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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 14-22, 2009

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Stage 3 - February 17: San José - Modesto, 167.7 km/104.2 mi

Complete live report

By Sue George with reporting from Mark Zalewski and Kirsten Robbins in California

11:24 PST   
Welcome back to our Tour of California live race coverage. Today, we'll be following stage 3, a 104.2 mi journey from San José to Modesto, opening with the classic Tour of California climb, the Sierra Grade (1,930 ft.), within the first five miles of the stage. After completing the Sierra Road climb, the riders will face fast and flat roads full of twists and turns before climbing Patterson Pass. The peloton will then descend to level roads for the last half of the stage into Modesto.

Today's stage will actually start about 10 minutes earlier than planned - 11:50 am local time instead of noon, so we'll be starting our coverage a few minutes earlier, too.

11:43 PST   
It's shaping up to be another dismal day for racers on the road. Although the rain let up this morning so that enough sun came through the clouds to produce some rainbows, it's back to mostly cloudy with rain likely sometime during the stage. Temperatures in the high 40s (degrees Fahrenheit).

11:45 PST   
At the start here in San José, we've been getting on average about five minutes of sun followed by seven minutes of clouds, and we're hearing reports of rain and possibly near-freezing temperatures atop Sierra Road, today's first climb, which races will hit just a few miles after the start.

11:48 PST   
After an impressive effort yesterday, in stage two, Levi Leipheimer (Astana) starts today's stage in the leader's jersey. He's got a 24-second advantage on GC second-place Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - Highroad) and 28 seconds on GC third-placed David Zabriske (Garmin - Slipstream). Astana's Lance Armstrong and Chris Horner are sitting in fourth and fifth places overall. Having three riders in the top five and five riders in the top ten puts Astana in a nice place starting today.

11:50 PST   
The riders have just started. They have one neutral circuit before the official start. Right on schedule, the rain has begun.

11:51 PST   
Today's earlier start comes along with just one neutral circuit at the start and one, instead of two, finishing circuits at the end. These changes are to accommodate the schedule of the TV crews who are covering the race.

11:55 PST   
The weather is impairing communication again today. Looks like we'll have no repeated radio communication for at least the first hour due to the poor conditions. This has been a problem already in this year's race.

11:56 PST   
The riders haven't even left the neutral zone yet, but one has gone down - no doubt the situation is not helped by the poor weather conditions and the fatigue the riders much been feeling after so much racing in the rain and cold. Edward King (Cervélo TestTeam) is the rider who has crashed.

11:58 PST   
King is back up and rolling. He appears to be fine.

11:59 PST   
Fortunately for King, the peloton is waiting up for him to regain contact before the race officially gets going.

11:59 PST   
It's official. The race is done with neutral and started.

12:01 PST   
Six riders don't waste any time - they launch an immediate attack. Considering that the first KOM line, at the top of Sierra Road, comes at mile 8.1, there's no point waiting.

12:01 PST   
They gain a slight advantage and two more riders before they are caught, bringing the peloton all back together again.

12:02 PST   
Sierra Road climbs from an elevation of 264 feet to 2041 feet over 3.6 miles. It has an average grade of 10%. If the riders aren't warmed up when they start, they will be soon.

12:03 PST   
A Fly V Australia rider goes down. Looks like David Kemp. He is up and rolling again. What a tough way to start the stage.

12:04 PST   
Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team) and Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis) attack.

12:05 PST   
We expect to see quite a lot of attacking early in the stage, especially with the early appearance of the Sierra Road. It's a chance for KOM points, of course, but it's also a chance to get away in a break. And it's just the kind of poor weather day that a break could stick - even though the terrain after the first big climb is not particularly difficult.

12:07 PST   
We're not quite sure yet if it's Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis) or his teammate
Bradley White in the break, but we can see that another rider has joined him and there are now four riders off the front.

12:10 PST   
Our four leaders, now with 30 seconds, are Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Brian Vandborg (Liquigas), Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team) and Bradley White (OUCH p/b Maxxis). They are still on the flats, but they are battling a tough cross wind and as they rapidly approach the climb.

