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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 14-22, 2009

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Stage 8 - February 22: Rancho Bernardo - Escondido, 155.8 km/96.8 mi

Complete live report

Live commentary by Sue George with reporting from Laura Weislo and Kirsten Robbins in California

11:41 PST   
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the eighth and final stage of the Tour of California. We'll begin just before noon local time.

Stage 8 will run from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido over 96.8 miles. Racers will face four climbs and two sprints in what will be the most difficult-ever final stage of the Tour of California.

For today's highlight, racers will tackle the Palomar Mountain climb (5,123 ft.). At 11.7 miles, with a seven percent average grade, 4,200 feet of climbing and 21 switchbacks.

11:54 PST   
Today it's beautiful weather - in the upper 60s and lower 70s (degrees Fahrenheit). It's still overcast, but the clouds are darker than yesterday. With a 10 percent chance of rain and Southern California's micro-climates, it's possible that we could see some showers today at the higher elevations.

11:56 PST   
We should see immediate action in today's stage. After a 3.6-mile neutral section, the race will officially start. Then it's only 3.5 miles to the first KOM of the day, on Highland Valley Road.

11:58 PST   
There are four KOMs today, and it's no stage for the sprinters. There should be plenty of fireworks as the teams are expected to work hard to attack GC leader Levi Leipheimer (Astana), who has a 36-second lead on David Zabriskie (Garmin / Slipstream) and 45 seconds on Michael Rogers (Team Columbia- Highroad).

12:00 PST   
One sprinter who had decided stage 8 is not for him is Tom Boonen. The Belgian packed his bags last night and headed for home.

12:01 PST   
They are rolling - starting the neutral section.

12:02 PST   
Expect Levi Leipheimer's Astana teammates to stick to him like glue. They will have their work cut out for him as they try to protect his lead. At 36 seconds, it's not too comfortable considering the four KOMs and generally jagged profile of today's stage.

12:03 PST   
Our stage is taking place just north of San Diego today. We've started in Rancho Bernardo, and we'll finish in Escondido. Presently, we're about 20 miles north of downtown San Diego.

12:03 PST   
Many fans are lining today's course as the riders roll past in the neutral section. They seem excited to see their favorite riders, and they are ringing cowbells.

12:05 PST   
The peloton is rolling on Pomerado Road. Some riders are chatting with each other. Others are intently concentrating, perhaps thinking of what will come after the neutral. There are a lot of tired riders in the bunch today, but fortunately, it is the last day for them.

12:06 PST   
We roll by a little girl on a Barbie-themed bike, with streamers coming off the ends of her bars. A future champion in the making, perhaps?

12:07 PST   
Christian Vande Velde is wearing the most courageous rider jersey today. He's riding along, having a chat with Stuart O'Grady.

12:08 PST   
The racers receive some encouragement from one fan - a woman holding a sign saying, "Keep on pedaling - only 90 more miles!" Well, she's close but not quite correct. They'll see 96.8 miles to go at the official start.

12:10 PST   
Lance Armstrong is shedding his bright yellow vest and armwarmers. He hands them off to his car. He won't want those with the first climb coming so soon.

12:10 PST   
Brett Lancaster (Cervélo TestTeam) has a mechanical.

12:11 PST   
The riders are all bunched up, waiting for the signal to go. Meanwhile, Armstrong is at the back having a chat with his director - maybe getting some last minute "what if" advice.

12:12 PST   
The road is kind of narrow, with some sand along the right-hand side. The peloton is passing some farms on a bumpy road. The chief official is waving at the peloton to slow down behind his lead car. They are all ready to go it seems!

12:15 PST   
The race is officially started!

12:18 PST   
Two riders attack. It looks a Team Columbia - Highroad rider and Steven Cozza (Garmin - Slipstream).

12:19 PST   
The first KOM today, at Highland Valley Road is a cat. 4. It's worth 4,3,2 and 1 points respectively.

12:21 PST   
There are tons of fans along this KOM. Spectators are running beside the riders, almost causing them to crash by virtue of being in the way.

12:22 PST   
Three riders are at the front, then there's a gap to some chasers and then another gap to the peloton.

12:23 PST   
Our leaders are setting a fast pace - a few riders have joined the lead trio. We'll get you names as soon as we can.

