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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 17-24, 2008

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Stage 4 - February 21: Seaside - San Luis Obispo, 135 mi / 217 km

Complete live report

Join us for more live coverage of the Tour of California on stage four - a long trip down the coast from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. Can Paolo Bettini repeat last year's sprint win? The live call will begin at 10AM PST.

09:39 PST   
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the fourth and longest stage of the Tour of California. The riders will face 217.8 kilometres in the cold and miserable drizzle that is falling on them at the moment in Monterey.

09:44 PST   
Jurgen Vandewalle (Quick Step) is ready to work for his sprinters today - they've got both Tom Boonen and last year's winner on this stage, Paolo Bettini. He told Mark Zalewski that he's not sure what the plan will end up being - they usually wait to make any decisions until the end. Sometimes even within the final five kilometers! With this weather, the cold and wet, things could be dangerous at the finish, but last year we had the same concern and it ended warm and sunny after a damp start.

09:45 PST   
The Saunier Duval team was a bit disappointed after yesterday's stage. Its best rider came in four minutes down on GC, so they will try to get a stage win now, but said they would have to be lucky to get in a break or in the sprint against the likes of Boonen, Haedo, etc.

09:48 PST   
Our overnight leader is Levi Leipheimer, who put his Astana team on the front and just demolished the peloton on the slopes of Mt. Hamilton and Sierra Grade. Chechu Rubiera pulled some of the moves he used to make for Lance Armstrong, and shredded everyone's legs on the climbs.

Leipheimer was able to get away with stage winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank) but failed to gain a significant amount of time over Fabian Cancellara (CSC). So for all the talk about the stage being harder, still only 31 seconds separates first from tenth.

09:51 PST   
There is a tight battle going on for the points jersey. Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) leads JJ Haedo (CSC) by just one point. High Road's young German rider Gerald Ciolek is third ahead of Boonen.

BMC's got an eight point lead in the mountains classification with Scott Nydam, but will be looking to get someone up the road, if not Nydam, to grab the points away from Gesink or Jurgen Vandewalle, who is third.

09:53 PST   
Another team which will be aggressive today is the Slipstream squad. They've got four riders still in contention for the overall - more than any other team which made up that 16-strong front group on stage three. David Millar, Christian Vande Velde, Thomas Peterson and Dave Zabriskie could all take over the lead with a strong time trial or a breakaway.

09:57 PST   
The riders have five minutes before the start, and will roll out for a 6.2 mile neutral section, which is pretty long. They've got to get out of Seaside, which involves closing down a busy section of highway 1. It's still raining - steady, not hard, but just enough to keep the riders soaked to the bone.

10:00 PST   
Three of the Gerolsteiner riders did not start today, and we're down to 117 in the peloton. One of them is the points leader Heinrich Haussler. Either they're made of sugar, or they caught the flu that's been going around.

10:02 PST   
The riders are rolling out for their neutral section. Luciano André Pagliarini Mendonca (Saunier Duval-Scott) and Mark Cavendish (High Road) did not sign in, but the officials are trying to determine if they are actually not racing or if they just didn't want to get out of the team bus.

10:02 PST   
Fabian Wegmann, Johannes Fröhlinger and Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) did not start.

10:04 PST   
All of the riders are wearing their rain jackets, most have full leg warmers and hats. It's quite cold and uncomfortable.

Mike Tomayo from Health Net said he has five riders with the stomach bug that took Tyler Farrar out of the race. He, himself has had it as well, making the hours in the team car quite difficult.

10:05 PST   
Rory Sutherland, our diarist, has the solid Aussie constitution, and is the one rider from Health Net who is not sick. Tomayo is carrying anti-nausea tablets to give to the riders to help them keep lunch down.

10:06 PST   
The Toyota United team has also had the virus, and only a couple of their riders have escaped it. One of the riders he is saving for a move today - it's his only resort for a stage win - the one who isn't sick. Len Pettyjohn said that he's sure it won't come to a field sprint today.

10:07 PST   
It's been confirmed, Cavendish and Pagliarini have stayed home today. They are getting onto the three lane freeway now.

10:08 PST   
Gerolsteiner's woes continue as Peter Wrolich gets a front flat. He won't have any trouble getting back as they're still cruising along easy.

10:09 PST   
It's hard to tell which rider is which, as they're all bundled up against the damp cold. Jens Voigt can be seen talking to a team-mate, and Bettini and Cipollini are discussing something with wild hand gestures.

