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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 14-22, 2009

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Stage 1 - February 15: Davis - Santa Rosa, 173.2 km/107.6 mi

Complete live report

Live commentary by Peter Hymas and Laura Weislo with reporting from Mark Zalewski and Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento

11:57 PST    Welcome to the first stage of the Tour of California. It's rainy and cold in Davis, CA at the start and the riders are spending time out of the elements in their team vehicles. Despite the inclement weather, there's a large crowd on hand to send the peloton off.

12:00 PST    The stage will start momentarily at 12pm PST. The riders will roll through a 5km neutral section before the racing gets underway in their 107.6 mile (or 173.2km) ride to Santa Rosa.

12:05 PST    We're approximately half way through the opening 5km neutral section and Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank) has had a mechanical.

12:07 PST    There are two sprint lines during today's route in addition to 3 KOMs.

12:08 PST    Several other riders have been forced to stop to address mechanicals. The wet roads may wreak some havoc today and keep the mechanics busy all day long.

12:11 PST    The first opportunity for the sprinters comes 13.6 miles into the stage. Sprinters high in the general classification, such as Thor Hushovd, Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish may try to pick up some bonus time.

12:12 PST    The peloton has now hit the end of the opening 5km neutral section, but race officials have extended the neutral status in order for the numerous riders experiencing mechanicals to make it back to the peloton.

12:14 PST    The stage has now officially started! The neutral section is over.

12:16 PST    The first opportunity for the climbers comes 26.9 miles into the stage. It's a 4th category climb topping out at 1025 ft.

12:18 PST    The opening KOM is a two-tiered climb, moderately graded, between four to seven percent and will provide the perfect warm up for the peloton. Keeping warm is definitely on the riders' minds as the peloton is bundled up in rain jackets and gloves.

12:22 PST    We have an attack from Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing). He's out approximately 200m in front of the peloton.

12:25 PST    The field has begun to chase Mancebo, not giving the Rock Racing rider much free reign.

12:28 PST    While Mancebo is off the front, his Rock Racing teammate Chris Baldwin has stopped with a mechanical.

12:29 PST    Timothy Johnson (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and David Kemp (Fly V Australia) are bridging to Mancebo.

12:30 PST    Another mechanical...this time it's Aaron Olson (Colavita / Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light). The team mechanics will surely earn their paychecks today!

12:33 PST    Now it's Jason Mccartney (Team Saxo Bank) who has suffered a mechanical. Aaron Olson has made his way back to the peloton.

12:35 PST    The day's first sprint line is now 5km away.

12:40 PST    Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) is still being pursued by Timothy Johnson (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and David Kemp (Fly V Australia). Jonathan Garcia (BMC Racing Team) had tried to move across, but was absorbed by the peloton.

12:41 PST    There are some brick pavers on the route in Winters which will test the peloton's bike handling skills.

12:45 PST    Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) has now stretched his lead out to 3 minutes over the peloton. Timothy Johnson (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and David Kemp (Fly V Australia) are currently 50 seconds behind Mancebo and chasing hard.

12:49 PST    The three riders off the front have rolled through the sprint line in Winters. Mancebo has taken first place honors, while Timothy Johnson (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and David Kemp (Fly V Australia) have earned 2nd and 3rd place honors respectively.

12:51 PST    17mi/90.6mi to go The riders in the peloton are taking their time just trying to stay warm on a positively miserable day. Right about now the cold rain has probably seeped into their shoes and is soaking the socks. Mancebo is holding his lead, while Tim Johnson is pulling Kemp at 50 seconds behind the Spaniard.

12:53 PST    It's too bad that the weather is so miserable, because the route today through the Napa Valley is some of the most beautiful riding in the world. Unfortunately the view is shrouded in clouds today, and the riders are probably having a hard time seeing through their water-covered lenses.

12:54 PST    At the finish in Santa Rosa, the professional women's race is about to get underway. It's the first NRC crit of the year, and they're off!

12:55 PST    The ladies are racing in an absolute downpour, but these are not timid little girls - they're tough as nails, serious bike racers. Riders like Ina Teutenberg (Columbia-Highroad) and US champion Brooke Miller are in the race.

