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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 17-24, 2008

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Stage 7 - February 24: Santa Clarita - Pasadena, 93 mi / 150 km

Complete live report

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

Join us for more live coverage of the Tour of California on stage seven from Santa Clarita to Pasadena over 93.4 mi / 150 km. Tune in as Levi Leipheimer continues to defend his yellow jersey on the final stage. Stage seven coverage starts February 24 at 12:00 local US Pacific Standard time (PST); 15:00 USA Eastern Standard time (EST); 21:00 Central European time (CET); 07:00 Australian Eastern Daylight Time (February 25).

11:55 PST   
Good day and hello from Cyclingnews' blimp alternative, the 'mini-Hindenberg II', our eco-friendly smart car which will be following the race again today into Pasadena.

There was talk of a diversion to the course today because of the foul weather which has been battering California overnight, but the race's technical director told Mark Zalewski that the original course was ready to go.

Chuck Hodge said, "I was out there at 6:30 this morning and everything was OK. There was a lot of debris on the road, but we've got our crew and crews from LA county out there cleaning it up. We had an alternate route if the conditions were too bad, but we're not going to need it today."

12:00 PST   
The riders will roll out for their 3.5 miles of neutral before hitting the 93 mile/150km course from Santa Clarita to Pasadena. The weather today can be described in one word: schizophrenic.

12:01 PST   
In typical winter California fashion, the weather changes every second. One minute it's sunny, the next minute there's a downpour. There will be bands of rain rolling through all afternoon, making for yet another miserable day.

12:02 PST   
The roads are wet at the moment, but the water is only coming from the spray off the wheels. The riders have learned their lesson on stage four, and are bundled up in jackets and leg warmers.

12:03 PST   
We've had a number of non-starters this morning. Dan Bowman (Kelly Benefit Strategies / Medifast), Bradley Wiggins (High Road), Markus Zberg (Gerolsteiner) and Tim Johnson (Health Net p/b Maxxis) stayed in bed today.

12:05 PST   
Team High Road suffered a big disappointment yesterday when Mark Cavendish won the sprint but was then relegated for hanging onto the team car when he crashed inside the final 10km. Kirsten Robbins spoke with George Hincapie about it, and he was really upset about the officials' decision. He said they just didn't understand why they did it, but that they'll certainly be looking to redeem themselves today and get the stage win.

12:07 PST   
Dave Zabriskie just learned the reason why bike racers to not grow facial hair: he tries to blow his nose, and it just doesn't quite go clear of the 'stache. Eeeeew.

12:08 PST   
Alexander Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies / Medifast) is another non-starter today. Many of the teams have been struck by this highly infectious intestinal ailment that has obliterated the Gerolsteiner team. We're down to about 90 riders from the original 132.

12:10 PST   
Astana is heading to the front to control the race as they head to the zero kilometer mark. They're down one more rider after Vladimir Gusev crashed near the end of yesterday's stage and broke his collarbone.

12:11 PST   
Word has it that Jens Voigt (Team CSC) may not be starting today. We'll be sure to get official confirmation of that.

12:12 PST   
And we've got the start! And immediately and attack.

12:13 PST   
Doug Ollerenshaw (Rock Racing) is attacking. He's got a small group coming across.

12:14 PST   
We've got a group of nine ahead now, and two Rock Racing guys in there, Ollerenshaw and Mike Creed.

12:14 PST   
Creed is putting in a big pull, followed by a Bissell rider who is working hard. Cozza is in there for Slipstream.

12:20 PST    5km/145km to go
As usual, we've got a BMC rider in this break. They've been in all the moves so far this week. This time it's Taylor Tolleson.

Creed is working the most in this break - he's pulling so hard that he's opening gaps behind him. Maybe not the best strategy, but he wants this to work. The field is still chasing quite hard.

12:21 PST   
The peloton is in full flight behind our break as Gustav Larsson (Team CSC) is getting an adjustment to his saddle at the team car in back. He better be sure not to draft off the car to get back!

12:22 PST   
Looks like we've got a CSC rider coming across - it looks like Jens Voigt! He did make the start this morning, we're told, and he'll be a great motor to the move.