10:12 PST   
Fortunately for the riders it's not windy today, it's just wet and cold. With so many riders catching this apparently highly infectious intestinal ailment, they must be all the more unhappy.

So the officials reversed their information - Cavendish and Pagliarini really are in the race.

10:14 PST   
Apparently the officials are having as much trouble identifying riders as we are!

Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) has apparently abandoned. The flu has struck many of the teams, and it looks like Gerolsteiner is down to four riders in this race.

10:17 PST   
The riders will start the race near Pebble Beach, home of the world famous golf course, and then will travel along toward the coast to Carmel Highlands. They'll get some great views of the ocean from Highway 1, especially when they head over the Bixby Bridge at kilometre 25.

10:20 PST   
Our diarist Rory Sutherland is captaining his Health Net team as the only healthy rider on the squad. Be sure to read his diary and email your support.

10:22 PST   
The riders are now climbing up to the zero km mark, and look for the early attacks from the BMC, Slipstream or Kelly Benefit Strategies teams.

10:24 PST   
The rain must be letting up because the riders are stripping off their plastic rain capes and getting ready to go! The official drops the flag and they're off.

10:26 PST   
The first sprint of the day is at km 42.9 in the town of Big Sur. It's quickly followed by the first KOM at 49.6 km.

10:28 PST    6km/211.8km to go
The riders are speeding downhill at 45mph, and are pretty much single file. Henk Vogels (Toyota - United) tucks low and attacks, sort of on the descent.

10:29 PST   
Henk, or as we like to call him, Hendricus, is continuing with his effort, and the peloton is single file in pursuit. Then there is a discussion about who should chase, and a Jelly Belly rider counters with a Bouygues Telecom rider.

10:30 PST   
Two riders in black are attacking, but Tom Boonen is up there with them. They won't want to tow him along in the group. Vogels is dangling off the front.

10:31 PST   
Vogels is caught, and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has launched a counter! He's got 50m gap and motoring.

10:33 PST   
Boonen has been caught, but there will certainly be more attacks and counter-attacks. This is a great stage to disappear up the road as the course is constantly up and town and twisting in and around the little canyons that pock the coastline.

10:37 PST   
Just as last year, the Cyclingnews blimp, Hindenberg II, has been grounded by the bad weather, but we've got our green-mobile, our eco-friendly smart car 'Mini-Hindi' which is following the peloton.

10:39 PST   
Pedro Horrillo Munoz (Rabobank), Kevin Hulsmans (Quick Step), Thomas Lövkvist (High Road), Benjamin Day (Toyota - United ), and Garrett Peltonen (Bissell) are up the road a piece, with Jonathan Hivert (Credit Agricole) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) trying to get across.

10:40 PST    12km/205.8km to go
The Astana team isn't having any of it today, and they head to the front to up the pace and shut this move down. There has been a little crash in the peloton, but all the riders are now up and riding.

10:42 PST    13km/204.8km to go
Astana is keeping the pace high, discouraging attacks. Alexandre Moos (BMC Racing Team) and Angel Gomez Gomez (Saunier Duval-Scott) were the riders involved in that crash, but are OK.

The sun is starting to peak through the clouds now, and the roads have dried up. Great news for the peloton!

10:43 PST   
Jackets are starting to come off now as riders take turns answering to the call of nature. They're skirting the coast now, getting intermittent views of the ocean in between canyons.

10:45 PST   
Astana is staying in firm control of the race today. With the unpredictable weather ahead, they won't want to give a breakaway too much room. Last year's breakaway lasted until the final 10km, but ultimately the sprinters shut it down.

10:46 PST   
A Saunier Duval rider has attacked! He pulls a few riders out of the peloton. Nicholas Reistad (Jelly Belly), Rory Sutherland (Health Net p/b Maxxis) and
Jonathan Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies / Medifast) are up there.

10:47 PST   
Henk Vogels was in there, along with Rollin (Toyota) and Brad Wiggins (High Road), but it's all come back together.

10:47 PST   
There is a counterattack from the same group that was up the road, and a similar group has now gotten a pretty decent gap.

10:49 PST   
We've got a reaction from Rabobank, who send a rider up to chase. Rory Sutherland (Health Net p/b Maxxis) is up there in the break. We've got one from each BMC, Bissell, Health Net and Saunier Duval.

