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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 17-24, 2008

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Stage 1 - February 18: Sausalito - Santa Rosa, 97 mi / 156 km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Laura Weislo, with reporting from Mark Zalewski and Kirsten Robbins

10:57 PST   
Good morning and welcome to the start of Stage 1. We've got good crowds here in Sausalito, with many out to catch a glimpse of the pro bikes and the pros themselves.

11:00 PST   
There is a bit of sunshine on the riders as they line up for the procession out of Sausalito, but the clouds are thicker up in Santa Rosa. It's a cool day, and calm, but the dampness makes it feel a bit colder.

11:05 PST   
The riders have three neutral laps of seven total miles neutral. It's still overcast, but the fog is starting to burn off now. Bettini is assuming his favourite position at the back of the peloton just as he did all last year - until the finish in San Luis Obispo, of course!

11:07 PST   
The riders have 156 kilometres to race today, or 95 miles in the local currency. There are a few tricky hills and descents, including the Coleman Valley Road hill, but with a long descent into Santa Rosa, it should come back together for a field sprint.

11:08 PST   
Many of the teams have packed their rosters with strong sprinters in order to take on the first couple stages. Can we say Boonen? Bettini? Haedo? And what about the Lion King, Mario Cipollini?

11:10 PST   
Canadian Dominique Rollin (Toyota - United Pro) is the new signing for his team along with Hilton Clarke. Rollin has been hired to help out in the sprint department, and they've got a few options with Clarke and Ivan Dominguez.

Rollin told Kirsten Robbins, "We've been practicing leadouts and working on our sprint finishes all week. Although there are only three possible sprint stages, we really wanted to focus on stage wins."

11:12 PST   
Riders are on the third neutral lap, and cruising along having some conversation, maybe a snack - all looking pretty relaxed. Our GC leader Fabian Cancellara is looking good in gold.

11:14 PST   
We also have strong sprinters here in High Road's Mark Cavendish and Gerald Ciolek, but we can't forget Slipstream's dark horse Tyler Farrar, who put in a great prologue yesterday.

11:16 PST   
Wearing the green sprinter's jersey today is yesterday's second place finisher Bradley Wiggins (High Road). He'll be happy to pass that off to one of his team-mates this afternoon.

11:18 PST   
The race is at the zero kilometre mark, but is still rolling neutral as they enter highway 101. When they get off the highway, we'll start the race!

11:21 PST   
The riders have three intermediate sprints today, the first one is at km 44, so they have plenty of time to get warmed up by then. After the three sprints, the riders will hit the first classified climb of the race at Coleman Valley road. Just one KOM today, so there will be fierce competition to take that mountains jersey.

11:22 PST    1km/155km to go
The flag dropped and the riders are off for today's stage. Before they could get far, a rider has a flat - it's Sébastien Turgot (Bouygues Telecom), and the riders wait to start any action.

11:24 PST   
The officials extended the neutral to give Turgot time for a wheel change. We're all pretty relaxed here in California. Especially since it's a national holiday - there's no sense of urgency anywhere.

11:24 PST   
Kirsten Robbins also spoke with Matteo Allegri of the Saunier Duval Team. He said they have one of the fastest sprinters with Luciano André Pagliarini. "We don't have enough horsepower to do a full lead out for him, but they will be keying off the leadouts of other teams."

11:26 PST   
The Rock Racing team has caused more of a stir than is normal for a continental squad. They've signed on a few controversial riders who were not allowed to start by the organisers. However, they've still got a weapon in former World Champion Mario Cipollini.

11:27 PST    2km/154km to go
The race is back on, and the peloton is spread across the road, going up a little rise. All of the teams are represented at the front, including (surprise!) Paolo Bettini who left his tail-gunners' spot to get a good view of the route ahead.

11:29 PST   
High Road's Edvald Boassen Hagen traded in his Norwegian TT champion's jersey yesterday for the red, white and blue sun splash of the Best Young Rider's jersey.