12:58 PST    21mi/8mi6km to go The men are at mile 21, and Johnson and Kemp are still dangling at 50 seconds behind Mancebo, but the gap to the field has ballooned to SIX minutes. Wow - that is one unmotivated peloton.

12:59 PST    In the women's race, Columbia-Highroad was on the front from the gun stringing out the peloton.

13:02 PST    The riders are in Napa County now, and have a category four climb coming up at mile 26.9. It's 1025 feet of climbing - not but a bump to riders like this. They're deep in cow country, so we'll be sure to keep an eye out for our bovine friends.

13:03 PST    In the women's crit, there are three women at the front who opened up a slight gap, but the pace is still very high and legs are fresh - they're not getting away yet.

13:06 PST    In the women's race, there is a group of about eight riders who have managed to open up a five second gap. Looked like US champion Brooke Miller, some Columbia riders and perhaps the red shorts of Tina Pic (Colavita). It's hard to tell who's who because they're all wearing jackets against the driving rain.

13:10 PST    The leaders in the men's race are 5km from the KOM, and are on the lower slopes of the climb now. The rain is still coming down steadily, and the sluggish peloton is just ticking along maintaining that 6'00 gap to Mancebo.

13:10 PST    Back in Santa Rosa, the lead group in the women's crit has blossomed to about 15 riders, and we're working on getting some ID's.

13:15 PST    The low clouds are interfering with the view from the blimp today, but our crew on the ground is giving us some good information. In the women's race, Emilia Fahlin, the young star from Columbia-Highroad, has attacked the breakaway with Lauren Tamayo - wife of the OUCH Pro Cycling men's team DS Mike Tamayo.

13:16 PST    You can read about Fahlin in a feature by Shane Stokes here. In the men's race, Mancebo is on the climb still ahead of Johnson and Kemp.

13:18 PST    So Fahlin and Tayamo are back in the break, having been caught from that attack. Also up there is Kim Anderson (Columbia-Highroad), Katheryn Mattis, Meredith Miller, and Brooke Miller who just came out of the pits after having a mechanical.

13:22 PST    Francesco Mancebo has reached the top of the first climb, and has opened up his lead over Johnson and Kemp to a minute. He takes the points and starts down the somewhat twisty descent. The way down would normally be quite fast, but with all the rain there are sections of the road that have deep puddles, and the rain has washed mud and debris into the path of the riders. They'll be taking this one cautiously.

13:26 PST    In the women's race, the group of 12 is the following riders: Kim Anderson and Emilia Fahlin (Columbia), Meredith Miller (Tibco), Katheryn Mattis, Lauren Tamayo, Two Value Act riders Kristin McGrath and Robin Farina, Colavita's Kelly Benjamin, Sarah Bamberger (Touchstone), Jennifer Rither (Vanderkitten), Rachel Lloyd (Proman) and Marla Kingsley.

13:28 PST    Back over in Napa, Mancebo is on his way down from the first KOM and is being pursued by Tim Johnson and David Kemp. He had 1'35 at the top, but the gap is coming down now. It's just 50 seconds. Still several minutes to the field.

13:29 PST    The women are getting aggressive now - Anderson and Tamayo have attacked the break and are being pursued by Robin Farina.

13:32 PST    32mi/75.6mi to go The men have a little uncategorized climb to tackle at the moment, and Johnson and Kemp have succeeded in closing down the gap to Mancebo on that descent.

13:34 PST    The peloton isn't feeling too much urgency to chase our leaders at the moment. They'll be able to close down the gap a little over the next 20 miles of downhill to rolling terrain. It's still a good 30 miles/50km or so to the big climb of the day on Howell Mtn Rd.

13:36 PST    The three leaders in the men's race are enjoying a shocking nine minute lead at the moment. Down in Santa Rosa, the women's break is back together, with Meredith Miller leading the front group. There's a total lack of organization in the chasing peloton as all the major teams are represented up front.

13:38 PST    The reasons for the somewhat gigantic gap between the men's break and field is the twisty descent, which they took carefully and the fact that they've stopped to answer the call of nature at the moment. It's a good place for privacy as the hearty California fans were all assembled on the climb, and there is much more privacy in this section.

