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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 18-25, 2007

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Stage 4 - February 22: Seaside to San Luis Obispo, 215.2km

Complete live report

19:58 PST    Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the second Tour of California. The fourth stage is the longest one, a scenic cruise down the Pacific Coast from Seaside, near Monterey and its famous aquarium, past the Pebble Beach golf course, then past Big Sur - where the famous love scene in 'From Here to Eternity' was filmed, and then down down down the coast to San Luis Obispo.

The riders will tackle three categorized climbs - two cat 4's and one cat 3 - bookended by two bonus sprints along the way. With tired legs from controlling the stage three breakaway, the Discovery Channel boys, who lost Allan Davis when he was outside the time limit on stage three, will have their work cut out for them protecting Levi Leipheimer's jersey. The race for the climber's jerseys heated up on stage three. Young Slipstream rider Tom Peterson is now tied with Quick Step's Jurgen Van de Walle for those honours. Graeme Brown will try to get the points leaders' jersey back from Jens Voigt, who took it when Davis was cut from the race.

10:01 PST    After heavy rains this morning, the riders are relieved to see a bit of a break in the clouds. But this is only temporary, and the racers will get wet today, no question.

10:03 PST    We're off for this stage of the Tour of California, and the luck has run out today as the weather has gone completely sour. It's hovering around 45 degrees/7 C and there have been torrential rains all up and down the coast.

10:11 PST    It's fortunate that the riders will be hugging the coast today, because while the weather is not pleasant, it's at least just raining - up in the higher elevations, it is sleeting and snowing.

10:13 PST    Because of the foul weather, the Cyclingnews blimp has been grounded for safety. But we've got a back-up plan in place! We'll be following the race from the 'mini-Hindi', a hydrogen fuel cell smart car that can zip back and forth along these narrow, winding coastal roads.

10:14 PST    As the riders prepare to start racing, they take this opportunity to have a mass 'natural break' - something that the California Highway Patrol doesn't take kindly to.

10:17 PST    They've got 8.9 miles of neutral this morning as the race heads through Seaside, past Monterey and then out ot the coast. They're about mid-way through the neutral now. Johann Bruyneel commented on the bad weather this morning, saying that "The weather is the same for everybody, and we just want to get to the time trial in the same position as today".

10:20 PST    The race organization has been planning for the rain - the storm has been predicted all week long. Early season races always run the risk of bad weather, and Sunny California is no different as it is the rainy season. The worst thing about the rain is that it comes infrequently, so oils and debris build up on the road surfaces. This is the first big rain in a few weeks, so there will be plenty of flat tires, and a higher risk of crashing on slick roads.

10:25 PST    The race is temporarily delayed by an ambulance - not related to the race, but it has to get through the caravan and past the riders. The Pacific Coast highway is the only road through this area, for the most part, so there's no opportunity for detours.

10:28 PST    We've got a few non-starters today. There was some confusion over whether or not Allan Davis (Discovery) had been time cut or not. He was listed on the results, and was presented with the points leader jersey, but then the officials realized he had been outside the time cut and he was eliminated. Also not starting are Brian Dziewa (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), half of the US National team - Chad Beyer, Sheldon Deeny, Scott Stewart, and Christopher Stockburger. Also two Colavitas - Gustavo Artacho and breakaway man from stage two David McCann.

10:33 PST    And after a long chilly descent, the riders are off and racing! The doppler radar is showing the storm pushing off to the south, and if the riders are very lucky they will stay behind the worst part of the rain.

10:34 PST    1km/212.4km to go And just like the last few days, there's another attack from the gun! Ben Jacques-Maynes (Priority Health Cycling Team), Jonathan Garcia (BMC) and Viktar Rapinski (Navigators Insurance Cycling Team) get a bit of a gap

10:37 PST    3km/210.4km to go William Frischkorn (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle), Michael Sayers (BMC), Cyril Lemoine (Credit Agricole), Timothy Johnson (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Jackson Stewart (BMC) and Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner) try to go across

10:40 PST    4km/209.4km to go And the break is all caught, the Discovery Channel team will NOT want to make the same mistake that they did yesterday. Tony Cruz was pretty upset that the break got so much time, and rightly so since he had to do the lion's share of the work chasing. The team had to work so hard that Allan Davis finished outside the time cut - his Points leader jersey did not exempt him from working.