11:30 PST   
The route out of town is a long and winding road, heading up and over some small rolling hills toward the coast. The pace is still "piano", as the Italians call it, and with the holiday the crowds are out en force on the way to Muir beach.

11:34 PST   
The riders will head up through the Muir Woods, home of some pretty big trees, we hear. One to the coast, they'll travel along the scenic highway 1, which skirts the ocean for several miles before heading through the Golden Gate recreation area. When they get past the park, they'll be just a few miles from the first sprint of the day.

11:37 PST   
The riders are heading down a twisty little descent through a canyon toward the shore. It's a pretty fast descent, and the white jerseys of CSC are at the front.

11:38 PST   
The Astana squad is sitting just behind the group which appears to be led by Bobby Julich. It's nothing but left and right turns here - not a bit of straight road.

11:41 PST   
The road is pretty torn up from the rough winter storms, and Dan Bowman (Kelly Benefit Strategies / Medifast) gets a flat tire. Luckily they're heading back up hill and not on that fast descent anymore. They'll be able to see the ocean here in a minute.

11:42 PST    9km/147km to go
The sun is starting to peak through the clouds a bit more now as the riders hit Muir Beach and take in the gorgeous views from the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean. The pace is still relaxed as they head over a little rise.

11:45 PST   
The road is getting a lot better along this ridge, the smooth pavement will be welcome relief for the riders. Mario Cipollini is back again in front of the camera, kitted out in the black, white and red jersey with barbed wire which was fashioned out of protest for the exclusion of Tyler Hamilton, Oscar Sevilla and Santiago Botero from the race.

11:47 PST   
Cipollini pioneered the special kits back in his days at the Saeco team. Who can forget the stars and stripes pants, or the Caesar kit he wore back in the day? And that crazy pink skinsuit? He always lends style to the peloton.

11:48 PST   
Mariano Frederick of Rock Racing told our reporter Kirsten Robbins, "We are very, very excited to see how the sprints go. We think today will come out to a sprint finish. It'll be first time Mario is back in a field sprint since he retired in 2005. Since we only have 5 riders, we won't have horsepower for a full leadout, but Mario has so much experience that he's capable of doing that on his own and winning a stage."

11:50 PST    14km/142km to go
The peloton is still all together, cruising along on a nice rolling course. They've still got another 30kms before the first sprint. With this many sprinters in the peloton, and most of the teams banking on the bunch gallop, it will be up to teams like Bouygues Telecom, Credit Agricole or BMC to light things up with an attack.

11:53 PST   
We have an attack finally! Kelly Benefits' Justin Spinelli, Victor Hugo Pena (Rock) and Danny Pate were off the front, but things came back together on the descent. Now Jackson Stewart (BMC) is off the front.

11:56 PST   
At the finish in Santa Rosa, the women's criterium is about to begin. Poor Jackson Stewart is just 15 seconds ahead of the peloton as they descend to Stinson Beach. Lots of folks are out here to see the race come past, and now the sun is even shining on the riders who plowed down the hill at 40mph.

11:58 PST    18km/138km to go
Stewart is persisting with this break, even though he's got another 25km to go before the first intermediate sprint bonus and a hungry bunch of fast-twitch guys breathing down his neck.

12:02 PST   
The women are off on the inaugural ToC criterium. They've got about a 100-rider field, which is impressive. A Vanderkitten rider lead through the first lap followed by the Cheerwine squad.

Stewart has extended his lead to 1'40, and the peloton has decided it can sit up and take things easy for a while.

12:06 PST    22km/134km to go
Jackson Stewart is giving this breakaway a substantial amount of energy. He's doing a solid 25mph while the peloton is at 17mph, so the gap is growing quickly. It's up to 3'45 now and ballooning.

12:07 PST   
In the women's race, the Vanderkitten team is still driving the pace, but the field is all together. This criterium is part of the US National Racing Calendar, so along with the prestige of being part of the ToC, it has importance for the riders' rankings.

12:09 PST   
Back in the men's race, Stewart has left the coast will get to the Golden Gate rec area soon, so there are lots of trees here. Stewart is entering the town of Dogtown, population 30.