13:40 PST    In the women's race there are 9 laps to go, and Kathryn Mattis is on the front. The field is being spurred on by several field primes which have been called. The Webcor team, despite having Mattis up front, is setting up a train for the sprint. They've got Gina Grain, the Canadian champ, who is a mighty fine sprinter.

13:41 PST    There isn't a lot of cooperation in the break in the women's race, and they've only got 20 seconds advantage. Seems Columbia isn't happy with their chances against sprinters like Benjamin. They have Ina Teutenberg in the field, and she is one of the best sprinters in the world.

13:42 PST    Also lurking in the field is Laura Van Gilder, who is a strong sprinter. The field has the break in sight!

13:44 PST    5 laps to go for the women, and Lauren Tamayo and Emilia Fahlin are taking turns attacking, while Kim Anderson is marking Miller as the cat and mouse tactics continue. They're holding the 20 second gap.

13:45 PST    Proman is attacking from the field as the trains are setting up for Webcor, Tibco, Value Act and Colavita Sutter Home. Mattis is still leading the break as they all come back together.

13:46 PST    Things are quite a bit more "tranquilo" in the men's field as Johnson, Mancebo and Kemp enjoy a 9 minute advantage. The Columbia-Highroad team is controlling the bunch, not yet launching the chase. KOM#1: 1 Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) 2 Timothy Johnson (OUCH p/b Maxxis) 3 David Kemp (Fly V Australia) 4 Michael Barry (Team Columbia - Highroad)

13:47 PST    The rain is pounding the women but they don't care - they're not feeling a thing except the pain in their legs as they have four laps to go! The break is breaking up - Tamayo, Farina and Kim Anderson have escaped.

13:49 PST    The women's break is all back together now, and that little bit of mischief has cost them a little of their lead on the peloton. We could see a big, ugly bunch sprint here in Santa Rosa!

13:50 PST    Four laps to go and now Meredith Miller attacks!

13:51 PST    Sorry, that's Robin Farina, and she's being chased by Kim Anderson. And it's not four, but two laps to go!

13:52 PST    37mi/70.6mi to go The men's race is up to a 12 minute gap, and as they have their afternoon nap, the women's race is heating up in Santa Rosa. Value Act is on the front of the field chasing hard, and the tactics are playing out up front as the last lap starts! Meredith Miller attacks!

13:53 PST    It's a short lap, and it's single file and the break is all back together. They won't get caught today!

13:53 PST    The sprint opens up and Emilia Fahlin is going !

13:53 PST    Lauren Tamayo gets on her wheel...

13:54 PST    Tamayo cannot get around Fahlin, and the Columbia rider gets the win! Rachel Lloyd takes third.

13:54 PST    Ina Teutenberg unsurprisingly takes the field sprint for 13th.

13:56 PST    I've got to give props to the California cycling fans because they are out in big numbers on a Sunday afternoon to watch these women race in the pounding rain. They're all bundled up in rain gear or carrying umbrellas and seem unaffected by the weather.

13:59 PST    So Brooke Miller was not able to repeat her victory in the Amgen Tour of California women's criterium... and Fahlin, who took third last year, gets to step up onto the center step of the podium.

14:01 PST    Fahlin, the Swedish road champion, is only 20 years old and will have a brilliant career ahead of her. She was fortunate to get chosen last year to ride for the Columbia team, as she has some very intelligent and talented women as mentors. Riders like World Cup champion Judith Arndt, DS Petra Rossner, and Ina Teutenberg.

14:08 PST    The men's race is heading up toward Lake Berryessa, where they will skirt the western shore. Once at the northern end of the lake, they'll turn west and head toward the even more beautiful wine country areas to the west.

14:12 PST    47mi/60.6mi to go They still have quite a way to go before climbing Howell Mtn Rd, but on the way down from that KOM they'll head straight into the heart of wine country. The Napa Valley is perfect place for wine country because it has plenty of different micro-climates and diversity in soils.

14:14 PST    The Astana team is having difficulty with its radios, according to team manager Johan Bruyneel. They just aren't having much luck - they had team bike stolen yesterday - including Lance's special time trial rig.

14:15 PST    The Trek liaison Ben Coats has been working hard to get replacements for the riders - and said he "Just found a couple of spare bikes for the team to use until we can replace the stolen bikes. THANKS TREK TRAVEL!!!"