12:22 PST   
Creed attacks the break, not wanting to participate in the goofing around that started when Voigt came across. He then thinks better, and waits for the group, hoping they'll get organised.

12:24 PST   
Looks like George Hincapie made it, too, and the move is not getting steam from the new arrivals, rather it's getting bogged down.

12:26 PST   
The break is growing, but breaking apart at the same time. Scott Nydam (BMC Racing Team) is trying to bridge as we are now up to a dozen riders in the break, which is barely a break at this point. There are so many chasing it's just a long line.

12:26 PST   
They're still working hard, Creed at the front trying to snap the elastic as they hit a climb. We'll see more attacks coming from the field now, to be sure, and the break will certainly change composition.

12:31 PST    12km/138km to go
Tom Zirbel (Bissell) and Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner) are bridging to the move, which has changed names and is now to ten. We'll get a confirmation of which riders stayed and which have gone in a moment.

12:33 PST   
Cozza has been replaced by Pate on that climb, and Creed is still there. Looks like Zaugg made it, as did Rory Sutherland. The new composition is as follows:
George Hincapie (High Road), Jason McCartney (Team CSC), Yannick Talabardon (Credit Agricole), Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner), Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom), Danny Pate (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30), Taylor Tolleson (BMC Racing Team), Rory Sutherland (Health Net p/b Maxxis), Tom Zirbel (Bissell) and Michael Creed (Rock Racing)

12:36 PST   
The gap is out to more than a minute now as the race heads uphill on its way to the first sprint in the town of Acton. It's not for a while - at km. 41.8, but it's all uphill to that point and beyond. The course is pretty much up up up to Millcreek summit, the category three climb at km. 60.

12:39 PST    16km/134km to go
Wait, did we say it was ALL uphill? There's about 500m of downhill - not a significant descent at all. We've got 11 riders in this move, it appears - we'll see if we can get all the names straightened out.

12:40 PST   
Back in the peloton, Astana is doing all the work as our break is suffering from some hangers-on. Zirbel, Creed, Zaugg, Pate and McCartney are pulling through, but the rest are passengers.

12:41 PST   
Sutherland pulls through, as does Champion - it looks as if they're encountering a stiff headwind at this point, but at least its dry.

12:42 PST   
Seems as if the hangers-on were just dropping off some outerwear. They've got to be getting warm now as they put the hammer down on this long false flat. They exit Santa Clarita, and have a 1'40 gap to the peloton.

12:44 PST    22km/128km to go
Rory Sutherland, our diarist, is in this move sporting his most aggressive rider's jersey after he spent the day in yesterday's break. You'll get to read all about how he felt here.

12:48 PST   
The roads beneath the peloton are a bit damp, and while there are pockets of blue sky allowing some sun to shine through occaisonally, there are big, dark, foreboding clouds off to their right.

12:50 PST    24km/126km to go
Levi Leipheimer has his US champion's vest over his yellow jersey today as he goes back to the team car to get some food from Ekimov. He comes back to the peloton with an energy bar hanging out of his mouth.

12:52 PST   
The peloton is now heading into a tunnel that goes straight through the mountain - it's quite short, and not one of those spooky tunnels that have no light midway through. They all get through it safely.

12:54 PST    26km/124km to go
Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom) had a flat tire from the breakaway, but has gotten a quick wheel change and is back safely in the front. The gap for this group is out to 2'15 now.

12:57 PST    28km/122km to go
The Rock Racing Cadillac pulls up next to Mike Creed to give him some advice. He's been working really hard in this move, but he's appeared to have settled in now that the gap is more than two minutes and everyone else is pulling through.

We've got ten riders in this move, the names again are:
George Hincapie (High Road), Jason McCartney (Team CSC), Yannick Talabardon (Credit Agricole), Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner), Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom), Danny Pate (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30), Taylor Tolleson (BMC Racing Team), Rory Sutherland (Health Net p/b Maxxis), Tom Zirbel (Bissell) and Michael Creed (Rock Racing).

12:59 PST   
The peloton is now passing by a sort of firetruck graveyard. There are all sorts of classic trucks which have been sent to their final resting place - or are maybe awaiting restoration - in this lot.