12:11 PST   
The four-man group is making the turn to begin the climb. We're expecting to see lots of crowds out watching again today, despite the grim weather conditions.

12:15 PST    5.1mi/99.1mi to go
Five kilometers to go until the KOM. Two riders are attempting to bridge up: Matthew Wilson (Team Type 1) and Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing).

12:16 PST   
Mancebo, who is currently leading the KOM competition by five points over Jason McCartney and six points over Levi Leipheimer, will be especially interested in this climb and the possibility of acquiring more KOM points to build his lead.

12:17 PST   
Unfortunately, no luck for Mancebo - they're not letting him get away. The two bridgers are caught and the leaders' margin is shrinking. It's now at 20 seconds.

12:19 PST   
Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) sure did have a good day in Stage 1, finishing in Santa Rosa. After a long break away, he took his first win on American soil.

12:21 PST   
Mancebo, still showing his toughness, is dangling just off the front of the main peloton. Meanwhile, at the back of the pack, Edward King (Cervélo TestTeam) abandons. Maybe he really wasn't doing so well after that crash in the neutral start zone?

12:25 PST   
Mancebo has joined up with the four leaders, making a lead group of five with a 20-second advantage. The steepest, toughest parts of the climb are at the bottom. The actually KOM line isn't at too tough of a spot - it's only about 5% grade at the line. Overall the climb flattens out and becomes more rolling near the top.

12:28 PST   
Edward King's withdrawal might not be due to the crash at the start. He also crashed just before the start of the Tour of California, while training the day before the race began.

12:30 PST    7.5mi/96.7mi to go
One kilometer to go until the KOM. The riders are climbing through open terrain. There is pasture on either side. We're seeing nice pockets of people cheering the riders on up here.

12:32 PST   
After the climb, the racers will face some tricky terrain. There will be quite a bit of flat riding in today's stage, but much of it will be along very narrow roads, some made even narrower by mudslides. It won't be a trip for the faint of heart as many of the roads are lined with steep cliffs, but feature no guardrails. It'll be interesting to see if our group of five keeps their advantage up and over the KOM line, and if so, whether they continue to work together afterward.

12:37 PST   
Looks like Mancebo is really not with the lead group of four. He has been reabsorbed by the peloton. Sorry for the confusion. It's tough for us to get information today due to the poor weather, which is hampering radio communications.

12:45 PST    12.8mi/91.4mi to go
The four leaders have passed through the KOM and are well on their way down the hill. About 35 seconds behind them is the peloton of about 80 riders.

12:46 PST    13.0mi/91.2mi to go
A Liquigas rider, from the peloton, has gone flying off the side of the road in a crash on the descent. We'll try to find out who crashed and if he is ok.

12:55 PST    15mi/89.2mi to go
There has been a second crash involving a rider in the peloton. Ian Macgregor (Team Type 1) is down, and an ambulance is with him. There is also an ambulance with the Liquigas rider, but we still don't know which rider went down. Our four leaders have increased their gap to 1.15.

13:00 PST   
We have more information about the second rider who crashed on the descent. It was not a Liquigas rider after all, but it was Omer Kem (Bissell Pro Cycling).

13:01 PST    19mi/85.2mi to go
So far, our leaders have been average 25 mph. That's not bad for a rainy day and one big mountain climb. We still don't have KOM result from Sierra Road, but we'll let you know them as soon as we get them. The racers are facing very slick roads, at places covered with debris from the storms. The roads are slick - definitely a day to keep one's concentration 100% on the riding.

13:03 PST   
The racers are in Alameda County, the seventh largest county in California. They are racing toward Livermore, the city where they will contest a sprint.

13:08 PST    22mi/82.2mi to go
Our four leaders are continuing to build their gap. They are at 22 miles and nearing the end of the long, mostly downhill section following the Sierra Road climb.

13:16 PST    25.6mi/78.6mi to go
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) has a flat. Hopefully he can get a quick wheel change as he is currently leading the best young rider competition.