12:10 PST    27km/129km to go
Looks like the peloton might be picking up the pace a bit, but it's still conversational back there. David Millar is having a chat with Stuart O'Grady. Both are in white - Millar in the British road champion's kit and O'Grady in the crisp white of Team CSC.

12:15 PST    28km/128km to go
Our lone breakaway rider is heading through some beautiful forests - he's being dwarfed by the gigantic redwoods that are all around. The peloton is definitely waiting to start its chase, as the gap is up over five minutes now. 5'45 to be exact.

12:16 PST    30km/126km to go
The BMC team car is giving instructions to Stewart, who is in the drops and powering along a flat section, his chiseled quads pumping the pedals in an attempt to grow this gap even more.

12:18 PST   
In Santa Rosa, the women's race is being treated to an insanely loud and raucous crowd. The Value-Act Capital team tried to break things up, but the long straightaways are keeping the speed high, and the Cheerwine team is controlling the race for its sprinter Laura Van Gilder.

12:20 PST   
Back in the peloton, the Saunier Duval canary yellow kits are present at the front, but they're not pushing the pace at all, even if they have brought a sprinter along to contest the stage finish. Stewart is still speeding along, now going slightly downhill. It's a long rolling descent to the first sprint point.

12:26 PST    35km/121km to go
Right now, Stewart has nearly nine minutes on the peloton, which is clearly on holiday. He's two miles ahead of the bunch! Not a very exciting situation, unlike the women's criterium, which is heating up.

Laura Van Gilder has decided to go up the road, and is away with a Tibco rider and one of the High Road women. They're driving the pace, and gaining ground.

12:29 PST   
The women's criterium has come back together - it was High Road's Mara Abbott in that move, and she probably didn't fancy her chances against a sprinter like Van Gilder.

12:30 PST   
Cipollini and Bettini are having a little siesta at the back of the peloton. The bunch is coming up past a group of fans waving a big Swiss flag in honour of leader Fabian Cancellara.

12:32 PST   
There was a little crash in the women's crit, an Aarons' rider and a Colavita rider went down, but are in the pits getting fixed up. The ProMan team has been aggressive here, and are trying to keep the pace high.

12:34 PST    42km/114km to go
Stewart is heading into the town of Point Reyes, the site of the first intermediate sprint. There are lots of spectators here watching Stewart come by. They'll have to wait nearly nine minutes to see the field come by.

12:38 PST    45km/111km to go
At the Point Reyes Station sprint, Stewart has 11'30 on the bunch - eleven minutes! Leader Fabian Cancellara is chillin' at the front with the Credit Agricole team, while Jens Voigt has a little snack. It is lunchtime, after all, so many of the riders are feeling peckish.

12:41 PST   
The peloton is going to start picking up the pace soon, to be sure. They've got two time bonuses on the line in about 5km. Stewart has long since passed through the sprint line and taken the three seconds. His 12 minute lead makes him virtual leader of the race.

12:43 PST   
Stewart began the day in 74th place, 21 seconds down. With those three seconds, he'll move up into the 40's if he gets caught before the finish in Santa Rosa. He's still driving it - going down hill and tucking into an aero position to get the most speed out of this descent.

12:46 PST   
The peloton is being led to the sprint by Wiggins, in green, who lines the peloton out and then pulls off. Boassen Hagen takes over, and then Cavendish takes off, passing a Rock Racing rider to take the two seconds bonus. That puts him into 4th or 5th overall so far.

12:48 PST   
In the women's race, they've got six laps to go, and the Vanderkitten ladies are starting to assemble their lead-out train. There was a break of two with a Value Act Capital rider and a High Road woman, but they were brought back by the Cheerwine team, who is keen to see a bunch sprint.

12:49 PST    50km/106km to go
Intermediate sprint results:
Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)
Mark Cavendish (High Road)
Mario Cipollini (Rock Racing)

Yes, Mario the Lion King was that Rock Racing rider who took off and was passed by Cavendish.