12:24 PST   
There are eight riders off the front over the climb as they pass through the initial KOM.

12:25 PST   
Our eight leaders are Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank), Thomas Peterson (Garmin - Slipstream), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale), Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam), Alexandre Moos (BMC Racing Team) and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling).

12:26 PST    5.7mi/91.1mi to go
The leaders have a 25-second gap. The next KOM is at mile 20.6. It's a cat. 3, so it will be worth 6,5,4,3 and 1 points.

12:28 PST   
One rider is trying to split off the front to bridge up, but there are others who want to be part of his attempt. They are passing a cow farm - PEEE-UWWWW! It's stinky.

12:28 PST   
Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step) needs a wheel.

12:29 PST   
Our first KOM results are
1 Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank)
2 Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank)
3 Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling)
4 Bauke Mollema (Rabobank)

12:30 PST   
The leaders are driving hard - they've established their gap to 40 seconds now. Liquigas has got a few men lined up at the front of the chasing peloton.

12:33 PST   
We're very near the Wild Animal Park - a fantastic zoo which can't really be called a zoo. It's got large, outdoor enclosures and natural habitats in which a variety of animals live. The leaders' gap is holding at 35 seconds.

12:34 PST    9.8mi/87mi to go
Our Kirsten Robbins was at the start this morning and now she is stuck in traffic trying to get to the finish. "I'm stuck in traffic - for a bike race in North America, can you believe it?" she asks. "That's real progress for the sport here."

12:34 PST   
Robbins said she feels a bit like she's in concert traffic and that's not as far from the truth as you might think. She said Rock Racing was blasting the AC/DC from their team van this morning before the start.

12:36 PST   
The second KOM is Lake Wohlford Road. It climbs from 733 feet to 1,566 feet over four miles with an average grade of 3.9 percent. But that last number is deceiving. It's more like two six percent grades separated by a flatter section in between.

12:37 PST    11.8mi/85mi to go
We are seeing some exceptional wildlife as we pass the Wild Animal Park. Zebras and elephants are among them - not your usual roadside fauna in California! There is a balloon tethered above the park entrance - plenty of fans watching here - they get two shows today - the animals and the bike race.

12:39 PST   
Laura Weislo, who's riding along in the Media 1 car, talked with Serge Pauwels before the start today. He was off the front for awhile during stage 4. He said, "I'm using this race as preparation for the coming European races and wanted to get in the break."

We'd like to give a special shout out to Weislo's driver, John Livingston. Thanks for the ride.

12:40 PST    12.2mi/84.6mi to go
The peloton doesn't want to let this break go. They've closed it back down to 25 seconds as they approach the start of the second KOM.

12:44 PST   
The gap is at 50 seconds. The peloton is strung out and chasing hard. There are still four Liquigas riders at the front. We're not quite sure why Liquigas is working so hard to chase - they have no one high up in the GC. Maybe Astana has asked them for help?

12:45 PST   
The break takes a hard right onto Bear Valley Parkway. They seem to be working pretty hard and mostly together - though it's not the smoothest example we've ever seen of trading pulls.

12:46 PST   
We're on the outskirts of Escondido, in the north of San Diego county. There are plenty of fans out watching as the riders zoom past on their way to the second KOM.

12:48 PST   
There are about four blue and green Liquigas riders at the head of the peloton, followed by about four to five Astana riders. They are all strung out.

Lake Wohlford is one of three lakes in the Escondido area. The others are Dixon Lake, and Lake Hodges.

12:50 PST    17.6mi/79.2mi to go
Five kilometers to go until the KOM. Local pros use this climb to do their hill repeats. Laura Weislo reports that she saw Aaron Olson out training here a few years ago.

12:51 PST   
Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) is the top rider in the front group. He's at 5.44 down on the GC, in 19th place.

The riders are on a wide highway, a valley parkway heading toward the climb. The peloton will be able to see the break here.

12:52 PST   
The break is working very well together. Their advantage is holding fairly steady - it's at 50 seconds now. Time to start climbing! It begins immediately with a steep section.

12:54 PST   
The views here are phenomenal. It's too bad the racers won't be able to enjoy them. Oh well, at least all the spectators will be able to do so - many appear to have ridden their bikes out to a spot to watch.