10:41 PST    5km/208.4km to go The elevation profile today looks like the inside of a shark's mouth after it had a fistfight with Mohammed Ali... up and down all along the coast, and the riders will have three mountain sprints, the first at Big Sur.

10:44 PST    6km/207.4km to go And we've got another attack among the flurry of moves at the start of this stage - Sean Sullivan (Toyota United Pro) and Aaron Olson (T-mobile) try to go, but don't get very far. The peloton is strung out single file - the riders should be good and warmed up by now after the high pace!

10:48 PST    12km/201.4km to go As the riders hug the coast line, the waves are crashing below them - this whole road is basically on the side of a cliff, and the views would be spectacular if the riders could be bothered to look. But they're not sightseeing at the moment since there's another attack - it's Kirk O'Bee (Health Net Presented By Maxxis) and Sébastien Hinault (Credit Agricole) with a few metres, but the Discovery-led peloton is keeping things in check today.

10:53 PST    13km/200.4km to go The field is all back together now, and now the organizers are trying to get the Colavita team van through the peloton. They missed the early start, and since this is the only road to the feedzone area, they ended up behind the race - oops. The roads were dry, but the riders will be unhappy to feel the rain start to really come down now. The radar is showing that the heavy stuff won't hit until around Big Sur, the first KOM of the day at 45km.

10:56 PST    17km/196.4km to go The riders will be passing over the famous Bixby Bridge - it takes the road over one of the many canyons along the coast, and is a perfect postcard picture. Then at 38.5km into the stage, they'll face the first intermediate sprint. John Devine has pulled out of the race today. There have been several attacks, as riders try to break things up a bit, but as soon as we get word of the numbers, they're caught again. But it's a fast and furious start to the race today.

10:59 PST    18km/195.4km to go With Devine's departure from the race, that only leaves three riders for the US National team. We suspect that the poor weather today will cause more than a few riders to drop out. It's early in the season, and if they get dropped, then there's little reason to keep riding and risk getting sick.

11:12 PST    24km/189.4km to go The rain is really picking up now, and riders are still trying to attack. These kinds of conditions really require a tremendous amount of mental fortitude, and the strongest will survive. The riders are going over a small hill now, and there's an attack from Alejandro Acton, but he doesn't hold his gap as the riders scream down the other side at 45mph.

11:13 PST    30km/183.4km to go The skies are blue off on the horizon, but the riders are being pounded by heavy rains as they navigate their way along the up and down roads. They're 10km away from the sprint now, but there are no time bonuses on today's intermediate sprints, nor are there bonuses at the finish.

11:17 PST    32km/181.4km to go The lack of time bonuses today will play into the Discovery Channel team's strategy - they won't have to worry as much about CSC trying to take intermediate sprints or the final sprint, so they would be happy to let a group of riders get away that are well down on the overall classification. Sensing this, Aaron Olson (T-mobile), Kirk O'Bee (Health Net Presented By Maxxis), Alejandro Acton (Colavita Sutter Home), and Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole) have attacked and gotten a good gap.

11:19 PST    Acton, O'Bee and Olson (sorry for continually getting the spelling wrong Aaron!) have been attacking all morning, and Laurent, who wants that climbers' jersey was attentive and bridged across.

11:24 PST    Kirk O'Bee is the highest placed on GC, at 3'32 off of Leipheimer's lead. Laurent is one second behind him, then Olson more than 4 minutes down, and finally Acton, who is more than 12 minutes down.

11:30 PST    41km/172.4km to go Hilton Clark (Navigators), Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle) and Sean Sullivan (Toyota United Pro) have joined the break, and the riders are heading up to the KOM at Big Sur.

11:31 PST    42km/171.4km to go Lucas Euser has a lot of fans in California - his supporters were out with lots of signs as the race went through Davis... He'll be looking to take points away from Laurent to try and keep his teammate Tom Peterson in the climbers' jersey.

11:32 PST    43km/170.4km to go The rain has let up for the moment, and we're inland from the coast as we head up this category four climb.

