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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 17-24, 2008

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Prologue - February 17: Palo Alto ITT, 2.1 mi / 3.4 km

Complete live report

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

12:42 PST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 3rd Tour of California! Today's stage is a short dash from Palo Alto to the Stanford University campus, just 3.4 kilometers. It will be brief, yet painful as the riders wage battle against prologue experts like Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara. It's a picture perfect day for the race - cool, sunny and very little wind to speak of.

12:46 PST   
You know it's getting close to race time when the helicopters appear overhead! With the rumble of propellers and the roar of the motorcade's engines it's hard not to feel some excitement with the approaching start.

12:54 PST   
Our reporter Kirsten Robbins is on the scene speaking with riders, and she caught up with Californian Ben Jacques-Maynes. Ben was third in last year's prologue, and is excited about today's course.

"This prologue has my name written all over it," he said. Ben is a specialist at this kind of effort, and has been training on the track - doing the pursuit - all winter in preparation for it. "Even though the course has changed from a hill to a flat, it's even better for me. I hope to do well, even though I'm reluctant to throw my name in the hat with Cancellara and Wiggins, but I think I can have a good race."

12:59 PST   
The Palo Alto area is a mecca for cyclists of all levels, and riders fortunate enough to be heading towards the hills above the town this morning would have been treated to local hero Levi Leipheimer riding up Alpine Road with his Astana team-mates. It's doubtful they were heading to the Old La Honda road and the climb that draws hundreds of riders every Sunday morning, but they were out stretching their legs in preparation for this prologue.

13:01 PST   
The first rider is from Saunier Duval. Iker Camano will be first off followed by Doug Ollerenshaw. The early riders are separated by one minute gaps, but that will go up to two minutes for the later riders.

13:03 PST   
The next riders are as follows:
Vincent Jerome (Bouygues Telecom)
Jose Luis Rubiera (Astana)
John Murphy (Health Net)
Dominique Rollins (Toyota United)
Edward King (Bissell)
Pedro Horrillo (Rabobank)

13:06 PST   
The first riders are on the course. Coming up after those first eight will be Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly) and Tom Peterson (Slipstream).

The course today is pretty much dead flat with only a few turns, so we'll be expecting some fast times.

13:08 PST   
Camano is in with a 4'14.61. Ollerenshaw comes in with a 4'20.21, then Jerome with a 4'18.85.

13:15 PST   
Healt Net's John Murphy sets the fastest time with a 4'04 - going well under the time of Jose Luis Rubiera (Astana)! These times are pretty close to what you'd see for a 4 kilometre pursuit on the track, so it's falling right into the hands of world pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins.

13:19 PST   
There are big crowds lining the course all along the way today. This town is cycling crazy, and also quite knowledgeable about racing. This area has one of the largest contingents of amateur racers in all of the USA.

15 riders have finished and John Murphy is still holding the fastest time, giving Health Net some great publicity.

13:24 PST   
The course has all of two turns after the start, and then is straight as an arrow all the way down into the Stanford campus. Then the riders go around a roundabout and back to the finish line, giving the huge crowds at the finish two chances to see their favourites go by.

13:26 PST   
High Road's Aussie Adam Hansen came through just shy of the fastest time. He'll be setting splits for his team-mate Wiggins who sat out the Copenhagen track world cup to be here in California.

13:29 PST   
American favourite David Zabriskie is out on course, and with his arrival the crowd lets up a huge cheer. He's looking fast and smooth, and inside 1km to go.

13:30 PST   
Zabriskie sets a new best time! Of course - 3'59.58 - the fastest by quite a bit!

13:34 PST   
Zabriskie's former teammate Stuart O'Grady will be heading to the finish soon, hopefully he'll stay upright this year, unlike his disappointing wreck in last year's Tour de France prologue!

13:35 PST   
O'Grady is in with a 4'04.25 - second best time so far, but still well off Zabriskie's time.

13:38 PST   
Thomas Lovkvist (High Road) comes in with a 4'02.33, good enough for the second best time for the big Swede. Victor Hugo Peña comes through well off the pace with a 4'09.