13:01 PST   
The scenery on the way to Millcreek Summit is the typical California landscape - much like what we saw on the way to Mt. Hamilton. The steep cliffs are dotted by brush, but are mainly rocky. There are some trees in the canyons, but it's by no means a forest.

13:04 PST    34km/116km to go
Back in the peloton, Quick Step is putting some men at the front to control the breakaway as they pass through Indian Canyon. The gap is now to three minutes as they are about 8km from the sprint point in Acton.

13:06 PST   
We're told that Tippi Hedron, the actress who was in many Alfred Hitchcock movies, including "The Birds", owns a ranch nearby where she houses many large cats - lions and tigers and... well, not bears, but big kitties with sharp pointy teeth and claws. Let's hope they stay put in their pens as the peloton rolls by. Some of these guys might look like a weakened, sickly wildebeest by this point.

13:09 PST    37km/113km to go
The breakaway has reached 5km to go to the sprint in Acton. Pate is coming back from the team car, where he got some food from Jonathan Vaughters. Back in the peloton, Mario Cipollini has a flat and is being brought back by the team car.

13:10 PST   
Mike Creed goes to the back of the break to stretch his legs - he unclips and gives his right quad a stretch. He's now taking off his leg warmers. He gets one off... then the other. Now that's talent!

13:12 PST    39km/111km to go
The breakaway has left the canyon and are now climbing along wide-open roads. There is one lone fan - or maybe a motorist who is waiting for the road to open. They've got two canoes on the roof of their car.

At the sprint line, the riders will get a stiff tailwind to help them make their way up to the summit 18km later.

13:14 PST   
The riders will be quite thankful for the tailwind after stage four, when they fought with the wind in their faces for more than seven hours in the rain. Helping even more will be the long descent from Millcreek Summit which is interrupted by just a couple bumps before the race reaches the finishing circuits in Pasadena.

13:15 PST    41km/109km to go
1km to go to the sprint and Mike Creed has attacked.

13:16 PST    42km/108km to go
Results of Intermediate sprint 1:
1 Michael Creed (Rock Racing)
2 Yannick Talabardon (Credit Agricole)
3 Jason McCartney (Team CSC)

Creed was given plenty of room to go ahead and take that sprint - perhaps in payment for all the work he did to help get this move established.

13:19 PST   
Creed didn't really have to work hard for that one.

In a few kilometers, the grade will start to kick up for the long drag up to Millcreek Summit, the category three beast that is more than 1400m high (4800 feet). We're betting that a few riders won't be able to hang onto the breakaway, but can we hazard a guess that Hincapie, McCartney and Zirbel will still be there at the top?

13:22 PST    45km/105km to go
Rory Sutherland heads back to the Health Net car for a joke with Mike Tamayo - he's pretty relaxed about things at this point. Hincapie takes a pull at the front.

Creed is going back to the support motorcycle - he keeps holding his right hand out like he's got something on it or has hurt himself.

13:24 PST   
The sun is shining down upon our breakaway now, and even though they're heading up in altitude, the vests have long since been discarded.

Third place in that sprint was Danny Pate (Slipstream) not Jason McCartney, sorry about that.

13:26 PST    48km/102km to go
The break is getting to steeper roads now, with some of riders getting out of the saddle. Jason McCartney takes a banana from his team car. Creed and another rider are requesting the medical car as the gap is 3'10.

13:29 PST   
Health Net's Tim Johnson wrote in from the team's motor home on the way to Pasadena. He's fallen victim to the plague that's been decimating the peloton, but sent words of support:

"Just wanted to say I'm proud and relieved that Rory made it in the break. Contrary to his near-constant whining, he can still tear up the bike racing even when he feels a little sick! I'm relieved that he's not 100% sick after rooming with me.. phew!

Have fun over the climb today boys!"

13:33 PST    50km/100km to go
The Gerolsteiner team will be hoping to get something out of ToC other than useful antibodies to the stomach bug that's going around. They've got Ollie Zaugg up there, and the 26-year-old wants his first professional win. But he'll have to get up and over the cat. 3 climb ahead.

High Road will be motivated to use any chance they can get to score a stage win here. Hincapie is a good candidate, and no threat to the overall, but they've got two very good sprinters waiting behind in the peloton.

