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Photo ©: Bettini

Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 18-25, 2007

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Stage 7 - February 25: Long Beach - Long Beach (Circuit race), 124.7km

Complete live report

16:18 PST    The Tour of California comes to a close on Sunday with a 124-kilometer circuit race in Long Beach, California. Leipheimer, who has led the race from the first stage, holds an iron-fisted grip on the lead so expect the teams of his closest rivals to apply relentless pressure on the Discovery Channel team. Stage 7 is flat and fast and will likely feature sprint action as the cyclists complete 10 laps around a circuit course in downtown Long Beach. The stage includes part of the famous Long Beach Grand Prix course used for CART race cars, meaning a legacy of roads that are wide and fast. Views of San Pedro Bay and the Pacific Ocean will be visible for the entire course, with a backdrop of the famed Queen Mary in the bay.

With three intermediate sprints on the line, CSC's Juan Jose Haedo will be battling to keep that jersey with the likes of Paolo Bettini and Thor Hushovd. Leipheimer's yellow jersey is safe as long as he stays with Jens Voigt, but his team has worked extra hard all week chasing breaks. The Discovery/CSC rivalry has been intense all week, and we don't expect it to die down soon.

12:50 PST    Welcome back to our live coverage of the final stage of the Tour of California. Today's stage in Long Beach will be flat, fast and furious. After a clear, warm sunny morning, the clouds have rolled in and the temperatures have dropped to about 10C/50F, and the winds have picked up. We've got a light mist at the moment, but it's not enough to dampen the roads too much. On this long, flat 12.5km circuit, the winds will be in the riders' faces as they come through the finish line. One non-starter today is George Hincapie, who broke his wrist in the early crash on stage six. He had surgery this morning, and according to his brother Rich, it went well. George was back at the race hotel by noon sporting a new cast and sling, and a bit of a dazed look from the pain killers.

12:54 PST    We spoke with George' teammate Tony Cruz this morning, and he said that the injury was to George's radius - the bone that runs from the elbow to the thumb side of the wrist, and that he had a plate put in this morning. While a normal person might need 6-8 weeks of recovery for such a break, if George could ride 160km with an unsupported break bad enough to require a plate, we're guessing he'll be back on the bike and racing sooner. Johan Bruyneel was under the impression this morning that this injury would keep George out of the spring classics. Riding cobblestones with a newly healed break would certainly be painful...

12:58 PST    There's no neutral today, and this short, 124km stage will be fast from the gun. When you see T-mobile actually warming up for the beginning of a stage, you know they're getting ready to go hard from the start. Normally, the riders get about 10km of neutral to get their legs moving, but not so in Long Beach.

13:01 PST    Just seconds from the start now, and just as with all the other stages, the riders are getting a break from mother nature - the clouds are parting, blue skies are peaking through the clouds, and they could be fortunate enough to have dry roads to race on.

13:03 PST    And they're off! One of the riders who will be looking to win from a bunch sprint today is Fast Freddie Rodriguez (Predictor-Lotto). He was quite annoyed with the finish on stage six where he ran into Gerolsteiner's Robert Forster, and lost some momentum in the sprint. We spoke with Chris Horner, and he's determined to give the former US Pro champion a stage win here in Long Beach.

13:11 PST    The crowds are big, and getting bigger all the time as people flock from the parking garages down to the course along Shoreline Drive. The domestic teams are the first to attack - Jelly Belly puts in a dig, and then Slipstream has a try. Discovery Channel's Tom Danielson wasn't too happy with Slipstream's attack yesterday that went while George Hincapie and Tony Cruz were trying to regain the pack after their crash.

13:18 PST    8km/116.7km to go Slipstream attacked as the riders headed back toward the start/finish area, and then it was Health Net's Tim Johnson who was at the front of the pack. He put in a huge effort, and rolled off the front.