13:40 PST   
We'll have Ben Jacques-Maynes coming through in just a few minutes. It's easy to see when the bigger named riders are out on course because there is a cacophony of helicopter noise and cheers following them along the entire 3.4 kilometers.

13:42 PST   
There are so many big names in this race - the Tour of California is attracting a higher quality field than ever before. No fewer than six world champions are here - Boonen, Bettini, Freire, Cipollini, Wiggins, Cancellara... and maybe more we're missing.

13:44 PST   
The 'Cuban Missile' Ivan Dominguez is out on the course now, but this isn't exactly his kind of stage. He is a sprinter, but likes those efforts under a minute. Ben Jacques Maynes is right behind.

13:44 PST   
Ben Jacques-Maynes is in with a 4'00.17! Great time for the American and second best so far!

13:48 PST   
Steven Cozza (Slipstream) comes in with a 4'00.12 - just inside the second fastest time today, but Dave Z is still in the hot seat. Speaking of hot seats, Zabriskie's saddle is decked out with an American flag... we wonder if this is unconstitutional?

13:50 PST   
John Murphy (Health Net) spoke with our reporter Mark Zalewski, saying he really liked the course - the flat, fast roads suit his style, and he trained specifically for today. He's really happy with his ride even though he's been knocked off the top spot.

13:52 PST   
Soon we'll have the young High Road sprinter Mark Cavendish come zipping through the finish. He's shooting for a spot on the Olympic team on the track, possibly in the madison with Brad Wiggins, so he should be attuned to some short, hard efforts.

13:54 PST   
We have a new best time! Gustav Larsson (CSC) knocks Dave Z. out of the top spot by a few tenths of a second! Great ride by the Swede.

13:55 PST   
And Cavendish is in with the third fastest time - 3.59.65! An excellent effort by the British rider.

13:56 PST   
The popular American Chris Horner is on course at the moment for Astana. He'll be hoping to keep himself in contention for the GC to give his teammate Levi Leipheimer a backup.

13:57 PST   
None of the riders are going easy today - this prologue may be short, but there is still a time cut, and with world class riders at the end of the start sheet, every single rider has to give his all to finish in a reasonable time. Plus, there is pride and with crowds like these, none of them want to look like they're slacking!

13:58 PST   
In a few minutes, we'll see the first of Tom Danielson (Slipstream) for the year. He's been struggling with some injury and illness, and was supposed to be in Europe racing right now. But his directors decided this would be a better race for him. It will be interesting to see how his form is going at the moment.

14:00 PST   
Further down the list we'll see the return of Mario Cipollini at 2:07PM. The Lion King will be clad in the green and black stylings of the Rock Racing team. Rumour has it he's looking fit and trim and ready to "rock".

14:01 PST   
Another rider coming up is American Jason McCartney. He found a home with CSC after his Discovery Channel team folded, and will be happy to show his new colors in his home country.

14:02 PST   
We've still got Larsson in the hot seat, with Tom Danielson heading toward the final kilometer.

14:04 PST   
Danielson comes in with a 4'11 - not a great effort, but this isn't exactly his specialty.

14:09 PST   
McCartney comes in with a 4'10.52 - and now Cipollini is on course.

14:10 PST   
Cipollini is being followed by the Rock Racing team car - a Cadillac and nothing less. He's inside the final kilometer and gets a big round of applause from the crowd.

14:10 PST   
Ciolek is in with a 4'06.37. Cipo is coming into the final roundabout...

14:11 PST   
The Lion King comes through looking like he worked pretty hard out there - he's well outside the fastest times, but a 4'08.63 means he's been doing some work during his retirement.

14:16 PST   
Next up on the start ramp is the Slipstream sprinter Tyler Farrar. The American is quite a good rider on the track, although he hasn't focused on it recently. This course should suit him well if his fitness is there.

14:21 PST   
Tyler Farrar is in with the best time!!! 3'56.46! Wow, what a fantastic performance from the Slipstream rider.

14:23 PST   
Farrar simply scorched the course, going nearly three seconds under his team-mate Zabriskie and Larsson's times. Maybe he's been taking lessons from his young team-mate Taylor Phinney, who won the pursuit at the Los Angeles world cup.