12:52 PST    56km/100km to go
The pace eased up a bit as leader Fabian Cancellara suffered a front flat tyre, bringing the gap out to 12'45. There is a little bit more speed in the peloton, but they're going down hill. The CSC team is at the front with Cancellara tucked in at the back of the white and red train.

12:53 PST   
In the women's race, Kelly Benjamin from Cheerwine has taken Laura Van Gilder to the front and is clearly setting up the pocket rocket from the Poconos for the sprint win.

12:55 PST   
Stewart should have enough real estate, given that 12 minute gap, to stay clear for the second intermediate sprint, coming up at the town of Tomales. He's got about 15km to go before that line.

12:56 PST    58km/98km to go
Jackson Stewart is getting some more advice from John Lelangue - maybe sharing a joke? He has a laugh and then pedals off - still in the drops and hammering along.

12:58 PST   
The women's criterium is being dominated by the Cheerwine team, a High Road rider tried to get away, but no go.

12:59 PST    62km/94km to go
Stewart powers through the town of Marshall - population 50. It looked like the majority of the town was out on the street cheering for this escape artist, there were at least 30 folks out there.

13:01 PST   
The women have one lap to go! A Colavita rider has snuck into the Cheerwine train - and is now sitting second wheel. They're all single file and blasting through this course at high speeds.

13:03 PST   
Stewart is passing by a field which is bright yellow with wildflowers. In the summer, this area is fairly brown and dry, but after an unusually wet winter, the hills are alive with all sorts of flora.

13:05 PST    65km/91km to go
CSC is still taking responsibility for the gap, but now the High Road, Quick Step and Health Net riders can be seen near the front. A few riders take advantage of the rural area to have a little commune with nature at the side of the road...

13:06 PST   
In the women's race, the ProMan team led the sprint out, and Van Gilder tried to take the sprint, but Brooke Miller (Tibco?) was far too fast and with the long sprint, was able to pass the Cheerwine rider to take the win.

13:11 PST    69km/87km to go
Stewart is within a mile of the second intermediate sprint, his head down and powering along. The peloton is way, way behind and Mario Cipollini is calling up the Rock Racing team car to dispose of some clothing.

13:14 PST    71km/85km to go
Stewart is through the sprint line in Tomales and still many minutes ahead. The peloton has yet to pick up the pace, and are out of the saddle, going up a rise at a leisurely tempo.

13:16 PST    72km/84km to go
Sorry, that wasn't the sprint line back there, this is the sprint line now and he's in Tomales, population 550. Of course, he's taken the three second bonus. We'll get a time gap here soon....

13:18 PST   
Stewart is in the feed zone now, taking on board some lunch. He's got 11'30 now - a bit less than previously, but still plenty of breathing room for the third sprint in Bodega Bay some 23kms up the road.

13:21 PST   
The peloton appears to be having some sort of "how slow can we go" contest. The gap has gone out to 13 minutes, and Stewart is still working hard. Perhaps this sprint line coming up for the bunch will speed things up a tad. Toyota United is at the front now en masse.

13:23 PST   
We haven't seen much of the Slipstream team at the front. They've got four riders in the top ten, and sprinter Tyler Farrar looking to gain that points leaders' jersey off the shoulders of Bradley Wiggins.

13:24 PST   
We spoke with Farrar after his fabulous ride to third place yesterday. Here's what he had to say:

"I was a bit nervous sitting there - I think I was more nervous sitting there than I was beforehand! I had a long time to wait before I finally knew how it would come out."

"I knew I could do a decent ride here, and I had it in my head that if I could do well in the prologue I would be in a good position for the next few days in the sprints, but the form's really good. I did the Tour of Bahamas a few weeks ago and had a decent prologue there, so that kind of helped the confidence coming into this."

13:26 PST   
The peloton has finally decided to race, and now CSC yields control to High Road's Wiggins, who has Boassen Hagen on his wheel again. Looks like a repeat of the first sprint, but this one is a little uphill.