13:20 PST   
At long last, we have some KOM #1 results for you. Thanks for your patience as we've been trying to get them! These are from Sierra Road, way back at the start of the race.

1 Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing)
2 Bauke Mollema (Rabobank)
3 Bradley White (OUCH p/b Maxxis)
4 Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team)
5 Pieter Weening (Rabobank)
6 José Luis Rubiera (Astana)
7 Christopher Horner (Astana)

13:26 PST   
We're getting lots of questions about the possibility of moving the Tour of California to a warmer, nicer, and drier time of year. California may have a reputation for warm and sunny weather, but we also often hear of the very wet and cold weather in February. So, really, would they move the race? Such a move could be great for many domestic racers, especially with the Tour of Georgia, which originally occupied a mid-April time slot) off the calendar; however, a later date would likely attract fewer European star racers who might not want to make the trip across the pond in the midst of the Spring Classics. Of course, those of us who have stood in the rain and cold covering the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey in mid-April know the weather isn't guaranteed to be much better even a few months later!

13:28 PST    30mi/74.2mi to go
The break is just a few miles outside of Livermore. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because it's the location of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In about seven more miles, they will contest the first sprint of the day.

13:30 PST   
We've got some interesting action back in the main peloton. Lance Armstrong is riding naked on a tandem with special guest David Walsh. We think maybe the cold and rain is finally getting to these guys after several days.

13:31 PST   
Ok, ok, we're just kidding. So you can all delete those emails to the commentator you've started writing. We just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.

13:32 PST   
While we've been clowning around, our leaders have been taking things very seriously. Their efforts have netted them an increased gap - up to four minutes now.

13:33 PST   
Looks like a rather large crash in the main peloton.

13:35 PST   
It's our GC leader Levi Leipheimer. We didn't recognize him at first because his leader's jersey was covered up under extra layers.

13:36 PST   
Leipheimer had to get a bike change. He was the last rider to get going - or so it appeared - after the pile-up. One of his teammates waited for him to help him pace back up. We'll see if any others drop back to help the defending champion and favorite bridge back up.

13:37 PST   
Looks like Leipheimer is now getting help from two more Astana teammates. The train of helpers is riding strongly but calmly to help their leader catch up.

13:38 PST   
Conveniently for Leipheimer, the peloton has decided to take a nature break. That should help make it easier to catch back up.

13:40 PST    36.5mi/67.7mi to go
It's hard to tell the identities of all the riders. It's a colorful bunch though, with all the rain jackets on everyone. However, at the front, the leaders don't have on so many layers. They are all clearly going hard, working together as they lead up to the sprint, which is now 1km away.

13:41 PST   
The break riders appear to not be sprinting. They are probably more interested in a stage win.

13:42 PST   
Let's meet some of our break members. To start, Brian Vandborg (Liquigas) is 27 years old. He used to ride for Team CSC and Discovery Channel. This is his first year with team Liquigas.

13:43 PST   
Results from the sprint are:

1 Bauke Mollema (Rabobank)
2 Bradley White (OUCH p/b Maxxis)
3 Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team)

13:46 PST   
Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), 22, who just took the top sprint points, is a very talented, young climber, but he's not made that crucial leap up in the last couple of years. Today could be his day though - a stage win at the Tour of California would be something any rider would be proud to add to his palmares. Last year he finished sixth overall at the Vuelta a Castilla y León and seventh overall at the Deutschland Tour.

13:48 PST   
Stef Clement (Rabobank) and Markus Zberg (BMC Racing Team) both get flats and the subsequent wheel changes. Meanwhile Christopher Horner (Astana) gets a bike change and Hayden Roulston (Cervélo TestTeam) receives some service from his team car.

13:49 PST   
Astana is back at the front of the peloton setting the pace - Leipheimer has been safely returned to the bunch. As the team of the leader, Astana will be keeping tabs on the gap of the break - careful not to let them get too far ahead, with too much of a time advantage.

13:52 PST   
For those of you still pondering a possible move of the Tour of California's dates, you might be interested to know what Lance Armstrong had to say. He recently wrote on Twitter: "The Tour of California should be in late April." He cited reasons including better weather, more chances to take the race into the Sierra Nevadas and good timing to do some final pre-Giro d'Italia tune-up.

