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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 18-25, 2007

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Stage 3 - February 21: Stockton to San José, 152.2km

Complete live report

Good morning everyone. Our coverage begins today at 11:00am PST as the peloton runs 150-kilometers from Stockton to San Jose. It's a hilly day with four major climbs along the route. The final climb, at 115-kilometers, rises 400-meters in just a couple of kilometers and is sure to break up the pack before a sketchy and fast descent and a final run to the finish. Should be exciting. See you back here at 11.

10:41 PST    We're ready for another beautiful California day - the weather this year is once again on the side of the race organizers and the skies are clear and the temperatures perfect for bike racing. Levi Leipheimer is gearing up for a challenging day today - he'll have to be on his toes for this mountainous stage. There are only two categorized climbs, but the category one Sierra Road climb is very steep. There's going to be a big fight for position going into the lower slopes of that hill which comes only 30km from the finish.

10:47 PST    Mark Zalewski spoke with Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen this morning, and asked if he'd be going for the climbs today. But the two time winner of the Tour de France polka dot jersey is not in good form at the moment. He broke his femur late last year, and is still trying to get back some of his old spark. He said the climb is much too close to the finish for Graeme Brown to figure into a sprint, but tipped his teammate Theo Eltink for the finish.

10:49 PST    Predictor-Lotto's Nick Gates wants to let all his Aussie fans know that he's doing OK. Gates went down in the massive pileup on stage one, and was taken to the hospital after the finish. He said he's got a fractured rib and a bruised tailbone, but is going to try to ride as long as he can to get the training miles.

10:55 PST    Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole) is in the blue jersey for the most aggressive rider today. Laurent took both intermediate sprints and both KOM sprints in stage two. Lining up behind Laurent is George Hincapie in his stars and stripes jersey of the US national road race champion. Hincapie will be helping to protect Leipheimer's jersey today, but last year he won this stage in a small bunch sprint ahead of Chris Horner.

10:56 PST    World time trial champion Fabian (CSC) is standing next to Leipheimer, as Paolo Bettini gets his call-up. There are big crowds at the start in Stockton, and the American fans just love the Italian.

10:59 PST    Called up next is Ivan Basso - he has his usual placid expression. Basso, Hincapie and Danielson are all within 15 seconds of the overall GC, so the Discovery team has plenty of options should Leipheimer have a bad day in the hills.

11:02 PST    And we're off! The riders will roll out for a few neutral kilometres before heading southwest out of Stockton. The first 40km or so are almost pancake flat before the riders will head up to Patterson Pass, a 500m climb that's only a category four.

11:07 PST    The riders are taking their neutral laps 'piano' - McCartney and Bobby Julich are having a laugh, and Fabian Cancellara is obviously speaking Italian with Bettini because he's gesticulating wildly.

11:10 PST    The riders are still on the neutral, and will get a little extra time of easy riding this morning. Apparently an 18-wheel truck has overturned right at the 0km mark, and there's only a few feet of room for the riders to get around it. The officials will drop the flag once everyone is through.

11:16 PST    The nice weather in Stockton could be the calm before the storm, so to speak. There are some showers moving into the area, but hopefully the racers will be quick enough to stay ahead of them. Jason from Fremont wrote in to say that Patterson Pass may only be a Cat 4 climb but can be VERY windy. The Altamont pass has Windmill generators for a reason - the winds can reach upwards of 135 mph out there, and should be right in the riders' faces when they get to the top.

11:20 PST    Between the two climbs today, the riders will pass over the Hetch Hetchy Aqueduct, which is the primary water source for much of the Bay Area. It brings water from Yosemite park to the Del Valle reservoir and then west to San Francisco.

11:25 PST    As the riders near the end of the neutral zone, we still have a nice easy pace. George Hincapie is having a snack while chatting with his friend Fred Rodriguez. Christophe Laurent is in that most aggressive rider jersey, but is also second in the mountains classification after taking both KOM's on stage two. He told Mark Zalewski that the climber's jersey is a goal for him, and that today is a prime opportunity to gain points.

11:26 PST    1km/151.2km to go And right from the gun we have an attack! Slipstream's Will Frischkorn and Alejandro Acton from Colavita are dangling just ahead of the pack, which is lined across the road.

11:29 PST    1km/151.2km to go Brian Dziewa (Jelly Belly), and Phil Zajicek (Navigators) bridged up, but were quicly brought back.

11:30 PST    2km/150.2km to go There's plenty of action now - T-mobile attacks, but can't get far, and then Credit Agricole goes, marked by Liquigas... They're caught, but the pace is high and the pack is now single file as the race flies out of Stockton.