13:36 PST   
The breakaway will be hitting the feed zone soon, and then the climbing will begin in earnest. Right now, the gap is down to 3'00 as Quick Step sends their entire team to the front to chase.

13:37 PST   
The climbing is getting harder for the break. Talabardon has his tongue wagging, and Creed and Zaugg start pushing the pace. This break will not be ten men at the top of the climb!

13:38 PST   
Creed has kept going with this attack, while Zaugg goes back to the group of nine. The American has had some impressive results in the past, but has suffered from injury and illness in recent years. He's not getting a lot of space.

13:39 PST   
The rest of the break continues to work smoothly together, kind of ignoring the impetuous move by Creed. Hincapie easily pulls through, followed by Zirbel - the second year pro who had a fabulous time trial in Solvang.

13:41 PST    54km/96km to go
The break has reached the feed zone and there are dark clouds looking up ahead. The temperatures are beginning to drop as they approach the KOM climb. The road up ahead goes up into the clouds and will wind up actually above the clouds at the top.

13:42 PST   
Now the rain is beginning to fall on our breakaway, and the riders get their jackets and vests back out for the cool weather ahead. Zirbel gets his vest on, and Sutherland heads back to the car for his.

13:44 PST   
Jason McCartney hits the front and picks up the pace. He's quite a good climber. But now Creed comes through and goes off the front again.

13:46 PST    56km/94km to go
Creed opens up a gap of 15 seconds or so, and is working pretty hard. He's got 5km to go to the top.

13:47 PST   
Rock Racing is another team which needs to salvage their Tour of California. Mario Cipollini has been shut out, and they lost their GC contenders before the race began. Can Creed hold on to gain some glory for the Los Angeles based team.

13:50 PST   
Back in the peloton, we've got an attack of three riders trying to come across to the break. A Rock Racing rider is tacked on the back, as is a Slipstream rider. It's Victor Hugo Pena Grisales (Rock Racing), Robert Gesink (Rabobank), and Thomas Peterson (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30)!

13:52 PST   
Gesink was second overall before the TT, but is now 2'18 down on Levi. He's a fantastic climber, though.

Luciano Pagliarini (Saunier Duval-Scott) retired, our winner from yesterday's stage.

13:56 PST   
Peterson, Gesink and Pena are all top 15 on the GC, but are still more than two miinutes behind Levi Leipheimer.

Creed is still off the front, and it looks like he will take this KOM. He's out of the saddle and pumping the pedals now.

13:57 PST   
David Zabriskie (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30) has come across to this move out of the field! This is a dangerous move!

13:58 PST   
The group of four chasers from the field have been caught by the peloton, and Creed is over the KOM now with the maximum points.

14:00 PST    61km/89km to go
The group of four were overtaken by a piece of the field, rather - the Astana train was overcome by the attacks of Slipstream, and sort of fell apart there. There was a flurry of attacks, and now there is a split in the field with about 20 guys in the front group with Levi a bit isolated.

14:00 PST   
There are about five Slipstream riders and only a couple Astana riders, but several Quick Steps who may want to get this all back together for the bunch sprint.

14:01 PST   
Fred Rodriguez comes over the top just behind the front group, as does Rollin and Bettini. They'll likely make contact on the descent, but the break still has three minutes at last check.

14:03 PST   
Creed still had the 20" gap at the top, but with the group of nine chasing behind.

14:03 PST   
There is a group of sprinters chasing through the caravan, but Rollin has had a puncture and must launch a dangerous pursuit through the cars on the descent.

14:05 PST    60km/90km to go
The results of the KOM are as follows:
1 Michael Creed (Rock Racing)
2 Yannick Talabardon (Credit Agricole)
3 Taylor Tolleson (BMC Racing Team)
4 Oliver Zaugg (Gerolsteiner)
5 Jason Mccartney (Team CSC)

Creed has now been caught, so we're now back to ten in the lead.

14:06 PST   
Danny Pate is calling for his team car.

Back in the peloton, Leipheimer has made the front group, as has Zabriskie, but there is no word about David Millar. We assume he's tucked in there somewhere, but on this long descent it is too dangerous to steer the mini-Hindenberg any closer.