13:56 PST   
One of our break riders is Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team) of Salt Lake City, Utah. He is 31 years old and last year won a stage and the overall at the Tour of Utah. He also won a stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic and took fifth at the USPRO Road Race Championships. He was eighth overall at the Tour of Missouri. As the pass by some wineries and head toward the feed zone, Louder and his three break mates have a gap of 5.25.

13:58 PST    44mi/60.2mi to go
The leaders are at mile 44, not yet half-way through today's stage, but they are on their way up Paterson Pass, which is the second KOM. It is not nearly as hard as Sierra Road. It will climb 650 feet over two miles, for an average grade of 6.3 percent.

14:02 PST   
Our own Kirsten Robbins has arrived at the finish line in Modesto. She would have been there sooner, but had to stop and buy some rain boots along the way. We bet there are some riders in the peloton who will be very jealous of her warm, dry feet. She tells us that it is raining at the finish presently and in the low 40s (degrees Fahrenheit)- big surprise, eh?

14:03 PST   
The rain has not deterred some dedicated fans though, some of whom have already arrived at the finish area to stake out their viewing spots and check out the expo area.

14:07 PST   
For those of you asking about Mancebo, as far as we understand, he made a move to get those KOM points at the beginning of the race, initially bridging up to the break, but he did not stick with the break - perhaps a very strategic move to pick up some more crucial KOM points on Sierra road in order to protect his lead in the mountains competition.

The field is now passing through the feed zone.

14:10 PST   
As the leaders roll by a wind farm, we wonder about the psychological state of the riders, who have been going out to ride, day after day, in abysmal conditions. The forecast isn't much better for the coming days. Kirsten Robbins tells us, "After speaking with the riders at the starts and finishes, I get the impression that morale is pretty low. Everyone, both the riders and the directors, is trying to stay positive, but it's difficult when they know the rain is not predicted to let up this week."

14:12 PST   
The race organization is handing out Limited Edition XO Brandy and French baguettes. Maybe that will help improve the morale of the riders when the finish? Something to look forward to in addition to dry and warm clothes in any case.

14:13 PST    46.5mi/57.7mi to go
One kilometer to go until the break hits the second and final KOM for today, on Patterson Pass. There are decent crowds along the road watching here. It will get a little steeper close to the line.

14:17 PST    49mi/55.2mi to go
Second KOM results are

1 Bauke Mollema (Rabobank)
2 Brian Vandborg (Liquigas)
3 Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team)
4 Bradley White (OUCH p/b Maxxis)

Our leaders are now descending off the back of Patterson Pass. When they get to the bottom, they'll still have more than 40 mostly flat miles to go.

14:19 PST   
Alejandro Alberto Borrajo (Colavita / Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light) abandons.

The break is descending on a narrow road. There is no yellow line in the middle - instead there are two white lines - one on each side of the road, like on many European roads. Some of these riders will feel right at home.

14:22 PST   
Our fourth break member, Bradley White of Team Ouch, is 27 and lives in Colorado. He's been racing for two years as a pro, but he used to be a school teacher. Last year he won the sprint competition at the Tour of Utah and the Sea Otter Classic, and he was first in the KOM competition at Sea Otter.

14:24 PST   
Kirsten Robbins reports that there is an REI (outdoor store chain common in the US) across the street from the finish line. That will come in handy if any of the teams decide to purchase some additional rain gear for the rest of the stages.

14:27 PST    54mi/50.2mi to go
The gap to the leaders has come down somewhat. Its peak was about 5.15. Now it's at 4.30. In the extended flat section from here to the finish, the peloton may have the advantage in chasing, but we'll have to see how motivated they will be given the dreary weather. They are now past the half-way point of today's 104.2 mile stage.

14:31 PST   
One of our readers has impressed upon us some reasons for keeping the Tour of California exactly where it is on the calendar. "We LOVE the Tour of California in February. It gets us amateur racers are revved up for the season, gives us a chance to see the pros and show off our state," writes Birgit, who noted that past editions have not been so rainy.