11:31 PST    3km/149.2km to go Slipstream is holding true to their promise to attack from the gun, and launches another one, but he doesn't get a gap. Mick Rogers is now setting tempo at the front, as things calm down for a moment.

11:35 PST    3km/149.2km to go A group of about 17 pulls away but it's not exactly a break just yet. They've got 100m - Kyle Gritters (Health Net) is up there, as is Jakob Piil (T-mobile).

11:39 PST    6km/146.2km to go The break is starting to solidify now, and some of the riders up there in the big group are Jurgen Van De Walle (Quick Step), Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas), Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Bram De Groot (Rabobank), Charly Wegelius (Liquigas), Steven Cozza (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle), William Frischkorn (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle), Nicolar Reistad (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Kirk O'Bee (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Mads Kaggestad (Credit Agricole), Kyle Gritters (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Mike Sayers (BMC), Jason McCartney (Discovery), Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), and Aaron Olsen (T-mobile), Jakob Piil (T-mobile) with Shawn Milne (Health Net).

11:44 PST    Jakob Piil and Aaron Olson are also up there representing T-mobile, but at the moment, the break isn't getting much separation from the pack. We're on completely flat roads here, and Discovery Channel is setting pace up front with Hincapie, Basso, Davis and Cruz all taking pulls.

11:50 PST    20km/132.2km to go Big George Hincapie is taking a massive pull up front, then Cruz - this team is not letting the break get any room. Up in the break, there are some attacks - the break is too big, and Slipstream wants to pull a smaller group away.

11:55 PST    The break is working smoothly together, everyone pulling through in a nice pace line as they speed through the heart of the central valley. This area is the primary source of much of the produce that makes its way to American tables.

11:57 PST    23km/129.2km to go The race turns into the wind, and the riders at the front of the break are out of the saddle, trying to keep the momentum up. Discovery Channel is getting some team time trial practice as they keep the break on a short leash.

12:03 PST    25km/127.2km to go Paolo Bettini has a rear flat tire, but shouldn't have trouble getting a spare. Up in the break, Liquigas has Charly Wegelius - their hope for the climbs in this stage. They want the break to stick, and are pouring a lot of effort into the move with their man Mauro Da Dalto helping out.

12:09 PST    27km/125.2km to go Mike Sayers is also in the break - he had an unfortunate incident on the closing circuit yesterday when he ran into a pole and crashed, but he wasn't hurt and felt a little silly about it.

12:17 PST    Jens Voigt is the highest placed rider in the overall classification in this breakaway, and even though Discovery's Jason McCartney is up there, too, Discovery won't want to give Voigt any time - he's only 10 seconds behind Leipheimer.

12:20 PST    33km/119.2km to go The riders are now going under the highway and are starting into the shallow foothills now - the terrain is still wide open, grassy hills that are a nice green thanks to the winter rains.

12:26 PST    45km/107.2km to go As the field passes through some rural areas, they see the Mulqueeny ranch - but not a cow in sight. Some of the roads are fairly narrow and rough. The break is still working smoothly together, but they can see the mountain on the horizon and know they've got a lot of hard work ahead of them.

12:29 PST    Discovery Channel is still taking responsibility for keeping the break under control, Hincapie, Cruz and Davis are doing a lot of the pulling. Omer Kem, one of the escapees in stage two, has withdrawn from the race - I guess he's feeling the effects of that extremely long breakaway. But he's done his job in getting the Priority Health name out in front.

12:32 PST    51km/101.2km to go The leaders are on the climb now, and the slopes are still open grasslands. The windmills in the area aren't turning at the moment, so the riders might get lucky and avoid the massive headwinds that sometimes blow through this area. Jens Voigt is doing a lot of work on this climb, but sits up to have a drink and lets Mads Kaggestad (Credit Agricole) take over. It's still nice and sunny, but there are a few clouds rolling in - and although there is rain in the forecase, it's due later on tonight and so the riders will probably stay dry today.

12:36 PST    54km/98.2km to go The peloton has settled into an easier tempo, allowing the break to go out over two minutes. Jens Voigt is still putting on the pressure, along with Charly Wegelius and Kirk O'Bee. Now Jason McCartney comes to the front for the first time.

12:38 PST    55km/97.2km to go John Devine is sitting up in front of the peloton with his Discovery Channel teammates - but he's wearing the US National team's kit for the Tour of California. Up ahead, the break is nearing the top of the climb and it's big Jens Voigt at the front followed by Jurgen van de Walle. It's starting to get a bit steeper here, and Cozza is out of the saddle looking like it's a bit hard for him.