13:27 PST   
This sprint is a lot slower than the previous one, up a decent little hill. Looks like Farrar picked up third behind Mark Cavendish, who was delivered to the line with perfection by Wiggins' leadout.

13:32 PST   
We have the official results of the second intermediate sprint:
Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)
Mark Cavendish (High Road)
Tyler Farrar (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30)

And in the women's race, Brooke Miller and Van Gilder were followed to the line by Team High Road's Emilia Fahlin, a 19 year-old from Sweden.

13:35 PST   
The clouds have rolled in and the temperatures have dropped over the peloton. They're on some damp roads, and the moisture is making it feel quite a bit cooler. Stewart is on dry roads, so it may be just a brief shower.

The forecast is calling for possible storms on Tuesday, which could put the Mt. Hamilton crossing into jeopardy. It's not unheard of to get snow up at that altitude this time of year, but AEG has a contingency plan in place to bypass the climb if it is impassable.

13:37 PST   
Toyota United Pro has sent their riders to the front to set the pace now, and they're being marked by BMC, who clearly wants this breakaway to stay clear. There's a figure in all white moving up on the right - could that be Paolo Bettini?

13:39 PST    85km/71km to go
The rider in white could be Fabian Wegmann, the Gerolsteiner German road champion, too. There are a few national champions in white - including David Millar. It makes identifying riders hard when CSC and High Road also have all white jerseys.

13:44 PST    88km/68km to go
The gap is coming down now, back to 11 minutes. In seven kilometres, Stewart will get the last sprint of the day in Bodega Bay. Can he hang on that long? It's likely! But not far after the sprint is the climb up Coleman Valley road, and after a long day in the lead, it's not as likely he can hold off the climbers for that KOM.

13:45 PST   
Finally - finally! the peloton is beginning to get lined out thanks to CSC and Toyota. Rabobank is up there, as is High Road. The gap should start to come down now.

13:52 PST    91km/65km to go
Levi Leipheimer is in the US road champion's kit today, making it hard to spot last year's leader. It's all red, white and blue, and nothing like the teal and yellow of the Astana kits. He is riding along next to Cancellara, looking relaxed. He's heading home, after all - he's from the finishing town of Santa Rosa.

13:53 PST   
Just a few clicks before the third sprint of the day, but there's a bit of concern from the organisation that cars parked near the sprint line are making the road too narrow. That isn't a concern for Jackson Stewart. The BMC rider still has a solid gap as he heads over the rolling hills on the way to Bodega Bay.

13:55 PST    94.5km/61.5km to go
Stewart has one kilometre to go before the sprint. He's been in those drops, hammering all day long - since kilometre 17 or so. He's not looking too bad for a 75 kilometre time trial, but those legs have to be starting to sting.

13:58 PST    95.5km/60.5km to go
Jackson Stewart's lead is beginning to fall, and has reached the ten minute mark. He'll get this third sprint, and his nine seconds accumulated today will move him up to the top 20 overall if he stays with the bunch to the finish. Wait... are we assuming he'll get caught? Not us!

13:59 PST   
The peloton has 5km to go to the sprint, and the Slipstream team is gathering near the front to help Tyler Farrar. Meanwhile, Stewart is now 5km to the KOM.

14:00 PST   
The sprint line is really narrow at 200m to go, but the peloton is lined out single file, so hopefully it won't cause a problem. There are only a few guys battling it out for the two and one second bonuses left at Bodega Bay.

14:01 PST   
Stewart is still riding along the coast, but will turn inland now and will face the category three Coleman Valley Rd. KOM at 252m. He's on a very narrow road now, and heading up hill.

14:02 PST   
One kilometre to go for the peloton and the gap is coming down.

14:03 PST   
There was a crash before the sprint in the peloton - Steven Cozza (Slipstream) fell, but is back up and riding.

14:06 PST    100km/56km to go
The road is quite narrow on this climb and Jackson Stewart is working his way up it but not looking fresh. There are dozens of spectators on the climb now cheering him on.