14:07 PST   
Our breakaway has got a hectic 34 kilometers of mostly descending ahead of them, and they're still pedaling, still working together. It's not so steep here that they don't have to work.

14:12 PST    72km/78km to go
The gap was down to just over a minute, but has gone back out as the peloton - or what is left of it - waited for Rollin. Our points leader is enjoying just a three point lead over JJ Haedo, and will need to get some intermediate points to help pad that lead before the finish.

Unfortunately, Rollin has another flat - this time he's getting a rear wheel. Bad luck!

14:13 PST   
The peloton is heading up one of the uncategorized climbs between the KOM and Pasadena. The rain has stopped, but it's pretty gloomy up here. Astana has gotten their guys back together at the front to chase.

14:14 PST    74km/76km to go
Rollin has three points over Haedo, and the finish line earns 15, 12, 10 and 7 for first through fourth. Ciolek, who is nine points down in third is still in contention as well.

14:17 PST    76km/74km to go
The peloton is sitting up again to wait for someone - they've got in and out of the tunnel on the other side of the mountain. Word has it Fred Rodriguez crashed at the back of the peloton in that tunnel, but is up and rolling.

The break up ahead is working together well.

14:18 PST   
That climb has caused some more attrition in the peloton. Edward King (Bissell), Nicholas Waite (Kelly Benefit Strategies / Medifast), and Aaron Barry Tuckerman (Jelly Belly) have abandoned.

14:20 PST   
The break is now being chased by some guys dressed in black with white masks like the murderer from the movie "Scream". I suppose we are pretty close to Hollywood...

14:21 PST   
Leipheimer is incognito again, the only way he is distinguishable from his team-mates is that he has a red, white and blue helmet. He's got his rain jacked on over the yellow jersey. Most of the riders have bundled up against the increasing rain.

14:23 PST    81km/69km to go
The roads are wet underneath our breakaway riders. It's drizzling now, and they've got 3'20 on the field. They're going uphill now - there are a couple little hills breaking up the fall to Pasadena, and this is the tougher of the two.

14:27 PST   
Some wise fans have erected a tent on the road side so they can sit in comfort and watch the race go by. The showers are on and off, and fairly light at the moment. Nothing like the driving rain of the San Luis Obispo stage. We expect that as they get to lower elevations it should be drier. It should also be less windy. It was blowing a gale at the top of the Millcreek Summit.

14:28 PST   
Tom Zirbel (Bissell) has dropped off the back of the breakaway. They'll start going downhill for good after this little bump, so he should be able to catch back on.

14:31 PST    84km/66km to go
Zirbel is back in the break, which has the peloton speeding downhill toward them in the distance. Their gap is actually over three minutes now, but should come down slightly as they struggle up this last little hill.

14:34 PST   
The race has entered Los Angeles county, and is in the Angeles national park now. They've got 3'10 on the peloton, which is now being led by Astana. Quick Step had been working, but are now taking a back seat. They'll wait for the closing circuits around the Rose Bowl to wind it up for Bettini.

14:36 PST   
It's just a little further to the top of this final leg-breaker, and then it'll be down, down, down to the sprint at the start of the circuit in Pasadena. It's raining again, and that will make it quite cold and uncomfortable on the descent.

14:38 PST    85km/65km to go
Now Henk Vogels (Toyota United) has retired. The gap to our leaders is hovering around three minutes as they start the long, wet, tricky descent. They're taking it safe it appears.

14:39 PST   
Blech! This is a foul weather descent - the fog is dense, and the visibility is down to about 400m. It's getting worse, too. It's hard to see the turns ahead, and is scary!

14:41 PST   
The break is gingerly working their way down this hill, not taking any risks. There are signs warning of tight turns and 25mph speed limits - let's hope they all make it through safely.

14:43 PST    90km/60km to go
Yannick Talabardon (Credit Agricole) drops off the back of the break, not feeling great about this descent. The visibility is getting better, the rain is coming down harder, so it's just not any fun.