14:17 PST    50mi/57.6mi to go Tim Johnson, one of our three leaders, has had to have a bike change. Perhaps his drive train has gotten gunked up from the wet nastiness they've been riding through. But Mancebo and Kemp were kind enough to wait up and they're all back together.

14:18 PST    Sorry, I just realized I've been putting in miles and not kilometers. They're 50 MILES into the stage, not 50kms! They're not going that slow!!

14:22 PST    Thanks to the magic of the internet, we've corrected our mistake. Blessed be the web, as it allows us to undo our sins. The riders are currently mid-way through the first stage, being somewhat miserable thanks to the pouring, cold rain. They're all covered up with rain jackets and wearing tights and shoe covers, but still, that cold water has a way of working its way in.

14:23 PST    Lance Armstrong's bad luck continues. He has a flat tire and has to get help from the team car. Chechu Rubiera, his loyal domestique, and Yaroslav Popovych wait for him along with Gregory Rast. They all pace Armstrong back to the bunch.

14:24 PST    The leaders will have to be careful ahead as there are signs up saying "Standing Water". Interesting image. Most water I see is usually lying down... (rim shot)

14:25 PST    There are some fans along the road side who are wearing nothing but their underwear. What is it with cycling that makes fans want to get naked? We saw crazy people literally bearing the sub-freezing temperatures at the Cyclo-cross nationals who were in bikinis. One of those crazy people happens to be racing in the Amgen Tour of California. If you can name the rider who I am referring to you win a prize!

14:30 PST    Sad news, our overall leader, Fabian Cancellara, has abandoned at the feed zone! He apparently has a fever. This is worrying as last year a nasty virus swept through the peloton and wiped out nearly 40% of the field.

14:31 PST    56mi/51.6mi to go Yikes. Apparently Lance Armstrong has now crashed! He's up and riding. Miserable times for Astana.

14:32 PST    Last year it was Garmin's Tyler Farrar who had to abandon while wearing the leader's jersey. This year it's Cancellara. We never like to see the leader abandon.

14:35 PST    That is one bad thing about the globalization of cycling: it used to be all of the racers were in Europe and could get immune to the bugs that went around. Now riders are jet-setting around the globe picking up viruses from all over - Australia, the USA, Europe, the Middle East - and then sharing them around.

14:37 PST    So the peloton is still winding along the road that skirts Lake Berryessa, but in a few miles they will take a left turn onto Howell Mountain Rd, and we all know what that means! Mayhem!

14:39 PST    It just goes to show that our Cyclingnews readers are sophisticated, well-read and versed in more than road cycling. Many of you correctly guessed that Brad Huff - racing with Jelly Belly, was the nutty guy in his skivvies at 'cross nationals. Your prize? Our undying love! :-)

14:41 PST    Of course Mr. Huff wasn't racing - he was supporting his friends who were suffering through the race. He's fully clothed today, but it's good for him that he is resistant to cold temperatures because it's not very warm for the riders at the moment.

14:43 PST    One of our readers has informed us that Mike Creed wore a unitard to a 'cross race, but unfortunately Mr. Creed didn't make the Rock Racing selection for Tour of California this year... we're sad to see his absence as he was quite aggressive last year on the stage to Pasedena.

14:48 PST    The gap between our intrepid leaders and the field has started to fall ever so slightly. It's now down to 11 minutes with the category two climb looming ahead.

14:51 PST    The three leaders are on the start of the climb, and it's a steep one. Back in the field, there are tons of flat tires which are interrupting the chase. Another Astana rider gets a flat, as does Jeff Louder (BMC) and Brad White (OUCH). It's going to be mayhem as the chase is beginning to take flight and they've got a rough road ahead with plenty of gravel.

14:53 PST    At the top of the climb in the town of Angwin there is a little school, Pacific Union College, which one of our readers informs us has a nice mountain bike race they put on called the Napa Valley Dirt Classic. We're betting there will be a few fans from the school at the KOM today.

14:54 PST    As the peloton makes the turn onto Howell Mtn Road, the chase is heating up. The GC contenders will not want to let a rider like Mancebo stay away. He's not exactly a nobody, having ridden alongside Lance Armstrong on the big climbs of the Tour de France...