13:19 PST    Steven Cozza (Team Slipstream p/b Chipotle) bridges across to Johnson, and then two more go after the leaders... Discovery Channel is massed at the front of the pack trying to keep things under control. They're hoping to set things up for former US Criterium champion Tony Cruz who lives in Long Beach.

13:22 PST    It was T-mobile's Adam Hansen who went across from the break, taking Ben Jacques-Maynes (Priority Health) along. They've opened up a fairly big gap, but are still in sight of the peloton and the attacks fly as more teams want to join this move.

13:31 PST    24km/100.7km to go Toyota United Pro's Sean Sullivan has made it across to the break and has taking another Tasmania, Karl "Ten" Menzies along for the ride.

13:44 PST    The break is within one kilometer of the intermediate sprint and have a solid gap - 45 seconds and growing. Discovery is at the front of the main group but is not getting any help at this stage of the race. Bettini is sitting comfortably at the back of the group along with Fred Rodriguez, just relaxing and enjoying the scenery.

13:52 PST    37km/87.7km to go The break rolls through at the sprint, still in a nice, tight paceline. Menzies takes the sprint, but it wasn't much of a sprint at all. The break is working together to extend their lead, and have brought the gap well over two minutes by taking smooth pulls.

13:54 PST    The race results yesterday showed Adam Hansen as a DNF, but that is clearly not correct - he's in the break and helping to keep in moving along. Back in the peloton, Discovery Channel is once again forced to resort to team time trial practice to keep this move within a reasonable distance. CSC isn't as present at the front as they have been, it's instead Health Net who is making sure to mark any attempts to bridge to the move that has two of their riders.

13:58 PST    The sun as come back out, and Hansen removes his wind vest at the back of the break. Two of the teams up in the move, Health Net and Slipstream, didn't make friends on stage six. There was a bit of complaining from CSC when Health Net aided the Discovery Channel chase on the closing circuits in Santa Clarita. They were hoping that the break would stay clear, and were confident that O'Grady could have taken the win. Slipstream earned Discovery's wrath when violated an unspoken rule when they attacked while Discovery's riders were trying to chase back on after a crash.

14:08 PST    49km/75.7km to go The break is on their way out with six laps to go, and still looking strong. Back in the peloton it's still, as it has been all week long, Disco on the front. Tom Danielson said this morning that he's been pulling all day every day - and he's been pouring himself into the team effort because he wants to show Leipheimer that he's fully behind him. Of course, displaying this kind of work ethic in front of Johan Bruyneel is a good idea, too. It's kind of a try-out for the Tour de France, and Danielson is also riding next to the Tour team leader Ivan Basso - showing Basso that he has the goods.

14:13 PST    51km/73.7km to go Tony Cruz is also at the front of the bunch, and it's clear that he won't be saving his legs for the sprint. He lives just three blocks from the course, and this morning was saying that he'd like to be able to go for the sprint, but protecting Leipheimer's lead is the first priority. The virtual leader on the road is now Danny Pate, who this morning was sitting 2'31 behind Leipheimer. With 74km to go, he probably won't have long to enjoy that 'virtual' lead of just nine seconds.

14:17 PST    56km/68.7km to go The Cyclingnews ESP is spot on today, and the break is in trouble because BMC has sent some riders up to the front of the chasing peloton to give Discovery Channel a hand. The break is still working smoothly, but the more help gets put into the chase, the shorter their time out front will be.

14:18 PST    58km/66.7km to go Jackson Stewart (BMC) comes to the front now, and the gap has come down to 2'30.

14:20 PST    There's another intermediate sprint at the end of this lap, and while BMC isn't in the running for any jerseys, they will want to show their worthiness to be in the race by getting up there to try for a stage win. Or, at the very least take an intermediate sprint and win some gas money.

14:23 PST    64km/60.7km to go Health Net takes the sprint again - but once again it wasn't contested by the rest of the break, and they just let them roll through. Timothy Johnson hit the line ahead of Karl Menzies and Danny Pate (Team Slipstream p/b Chipotle) The gap has gone out again - 2'45 now.