14:44 PST   
Champion (Bouygues Telecom) is also dangling off the back as the more confident descenders stay off the brakes and bomb down this hill. Hincapie is up there, and as we saw from Mt. Hamilton, he's not afraid to go down hill fast!

14:47 PST    93km/57km to go
The gap has come down to 2'10 now as they still have another 10km or so of descending before the approach to the Pasadena circuits. Once in town, they'll have six laps of a 7.2km circuit with a sprint at the start of the first circuit.

14:48 PST   
The rain has been coming down hard for some time, and is now starting to form puddles in the turns and streams running down the switchbacks. The Credit Agricole rider is still swinging on the back of this break, and is now struggling to get back on the shallower grade.

14:51 PST    96km/54km to go
They're out of the "forest" and into the town of La Canada under heavy rain. It's raining at the finish now. The descent is opening up now - the turns less sharp, the grade less steep, and more fans are lining the roads even in the rain.

14:52 PST   
Talabardon is still swinging at the back as they head through some neighborhoods - still descending a bit, but the worst of it is over. The break still has 2'10 on the field, but with 50+km to go, it won't be enough, we're afraid.

14:54 PST    100km/50km to go
They've gotten to the metric century point, and are enjoying that 2'10 gap. They're on suburban streets now, and there are still some cars parked along the route. That wont' bother the break, but the field will have to be wary.

14:55 PST   
5km to go to the first sprint, which will be contested by this breakaway. Zirbel sits up off the breakaway.

14:57 PST    103km/47km to go
The break has 2km to the sprint, and are taking the time to get jackets on as the rain comes down harder. Zirbel goes back for a bottle.

14:58 PST   
Jason McCartney attacks to mop up sprint points for Haedo. Hincapie gets on his wheel and Champion is nearly dropped.

15:00 PST    105.8km/44.2km to go
Champion is sitting at the back, looking like he's getting ready to make a move. They've got 1km to go to the sprint.

15:02 PST   
The rain has let up on the finish circuits, and the break still has two minutes. They pass through the line, no contest from the break.

15:03 PST    107km/43km to go
The riders are through the start of the circuits, six laps to go. There's a bit of a hill after the line, and now McCartney attacks. Creed gets on his wheel.

15:04 PST   
That effort has caused a little split in the break, with Zirbel having to sprint to get back on terms. McCartney is continuing with this effort, and Creed loses the wheel and lets him go.

15:05 PST   
Hincapie comes through and brings him back and there are a couple guys suffering to stay on this move. Zaugg comes through now and McCartney goes again with Hincapie.

15:06 PST   
The break has just under two minutes on the field, but they have a long way to go. McCartney goes again!

15:06 PST    110km/40km to go
Still with two minutes as Hincapie is doing a lot of the work to control McCartney. Now we have a counter from Sutherland!

15:07 PST   
Sutherland is attacking up a hill, and Zirbel can't get on terms. Hincapie responds as they pass thru a construction zone where it narrows to one lane.

15:08 PST   
Back in the field, Julich (CSC) has a rear flat. The field is chasing hard now, so it would behoove the break to work together.

15:09 PST   
Rabobank is now lending a hand to the Astana chase, and Quick Step is there, too.

In the break there's another move - Zirbel goes, then is caught, now Creed goes and Champion follows with Hincapie. The three have a solid gap with McCartney coming across.

15:10 PST   
The three are caught and then McCartney comes through. Zirbel goes and gets a good gap.

15:11 PST    113km/37km to go
Zirbel has gained a decent lead on the break, but it's a long way out. He's got about ten seconds as they pass through for five to go. Champion attacks to go across and brings McCartney along.

15:13 PST    115km/35km to go
Five laps to go as the peloton is single file chasing under the Maxxis banner. Zirbel is still in the lead.

15:14 PST    116km/34km to go
The peloton comes through with five to go, and the rain is coming down in buckets. The gap is now 2'29 at the line, Zirbel of course is still solo off the front of the break.

15:16 PST   
Zirbel has extended his lead to 15 seconds now, as Quick Step leads the chase in the peloton. Can Zirbel repeat the effort of Dominique Rollin? Not if Quick Step has anything to say about it - they're attacking the peloton now.