12:55 PST    19.5mi/77.3mi to go
A bunch of kids are scrambling up a bit higher on the muddy hillside to get a better view.

12:56 PST   
Team Ouch goes on the attack from the peloton. It's a little like a team trial for them at the front. Floyd Landis takes a turn - maybe he is feeling better today. He was reportedly fighting a cold earlier this week.

12:56 PST   
Mathias Frank (BMC Racing Team), Floyd Landis (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and Rory Sutherland (OUCH p/b Maxxis) get a gap on the peloton as they chase hard.

12:57 PST   
The gap is shrinking fast - it's down to 10 seconds.

12:58 PST   
It's Floyd Landis (OUCH p/b Maxxis) chasing the break solo now - he's got them in sight.

12:59 PST   
One kilometer to go until the KOM line.

13:01 PST   
Four riders are leading together as a group going over the top: Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank), Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam) and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling).

13:04 PST   
The lead four are up and over the KOM. Behind them is a group including Thomas Peterson (Garmin - Slipstream), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale), Alexandre Moos (BMC Racing Team) and Floyd Landis (OUCH p/b Maxxis). That's what was left of the break - plus Landis bridging up.

13:07 PST   
Our four leaders have a 30-second gap. We think that's over the peloton and the rest of the riders have been caught, but we're working on confirming that. In the meantime, we've just passed the grinch, on a bicycle, alongside of the road.

13:07 PST   
Technical Director Chuck Hodge has a sombrero attached to his car today.

13:09 PST   
Our four leaders have 20 seconds on the peloton; however, three riders are attacking out the peloton.

13:09 PST   
To summarize, we have our four leaders, a 10-second gap, three chasers, a 10-second gap, and the peloton.

13:10 PST   
Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) drops off of the lead group.

13:11 PST   
KOM #2 results
1 Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank)
2 Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling)
3 Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam)
4 Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank)
5 Steven Cozza (Garmin - Slipstream)

13:12 PST   
Jason McCartney is leading the KOM competition - this should help secure his lead for the race. "It was really unfortunate that Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) crashed yesterday," said McCartney to Kirsten Robbins before the start today. "I'm in a good position now to try to go after this jersey, so I will honor that. I will do the best I can to gain points toward the jersey today." So far, he is doing just that.

13:13 PST    25.8mi/71mi to go
We're passing the Valley View Casino, and you'll never guess, but yes, there is a nice view of the Valley. The leaders are seeing 5km to go until the sprint - our only one in route today.

13:13 PST   
Schleck has dropped back to the chase group.

13:16 PST   
To summarize, we've got Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank), Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam) and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) at the front. Behind them is a chase group including Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Stef Clement (Rabobank), Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and Mathias Frank (BMC Racing Team). In no man's land, Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) is chasing. Then there is the peloton.

13:16 PST   
We're passing the Rincon Indian Reservation. The riders have to negotiate a cattle grate on the descent. In fact, there are seven to eight cattle grates on the course today. Fortunately, it is dry as those can be quite sketchy when it's wet.

13:17 PST   
Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) doesn't make it. The peloton reabsorbs him.

13:19 PST   
We're ahead of the break at the moment. The riders will descend all the way to the 200m to go until the sprint sign.

13:19 PST   
Our four chasers have regained the break. We now have seven at the front together.

13:20 PST    29.8mi/67mi to go
They pass through the sprint. We'll get results as soon as we have them. All seven riders at the front appear to be rotating through and working together.

13:20 PST   
We have word that two other riders either did not start or abandoned today. One is Carlos Sastre, and one is Thor Hushovd, who won a stage earlier this week.

13:21 PST   
Janez Brajkovic (Astana) is getting a wheel change. That will likely cause Astana to slow things down in the peloton and give the break a little help.

13:21 PST   
Janez Brajkovic (Astana) is eighth on the GC, and Astana will want him for the big climb up Palomar - to help out Leipheimer.

13:22 PST   
The leaders are approaching the 50km mark which means they are now allowed to feed from the cars, but there is a feed zone in 5km anyway. Time to fuel up before the Palomar.