14:25 PST    68km/56.7km to go Now Credit Agricole has sent someone up from to help with the chase - they'll want to bring this back for their big Norwegian sprinter Thor 'god of thunder' Hushovd. Or is that 'thunder thighs'?

14:30 PST    72km/52.7km to go A Slipstream rider attacks! Wait - he's just rolling up to the camera moto to tell him to pull away. They don't want the motos giving any assistance to the chasers.

14:32 PST    73km/51.7km to go The Discovery Channel team is getting some help from BMC and a token Credit Agricole rider - Rabobank sends one up there, too. When BMC was rolling through, they must not have been pulling as hard as Discovery, because the gap actually went back out under their guard. However, after Danielson's pull the gap came back down to 2'30.

14:34 PST    BMC is still drilling the front of the race but the gap is such that Danny Pate is actually the leader of the Tour of California on the road. One has to wonder why exactly BMC is working so hard. They missed the break, but so have most of the other teams.

14:37 PST    75km/49.7km to go Still sitting at the back of the pack, taking it easy, is Paolo Bettini and Fred Rodriguez. The sprinters are biding their time and sitting behind the wide part of the peloton. The bunch is pear-shaped right now - the Discovery train stringing out the front with their helpers, and behind them the riders are 4 and 5 wide just cruising along. The chase is picking up now, and is bringing the gap down to 2'15.

14:38 PST    Leipheimer has moved back into the virtual lead now that the gap has come down. The break is still working well together - a cohesive paceline, heads down, hands in the drops, each rider taking short pulls. The front of the main field is peppered with riders from different teams; Credit Agricole, Rabobank, BMC, Discovery Channel. It seems the field is determined to bring back the break and contest the final stage in a mass sprint.

14:44 PST    78km/46.7km to go The wind has shifted and the riders will face a strong cross-tailwind for the sprint if it all comes back together. From 3-kilometers to go to 1-kilometers to go, the riders will have a headwind, then the course turns back on itself. Which means the lead-out fight will happen into the wind making lead-out train formation difficult, and then with just over 1km to go, they'll be going with the wind and the speeds will be very high.

14:51 PST    83km/41.7km to go Team Navigators have moved into the lead of the main pack to help pull the break back as well. Leipheimer is tucked safely about fifteen riders back. There is a lot of ground yet to cover and the split is currently at 1:50.

14:55 PST    The majority of Liquigas and Priority Health are sitting in the main group right behind Leipheimer, making the front of the peloton predominantly bright green. With Priority Health's Ben Jaques-Maynes (who, if not for the adjustment in times on the first stage would have worn the leader's jersey in his hometown of Santa Rosa) in the break, his team won't work to pull the break back. But with the race now in the third from final lap, they have no say in Jaques-Maynes success; the gap is down to 1:20 from the efforts of all the teams working together at the front.

14:59 PST    90km/34.7km to go The gap is now 1:30 - bouncing around a little bit. It may be a results of the shifting of riders at the head of the main pack. Whereas the break is working well together and keeping a consistent pace, the front of the main pack is changing hands so often, the pace may be lifting and lulling with each new pacesetter.

15:05 PST    92km/32.7km to go Gap at 1:25. At this pace, the break should be caught within the last lap. But Danny Pate is somewhat of a long-break specialist. We wrote about this in a previous live report but it bears repeating; Pate was part of an extended three-man break at the 2005 US PRO race in Philly race that ultimately launched Wherry into the national championship jersey. In that race, an international field in mid-season form worked as hard as they could for miles and couldn't reel the three in. If motivated riders like Pate, Jacques-Maynes, and Tim Johnson - guys who have been looking to shine in the home country's premiere stage race - get away, we just might see an upset to the sprinters' plans.