15:17 PST   
Those nine riders have decided that it's just not worth it and the gap has blossomed to 30 seconds for Zirbel. There isn't enough organization in the group behind.

15:18 PST   
Zirbel is pushing a big gear as he mashes up one of the small rises on the final circuits. He'll still have four laps to go when he sees the line - that means nearly 30km. Now Sutherland decides he wants a chance to win and attacks the second group.

15:20 PST   
Sutherland has gone clear and is now chasing along behind Zirbel. There is still more than two minutes from the Zirbel to the Quick Step-led field. Astana is working, too, along with Rabobank.

15:21 PST    120km/30km to go
Zirbel is under the 1km to go ahead of four laps remaining - and it's positively pouring rain on him. Coming down cats and dogs. Buckets! Sutherland is in view behind, and then the rest of the original break.

15:23 PST    122km/28km to go
Zirbel has 14 seconds on Sutherland and 30" on the other eight as he comes through with four to go. He's still looking strong, down in the drops and keeping his body still. He's just pounding on the pedals and staring down the road ahead, challenging it to stop him from winning today.

15:24 PST   
The Rabobank chasers are hurting - their mouths open with the effort, but failing to string the bunch out significantly. There are three more riders bridging across from the original break...

15:25 PST   
Creed, Hincapie and McCartney have reached Sutherland, and we have four chasers behind Zirbel.

15:27 PST   
Zirbel is still looking smooth, still pushing a big gear. The group of four are visible behind him.

15:28 PST   
Zirbel, a second year pro and former runner is out of the saddle and losing time quickly on the four chasers. In the peloton, the Quick Step and Rabobank chasers have gotten the peloton lined out.

15:30 PST   
The peloton is going uphill now, and it's Quick Step's turn to suffer. The men up front are not having a fun day working for Bettini, Boonen and Friere. It's still two minutes to the leader, Zirbel, who is in sight of the four chasers.

15:30 PST   
Zirbel seems to be gaining ground now on the four chasers. He's got 35" to the group behind Hincapie, McCartney, Creed and Sutherland.

15:31 PST    128km/22km to go
Zirbel sees 1km to go for the end of this circuit, he'll have three to go. He's still looking strong and focused. He still has eight seconds to the group of four.

15:33 PST    129km/21km to go
He actually had closer to 15 seconds on the line, and the rest of the break is 45 seconds behind our lone leader. The rain continues to fall as Zirbel reaches the 20km to go point.

15:35 PST    130km/20km to go
Gesink is on the front working for Freire now, but the gap is just over two minutes with 20km to go. Zirbel is being directed around a left turn and heading downhill now.

15:36 PST   
The roads are still quite wet - there is standing water in parts, and the peloton must now choose between putting in a serious chase and risking a crash or letting the break go and saving their skin to race another day.

Zirbel has ten seconds on the chasing group of four, and it looks like the peloton cares nothing for their skin as they're barrelling around these turns!

15:38 PST   
Hincapie is sitting in this group of four hoping that it doesn't turn out like stage four where Rollin stayed away and he had to be content with second place. The gap to the field is down to 1'30.

15:41 PST   
Zirbel is still enjoying this gap, but the field is bearing down on the remains of the original break.

15:42 PST    135.8km/14.2km to go
Zirbel sees two laps to go and the chasing four are still behind. He's got 15 seconds on the quartet.

15:43 PST   
The rest of the breakaway is now caught as Quick Step pulls the peloton under the 1k to go banner with two to go.

15:44 PST   
Rabobank takes control of the chase - and water bottles are flying out of the peloton and into the crowd as they prepare for the final 15k of the race.

15:45 PST   
Zirbel is going up that quad-crushing hill, and is looking like he's struggling a bit now. He's still on the drops, pushing that big gear and muscling his way through.

15:46 PST    137km/13km to go
Astana comes back to the front to keep the race under control as the gap to Zirbel levels out at 1'30. Zaugg is dangling in front of the field as the last remnant of the break. The four chasers are still up ahead.

Zaugg is caught.

15:48 PST   
The group of four are in view of Zirbel, but cannot close the gap to the Bissell rider. He's still got 15 seconds as he chugs up another hill around the Rose Bowl.
We will avoid any references to American football, touchdowns or tackles when calling the rest of this race.