11:33 PST    With the addition of Euser, Clark and Sullivan, the break has gone out to nearly two minutes over the peloton.

11:36 PST    44km/169.4km to go We're one kilometer to the top, and Olson is on the front setting a good tempo. Euser is third wheel watching Laurent like a hawk. He'll be on him like flies on rotting meat.

11:38 PST    Lucas Euser is a grad of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, so he will have loads of fans at the finish, and will want to stick with this break. Laurent attacks for the mountain points, and Euser is on him followed by Sullivan. Olson and Clark are a bit off the back. And Laurent takes off for the points, and Euser just can't get around him!

11:39 PST    46km/167.4km to go Euser tried his best, but the Credit Agricole rider was just too strong. And now they're on the descent, still having a gap over the rest of the breakaway, but will likely wait on them - this is the longest stage of the race and they'll need all the help they can get to make it to the finish.

11:42 PST    47km/166.4km to go The break has come back together on the descent, and as the riders head back to the coast, the sun is coming out - the roads are drying up and the race organizers are breathing a sigh of relief... and the riders are too! The breakaway is being overflown by a winged predator of some sort - the bird decides that they're not a tasty prey and flies away.

11:45 PST    50km/163.4km to go The break is maintaining its gap of two minutes at the moment, and they're working together quite well. The Smart car is following them, and we aren't sure what's happening in the peloton, but it's highly likely that Discovery is setting the pace, keeping the gap just close enough to protect Leipheimer's lead.

11:48 PST    52km/161.4km to go The break once more is Aaron Olson (T-mobile), Kirk O'Bee (Health Net), Alejandro Acton (Colavita Sutter Home), Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole), Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream), and Sean Sullivan (Toyota United Pro), and the Slipstream team car is passing by us now, it too has the trademark argyle in orange and blue. The argyle is a bit contentious - some folks love it, some hate it. At yesterday's finish, there was a big hound dog wearing one of their jerseys, so it's popular among the canine set. The birds up above are California Condors, and they're enjoying one of the thermals that are being formed as the sun warms up the pavement.

11:53 PST    55km/158.4km to go These roads are not for those with acrophobia - the road butts up against a 100m sheer cliff face on the riders' right, and as the breakaway rockets down yet another curvy descent, they'll want to make sure that they don't overcook any left hand bend.

11:55 PST    57km/156.4km to go Laurent is in the virtual lead of the king of the mountains jersey, and there's two more KOM's coming up in about 50km. It's warming up now, and the riders back in the peloton answer the call of nature - they had pulled the break back to about 1'40, but then this nature break will send the gap back out again. They've obviously been keeping themselves well hydrated.

11:58 PST    The riders will be passing by Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in a moment, and would see (if they could stop) the McWay Falls, a beautiful 80 foot waterfall that drops onto the beach. Hilton Clarke, as we mentioned earlier, is in the break, too. We neglected to add him to the current situation, but he's up there representing Australia.

12:03 PST    62km/151.4km to go mini-Hindi is now watching the peloton, and we've got T-mobile sitting behind the Discovery team - there are a few Gerolsteiner riders up there, too. We've gotten word that another rider for the US National team has pulled out, this one is Tejay Van Garderen (USA National team) - that leaves two guys riding. No word on why they're pulling out, but the team is mostly young riders, and the furious start to this race today might have simply been the last straw for their tired legs.

12:08 PST    66km/147.4km to go Tony Cruz is again setting tempo at the head of the peloton. He'll get some pretty good training miles in here at the second Tour of California. He's heading towards his hometown in Southern California - we believe he's from the Los Angeles area.

12:12 PST    The area along the coast is not conducive to livestock, so our cow sightings will be non-existent, but there are a few ocean-going animals along the route. Elephant seals are common in this area.

12:18 PST    70km/143.4km to go We're still back in the peloton now, the roads are pretty narrow and twisty and it's too hard to pass. Big George is sitting behind Tony Cruz, who (thank you to all who wrote in) is from Long Beach, the site of the final stage. Sitting pretty (in a most literal way) behind Hincapie is Ivan Basso, who is smiling. They've all got arm warmers and vests, some in leg warmers, some in knickers. It's cool, but warming up now that the rain has moved off to the south.