14:56 PST    62mi/45.6mi to go They're 5km from the top, and our leaders up ahead are shrouded in the rain-soaked trees. Our blimp can't see them at the moment. But Tim Johnson is a former USA cyclo-cross champion, and David Kemp has won his share of big Australian events... they're a strong trio.

14:57 PST    The climb up Howell Mtn Rd is quite steep and full of tight bends. It straightens out near the top, though.

14:59 PST    This is a tough, tough climb, and one that Levi Leipheimer will be quite familiar with. He lives in Santa Rosa and trains on these roads all winter. We're trying to get updates but with all the twists and turns in the road we're not able to see the action. There are no images from the television cameras today because the helicopters can't fly in this weather!

15:01 PST    We've got one leader on the climb now, and it's Francesco Mancebo. He has finished in the top 10 of the Tour de France four separate years, and is a dangerous man for the overall here.

15:01 PST    There is fog on the descent, which could make things a little bit more dicey, but fortunately the way down is less twisty than the way up.

15:03 PST    64mi/43.6mi to go After the riders get off Howell Mtn Road, they'll have 10 relatively flat miles, including a sprint bonus in Calistoga, before hitting the final difficulty, the Petrified Forest Rd. climb.

15:04 PST    The two chasers are over the top of the climb, losing significant time to our leader. But they have a chance to make it up on the descent if they're fearless enough. He'll want some help on the flat valley roads.

15:09 PST    The rain has let up in Santa Rosa, but the skies are still dark and more wet weather is expected for the men's finish. Even if the rain stops, the roads are still full of puddles, so there is no hope that our poor, suffering peloton will dry out.

15:10 PST    The dark clouds above Francisco Mancebo, our lone leader, are not just literal, but figurative. He's been named as one of the riders who used the blood banking services of Eufemiano Fuentes, the doctor at the center of the Operacion Puerto scandal. But since that investigation was stalled, shelved, opened, shelved, opened and then shelved, he's been able to race for nearly three years since being named.

15:12 PST    It's a raging controversy, one that the Italians are trying to end once and for all. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) has reportedly been able to obtain physical evidence from the case in the form of the actual blood bags that were seized by the police in May, 2006. They are trying to match the blood to samples taken from riders during the 2008 Tour de France. But Mancebo, for better or worse, hasn't been able to get on a team which is allowed into the Grand Tours. He's been languishing on Continental teams since the scandal broke.

15:13 PST    One of our readers has informed us that there is a bend known as "Devil's elbow" on the descent of Howell Mtn. Rd. But for the rest of the way it's straight and fast. Let's hope that Devil doesn't bedevil the riders.

15:17 PST    71mi/36.6mi to go The leader is at Deer Park now, and will now face a difficult eight miles through the valley into the wind. There is a sprint bonus in Calistoga at mile 79.1, and the peloton will be anxious to bring this move back.

15:20 PST    The two chasers are fading, and are more than four minutes behind Mancebo. A chasing group has broken free of the peloton - about 20 riders, likely all the favorites who have gotten away on the climb. We're trying to get some time gaps for you - patience!

15:22 PST    Mike Friedman wrote in to give encouragement to his Garmin-Slipstream teammates. He just finished up the Tour Méditerranéen. "Just wanted to give a shout out to all the boys in the rain and cold from the team bus here on the way to Girona, Spain our home away from home. Its sunny here and 11 degrees C. I wish everyone the best."

15:23 PST    The Garmin-Slipstream team is looking to overthrow Levi Leipheimer from the Tour of California throne this year, and we're betting that there are a few of their riders in this chasing group of 20.

15:25 PST    In that group of 20 are Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Jani Brajkovic and Chris Horner for Astana, thanks to Johan Bruyneel's Twitter feed!

15:27 PST    Oh dear, Mother Nature is punishing us again - the rain has resumed in Santa Rosa and the winds have begun to howl. Misery!

15:28 PST    Along with the Astana riders are the argyle jerseys of Garmin and the black and white of Saxo Bank. Could it be Andy Schleck or his brother Fränk?