15:50 PST   
Zirbel lost a bit of ground on that climb and is now just six seconds ahead of the Hincapie/McCartney/Creed/Sutherland group.

15:51 PST    142km/8km to go
Zirbel is not worried about what's going on behind him. He's not looking back or wavering in his pace. He's a picture of concentration: head up, elbows bent and legs pumping as he heads toward the 1km to go for the final lap. That's just over 8km to go total.

15:53 PST   
The guys behind might be saying "Zirbel who?" - this guy is so new to the sport, but has such a huge engine. They're probably shaking their heads wondering how they can't catch him, but they still have 14 seconds on the line!

15:54 PST   
Astana is still on the front of the peloton, 1'05 behind Zirbel. They're coming through the line now not looking like they are putting in a serious chase.

15:55 PST   
Now the four chasers are not working together. Creed goes up the road a bit, and gets caught, now Hincapie goes!

15:55 PST   
Sutherland is going across to Hincapie as Zirbel is cracking.

15:55 PST   
Zirbel is caught and Hincapie and Sutherland go right by!

15:56 PST   
Zirbel has to fight, but he gets on the wheel of Hincapie and will just sit on now. Sutherland comes through as Astana is leading the chase still.

15:57 PST   
The five all come together now, and Creed launches an attack, pulling Hincapie away, but no go. He goes again...

15:58 PST   
Creed gets about ten bike lengths, but Hincapie is chasing. He closes down the gap and now we wait for another attack. Zirbel comes to the front - amazing.

15:58 PST   
The field is just 55" behind and the break is on a hill. The rain is punishing them as their legs are screaming from the long effort.

Rory Sutherland goes!

15:59 PST   
Hincapie is on him again - McCartney is struggling to get on, but Hincapie sits on Sutherland and they're not extending the gap.

16:00 PST    147km/3km to go
It almost looks like it's snowing because it's raining so hard. McCartney is trying to get on the wheel, but Sutherland is pushing hard.

16:00 PST   
McCartney gets on the wheel and now it will be a sprint of three if they can hold off the field. Hincapie tries to ride away, but McCartney is attentive and on him.

16:01 PST    148km/2km to go
Two km to go and the three are still together as they round a left hand bend. Sutherland on the front looking around. This is not where he wants to be!

16:01 PST   
Hincapie second wheel, McCartney waiting to pounce on the back.

16:01 PST   
The field is 25 seconds behind and they have no time for cat and mouse!

16:02 PST    149km/1km to go
The two chasers are coming up and Hincapie is looking behind. Creed gets on the wheel!

16:02 PST   
They're under the 1km to go banner with four riders, but the peloton is right behind. Creed tries to go.

16:03 PST   
McCartney now attacks - this is a long way out! Hincapie is on the wheel and goes over the top.

16:03 PST   
Sutherland can't come around and Hincapie finally gets High Road the win!

16:05 PST   
Wow! McCartney led that one out but couldn't hold it, and Sutherland just couldn't match Hincapie at the end of this 8 stage race.

Leipheimer comes in safely in the field 16 seconds behind. Creed was fourth, Zirbel hung on for fifth.

16:07 PST   
Now the question is, did Rollin do enough to keep that points jersey?

16:13 PST   
Stay tuned for the results of that final sprint - and the final classification for the points jersey. Scott Nydam (BMC) gets to keep the mountains jersey, and Gesink should be in the blue jersey of Best Young Rider.

16:32 PST   
Levi Leipheimer was able to repeat his win in the Tour of California, and received some congratulations from second placed David Millar - a good sport.

Rollin retained the points leader jersey.

16:32 PST   
Thanks for reading, and be sure to tune into Cyclingnews' live coverage throughout the season!

Provisional results

1 George Hincapie (USA) High Road                         
2 Rory Sutherland (Aus) Health Net presented by Maxxis    
3 Jason Mccartney (USA) Team CSC                          
4 Michael Creed (USA) Rock Racing                         
5 Tom Zirbel (USA) Bissell 
6 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team High Road                     
7 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team CSC                                                             

Provisional General classification after stage 7

1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana

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