12:20 PST    In about 25km the riders will get their lunch near Los Padres National Forest. This is the site of Jade Cove - a beach where pieces of Jade (hence the name) can be found littered in the sand. The large piece of jade ever found was picked up here by divers. Well, not exactly 'picked up' since it was 9000lbs (4100kg) and five feet by eight feet long.

12:26 PST    76km/137.4km to go The highest placed rider in this break is Hilton Clarke - the Navigators rider is 3'14 down on Leipheimer. With the gap of 3'20, he's just barely the virtual yellow - but the Discovery team isn't too worried yet. It's a very long stage, and they've got plenty of time to bring the gap back down.

12:31 PST    78km/135.4km to go Discovery is still on the front, Cruz doing the pulling. Tony will be looking forward to getting home to Long Beach - he'll get to have a nice long rest in his own bed before the last stage, since his house (according to our readers) is just three blocks from the course. Cruz is a pretty handy criterium rider, and while the course isn't even as technical as the stage two finishing circuit in Santa Rosa, Cruz might be motivated enough to go for the stage win there.

12:34 PST    82km/131.4km to go The leaders are going through a pretty nasty construction zone, the road is down to one lane - it's not a problem for the six riders in the break, but it's bumpy and has some loose gravel. Hopefully the peloton will make it through safely.

12:35 PST    82km/131.4km to go Hilton Clarke is looking off to his right, taking in the spectacular view of the ocean. There are some big fluffy clouds hanging low over the ocean as the race heads into the back end of the storm. But the racers are tremendously lucky to be on dry roads with sunshine right now.

12:38 PST    84km/129.4km to go One rider we haven't been talking enough about is Health Net's Rory Sutherland. Rory was in third place on GC this morning, just 15 seconds behind Leipheimer and 12 seconds behind Voigt. The 25 year old Australian is a big, strong rider, and will be saving his legs today now that his teammate O'Bee is up in that break, and hoping to do a good time trial tomorrow.

12:47 PST    87km/126.4km to go The leaders are still about 10km from the feedzone, which is 9km from the second KOM, but Lucas Euser isn't saving his legs for that sprint right now - he's doing his turn just like everyone else in this breakaway. Aaron Olson takes over to set the pace as the riders start to head away from the coast a little bit. The road hugs the coast for almost the entire race, but heads inland with 20km to go. Looming up ahead to the riders' left are some big, dark, ugly looking clouds. The rain at the finish line has been on and off all morning.

12:51 PST    92km/121.4km to go The leaders are closing in on the feedzone, and are starting to feel the rain coming down. The roads are wet, and the temperatures have dropped quite a bit - back in the peloton the riders are getting out their rain gear, but the leaders are just rolling through.

12:53 PST    95km/118.4km to go It was just a brief shower, and the leaders are back on dry roads, but it's a sign of things to come. The heaviest of the rain at the finish has moved off, and if the riders are lucky it will stay that way - at higher elevations there is sleet and even snow inland.

12:58 PST    95km/118.4km to go The breakaway has reached the feedzone, and Lucas Euser is packing his lunch into his pockets. Euser was second in the climber's competition at last year's Tour de Georgia, and is a local favorite - we're getting lots of emails supporting this young rider for the Slipstream team - even from his mom! Good mom's follow their sons on Cyclingnews!

13:03 PST    97km/116.4km to go It's as if the winds of fate are fans of bike racing, because the skies above the riders are blue again. The Aaron Olson has even removed his arm warmers as the lead group makes its way past Sand Dollar beach. The peloton has hit the feedzone, so the gap might go back up a bit while they take food on board. We'll take this time to recap the first sprint and KOM - on the intermediate sprint, it was Alejandro Acton (Colavita Sutter Home), Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole) and Kirk O'Bee (Health Net), and then the first category four climb was led by Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole) ahead of Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream) and Alejandro Acton (Colavita Sutter Home). Another California boy, Aaron Olson (T-mobile) was fourth.

13:13 PST    107km/106.4km to go The leaders are less than 3km from the next mountain sprint, and Kirk O'Bee is pulling up to do some work at the front. O'Bee will be turning 30 in April. He won the Tour of Tiawan last year.