15:28 PST    Thanks to Mike Friedman for following along with Cyclingnews' live coverage. We have to also give props to his teammate Dan Martin who finished third overall in that race.

15:32 PST    So we have this group of 20, with Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong, Christopher Horner and José Luis Rubiera (Astana), Andy Schleck and Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank), Thomas Lövkvist and Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - Highroad), David Zabriskie (Garmin - Slipstream), Kevin Seeldraeyers and Walle Jurgen Van De (Quick Step), Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Floyd Landis, Rory Sutherland and Jonathan Patrick Mccarty (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing). But they've only got about 22 seconds on the main peloton.

15:33 PST    79mi/28.6mi to go The rain is causing chaos for both cameramen and the race radio. We're trying to get time gaps for the chasing groups, but we can't imagine that this lone man, Francisco Mancebo, can hold off an entire peloton for very long.

15:35 PST    The intermediate sprint bonus will be coming up at mile 80, and it looks like Mancebo will get the bonus seconds. 1km to go for him - that's three seconds taken off his total time on GC for the Spaniard.

15:37 PST    Mancebo will have to pick up a few more bonus seconds if he wants to take over yellow. It's 3 seconds for first (2 and 1 for 2nd and 3rd) at the intermediate sprints, and 10, 6, 4 for the top three at the finish. He's currently 12 seconds behind on GC, so he needs to get time at the finish if he can. He's got 5'20 on the first chase.

15:46 PST    We've been told that because of the rain, the field will be protected from crashes on GC at the start of the final circuit in Santa Rosa - meaning if a rider has a crash on that final circuit of 3 miles (5km), his time will be the same as the winner as long as he was with the main peloton at the start of the final lap.

15:48 PST    Mancebo is on his way up the final difficulty of the day, a category four climb of 332m. He's enjoying a five minute lead at the moment, but the chase is getting quite serious now. The peloton still has a bit of a split - the two chasers (Johnson and Kemp) were absorbed by the group of 21 from behind, and the peloton is only about 30 seconds behind them.

15:50 PST    That front half of the peloton only contains David Zabriskie for Garmin, but has Jens Voigt and Andy Schleck for Saxo Bank and Rogers for Columbia. We wonder if the GC favorites will get cagey and try to stay away from the other contenders trapped in the field?

15:51 PST    82.5mi/25.1mi to go Mancebo is 1km from the top of the climb, and then will have a couple little leg breakers to contend with - two uncategorized climbs - before descending into Santa Rosa.

15:52 PST    There are a lot of teams interested in bringing Mancebo back. Teams like Quick Step, Cervelo, Columbia - all with strong sprinters who are close to the top of the GC who can snatch the yellow jersey with some bonus seconds.

15:54 PST    With Cancellara now on his way back to Switzerland to recover from the illness which he apparently caught yesterday - Leipheimer, who was 2nd in the prologue, would be the yellow jersey. But he's unlikely to get to wear it today.

15:54 PST    Cancellara was vomiting in the middle of the night according to team spokesman Brian Nygaard, and even though he wanted to honor the yellow jersey by finishing today, he was too ill and did not want to jeopardize his Spring Classics campaign.

15:55 PST    Now's the time to write in and vote for today's outcome. Does Mancebo stay away? Or do the sprinters have their day in Santa Rosa. Send your guesses to commentator@cyclingnews.com!

15:59 PST    The riders have negotiated a rather tricky descent after that KOM, and all appear to have gotten down safely. Thank goodness. The rain here in California is somewhat of a novelty, as much of the state has been in a drought. But that's all over now as rain and wind howled all night long last night.

16:01 PST    Mancebo is on the little leg breakers before the quick drop into Santa Rosa for the final circuits. He's pounding a big gear and having to go around what looks like small lakes on the road.

16:01 PST    The Rock Racing car drew alongside its rider and sent up a wall of water which doused the cameraman. It's not as if these poor guys on the motorcycles aren't miserable enough! Bad manners!

16:04 PST    Over the top of the rise, there is more twisty descending, and lots of standing water on the roads. It's just miserable out there, but Mancebo doesn't seem to care. He has only 4'06 now, and will need more than that to stay away!

16:05 PST    90mi/17.6mi to go Mile 90 and it's all downhill from here, so to speak. Just 17.6 miles separate this Spaniard and the yellow jersey, but it's all fight from here.