The intermediate sprint, won by Stewart, Farrar was second followed by Millar.

Results of sprint three:
Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)
Tyler Farrar (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30)
David Millar (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30)

14:07 PST   
Jackson Stewart is following a crazy man wearing gigantic antlers on his head. Could he be a Longhorn? The gap for Stewart is still over nine minutes, so he might just take this KOM!

14:09 PST   
Stewart isn't too far from the top now, it's wide open here although the road is narrow. Behind him, the peloton is quite animated, with the guys gunning for the mountains jersey moving up and jostling for position.

Stewart is looking pretty good, nearing the top and he knows the pain is nearly over. After the KOM, he still has a bit of climbing to do - it's a false flat for another kilometre or two, so it could be a bit demoralizing.

14:10 PST    102km/54km to go
Stewart is approaching the top of the climb, and the peloton behind is just making the turn onto the climb. He takes the points and now has a drink before heading onto the gentle descent.

14:12 PST   
We're seeing Astana, Quick Step and Gerolsteiner near the front of the bunch. Cancellara is near the front, as is Chris Horner - but the group is lined across the road. They'll be lighting things up here in a minute or two for those mountains points.

14:14 PST   
Slipstream's Tyler Farrar gained three seconds worth of time bonuses, putting him into second overall on the GC on the road (not counting Jackson Stewart's nine minute lead, of course. He could very well take that yellow jersey if this comes to a bunch sprint. He's got a strong lead-out train with David Millar and Dave Zabriskie.

14:16 PST    106km/50km to go
9'15 for Stewart with the field just 1km from the top of the climb. Our fearless leader is on the nasty little leg breakers after the KOM, while the peloton starts to string out a bit as they go for the mountain points.

14:18 PST   
Mark Cavendish picked up two second places for a total of four seconds. That puts him very close to Farrar - but neither one has surpassed Cancellara as of yet.

The peloton is over the climb 7'30 behind Stewart.

14:20 PST   
With this breakaway, Stewart has pulled himself into the lead of the points classification as well as the mountains classification since there's only one prime today. If he stays away, he'll get the yellow jersey, too! That's a lot of fleece.

14:21 PST   
The peloton is single file on this descent, which is quite fast but followed by a couple painful little bumps before heading down, down, down all the way to the Sonoma valley.

14:22 PST    111km/45km to go
The results of the KOM are as follows:
Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)
Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step)
Jens Voigt (Team CSC)

14:26 PST   
Stewart is still on some narrow, tree-lined roads as he draws up alongside the team car for some encouragement and refreshments.

14:28 PST    114km/42km to go
Stewart is getting to the bottom of the first irritating bump in the road (this is supposed to be a descent, right?) and will now head up the last rise before plummeting down the hill.

14:30 PST   
The climb has caused some damage in the peloton, with some groups being split off. The Rock Racing team car is at the back of the gruppetto, perhaps Cipollini's climbing legs aren't quite there yet?

The lone man out front is in the town of Occidental, and will have to head back up out of town before hitting the highway into town. His gap is coming down still, at 6'30 and falling as he goes up and the chasers are still descending.

14:32 PST   
The riders will have three laps to go when they get into Santa Rosa in about 25 kilometres. Will this be a heartbreaking catch of Stewart inside the closing circuits? Will he be caught on the descent? Or will he stay clear? He's got five minutes now and still descending.

14:34 PST   
Slipstream is leading the chase on the up and down roads before the long descent. Stewart has a few bottles in his pockets - perhaps to lend some gravitational advantage to his descent? Or maybe to pass off to team-mates if/when they come by...

14:37 PST   
Stewart is on the steep part of the descent, and fortunately the roads are a bit wider and smoother here. He'll have a painful 20kms of flat roads at the bottom, and after 100kms off the front will have lots of trouble staying clear.

14:38 PST    120km/36km to go
A group of 33 riders are in the gruppetto as Slipstream drives the main peloton along with Quick Step. Looks like Tom Boonen wants his first American victory today.