15:07 PST    The main-pack pacesetters are taking long pulls and the group is stretched single-file maybe seventy-five riders deep. The break continues to paceline like a team in a team time-trial. It's almost a stalemate on the road; the gap is holding at 1:20. Ben Jaques-Maynes is taking a feed trying to shore up his reserves for the final two laps.

15:09 PST    100km/24.7km to go The leaders just went through the start/finsh line heading out for the second-to-last lap. The gap is at 1:15.

15:12 PST    The sprinters teams are working more at the front at this point. Gerolsteiner, Credit Agricole and Rabobank are all taking turns trying to setup Robert Forster, Thor Hushovd and Greame Brown respectively. Toyota United's team car stopped at the feed zone behind the peloton to load up on Coke's for a little pep for the finale.

15:13 PST    105km/19.7km to go The gap is down to 55 seconds now.

15:15 PST    Toyota United's Tasmanian rider Sean Sullivan has had a "nose for the break all week" according to director Kirk Willet. But with the times coming down this fast, he may have to wait for another race for a break he can succeed in.

15:17 PST    107km/17.7km to go The leaders are working into the headwind and appear to be suffering from their extended efforts. But they continue to roll through and share the work in a organized fashion.

15:22 PST    112km/14.7km to go Coming up to the turnaround before the racers head out for the final lap, the main pack is slowly but surely reeling in a fading break. The headwind is causing a little disorganization at the front of main group though and the break is holding steady at just under one minute.

15:24 PST   114km/12.7km to go CSC's new acquisition and double-stage winner, sprinter JJ Haedo, has moved up the group and is sitting in the front third. Paolo Bettini has also moved from the back into a better position to be relevant for the sprint, as the Rabobank team continues to help drive the pace at the front of the group for their man Graeme Brown.

15:25 PST    One lap to go. The break is still away. The gap is now down to 40 seconds

15:31 PST    Stuart O'Grady (in the most-aggressive riders jersey) said to our reporter this morning that he's trying out a new role at Tour of California. A champion bunch sprinter for years, he said he's "never led out anyone in his life". But he thinks highly of Haedo, and said he has "loads of talent". He and JJ Haedo hit it off really well at the team camp, and he said JJ's a "really nice guy" and he has no problems playing the lead-out role in order for his team to win races.

15:31 PST    The cooperation in the break has collapsed. Karl Menzies attempts to attack the break but is quickly pulled back. Cozza goes with him, but the surge has shattered the break as the peloton looms large just behind them.

15:35 PST    121km/3.7km to go And with the CSC team en masse at the front of the peloton, Menzies has to concede defeat. He pulls of to the right and sighs as the peloton comes roaring past. Julich, Vandevelde, O'Grady - even Jens Voigt is setting pace with Haedo tucked 5th wheel.

15:36 PST    122km/2.7km to go CSC is staying organized at the front with T-Mobile, Credit Agricole fighting for position and establishing a second line at one side of CSC.

15:37 PST    Predictor-Lotto is in the mix; Horner moving Rodriguez to the front.

15:38 PST    123.7km/1.0km to go They have made the final turn and are just going under the one-kilometer to go. The speed is picking up. Bettini is poking his head up about twelve riders from the front. CSC has lost control of this sprint! Credit Agricole moves up...

15:39 PST   O'Grady goes with Haedo on his wheel. Liquigas is right behind as Brown hits off on the right.

15:39 PST    Hushovd is moves up the outside, and then Liquigas goes - T-mobile on the left, Predictor-Lotto has Haedo boxed in - the throw for the line is a mass of riders neck and neck!

15:40 PST    124.7km/0km to go It's going to have to go to the cameras for this one. It looked like Toyota or Brown might have gotten it, but T-mobile and Liquigas were right up there. We'll get the top three as soon as we can.

15:41 PST    Leipheimer finished safely in the bunch and has won the 2007 Tour of California.

15:42 PST    Toyota United's Ivan Dominguez took the sprint. Graeme Brown took second.

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