14:34 PST   
Break member Jeff Louder may be happy to hear he's got some fans paying close attention to his efforts. The Tour of Missouri podium girls, Jen & Erin, wrote in to say they are following the race's coverage. "We're huge fans of the sport and have been since long before our podium days. We love the attention Tour of California is getting this year and we're looking forward to more action in September at Tour of Missouri." In addition to giving a shout out to Louder, they also sent along some words of support for the Garmin team.

14:41 PST    60mi/44.2mi to go
The leaders' gap is at 5.20. The four are continuing to work well together - rotating through and taking even turns. The peloton on the other hand doesn't look too interested in chasing at the moment. They are spread wide across the road, apparently not in any particular hurry.

14:45 PST   
Vassili Davidenko is the main director for Team Type 1. It's his first big race as head director for the team, and he said his team is feeling pretty well, but his riders are really tired. "The weather has been so bad. It's expected to continue to be bad. The riders are constantly soaking wet. But it's not just the rain, it's really cold, too." Davidenko is especially proud of his two riders racing with Type 1 diabetes, Phil Southerland and Fabio Calabria. It's got to be even tougher to manage diabetes with the extra energy expenditure that goes along with racing in the cold.

14:46 PST   
John Murphy (OUCH p/b Maxxis) has a rear flat.

14:49 PST   
So will today's break stick? If you look at three of the riders, Louder, White and Vandborg, you'll see they are in 71st, 74th and 76th respectively in the GC. However, Mollema is in 18th overall, just 2.14 off leader Leipheimer. That means that if the break does stick, Astana will be working hard to shrink the gap in order to protect Leipheimer's lead. However, there are a lot of sprinters back in the peloton, hungry for a stage win.

14:51 PST    64mi/40.2mi to go
The leaders are now enjoying some sunshine and dry roads. Those conditions must feel really nice after what they have been racing in. I still can't be too warm though because they still have arm and leg warmers on.

14:55 PST   
Two riders from today's stage, both crash victims, are on their way to the Modesto hospital in an ambulance. Both riders crashed fairly early in the stage, on the descent from Sierra Road. Omer Kem (Bissell) reportedly has a broken femur. Ian MacGragor (Team Type 1) is the second rider in route. No report yet on his injuries.

14:58 PST    65.8mi/38.4mi to go
We've got 5km to go until the second sprint - our last one for the day if you don't include the finale. This sprint will happen in the town of Tracy. The leaders are passing some sheep alongside the ride. There are still some wet spots on the roads, but they are mostly dry.

14:59 PST   
Although we don't know the injuries of Ian MacGragor (Team Type 1), he reportedly hit a parked truck on the descent from Sierra Road.

15:02 PST   
Break rider Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) figures it is a good time for a nature break and stops briefly by the road to answer the call. Might feel good stretch his legs for a second, too.

15:06 PST   
Some readers are calling into fault our glum weather predictions. It's possible we have it wrong; after all it is the weather. But hey, does anyone really know what it's going to do? We'll just have to wait and see what Mother Nature brings.

15:07 PST    68.8mi/35.4mi to go
The break passes through sprint #2 in Tracy. Our results are

1 Brian Vandborg (Liquigas)
2 Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team)
3 Bauke Mollema (Rabobank)

15:08 PST   
Those wanting a tech fix to keep them warm and fuzzy during today's brutally wet
stage can check out Francisco Mancebo's Rock Racing Kestrel RT 800. The rider claimed the stage 1 victory on his new Kestrel earlier in the race.

15:12 PST   
The sprints are important not only toward the sprint classification but toward the GC because on each, there are time bonuses on the line: 3,2,1 (seconds) for the intermediate sprints and 10,6,4 at the finish.

15:25 PST   
Ed Beamon, the assistant director for Colavita / Sutter Home is one person betting on a team sprint for today. He said before the start today that his squad is really hoping to set up their guy, Sebastian Haedo, for the win. Beamon thought that the long flats after the climb made it likely that any breaks would get caught; however, he did note that the poor weather we've been having might let a break stay off today.