14:40 PST   
Stewart's gap is coming down quickly now, 3'30 and dropping as the peloton climbs up a little shoulder of the hill. That will break up their momentum briefly, but we're afraid that three minutes won't survive the trip across the valley. Especially not if Boonen is feeling well, as he's the master of driving his team to gobble up breakaways.

14:42 PST   
Cancellara is staying close to the front, sitting about 20th wheel behind the Quick Step and Slipstream trains which are beginning to form. We can't forget about Rabobank. Oscar Freire is crafty, and even when he's not on great form, he can capitalize on long, straight, flat finishes like this one.

14:44 PST    121km/35km to go
Stewart is heading up and over a miniscule hill before the valley, and that dropped his gap way down to 1'15. Boo! Those sprinters are so greedy and won't give this win away to this man who worked so hard all day.

14:45 PST    122km/34km to go
The peloton is breathing down Stewart's neck, just one mile behind him and closing fast. Quick Step and Slipstream are still doing the work, but High Road is now in the mix as is Saunier Duval.

14:47 PST   
BMC's Jackson Stewart will soon see the end of this long, lonely road. He's had a lot of time in the spotlight, but in just a few minutes he'll have company. Just 50 seconds to the peloton, which is broken into three separate groups.

14:49 PST    126km/30km to go
Just 30 seconds for Stewart - the cars have been pulled from the gap and the first chasing peloton. The second piece of the peloton is nearly a minute back, and then the gruppetto is two minutes behind. They'll have plenty of time to get back on terms.

14:50 PST   
With the way Slipstream is driving it, it's possible High Road's Mark Cavendish didn't make the front split. They're just hammering down this highway and have the bunch single file and on the ropes.

14:51 PST    126.5km/29.5km to go
And Stewart is caught. He radios back to the car and lets the Quick Step train come zooming past.

14:53 PST   
A Gerolsteiner rider has a rear flat, and is a bit confused as to where he should go for service. He finally gets a wheel and leaves his vest and arm warmers for the mechanic to pick up.

14:56 PST   
The sprint bonuses today are 10, 6 and 4 seconds at the finish, putting Boassen Hagen (High Road), Cavendish (High Road) and Farrar in contention for the leader's jersey (of the sprinters). But who knows? Cancellara is crafty, and pulled of an upset of the sprinters in last year's Tour de France while in yellow, so he might have liked how that felt and want to have a repeat!

15:00 PST    25km/131km to go
The peloton is now in the final 25 kilometres of the stage and are done going uphill for the day. It's flat from here on out, and will be a fast finish.

15:01 PST   
Doug Ollerenshaw (Rock Racing) is seen at the back, possibly going back to the team car. He gives an annoyed gesture for the moto to go away.

15:03 PST    131km/25km to go
10 kms to go before the finishing circuits, and they'll have a few turns to negotiate before getting there. Danny Pate is still driving the pace for Slipstream.

15:04 PST    136km/20km to go
Inside the final 20 kilometres for the peloton, and Slipstream is in control as the support cars start streaming into Santa Rosa.

15:05 PST   
With the 3 km circuits, the riders who are too far back could interfere with the sprint, so they will be pulled when they get into town and given a time gap for when they were pulled.

15:07 PST   
Slipstream, CSC, Quickstep are still on the front. Wegmann is up there, too, as is an Astana rider.

15:08 PST   
The peloton is slowing up slightly now, spread out across the road as the trains start to re-form on the front. Could be that second group has made their way back to the bunch.

15:09 PST   
The pace eased for some railroad tracks, which are 500m from the entrance to the finishing circuit, so they're just about to start the final three laps of Santa Rosa.

15:10 PST    142km/14km to go
Quick Step is still leading - for Boonen? For Bettini? Slipstream is up there, too, setting it up for Tyler Farrar.

15:11 PST   
The peloton is lined out single file behind the well-oiled machine that is Tom Boonen's band of loyal domestiques. The speed is quite high, making the peloton a colourful blur as they zoom past.