13:24 PST    32mi/64.8mi to go
Sprint (Harrah's Rincon) Results
1 Carlos Barredo (Quick Step)
2 Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling)
3 Mathias Frank (BMC Racing Team)

13:26 PST   
Rudy Pevenage, Director of Rock Racing told our Kirsten Robbins this morning, "We [Rock Racing] would have liked to be on the podium for the last stage of the Tour of California. But I couldn't have expected anything better from the team this week. There was Francisco Mancebo's stage win, his KOM lead [until he crashed out yesterday - ed.], and the fact that all of my riders were involved in decisive breakaways."

13:27 PST   
The break has a 1.20 gap. The peloton must have sat up to wait for Janez Brajkovic (Astana) plus they are about to enter the feed zone.

13:27 PST   
After the feed zone, riders will have 1.4 miles before they hit the bottom of Palomar.

13:28 PST   
Palomar is 11.8 miles. It starts at an elevation of 1,029 feet and goes up until 5,314 feet. The average grade is 6.9 per cent. It should take the riders somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes to climb up.

13:29 PST   
With the gap up to 1.45, the team cars are moving up to be able to provide direct support to the racers.

13:31 PST   
Speaking of team cars, we'd like to give a special thanks to Brian Nygard and Bjarne Riis of Team Saxo Bank. They kindly invited us to join them in the team car today, in what will be one of the most difficult stages of the Tour of California, but unfortunately we had to decline - we had to send our Kirsten Robbins on to the finish.

13:32 PST    33.5mi/63.3mi to go
The Saxo Bank, Rabobank and Bissell cars are moving up. We are passing some areas charred by wild fires last year. This area is prone to wild fires because of the Santa Ana winds that blow in hot, dry air from the desert to the east. There is green again over the burned areas, but we can still smell that there has been a fire.

13:32 PST   
Several years ago, a fire in Ramona burned down the house of Lance Armstrong's former coach Eddie B.

13:37 PST    34.5mi/62.3mi to go
The break has just passed through the feed zone. Their gap is two minutes. They've been climbing long and gradually, but now it's starting to pick up a bit more. The break is working together very well - trading turns and rotating through.

13:40 PST   
For those of you asking about Landis, he did make an impressive bid earlier to catch the group. There was quite a bit of shuffling on those earlier climbs, and no he is not presently in the lead group.

We have three more abandons: Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), Daniel Oss (Liquigas) and Robert Gunn (Fly V Australia).

13:43 PST    36mi/60.8mi to go
Frank Schleck takes at turn at the front. The field is about seven-tenths of a mile behind the break out on the road.

13:44 PST   
Timothy Johnson (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and Enrique Gutierrez (Rock Racing) launch an attack out of the field.

13:46 PST    37mi/59.8mi to go
Carlos Barredo is leading the break while Mathias Frank (BMC Racing Team) looks to be hurting at the back of the break.

13:48 PST   
Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) is taking a turn leading the break, which has 2.20 on the peloton. The two chasers are at 2.10, just slightly ahead of the peloton.

13:53 PST    38.6mi/58.2mi to go
The two chasers were caught. The break just passed some fat men wearing neon thongs... hmmmm.

13:55 PST   
This climb has a lot of switchbacks. The racers are snaking their way up the climb.

13:57 PST    39mi/57.8mi to go
Oscar Sevilla (Rock Racing) has attacked from the peloton. He is on his own, climbing strongly. Meanwhile, two riders are getting dropped from the break: Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam).

13:57 PST   
Jonathan Patrick McCarty (OUCH p/b Maxxis) abandons.

13:59 PST   
Two others have bridged up to Sevilla: Floyd Landis (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank).

14:01 PST    40.1mi/56.7mi to go
We're at 4,000 feet of elevation right now. There are lots of fans. It's kind of like the Tour de France - we are actually above the helicopter at the moment. It's very steep terrain.

14:03 PST    40.2mi/56.6mi to go
The break sees 5km to go until the KOM. The gap has dropped to just 43 seconds as the chasers and the peloton work to recapture the break.

14:04 PST   
Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) has been dropped from the break.

14:06 PST    40.5mi/56.3mi to go
It's very steep and switchback-y here. Many of the riders are standing.