14:25 PST   
The sprinters will be vying for the yellow jersey, or trying to keep themselves in with a shout. They've got another probably sprint stage tomorrow, and on Tuesday, but that will be the last chance they'll have to be in the lead as the race will head over some pretty big hills on Wednesday.

Speaking of sprinters, JJ Haedo, who's probably won more ToC stages than any rider in the peloton, is on course.

14:27 PST   
We're more than halfway through the 132 rider start list, and a 23-year-old is in the hot seat. It's Slipstream's Tyler Farrar who came over to the American team after spending a couple years on the Cofidis squad.

14:28 PST   
The young riders are tearing up this course today! Now Edvald Boasson Hagen (High Road) has come in with the second best time - 3'58.89. At 20 years of age, he's one of the youngest in the Tour of California.

14:33 PST   
Three time world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is on the course now. He's chasing Scott Zwizankski (Bissell).

14:35 PST   
Our second fastest rider, Edvald Boasson Hagen (High Road), is the Norwegian time trial champion. But he's won plenty of races before joining the ProTour leagues, including two stages of last year's Tour of Britain.

Freire is in with a 4'16. Clearly not caring too much about the overall. Danny Pate (Slipstream) is coming through next, but is off the lead pace.

14:37 PST   
Pate is in with a respectable 4'07.97.

14:39 PST   
Bobby Julich is out on the course now, rocking and rolling in the CSC kit. At yesterday's press conference, he recalled the days of the Tour Dupont in the '90s, when he was a young, scared kid against the likes of Gianni Bugno and Laurent Fignon. He said he feels for the guys who are just coming in to the peloton. However, these young upstarts seem to have no problem beating the older guys!

14:41 PST   
Julich was asked about retirment, since he's turning 37 this year, but he said he's having too much fun to think about quitting. He's in with a 4'06.36 - pretty decent for someone who is better at longer time trials.

14:44 PST   
Janez Brajkovic (Astana) is on course now, the Slovenian won the Tour de Georgia last year, and will give strong support to his team leader Levi Leipheimer here in California.

14:48 PST   
Brajkovic is followed by American cyclo-cross star Tim Johnson (Health Net).

Thomas Voeckler is in with a 4'11 and Brajkovic in with 4'12. Tim Johnson is in with a 4'13, so all of these riders are well off the pace. The next guy who may challenge the best time is Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream). He's in the start house now.

14:49 PST   
In two minutes, we'll see the American debut of former World Champion Tom Boonen. The Belgian star has been attracting plenty of attention this week while riding along the local roads with team-mate Paolo Bettini. They're easy to spot in their white and blue team kits, Bettini especially with his rainbow bands and gold trimmed helmet and shoes.

14:51 PST   
Jens Voigt, last year's second place overall, will start three minutes after Boonen, and world pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins comes two minutes later. There is ample opportunity to get a new leader today, with plenty of big names to come. But for now, American Tyler Farrar is still in the hot seat.

14:52 PST   
Health Net's Rory Sutherland finished just off the podium in last year's prologue, and he was afraid that the flat course wouldn't suit him as well as last year's hill climb. He comes toward the end of the day.

14:55 PST   
Karl Menzies snuck into the top ten just a while ago, just ahead of O'Grady.
Boonen is in with a 4'04.56, and is greeted by wild cheers from the ever growing crowd at the finish line.

14:57 PST   
Most of the Gerolsteiner team is without time trial bikes today, just their top riders are in aero gear.

The Hincapie support crew is confident that Big George will hit the top three today. He's going pretty well at the moment, looking fit and lean, and is apparently hungry to get a win here for his new High Road team.

14:59 PST   
Jens Voigt is next to come in, the German had a bit of a spill in training and was afraid it would affect his form. He came in with a 4'06 and will be well out of contention for the day, but should ride into it.

Bradley Wiggins is coming through the final oval and is scorching the pavement. He's definitely coming through with the fastest time!

14:59 PST   
Wiggins comes in at 3'55.98! New best time!

15:03 PST   
Wiggins takes his place in the "hot seat", awaiting the finish of the rest of the peloton. We've only got about a dozen more riders to go, but the list includes Hincapie, David Millar (Slipstream) as well as World TT Champion Fabian Cancellara. That 3'55 might not be enough!