16:06 PST    The final lap cutoff is being debated by the officials now. They should, in all fairness, decide soon because the riders will be entering the circuits in just 8 miles.

16:07 PST    Apparently, the rule book says the "time shall be taken on the finish line", but it's normal to take the time for GC at 1km in stage races just so GC men don't have to battle with sprinters to stay up front. Otherwise it's just too dangerous.

16:08 PST    It's a long, fast descent on good roads, and Mancebo is making use of every centimeter of pavement as he negotiates the various bends.

16:10 PST    Mancebo is just about 25km to go to the finish, but does he have enough time to take the stage and the yellow jersey? He only needs 3 seconds or so on the line to take it - depending on who else gets time bonuses behind him...

16:11 PST    4'30 for Mancebo with 25km to go! Wow - that may well be enough for him to stay clear. The peloton is still split up a bit behind, and this may contribute to this Spaniard being able to stay away.

16:13 PST    We've had a comment that Lance Armstrong is wearing a mountain-bike style helmet. He is wearing a visor, yes - something MTB riders generally do but roadies are usually too snobbish to wear because they do not want to be confused with MTB'ers. But if your name is Lance Armstrong, we guess you do not have to worry about what people think of you.

16:16 PST    Mancebo is finding a little rise in the road that should be going mostly downhill. It's driving rain but he's got a rain jacket to keep him dry. Unfortunately, that jacket is making it hard for him to get his food out of his back pocket.

16:17 PST    His last opportunity to feed from his Rock Racing team Cadillac will be approaching with the 20km to go mark. The final KOM results: Mancebo Rubiera Armstrong Leipheimer. Wow.

16:18 PST    KOM #2 was: Mancebo Johnson Kemp

16:18 PST    The peloton has closed to within a few minutes, but they still seem to be broken into two groups. About 17 riders chasing hard with a gap to the main peloton. It doesn't seem like a sprinter's day as the Astana boys have Leipheimer up front and are keen to put him in yellow today.

16:19 PST    It seems as if Armstrong is doing a bit of work for Leipheimer judging by those KOM results. The team leader sits at the back of his team train, and Leipheimer was on Armstrong's wheel.

16:21 PST    Should this group of 17 or so riders stay clear, not just Leipheimer will move up on GC. With sprint bonuses, they could put Armstrong in second overall ahead of Zabriskie, who was third in the prologue and should still be in this group.

16:21 PST    98.1mi/9.5mi to go Provided that this group chases down Francisco Mancebo, who is about to start the first of the final circuits.

16:22 PST    Mancebo is on the way to the finishing circuit and the crowds are ten-deep despite the rain here in downtown Santa Rosa.

16:23 PST    Mancebo is still hammering, still holding three minutes on the Astana-led chase. Armstrong in third wheel is protecting his Astana leader.. There are two Liquigas riders present in this group.

16:24 PST    The chasing group is single file as they negotiate the many turns on this closing circuit.

16:25 PST    98.4mi/9.2mi to go Astana is getting some help from what looks like a Saxo Bank rider as Mancebo hits the finish line for the start of the finish circuit. Three laps to go! He is hurting, but he always looks like he's in agony.

16:26 PST    The OUCH team is currently on the front of the peloton, but Astana is still leading the first chase group. They're getting help from Liquigas.

16:27 PST    That one minute gap may not be enough for Mancebo, that chase of Astana was successful in bringing him back to shouting distance, and now they're getting help from the rest of the group.

16:31 PST    Levi Leipheimer is now contributing to the chase of Mancebo. He wants this rider back and he wants to take that yellow jersey. His main motivation? His home town crowd of course! The effort has spit Rory Sutherland (OUCH p/b Maxxis) out the back of this small chase group. The peloton just entered the circuit 5'00 behind Mancebo.

16:31 PST    Actually, it was Floyd Landis who was dropped, not Sutherland. Bad news for his GC hopes!

16:32 PST    Correction, Sutherland was off the back of the chase group - he dropped back possibly to help LAndis who had a mechanical.