13:16 PST    108km/105.4km to go The field is curb to curb going up the climb, and the leaders up near the top are single file, with Laurent leading and Olson on his wheel.

13:17 PST    And we've got our cow sighting for today. They're grazing along the cliffs overlooking the ocean, and the view is totally lost on the bovine population.

13:18 PST    109km/104.4km to go And as we reach the top, Euser attacks, then Laurent goes after him... The young Californian gets the sprint ahead of Laurent, and Laurent is not happy about that.

13:23 PST    111km/102.4km to go The mini-Hindi wasn't able to keep up with the power of Lucas Euser there, and we mis-called that sprint. The youngster nipped Laurent on the line, taking the four points. Next was Alejandro Acton (Colavita Sutter Home) ahead of Hilton Clarke (Navigators). The next KOM is just 4km away, so Laurent will have another chance.

13:24 PST    112km/101.4km to go Alejandro Acton, the Argentinian for the Colavita team, is a pretty handy sprinter. He took the sprint competition at a small stage race, the Green Mountain stage race, in Vermont last year. If this break sticks, he could very well take this stage.

13:26 PST    The peloton is heading down between the two climbs at breakneck speed, and our leaders are on their way up to the category three climb. This one's a little steeper than the previous climb.

13:27 PST    114km/99.4km to go The leaders are 1km from the KOM, and the sun is still out but the roads here are wet. The neutral support moto is keeping a close eye on the break in case anyone has troubles, they are surely happy that it's not pouring rain and cold.

13:29 PST    115km/98.4km to go Euser attacks again for the KOM, and leads at the 200m point with Laurent on his wheel. He gets out of the saddle, and Laurent sets a gap to his wheel - and then goes for it!

13:30 PST    115km/98.4km to go Laurent easily gets this sprint, which was much steeper than the previous one. Euser and Laurent have a little chat as they go back down the other side.

13:33 PST    117km/96.4km to go Results of the category three climb are as follows: 1 Christophe Laurent (Credit Agricole) 2 Lucas Euser (Team Slipstream powered by Chipotle) 3 Alejandro Acton (Colavita Sutter Home) 4 Kirk O'Bee (Health Net Presented By Maxxis) 5 Aaron Olson (T-mobile)

13:35 PST    118km/95.4km to go And now that we've gotten past the halfway point of stage four, it's time to play 'guess the catch'. Since Mardi Gras is over, we'll have to come up with some other prize for the person who guesses the point that the Discovery boys will chase this break down - if at all. Send your guesses to commentator@cyclingnews.com

13:38 PST    A correction from our readers, John from Oregon says that while Olson lives in California, he is originally from Eugene, Oregon. There are some strong riders from the Pacific Northwest, and Olson won't be afraid of the cold rain that might be greeting them in San Luis Obispo after growing up in a state where that kind of weather is common.

13:44 PST    126km/87.4km to go Back in the field, Leipheimer is sitting fifth wheel behind his Discovery teammate, and Tony Cruz is still doing the work. Ivan Basso and Tom Danielson have been pulling through, too, but so far CSC is happy to let them take the responsibility for keeping the break from getting too far. The leaders are about 15km away from the second sprint, and the road is once more right next to the ocean, providing awesome views. Back in between the KOM's there were a few hundred seals (or sea lions? hard to tell from a few hundred feet up) on the beach.

13:47 PST    We have more readers giving this breakaway a chance to last until the finish than we did on stage two. A few are predicting 7.5km where there is a little hill. Jacob, a fan of Chris Horner, says 14.2834km to be exact. I am not sure we need to be that specific, and I can't even say how we'd measure it, but if someone would like to go down to that point near Morro Bay and check later, we'd love to hear from you.

13:55 PST    132km/81.4km to go More than a few readers are predicting 40km to go for the catch. That would be the point where, in last year's San Luis Obispo stage, that the Toyota United Pro team really started pouring on the gas to bring back the break for their man JJ Haedo, who eventually won the stage. Haedo is now on CSC, but his teammate Jens Voigt is in the sprinters' jersey. It's not likely that Haedo will change places and lead Voigt out for a sprint, thought. The pace is pretty quick today, they've been crusing along at a 25mph average speed (40kph) thanks to a light tail wind.