15:05 PST   
I guess we can't forget to add last year's ToC champion Levi Leipheimer to that list. He might not be a specialist at the short distance, but he's fit and motivated, and will be hoping to win or at least limit his losses to a few seconds in this prologue.

15:06 PST   
Millar is on course, and the riders finishing at the moment are well outside the top times. Sutherland is in with 4'10, Olson with a 4'13. But Millar is looking fast - he's spinning a high cadence and looking quite smooth and slick in his argyle.

15:08 PST   
The last ten riders are separated by two minute gaps, so Millar will have no rabbit to chase even though Jelly Belly's Matt Rice was way off the pace.

15:09 PST   
Slipstream's David Millar sets up the final turn, cruises around the oval to a deafening cheer from the gigantic crowd. In the last straightaway, it is clear he's outside the top time and gets a 3'59.78. That's good for seventh.

15:12 PST   
Aussie Mark Renshaw is next, followed by Bettini, BMC's Tony Cruz, Justin Spinelli (Kelly Benefit) and then Cancellara. Our last three are Gerolsteiner's Oliver Zaugg followed by the Americans George Hincapie (High Road) and Levi Leipheimer (Astana).

15:15 PST   
Bettini is in with a 4'14.42 - ouch. Renshaw scored a respectable 4'09 for Credit Agricole. Now Fabian Cancellara is heading down the ramp in his rainbow banded skinsuit, followed by the helicopters all the way.

15:17 PST   
Tony Cruz is in with a 4'12.59. Cancellara is looking powerful, pushing a bigger gear than Millar. The Swiss rider isn't know for superb early season form, but is gearing up for the Classics, and he's got some high expectations placed upon him today as reigning World Champion. Will he beat Wiggins?

15:18 PST   
Cancellara is inside the kilometre mark and is absolutely hammering. Early season form? He's got it! His unofficial split is well under Wiggins'.

15:19 PST   
He's on the final straight, the crowd goes wild and he's in! 3'51.21! Can we say, Holy Cow??? Geeeez. That's an incredible time!

15:21 PST   
The World TT Champion Cancellara smashed the time of the other World Champion (pursuit) Wiggins by more than three seconds! Let's see if Leipheimer can top that!

15:22 PST   
Leipheimer is on the course now.

15:23 PST   
Hincapie is at 500m but is not going to be able to beat Cancellara. The CSC team spokesman said that the Swiss rider is targetting the Tour of Flanders, and is at his peak form right now - something which is quite evident!

15:24 PST   
4'01.94 for Hincapie, which should have been a fantastic time today, but there are so many strong guys in this race, Hincapie didn't even crack the top ten. We've got just one rider to go, and he's got the crowd on its feet - Leipheimer!

15:24 PST   
Leipheimer has a good split, surprisingly close to Cancellara at the other side of the course from the finish line. He's on the final straight....

15:25 PST   
And he's not going to do it! But a 3'57.52 is good enough for fourth place. He can't be too upset with that.

15:28 PST   
Well that's it - as expected, the top riders are separated by just seconds, and all the favourites are near the top. Leipheimer is the best of the GC contenders, unless of course Cancellara decides that he is a climber. We wouldn't put much past the Swiss rider.

The next two days should be a battle for the jersey on time bonuses, with Cavendish, the Norwegian hotshot Boasson Hagen and Slipstream's Farrar in shouting distance of the jersey.

15:30 PST   
That's contenders for the sprint finish, of course, but a couple top finishes could also easily put Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire or Bettini into yellow.
Thanks for reading, and tune in again during the rest of the week for all the live coverage of the third Tour of California!

1 Fabian Cancellara (CSC)              3.51.21
2 Bradley Wiggins (High Road)          3.55.98
3 Tyler Farrar (Slipstream)            3.56.46
4 Levi Leipheimer (Astana)             3.57.52
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (High Road)     3.58.89
6 Gustav Larsson (CSC)                 3.59.19
7 David Zabriskie (Slipstream)         3.59.58
8 Mark Cavendish (High Road)           3.59.65
9 David Millar (Slipstream)            3.59.78
10 Steven Cozza (Slipstream)           4.00.12
11 Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell)        4.00.17


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