15:12 PST   
The peloton is still in pieces, three groups on the road as High Road puts a man on the front.

15:13 PST   
The finishing circuits are three miles long, not kilometres. Just under five kms.

15:14 PST   
There is a lot of jockeying for position going on behind the top ten riders. The High Road team moves up, Rabobank is trying to get on terms, but the Slipstream train is still driving.

15:15 PST    144km/12km to go
Wiggins and Cancellara are sitting comfortably behind the sprinters' chaos.

15:15 PST    145km/11km to go
Last year, the finish in Santa Rosa was disrupted by a big crash. Let's hope they stay upright this year.

15:17 PST    146km/10km to go
10kms to go and the Quick Step team is still in control, lining out the field - a slightly reduced field as about 1/4 of the riders have been dropped. Half of the Astana team is being held up at the circuits for being too far behind. Rubiera is one of them.

15:18 PST    146km/10km to go
Two laps to go, and word is Cavendish is in a second group, which explains why Slipstream was driving the pace so hard.

15:19 PST   
CSC has a big group of riders sitting behind the Quick Step train, keeping the yellow jersey safe.

15:20 PST   
Slipstream has dropped off the front, but now Gerolsteiner is moving up.

15:21 PST    151km/5km to go
CSC is up there with JJ Haedo, who is experienced winning in the Tour of California. Quick Step has their two on the front, and Leipheimer is right up there, too.

15:22 PST   
One lap to go! CSC and Quick Step controlling but they're not lining it out like before. It's getting a bit messier, and the Rabobank team is working its way forward.

15:23 PST   
The riders are swarming now, with no clear control as they head into the final few turns. Quick Step takes the front on a turn and puts the gas on, and finally lines it out a bit.

15:23 PST    153km/3km to go
Another train swarms, and we get an attack from the right side.

15:23 PST   
A BMC rider, perhaps Moos is off the front.

15:24 PST   
Cancellara is in 10th wheel, and Moos is caught, and the peloton is a mess! It's totally disorganized.

15:24 PST   
Bettini is moving up now, Slipstream is coalescing behind.

15:25 PST   
CSC on the front - it's Bobby Julich picking up the pace for Haedo.

15:25 PST   
Quick Step is right behind, and Cancellara is in fifth wheel - is he going for the last kilometre attack?

15:25 PST    155km/1km to go

15:26 PST    155km/1km to go
One kilometre to go! It's the ProTour teams taking the lead in the finale as they hit the final straightaway.

15:26 PST   
Bettini is up there.

15:26 PST   
Here comes Millar!

15:26 PST    155.2km/0.8km to go
Millar is trying to bring up Farrar, and he's next to Bettini as they head thru the tunnel to the finish.

15:27 PST   
Boonen and Bettini take off for the line.

15:27 PST   
But the Quick Step train is overtaken!

15:27 PST   
JJ Haedo! He wins for the second time in Santa Rosa. There was a crash in the background, Hincapie went down.

15:29 PST   
George Hincapie (High Road) was inside the final kilometre when he went down, so won't lose time. He's up and riding.

15:31 PST   
Unofficially, Gerald Ciolek (High Road) was second, and Johannes Fröhlinger (Gerolsteiner) in third. We're waiting on confirmation.

15:35 PST   
Tony Cruz, Ivan Dominguez, Henk Vogels and Mike Creed were all among the riders who were in the back, and held up at the finishing circuits by the officials.

Correction, third was Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner), not his team-mate Johannes Fröhlinger.

15:39 PST   
So Cancellara will keep the yellow jersey. Cavendish took four seconds and Farrar took three seconds. That means Farrar is at 2.2 seconds behind Cancellara and Cavendish is 4.4 seconds back by our calculations.

15:40 PST   
Haedo was 22 second behind in the prologue and even that ten second bonus can't move him into the top ten. Ciolek, who took 6 bonus seconds, was 15" behind yesterday, so is now somewhere near the top ten.

Hincapie escaped his crash with just road rash, having been checked out by medical and sent to the team car.

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