12:40 PST    55km/97.2km to go Jason McCartney puts in a big effort, but drops back when van de Walle and Frischkorn hit the gas and take off for the KOM. Frischy leaves the Quick Step rider behind and takes max points ahead of van de Walle, and then immediately sits up.

12:42 PST    Over the top of the climb, the riders will have a long, long descent to the first intermediate sprint at km 70.

12:45 PST    58km/94.2km to go The descent isn't too steep and the roads are wide open and safe here, allowing the riders in the break to have a drink and a snack as they cruise along. Speaking of Cruz, he's still at the front of the peloton as they come over the top of the Patterson Pass.

12:48 PST    All this time has gone by since the break went away and we failed to mention that Gerolsteiner's Torsten Heikmann is up there, too! He's been rather stealthy, even in that bright blue kit.

12:54 PST    62km/90.2km to go Shawn Milne (Health Net) heads back to his team car for a drink and passes by some flags which are flying horizontal - the winds are picking up now that they've gotten into the valley. The results of the KOM were Frischkorn, Van de Walle, Slipstream's Stephen Cozza followed by Mads Kaggestad (Credit Agricole). Slipstream is working hard to protect Tom Peterson's mountain jersey by trying to take points away from Van de Walle.

Now they're about 8km from the first intermediate sprint.

12:57 PST    74km/78.2km to go The Discovery Channel team car comes forward to give Jason McCartney a bottle, and in the passenger seat is long time Discovery/US postal rider Viatcheslav Ekimov. At the back of the peloton, there's a big group of riders struggling to catch back on through the caravan - they'll catch back on just in time for the pace to go up for the intermediate sprint.

13:00 PST    The leaders are rolling through a residential area at the moment, and Rabobank's Bram de Groot is at the front keeping the pace high. Back in the peloton, the chase is back on after a bit of a slowdown for feeding, and Allan Davis is helping to string out the bunch.

13:04 PST    72km/80.2km to go Mike from Illinois tells us that John Devine spent a fair amount of time up front on the dirt courses around Prophetstown and Dixon, IL in the late '90's as a young teenager racing in the "Expert" class. "I think everyone at those races expected him to make a living racing bikes."

In the break, Jens Voigt puts in a big attack in advance of the sprint... and the rest of the break gives him little resistance. He easily takes the time bonus and then sits up to go back into the group. Those three seconds could help put him into yellow tonight - every second counts, and he's just ten seconds behind Leipheimer after yesterday's stage, and in the virtual lead at the moment thanks to this group's three minute advantage.

13:13 PST    75km/77.2km to go The leaders are heading up one of the uncategorized climbs at the moment, still on a wide open, smooth highway, and get cheered on by some fairly large crowds outside of Livermore.

13:15 PST    79km/73.2km to go As the breakaway gets to the top of the small climb, Jason McCartney stretches his legs - he puts in a bit of an effort, looks back and sees that nobody has come with him, and puts his head down to drive it.

13:18 PST    82km/70.2km to go As we corrected ourselves earlier, Adam Hansen isn't in the break, but Aaron Olson and Jakob Piil are representing T-mobile. Piil took second in the bonus sprint to Jens Voigt (CSC) with Quick Step's Jurgen Van de Walle in third.

13:19 PST    It's nice to see that the riders' moms are following the race on Cyclingnews - Adam Hansen's just wrote in asking if he was in the break. He didn't make this one, but he's a tough kid and will surely show his face at the front at some point during this Tour of California.

13:28 PST    The break at the moment is as follows - Jurgen Van De Walle (Quick Step), Shawn Milne (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas), Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Bram De Groot (Rabobank), Charly Wegelius (Liquigas), Steven Cozza (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle), William Frischkorn (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle), Nicolar Reistad (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Kirk O'Bee (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Mads Kaggestad (Credit Agricole), Kyle Gritters (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Mike Sayers (BMC), Jason McCartney (Discovery), Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner), Jason McCartney (Discovery) and Aaron Olsen (T-mobile). The low clouds at the top of that small climb are obscuring the view from the Hindenburg V-2, and we haven't gotten word on whether McCartney's attack was successful.

13:34 PST    89km/63.2km to go Jason McCartney's attack didn't get anywhere, and the break is now on the lower slopes of the second uncategorized climb. They're getting into the trees now, and the clouds are rolling in as winds pick up from the south. They've got the wind in their faces now, making this gentle climb harder. Mike Sayers pulls through, and then Kirk O'Bee takes his turn.