15:29 PST    76mi/28.2mi to go
Astana has been spending quite a lot of time at the front today, controlling the pace, but now both Columbia-Highroad and Quick Step are taking over the front. Both teams will have a vested interest in delivering one of their sprinters to the finish first for a stage win.

15:33 PST   
The chasers are slowly pulling the leaders back. The gap has shrunk to 3.20. What is interesting is that overall, the race is progressing slower than expected. Despite the 10 minute head start, they are about 10 minutes behind the slowest predicted pace according to the race log schedule.

15:35 PST    78.6mi/25.6mi to go
The leaders are entering Stanislaus County. From here until the finish, the terrain is quite flat, which will make it easier for the big teams to judge distances and effort required to catch the break. At the moment, the peloton is rolling through lush, green farmland.

15:42 PST   
Doug Fluetsch, Technical Director, Merced-Clovis Stage, wrote us to give an update on tomorrow's weather. "[I] looked on weatherchannel.com – it is saying tomorrow should be dry and clear, 0% chance of rain. Highs in Merced near 60 degrees. There is snow at the top of the two last KOMs – Chowchilla Mountain and Crane Valley Road. The first three KOMs (Guadalupe - KOM #1, Bootjack #2 and Hwy 49) do not have snow on them for tomorrow – at this point anyways – but it could develop over night." He added that it is typical for the area to receive wind blowing out of the south after a storm, which would produce a nice tailwind all the way to Clovis.

15:46 PST    82mi/22.2mi to go
The gap has shrunk further, to 2.45. One of our readers, Dirk, offered the following analysis. "My guess is that Astana leaves the break out there at about 2:30. That would just barely put Bauke in the lead. Why? Because they are confident that Levi and others can smoke a few seconds (minutes?) on Bauke in the TT, and it would force Rabobank into pace setting and give the guys a break in the nasty weather." An interesting thought - we'll see if the sprinters' teams are ok with letting that plan happen.

15:50 PST    84mi/20.2mi to go
The leaders are now passing some veal pens as the gap is down to 2.05. It's coming down quickly now.

15:58 PST    86.5mi/17.7mi to go
It's stopped raining at the finish in Modesto, but the roads on the finishing circuit are still wet. Although the break's gap has dropped down to 1.40, the break still appears motivated. They continue trade leads evenly and steadily. Brian Vandborg (Liquigas) gets a bottle from his team car.

16:01 PST   
One of our readers, Nick from New Zealand, is predicting the sprinters will bring it all back together. His pick for the win is Team Columbia-Highroad's Mark Cavendish.

16:03 PST   
Kirsten Robbins is at the finish line. She said the sun is coming out at the line. There's probably not enough time left for the roads to dry, but any amount of sun can only improve the conditions.

16:04 PST   
Andy Schleck is optimistically taking off his gloves and stashing them in his back jersey pockets.

16:07 PST   
Modesto, our ending city today, will likely host a sprint finish, but it won't be the first time the city has hosted a bunch sprint. The guys from the Village Peddler Cycling Team of Larkspur, California, pointed out that Modesto has hosted a mid-May weekend of racing since at least 2001. The weekend's highlight is the Modesto Criterium. It was won by former pro Jonas Carney in 2003 and more recently (last year) by Victor Rapinski.

16:08 PST   
"The crowds are huge here. They are at least five deep around the finishing circuit," reports Kirsten Robbins from the finish line in Modesto.

16:09 PST    94.2mi/10mi to go
1.30 is the current magic number - the gap between our four-man break and a charging peloton.

16:12 PST   
It may be sunny now, but Kirsten Robbins reports from the finish that a hail storm is on the way and predicted to hit the area within a few minutes. What a brave bunch of fans out lining the course watching! In the meantime, the gap is down to 1.00 as the break crosses a highway overpass.

16:14 PST   
Some of you have asked about Ivan Basso of Team Liquigas. We haven't heard much of him today, but rest assured, he's likely still working hard. Today, he is riding in the service of his team's sprinter, Francesco Chicchi. Basso is continuing to build fitness following his return to the sport after serving a suspension. He is working up to one of his main season's goals, the Giro d'Italia.