14:08 PST   
All the riders behind and dropped from the break were caught by the field, but a new attack goes from it: Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank), Thomas Danielson (Garmin - Slipstream), Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) try their hand.

14:10 PST   
Our chase group has caught the leaders.

14:10 PST   
Behind them is a new chase group - including a bunch of GC contenders, who are throwing down the gauntlet to Astana.

14:11 PST   
The attackers from the peloton are Floyd Landis (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - Highroad), David Zabriskie (Garmin - Slipstream) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas).

14:12 PST   
This is a big move - with second, third and 10th places on the GC in the move, plus Landis, who has been aggressive all day.

14:13 PST   
Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank) and Serge Pauwels (Cervélo TestTeam) appear to be dropped from the leaders.

14:19 PST   
There's been some shuffling at the front - lots of confusion on this climb. Our lead group - approaching the KOM now includes Levi Leipheimer (Astana), Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank), Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - Highroad), David Zabriskie (Garmin - Slipstream), Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Thomas Danielson (Garmin - Slipstream).

14:20 PST   
The number of fans up here is HUGE. We heard that organizers couldn't place the barriers where they'd wanted on the climb this morning because there were already so many people up there - camped out from yesterday.

14:22 PST   
The leaders are over the top and descending now.

14:24 PST   
Interestingly, Leipheimer is alone in this lead group - in other words, he has no teammates to look out for him. The break's gap is about one minute.

14:24 PST   
Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) has gone off the front of the break. He is alone.

14:25 PST   
Schleck is still wearing his number 13 - up side down for better luck.

14:26 PST   
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) has also gone for it solo off the front of the break.

14:27 PST   
So we've got Schleck off the front solo, then Nibali solo, then the rest of the break. They are really taking advantage of Leipheimer being solo off the front, without teammates to help chase.

14:30 PST    49mi/47.8mi to go
Nibali has caught Schleck - the two are working together now at the front of the race.

14:31 PST   
We believe the remnants of the break have been caught by the peloton, but now Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) is chasing the two leaders solo.

14:32 PST   
Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) bridges up to Chadwick. He pulls by and those two are working together.

14:37 PST   
The two leaders look back and can see their two chasers.

14:39 PST    55.1mi/41.7mi to go
The four riders that were off the front in groups of two are now together: Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank). The peloton is chasing at 50 seconds.

14:41 PST   
Nibali is the highest placed rider in the break. He is in 10th place in the GC at 2.21 behind leader Leipheimer. Frank Schleck is also up there in 15th at 4.09. And Bauke Mollema is in 19th at 5.44.

14:43 PST   
So far, Leipheimer is still comfortably in the virtual lead on the road. These leaders would have to take quite a bit more time for him to be overtaken, but the gap must be keeping Astana on its toes. Leipheimer's teammates are at the front of the peloton driving the chase.

14:44 PST    58mi/38.8mi to go
Mollema takes a pull and swings off. The break's riders are rolling through - taking quick turns on what is still a descent.

14:46 PST   
Today's finish is in Escondido, which means "hidden" in Spanish. The town was settled by native Americans, then taken over by the Spanish. It used to be quite an agricultural area, growing oranges, lemons, olives, walnuts and avocados. Now the area is mostly a residential one - a giant suburb of San Diego.

14:47 PST    59.5mi/37.3mi to go
The break sees one kilometer to go to the feedzone.

We are passing a group of fans holding up a giant Tour de France flag. Maybe they are confused about which race this is?

14:51 PST   
We have a report from the top of Cole Grade. Emory Ball tells us it is starting to rain. There are lots of fans out, too, he says.

14:54 PST    62.0mi/34.8mi to go
The riders will not want to crash along this section of road - a long descent. It is lined with prickly pears.

The peloton is quickly bringing the leaders back. The gap is down to 35 seconds.

14:56 PST   
Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) decided to call it quits at the feed zone. He abandons.

14:57 PST   
Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) has attacked the break and has a 10-second lead on the rest of the break members.

15:01 PST    65.8mi/31mi to go
Chadwick is flying along in the tuck position. He's head down and pedalling fast. He's got 15 seconds on his three chasers.

15:02 PST   
Cole Grade, our final KOM of the race climbs from 725 feet to 1,628 feet over 2.1 miles. It's relatively short but steep, with an average grade of 8.1 percent.