13:37 PST    92km/60.2km to go Kaggestad is on the front, and wiggles his elbow to tell Steven Cozza (Slipstream) to come through. Nick Reistad (Jelly Belly) takes his turn as the roads start to twist and turn through the live oaks on this climb. It's a pretty gentle 6% or so, but after more than 90km off the front, it's starting to cause a bit of pain.

13:38 PST    Apparently Lance Armstrong has made an appearance in Stockton, and is now in one of the team cars. That'll put the fear into the Discovery boys - they won't want to disappoint the seven time Tour champion.

13:42 PST    93km/59.2km to go Rabobank has now come to the front to help Discovery Channel bring the gap down. I guess they don't fancy Bram de Groot's chances on that category one climb. They're stringing out the peloton as they head up the very narrow roads on the climb.

13:50 PST    97km/55.2km to go We've got an attack now from the breakaway, it's Health Net's Shawn Milne, who has surprised the camera moto and blown past him on a short descent, and is now heading back uphill. He's putting in a good effort, heading around the curves and getting out of the saddle to keep his speed up.

13:55 PST    Shawn Milne is opening a decent gap, more than twenty seconds now and going out. Milne will be completely unknown to the Europeans, but in the US he's well known for winning the Charlotte, NC Bank of America criterium. He won from a three man break that just barely managed to hold off the bunch sprint by a few metres and got a pretty hefty paycheck from that result.

13:57 PST    Milne is not getting to enjoy the incredible view from the top of this ridge, and maybe he doesn't want to look, because off in the distance, the category one Sierra road climb is looming.

14:04 PST    108km/44.2km to go Shawn Milne isn't a bad climber, either. He won the Wachusett mountain stage and the overall of the Fitchsburg-Longsjo Classic last year on top of his big win at the Bank of America criterium. He's rocketing down into the valley between the uncategorized hill and the final challenge - the Sierra Road climb.

14:11 PST    114km/38.2km to go On the descent, Milne was hitting speeds of 45mph or more (72 kph) and looked pretty comfortable doing it. He even weaved his way through the "bott's dots" on the center line with ease. He's keeping the gap at the moment, but the Sierra Road climb will certainly cause a few troubles for him and the rest of the breakaway.

14:12 PST    After several corrections, here is the complete composition of the break: Jurgen Van De Walle (Quick Step), Mauro Da Dalto (Liquigas), Jens Voigt (Team CSC), Bram De Groot (Rabobank), Charly Wegelius (Liquigas), Steven Cozza (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle), William Frischkorn (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle), Nicolar Reistad (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Kirk O'Bee (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Mads Kaggestad (Credit Agricole), Kyle Gritters (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Mike Sayers (BMC), Jason McCartney (Discovery), Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), and Aaron Olsen (T-mobile), Jakob Piil (T-mobile) with Shawn Milne (Health Net) off the front by 30 seconds.

14:18 PST    They are 5km from the top of Sierra Road. The breakaway is starting to hurt now, with gaps beginning to open as the road turns up steeply. There is a big crowd cheering them on. This is crunch time for the break as well as the field. The gap to the field is coming down quickly, and the Leipheimer-led bunch will probably overhaul the leaders before the summit.

14:20 PST    Discovery's Jason McCartney attacks! He's caused major damage in this breakaway, and the group of seventeen is strung out all over the side of the mountain as the chasing peloton, which has also detonated, has the end of the breakaway in their sights.

14:20 PST    This is it. This is the decisive moment of the race. Levi is up there in the chase with Allen Davis, and the bunch is lined out single file behind. Up in the break,  Voigt has pulled up to McCartney's wheel. But McCartney will keep going, knowing that Leipheimer isn't far behind, and will need help once he gets to the front of the race. Leipheimer is working to bridge to his teammate.

14:22 PST    McCartney has saved energy all day long in the break, and he's probably the strongest man in the break right now.

14:23 PST    Leipheimer is attacking! Chris Horner (Predictor-Lotto) is on his wheel, with a Rabobank rider and one from T-mobile just behind.  Leipheimer just wants to put time between himself and the rest of the field. He's pushing hard.

14:24 PST    McCartney is attacking and dropping Jens Voigt, but the strong German knows how to ride in a break - he claws his way back to McCartney's wheel.

14:27 PST    McCartney and Voigt are now being caught by the Leipheimer group, and now McCartney will start working for Leipheimer, trying to help get ride of Jens Voigt would could threaten Leipheimer's overall lead. In the group with Leipheimer is Chris Horner, Jakob Piil, and Robert Gesink.