16:34 PST    The Liquigas rider in this chase is Ivan Basso, and Astana is at t eh front with Oscar Sevilla trying to foil the chase. We see Rabobank, Columbia, and Zabriskie in here.

16:35 PST    Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) has attacked the first chase and is now alone 20" behind Mancebo.

16:35 PST    A Quick Step rider is alone at 40", and the main chase has fallen back to 1'40"

16:36 PST    The peloton is under the 1km to go banner, which is black here in California and not the traditional red of the European races.

16:39 PST    101.6mi/6mi to go Six miles to go for Mancebo, but Nibali is a very good time trial rider and has worn the young rider's jersey in two Grand Tours. He's strong and could end up as Liquigas' GC leader after today.

16:39 PST    Astana is drilling it in the chase group with Lance Armstrong in the lead in his yellow Livestrong vest. Nibali has Mancebo in his sights!

16:40 PST    104.5mi/3.1mi to go One lap to go and Nibali is on Mancebo's wheel! It's pouring rain, and Astana is taking no risks.

16:41 PST    Word has it that Landis has abandoned the race. It could be that his crash hurt him more than we knew.

16:43 PST    Astana is still on the front of the chase two minutes behind the three men who are off the front.

16:43 PST    Armstrong is doing all the work, but not pulling Jurgen Van de Walle back, he's 45 seconds behind the two leaders Mancebo and Nibali.

16:44 PST    The peloton is not going to close this down. This is a very strange stage - the climbs have shattered the field and the weather has prevented it from being brought back together. Very strange indeed perhaps due to the headwinds.

16:45 PST    No word on what's going on up front with Mancebo and Nibali because the cameras are focused on one Lance Armstrong. If we had any money, we'd put it on Nibali who has spent far less time than Mancebo fighting the wind. Look for this strong young Italian to be in yellow tonight!

16:46 PST    Nibali was a fraction of a second behind Mancebo in the prologue. And now we have word that the Landis rumor was false - he still is in the race, but now in the peloton.

16:47 PST    Van de walle has caught the leaders!

16:47 PST    106.6mi/1mi to go The Quick Step rider was 3 seconds behind Mancebo and Nibali at the start of today..

16:48 PST    They're coming under the highway and are not far from the finish line now!

16:48 PST    Mancebo attacks!

16:48 PST    Nibali and Van de Walle can't respond!

16:48 PST    Mancebo is hammering!

16:48 PST    Van de Walle tries, but he can't get on the wheel and the Spaniard wins the stage!

16:49 PST    Mancebo will be in yellow, Van de Walle takes second ahead of Nibali.

16:49 PST    Wow! He really wanted that one, and he used the slight rise coming out from under the highway to dispatch Nibali and Van de Walle and take the stage for Rock Racing.

16:50 PST    That has to be a huge boost for Michael Ball, who has been desperately seeking sponsors since his company is suffering from the global economic downturn.

16:50 PST    Astana takes fourth, with Leipheimer possibly, but Armstrong does not look pleased.

16:51 PST    His old rival, a man who attacked him on the climbs of the Pyrennes, has taken the yellow jersey and with his climbing skills could well hang on to keep the overall lead. He has nearly two minutes by the time Armstrong's group hits the line.

16:52 PST    The many emails we had voting for Mancebo to stay clear and win were correct, but who could have guessed he would be joined by two riders and then outwit them for victory?

16:54 PST    Oh dear, here comes our beleaguered peloton over five minutes behind the winner.

16:56 PST    It seems that Mancebo will be in yellow, but Nibali, who had just OVER two seconds advantage on GC will be a fraction of a second ahead of Van de Walle tonight.

16:56 PST    The bonus seconds are 10, 6 and 4 for the top three.

16:59 PST    Well that's a wrap for our stage 1 coverage, thanks for reading. Join us tomorrow bright and early local time. It's a ridiculous start time for these riders - 8:30am local time because they're crossing the Golden Gate bridge. It's a US holiday tomorrow, but some businesses are still open and they need to get through San Francisco before people begin to riot over the traffic and road closures.

Provisional results

1 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Rock Racing     
2 Jurgen van de Walle (Bel) Quick Step    
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas   

General classification after stage 1

1 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Rock Racing     
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas  
3 Jurgen van de Walle (Bel) Quick Step           

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