15:03 PST   
The peloton looks quite small - could be maybe just 40 or so riders. There are about four Astana riders in it, all right near the front, where they are protecting Leipheimer.

15:04 PST   
Chadwick has 12 seconds on his three chasers and 1.05 on the peloton. Chadwick looks good. He does not seem strained or overtaxed, but is riding along very smoothly.

15:06 PST   
In the peloton, there are three Garmin / Slipstream riders sitting on the Astana train. That makes sense as they are working to protect Zabriskie's second place in the GC.

15:07 PST   
The Rock Racing car pulls beside Chadwick for a feed and some words of moral support.

15:07 PST   
Now he takes a sip of Coca Cola.

15:08 PST   
Rock Racing has lived up to their promise of taking an active role in the race, and they haven't given up despite their mountains jersey leader yesterday, Francisco Mancebo, crashing out in stage 7.

15:09 PST    70.8mi/26mi to go
Chadwick is looking over his shoulder. He's letting up - waiting for the rest of the chasers.

15:09 PST   
Schleck almost crashes into his own team car. But he pushes himself off it, away from it just in time.

15:10 PST   
All four leaders are back together.

15:11 PST   
The four riders seem to be having a conversation among themselves.

15:12 PST   
Elrey of Orange County has written in to correct our nomenclature. The final KOM is Cole Grade, not Coal Grade. Thanks for the correction.

15:13 PST   
Emory Ball reports that the rain on top of Cole Grade has stopped. In any case, it seems like the precipitation is very isolated today, so hopefully it will stay mostly dry for the racers for the duration of today's stage.

15:14 PST   
Schleck and Nibali go for it. They are dropping Mollema and Chadwick.

15:14 PST   
It is really steep here. The riders are putting their whole bodies into the climbs.

15:15 PST   
Nibali is setting the pace on the climb. Schleck is sitting right on him. Now he takes over.

15:17 PST   
There are so many fans up on this climb that the cops are pushing people back along the route to give the riders some more space.

15:17 PST   
The first part of this climb is steep and twisty, then it gets more open and flatter and less twisty.

15:18 PST   
Armstrong is at the front of what's left of the peloton. He is like a machine - driving the pace. No one is able to attack Astana on this climb - probably because Lance is going so hard.

15:19 PST   
Schleck is dropping Nibali. He is going it alone.

15:20 PST   
Nibali is gapped by about 10m. He's not dropping off, he's hanging tough and clawing his way back to Schleck.

15:21 PST   
Schleck and Nibali are together at the front. Of the two, Nibali's working harder - or so it appears. Schleck is setting the pace, out of the saddle.

15:21 PST   
In the peloton, GC leader Leipheimer is sitting in nicely tucked behind Armstrong and teammates.

15:22 PST   
Nibali takes a turn at the front now. It's not nearly so steep now and they are going faster.

15:24 PST   
Chadwick and Mollema are getting caught by the remnants of the peloton, led by Astana.

15:25 PST   
The field is being guided around a median in the road. With 1.10, the break has a decent lead at the moment, but Leipheimer is still the leader on the road.

15:29 PST    81mi/15.8mi to go
The riders are through the KOM. We don't have any results for it, but we'll share them if we get them. Nibali and Schleck are working well together.

15:30 PST   
The peloton is all strung out - never more than two or three across.

15:33 PST   
Craig of Christchurch, New Zealand, is predicting that the break will come back and Hayden Roulston will do what he did yesterday and attack like the machine he is. He says such an action will "have most of the Zealand cycling population on the end of their seats again". Roulston finished second in yesterday's stage - a three-man sprint to the line.

15:35 PST   
Results of the Palomar KOM are
1 Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank)
2 Levi Leipheimer (Astana)
3 Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
4 Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - Highroad)
5 David Zabriskie (Garmin - Slipstream)
6 Thomas Danielson (Garmin - Slipstream)
7 Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank)
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)
9 Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank)
10 Stef Clement (Rabobank)

15:39 PST    83mi/13.8mi to go
Kirsten Robbins is at the finish line. It is packed with people awaiting the finish.