14:28 PST    Pill was in the break and has managed to hang on, but now he's starting to come unglued. Leipheimer pushes the pace a bit, as the riders come up within 2 km to go until the top of the climb. It's a wide open climb and it's quite steep.

14:30 PST    Behind the leaders, there is a chase group being led by world champion Paolo Bettini. He's got Allan Davis on his wheel. Davis has the points jersey and will be looking to keep it.

14:32 PST    Leipheimer is doing most of the work. He's driving the group. Horner looks to be conserving energy, not doing too much work. He may be saving his energy for the end.

14:33 PST    This is starting to play out like last year. There's a group of the front being chased by a large group, of maybe 20 riders, led by Bettini. They won't catch the leaders on the climb, but there's a long run-in to the finish, so it may well come back together to make a group of about 25 or so. Last year, when something similar happened, George Hincapie won.

14:34 PST    122km/30.2km to go It's 30 km from the top of the climb to the finish. They are coming up on the KOM.

14:36 PST    The KOM was Leipheimer, McCartney, then Voight. They are racing down the descent now. They'll probably hit 60 mph. It's wide, fast, and open.

14:40 PST    128.2km/24km to go About half of the guys in the chase group are from the earlier break that imploded on the climb. The other half is from the pack catching back up. Horner is leading the front group now. He's taking a monster pull. The gap is down to 20 seconds between the group of five and the chase group of about 20 people.

14:41 PST    Allan Davis is in the chase group along with Franco Pellizotti.

14:43 PST    The second group is working really well together. Other riders in the group include Paolo Bettini and the Luxembourg national champion Kim Kirchen.

14:44 PST    Paolo Bettini has attacked! He is trying to bridge the gap to the front five.  

14:52 PST    140km/12.2km to go Paolo Bettini never quite made it across the gap, and goes back to the chasers. Meanwhile, Lance Armstrong and Johann Bruyneel give Leipheimer and McCartney shouts of encouragement from the team car.

14:55 PST    141km/11.2km to go Just over ten kilometers left in the third stage of the Tour of California, and our five leaders are still working smoothly together with Discovery pouring on the gas, trying to give Leipheimer more time over the rest on the overall classification. Horner is looking really smooth, showing his trademark smile-like grimace. Voigt might be a good pick to win this stage if he hadn't spent the majority of the day working in that breakaway. Chris Horner is a decent sprinter, and is a good pick for the win today.

14:57 PST    142.2km/10km to go At 10km to go, Leipheimer is on the front in time trial position, hands draped over the bars and giving a big effort to keep that gap around one minute to the chasing group of about 30 riders.

14:58 PST    145.2km/7km to go Jens Voigt is not doing any work in this break, and Discovery will certainly try to dump him before the end - if Voigt gets the win, he could take over the leader's jersey if Leipheimer doesn't get any time bonus in the finish.

15:00 PST    146.2km/6km to go As the leaders head back into San Jose, they're on a four lane wide highway, and the crowds are starting to get thicker. At the finish, the fans are lined up ten deep as the techies of Silcon Valley take a mid-afternoon break from work to see the race come through.

15:04 PST    Jens Voigt attacks, and is quickly marked by Leipheimer

15:04 PST    149.2km/3km to go Leipheimer attacks!

15:05 PST    149.7km/2.5km to go Leipheimer was brought back by Voigt and now they're all back together

15:06 PST    150.2km/2km to go The chasing group of 31 is being driven by Quick Step, and cannot close the gap back down.

15:06 PST    150.4km/1.8km to go Jens Voigt is driving the bunch, wanting to make sure he stays up there in the GC, even if he doesn't take the jersey today.

15:07 PST    150.7km/1.5km to go Voigt, Horner and Leipheimer are coming towards the final km in San Jose and now Voigt takes the lead...

15:08 PST    151.2km/1km to go The whole field has come back within sight of the leaders - can they hang on?

15:08 PST    Voigt opens up the sprint as they come within sight of the finish

15:08 PST    And Leipheimer gets up to his wheel...

15:09 PST    Voigt is furiously pumping the pedals with Leipheimer on his wheel, and Horner leaves it too late to come around...

15:09 PST    Jens Voigt gets the stage!!!

15:13 PST    Leipheimer was fortunate enough to hold on for second place today, which will allow him to hold onto that leader's jersey. But he won't be happy with the gap he has over Jens Voigt at the moment.

15:15 PST    Voigt was ten seconds behind on the overall classification this morning, and with the three seconds he picked up in the Livermore bonus sprint, and the ten he will get for winning the stage (where Leipheimer gets 6" for second), he'll now be seven seconds closer to the yellow - just three seconds behind Leipheimer.

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