13:58 PST    We've been handed our prize for today's 'guess the catch' contest, thanks to Alan from San Diego - what better prize than a couple of tasty Baja-style fish tacos from the local Taqueria? Top that off with a cerveza or two and you're good to go!

14:01 PST    133km/80.4km to go The riders are passing through a group of big elephant seals - as they speed along toward the second sprint of the day at Hearst Castle rd. They're about 9km from the sprint.

14:04 PST    139km/74.4km to go Back in the peloton, the pace is still moderate, and we see Bryce Mead (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) cruising along, his wind vest unzipped now, and arm warmers rolled down. Jakob Piil is working his euro-mullet as he moves up on the left side. That last distance was a bit off, and now the leaders are 3km from the sprint.

14:06 PST    Discovery Channel is still on the front as the peloton passes a field of - you guessed it - cows! Who would have thought that we'd see livestock along the coast, but there you go.

14:07 PST    Paolo Bettini is another rider who's especially happy that the rain has held off, since he's dressed from head to toe in white with his world champion's kit. He said before the race that he came to California to have a chance to get some race fitness in warm weather. And while it's not exactly warm today, it's better than many places in Europe at the moment.

14:10 PST    143km/70.4km to go OK, so the riders didn't pass through the elephant seals, yes, they passed by them. And at the intermediate sprint, Alejandro Acton was the first across the line, not really contested by the others, with Christophe Laurent and Hilton Clarke (Navigators) in second and third.

14:14 PST    I don't think he knows what he's gotten himself into, but Scott Coady says "I pledge to send the winners of any contest you run during the live feed a free copy of both of my films (The Tour Baby! and Cobbles Baby!)". So send those guesses in, and include your mailing address!

14:18 PST    153km/60.4km to go Tony Cruz, the work horse of this Discovery Channel team, is getting plenty of mic time with his efforts today, as is Tom Danielson, who is on the front in time trial mode, pumping the pedals in an attempt to keep this break from getting too far away. The break has extended their lead to 4'30 - Clarke is in the virtual lead on the road by 1'16.

14:25 PST    156km/57.4km to go There have been quite a few flat tires back in the peloton today, riders who flat are left chasing in the race caravan, trying to draft off the vehicles without getting caught and fined by the officials... at the clip they've been moving at today, chasing back takes a lot of effort. So with our 'guess the catch' contest, we've got a slew of guesses between 7.5 and 8.5km, and lots of 'they don't get caught' - if the catch should happen, we will try our best to get an exact location, but the margin of error will be in half kilometres, so whole numbers, please.

14:30 PST    160km/53.4km to go The race is heading inland now, and all the jersey holders are still in the peloton - Tom Peterson in the climber's jersey will have to give his shirt up to Christophe Laurent tonight, Jens Voigt will try to keep that green points leader's jersey.

14:32 PST    162.5km/50.9km to go As the riders head inland at the 100 mile mark, the gap is starting to slowly work its way down, still entirely due to the efforts of Discovery. If they manage to get it back down to below three minutes (Leipheimer's advantage over break-ee Clarke was 3'14 this morning), expect to see the sprinters' teams of Rabobank, Quick Step, Predictor Lotto and CSC to start lending a hand.

14:35 PST    163km/50.4km to go The break is still working smoothly together, and the commentator inbox is filling up with emails from readers guessing the catch. The gap is down to 3'30, as the riders hammer along under sunny skies. Sean Sullivan takes a nice pull

14:36 PST    Lucas Euser is on the front of the breakaway, and he's looking comfortable still - nice and smooth on the pedals, probably pretty excited to be heading towards the welcoming cheers of his Cal-Poly Wheelman supporters. The crowds at the finish line are starting to form, and there are lots of Euser fans in San Luis Obispo.

14:38 PST    167km/46.4km to go All of the riders in the break are sharing the work - Acton takes his pull, then Sullivan, Euser, Laurent, Clarke, Olson then O'Bee. At the finish, the clouds are miraculously starting to break up, almost as if the riders are bringing the blue skies along with them.

14:39 PST    The riders will definitely want the roads in San Luis Obispo to dry up before they arrive, because the last turn is a hard left on a slight downhill that's off camber, and it could be pretty dicey on wet pavement.