16:15 PST   
The gap is at 35 seconds. Quick Step and Columbia-Highroad are on the front.

16:16 PST   
The riders are on the finishing circuit now. Don't forget that one of the two finishing circuits was cut, so they will get just one lap around before the final sprint.

16:17 PST   
Louder attacks his break mates going over a bridge!

16:17 PST   
He sees the writing on the wall - if he doesn't go now, the break will get caught for sure.

16:17 PST   
Mollema catches back up to Louder. It's just those two right now at the front.

16:18 PST   
Mollema is refusing to pull through. Louder makes an unhappy gesture at him.

16:18 PST    100.2mi/4mi to go
Now Mollema takes a turn. The two other break riders are about 50m behind Louder and Mollema.

16:19 PST   
Quick step is driving the peloton in a furious chase.

16:19 PST   
Mollema puts in an attack, but Louder responds and hops right onto him. The other two are about to be caught by the chasing peloton.

16:20 PST   
The field has the two leaders in sight. The gap is about 20 seconds.

16:20 PST   
The field is curb to curb. Everyone is jockeying for position.

16:21 PST   
The peloton thins to 2-3 people across as it negotiates a 90 degree turn.

16:21 PST   
Now it's just Louder and Mollema off the front.

16:21 PST   
The lead two make the final turn and they get the one lap to go. They have 10 seconds.

16:22 PST   
Mollema attacks. Louder gets right on his wheel, covering it.

16:22 PST   
Molemma attacks again. Louder tries to get back on, head down.

16:22 PST   
Louder is hanging on to Molemma's wheel just barely.

16:23 PST   
Louder is forcing Molemma to lead. The field behind splits left and right to two different streams.

16:23 PST   
Mollema sits up - he wants Louder to take over and take a turn, but that will hurt them both.

16:23 PST   
The two leaders have just five seconds now.

16:24 PST   
They realize it's over and sit up.

16:24 PST   
Mollema is still leading through another turn and then they are both caught. All together now.

16:24 PST   
The sprinters will get their day.

16:24 PST   
Its Quick Step followed by Cervelo.

16:25 PST   
It's chaos in the pack now. Two trains try to go - one on each side of the road. Columbia on one side. Quick Step on the other.

16:25 PST   
There are four Cervelos on the front. Columbia has two riders just behind.

16:26 PST   
Cervelo must be trying to lead out Thor Hushovd.

16:26 PST   
They're racing down tree-lined streets through a residential community. 1km to go.

16:26 PST   
It's three Cervelos followed by Columbia.

16:26 PST   
It's the final turn - 500m to go.

16:27 PST   
It's three Cervelos followed by a Columbia rider.

16:27 PST   
A Cervelo rider swings off. Columbia comes around.

16:27 PST   
Then more Cervelos comes through.

16:27 PST   
A Cervelo rider takes it.

16:27 PST   
It's Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) with the stage win.

16:28 PST   
It's Oscar Freire (Rabobank) in second and Mark Renshaw (Team Columbia - Highroad) in third.

16:29 PST   
There was a Columbia rider up there, but he was clearly on his own - without other team riders around.

16:29 PST   
Leipheimer is rolling around after the finish - he's made it safely through.

16:31 PST   
Hushovd took his win with a convincing gap - plenty of time to celebrate. He had a fantastic lead-out from his teammates in the run-up to the finish.

16:35 PST   
We believe Levi Leipheimer has kept his leader's jersey, but we're working on confirming that.

16:38 PST   
Thanks to all of you for joining our live coverage today. We really appreciate all those reader emails - even if we didn't have the chance to respond to everyone.

16:39 PST   
Leipheimer is putting on his leader's jersey on the podium - that confirms it for us. He has kept his lead.

16:40 PST   
That wraps up our live coverage for today. We hope you'll join us tomorrow (Wednesday) for stage four from Merced to Clovis. Our coverage will begin at 11:00 am local time.

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