned to www.cyclingnews.com for full results, a full report, and photos coming soon.

We resume live coverage tomorrow for Stage 4's time trial at 11:00 AM. Racers will do an individual time trial of 18.9 miles (30.4 km).

Thanks for joining us!

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