14:43 PST    172km/41.4km to go The gap is down to 2'35 as the peloton start to pour on the gas. We're headed into Morro Bay, and the riders can wave goodbye to the ocean since they're heading inland from here on out.

14:45 PST    174km/39.4km to go The other sprinter to watch in this break, should they hold their gap to the finish, is Aussie Hilton Clarke. He's won a number of North American crits, and the sprint leader's jersey at the Herald Sun tour in 2005, so he's got a bit of fast in those legs.

14:46 PST    175km/38.4km to go Uh-oh - Liquigas and Rabobank are starting to pitch in with the chase, so as predicted when the gap got below 3'00, the sprinters' teams have started to chase. This doesn't look good for our breakaway.

14:50 PST    177km/36.4km to go The break is welcomed to Cayucos, as the gap continues to come ever so slowly down. Liquigas will be working for Luca Paolini who was 5th in the sprint competition in last year's Tour de France - and Rabobank is clearly thinking about getting Graeme Brown that points leader's jersey off of Jens Voigt.

14:51 PST    178km/35.4km to go Discovery Channel takes a back seat to the fresher Liquigas and Rabobank teams, and now that their sprinter Allan Davis has been time cut from the race after stage three, they will only be concerned with keeping Leipheimer in the pack and upright on his bike until they cross the finish line.

14:52 PST    179km/34.4km to go The peloton is eschelon'd across the road, and the officials are trying to get them to move to one side because they're about to enter the divided highway. The gap is down to 2'25 at last check.

14:54 PST    The peloton is zooming along at close to 30mph (48kph), but these leaders are not giving up one bit. Clarke, O'Bee, Olson, Euser - they're all taking hard pulls, and are now strung out single file behind Hilton Clarke. Alejandro Acton looks like he's starting to struggle a bit, and is desperately trying to hold the wheel of Euser.

14:56 PST    181km/32.4km to go The leaders are still holding that 2'30 gap as they get a bit of respite from a short descent, with Clarke and Olson getting in to an aero tuck to get maximum benefit. Still at 2'25 as Rabobank hits the front of the peloton, which is now strung out single file as far as the eye can see.

14:59 PST    We were mistaken - the riders haven't hit Morro Bay quite yet - they still have time to wave good bye to the ocean. They're going through some quaint seaside towns at the moment, and should get to Morro Bay shortly. If they were to look to their right, they could see the very clevery named Morro Rock - a big rock off the coast of Morro Bay.

15:00 PST    184km/29.4km to go Now the riders are in Morro Bay and turning inland. The gap has come down below two minutes now, and falling quickly - 1'45.

15:02 PST    186km/27.4km to go Morro Rock isn't just any old rock, it's a 500 foot high mountain that's a remnant of an extinct chain of volcanoes that are 21 million years old. Clarke, O'Bee, Euser and Olson - all the guys in the break are still working together, trying desperately to stay ahead of the Rabobank/Liqugas led pack, but it's futile, I'm afraid. 1'30 now is the gap.

15:05 PST    188km/25.4km to go Oh dear, 1'15 - the break is hitting a short climb, and Lucas Euser is on the back of the break, taking a drink. As they head down the other side of the small hill, the gap eases out to 1'20, but the chase is on back in the peloton.

15:07 PST    Liquigas and Rabobank each have two up front, followed by the Discovery juggernaut protecting Leipheimer, who is sitting in Lance Armstrong's former seat - behind George Hincapie.

15:08 PST    188.4km/25km to go With 25km to go, the gap is briefly holding steady at 1'20 - the peloton is playing with this break like a cat with a field mouse - cruelly lording over them and waiting to pounce.

15:09 PST    189km/24.4km to go The average speed today has been rough - 26.1mph - the highest estimate for this stage. The breakaway is on another descent, and are zooming past a bunch of fans and onto a divided highway.

15:11 PST    190km/23.4km to go The riders will be heading up a short climb after this quick 40mph descent (64kph) - and then it's the peloton's time to go downhill.

15:12 PST    Karl Menzies has a double flat back in the peloton, bad news for the Health Net team, and Credit Agricole's Hushovd also had a flat - both were able to chase back to the peloton, aided in part by that quick descent.