15:40 PST   
Schleck and Nibali are pushing pretty hard up a small climb. Schleck takes a water bottle from his team car.

15:42 PST   
Astana doesn't have to catch the break to assure Leipheimer the win. They just have to make sure Nibali doesn't make up more than the 2.21 that he is behind on the GC.

15:44 PST    84mi/12.8mi to go
Leipheimer is sitting in sixth place in the peloton. He is near Oscar Sevilla, who has been having some back pain and trouble with his position. However, Sevilla's team manager said he's gotten the issues all sorted out now.

15:45 PST   
If the break stays away, it will be a sprint between two non-sprinters. Schleck seems to be the stronger of the two on the climbs, but we don't know who would come out ahead in a final sprint.

15:47 PST    86mi/10.8mi to go
The peloton might be sprinting for a third place podium spot today. There are 31 riders left in the bunch. Floyd Landis is sitting on the back of that bunch.

15:48 PST   
If the peloton gets to sprint for third, look for George Hincapie and Rory Sutherland to do well. Those two have sprinted together in the past - in the break finishing in last year's Rose Bowl stage. Hincapie won there.

15:50 PST   
Nibali is taking a pull now on a downhill section in the break. Michael Rogers is taking a pull at the front of the peloton - he is probably trying to protect his third place in the GC, but he may also be trying to set up Hincapie for the sprint.

15:51 PST   
Nibali is descending like a maniac! He gaps Schleck, but is caught back. Nibali is taking lots of risks and has his knee hanging out around every curve.

15:52 PST   
The peloton is descending now - it's splitting up a little as the better descenders come to the front of that bunch.

15:53 PST    90.8mi/6mi to go
Schleck and Nibali are coming into town. They are still working together, and they know that if they play too much cat and mouse, they'll get caught.

15:55 PST   
Nibali and Schleck are holding the gap, even increasing it slightly. It's now at 1.15. Nibali now attacks Schleck on the climbs - maybe he's been faking being weaker on the climbs thus far?

15:55 PST   
Schleck gets right back on Nibali.

15:57 PST   
Frank Schleck told Kirsten Robbins that yesterday's result was not about who was strongest, but it was all about tactics. Schleck was in the break yesterday and launched an attack, but he didn't end up with the three - men who broke away and took the top three.

15:58 PST    93.8mi/3mi to go
Nibali has been doing lots of early season races with his Liquigas teammate Ivan Basso. The two have been getting used to riding together in preparation for the Giro d'Italia in May.

15:59 PST   
There are two Rock Racing, one Highroad and one Garmin rider at the front of the peloton. They are taking over for Astana - they are taking over the chase. We think they are hungry for a sprint and working hard to catch the two leaders.

16:00 PST   
One of the Rabobank riders has a flat tire and pulls off for a wheel change. He probably won't be able to catch back up.

16:00 PST   
Nibali and Schleck are starting the cat and mouse game.

16:01 PST    94.8mi/2mi to go
Levi Leipheimer looks comfortable in the peloton. If he can finish with the bunch today, he will take home his third Tour of California GC win.

16:01 PST    95.2mi/1.6mi to go
Two kilometers to go. It looks like the break will stay way. We are setting up for an interesting sprint between two world-class climbers.

16:01 PST   
Nibali is on the front. Schleck is sitting on him.

16:02 PST    96.2mi/0.59mi to go
One kilometer to go. Nibali is burying himself on the front.

16:02 PST   
He looks back at Schleck as if to say, "hey when are you going to come through?"

16:02 PST   
Lead moto comes into the finish.

16:02 PST   
The riders around the final bend.

16:03 PST   
Nibali starts his sprint from the front.

16:03 PST   
Schleck comes around him.

16:03 PST   
Schleck wins the stage! Nibali is second.

16:03 PST   
The peloton rounds the last corner.

16:03 PST   
They launch their sprint.

16:04 PST   
Hincapie takes third. Rory Sutherland is fourth.

16:04 PST   
Leipheimer rolls across the line to win his third Tour of California.

16:05 PST   
Landis comes across the finish - it's his first finish after his return to racing following his suspension.

16:11 PST   
That wraps up our live coverage for the Tour of California. Thanks for joining us here at Cyclingnews for an exciting third edition.

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