15:13 PST    193km/20.4km to go Rabobank is still hammering on the front of the peloton, but with just four guys doing the work for the peloton vs. the seven up front, the odds are now in favor of the break, who are holding their lead.

15:14 PST    195.4km/18km to go With less than 20km to go, the gap is actually going up a bit - it's out to 1'35, and it could be an artifact of the terrain, as the leaders go downhill while the peloton climbs a shallow rise behind.

15:18 PST    The last 10 kilometres of this race are littered with ups and downs, lefts and rights. At 14km to go, there is one particularly nasty turn... Lucas Euser calls for service - no! he's got a flat tire and has to stop! He will be incredibly disappointed not to be in that break as it runs past his hometown crowd, and will try to regain, but with a 1'20 gap, and the break and the field in full flight, it will be a challenge.

15:20 PST    199km/14.4km to go Hilton Clarke has attacked, perhaps sensing that the rest of the guys are too tired to help - Olson and Sullivan are chasing, Laurent, Acton, O'Bee have clawed their way to Clarke's wheel as the vehicles are pulled out from between the break and the field...

15:21 PST    200km/13.4km to go They're on the twisty turns near Cuesta College, and Clarke goes again as the attacks start to come from the peloton as well.

15:22 PST    When the cars get pulled, the gap is less than one minute... Acton attacks now, and Clarke goes off in pursuit of the Argentinian.

15:23 PST    201km/12.4km to go Euser has made it back to the break! Good riding, and the front seven are back together again, and the official and neutral support cars are still between the field and the break.

15:25 PST    203km/10.4km to go The break is taking these turns like it's the US Pro criterium championships - they know the peloton is breathing down their neck, and they are not giving up - the bunch is going through a few dodgy turns - a quick left then right... all through safely.

15:26 PST    204.4km/9km to go Ivan Dominguez has a flat tire, and his team goes back to get him.

15:28 PST    8km/205.4km to go The small climb has split the rear of the field into small groups, and they're all chasing - up ahead Clarke is still putting in huge efforts, trying desperately to make this break work.

15:29 PST    206.4km/7km to go Down to 15 seconds, Laurent is on the front and the riders are looking behind them to see the peloton spread out across the road behind. Acton sees this and takes off, looking smooth and strong.

15:30 PST    208.4km/5km to go And it's all over - Paolo Bettini put in a big effort and brough most of the riders back, but Acton and Clarke are still trying to stay away.

15:32 PST    208.4km/5km to go So 5km to go is the catch, and the peloton is still in tatters because of the terrain and the speed, and Predictor Lotto comes up to the front for their man Fast Freddie Rodriguez.

15:33 PST    209.4km/4km to go The sprinters won't be enjoying this small climb they're encountering - its inside 4km, and T-mobile, CSC and Discovery are up front just shattering the pack - Jens Voigt takes off!!!

15:34 PST    210.4km/3km to go Voigt reconsiders his move - he may just have been so strong in his effort to string things out for Haedo that he just rode away.

15:35 PST    211.4km/2km to go Leipheimer is a bit further back, trying to keep it safe as Hincapie hauls him back toward the front - Voigt is on the front just hammering.

15:36 PST    212.4km/1km to go CSC has this sprint under control, but Liquigas, Quick Step and Credit Agricole are moving up.

15:37 PST    They're heading for the last turn, with Rabobank in front!

15:37 PST    There goes Hushovd on the right

15:37 PST    And it's World champ Paolo Bettini who takes the sprint ahead of Brown!

15:39 PST    Bettini was quiet all day, just tucked inside the pack, biding his time, and the little Italian waited until the last minute, inside the final 500m to have his man take him around on the inside of that dicey last turn, and Graeme Brown could not outstrip the rainbow jersey. A T-mobile rider was second place, and the race announcer is saying Michael Barry but that's not Barry - maybe Piil? Hushovd was third.

15:41 PST    It's unclear who the T-mobile rider was at the moment, and who was third- either Brownie or Hushovd. We'll get provisional results as soon as we see them.

15:42 PST    Correction - it was the young German Ciolek in second ahead of Haedo, who came in out of sight of the camera in front of Hushovd and Brown.

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