10:52 PST    20km/197.8km to go
Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom), Rory Sutherland (Health Net p/b Maxxis), Dominique Rollin (Toyota - United ), Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team), Scott Zwizanski (Bissell), Nicholas Reistad (Jelly Belly) are our breakaways with an unknown Saunier Duval rider.

10:54 PST   
We've got one rider bridging across to these riders, two actually. Looks like Health Net and a Credit Agricole rider coming up.

10:55 PST   
Sergey Ivanov (Astana), George Hincapie (High Road) and Yannick Talabardon (Credit Agricole) have come across.

10:56 PST   
Hincapie's presence should spell the end of this move, he's too high up on the GC for this to work!

10:57 PST    21km/196.8km to go
With the sprint coming up in less than 5km, the peloton is back together and Astana is in control once more. The sprinters will begin to move their riders up for that wide-open points classification now that Haussler has dropped out.

10:59 PST   
Health Net is on the attack again, this time joined by a Rabobank rider, a Jelly Belly - a group of about seven have a small gap.

11:00 PST    22km/195.8km to go
Bissell, Jelly Belly, Credit Agricole, Bouygues Telecom - all are up there and are all teams which have had a bad Tour so far, so they will be hungry to get anything, even if it's just an intermediate sprint bonus.

11:00 PST   
They're opening up a nice gap, but there are a couple more riders trying to come across. We have eight riders up the road as they hit the Bixby Bridge and take in a fabulous view of the Pacific Ocean.

11:04 PST    26km/191.8km to go
Correction, the sprint is coming up in about 24km. That last marker was for the Bixby Bridge. The wind is picking up as the riders have a little hill to deal with.

11:06 PST    26km/191.8km to go
The break now has 25 seconds, and they are working together smoothly. Wyss, BMC's sprinter is in this breakaway. This team has been opportunistic all during this Tour, so he's just carrying on the theme for that squad.

11:08 PST   
Hincapie is in this move which has 25 seconds, and now Slipstream's Tom Danielson is chasing! Aggressive racing from GC contenders.

11:10 PST   
Also in there is Jackson Stewart, who will be going for the KOM's right after the sprint in Big Sur. Hincapie lost seven minutes after his brave attack yesterday, so he's no threat to Astana, but they're being vigilant and keeping the gap to a minimum at the moment.

11:13 PST   
Hincapie looks to be the highest placed on the GC in this break, and at seven minutes plus behind Leipheimer, he's not going to threaten the lead. He'll want to give his High Road squad a stage win, and you might just see his pal and former team-mate Leipheimer let him have that chance.

11:15 PST    31km/186.8km to go
Looks like Danielson didn't quite make it onto the break, which is now out to 40 seconds. It's raining again, and the wind must be picking up as the echelons are starting to form in the peloton. Astana is still doing all the work.

11:18 PST   
CSC is forming a second echelon behind Astana, the former team having missed this move. They've already got two stage wins, and will keep Cancellara safe to challenge Leipheimer in the time trial in Solvang.

Up in the break, Iker Camaño is the highest placed, actually, for Saunier Duval. He was the GC hope for that team, but had a little trouble on Sierra Grade. He's 4'47 behind Levi.

11:22 PST    34km/183.8km to go
The chasing peloton is going up a long hill, heading straight into the wind. It's definitely putting the hurt on the pack. Danielson did what we like to call the "Boomerang breakaway". He tried to bridge to the break, and then went back, straight through the pack and out the back. He's climbed in the team car and called it a day.

Gerolsteiner lost another - Mathias Frank retires. So two more riders succumb to the misery of this long stage, just 34kms in.

11:24 PST   
So could Rollin be the Toyota-United secret weapon that Kirsten Robbins learned of this morning? He's up in this break, and is a quite good sprinter. The break is getting team cars now, so the gap must have gone out to a minute or more.

Levi gives an earful to the camera moto, who pulled too close.

11:27 PST    37km/180.8km to go
The riders aren't the only ones suffering out on the roads today. Our photographers are freezing on those motorcycles in order to bring you the stunning imagery we provide after every stage. It's raining steadily now as the gap to the leaders is out to 1.5 minutes.

Now it's really 5km to the sprint, but Astana is still doing all the work as the mist gets thicker.

11:30 PST    38km/179.8km to go
The 5km to go sign for the sprint apparently was blown over, but they've passed inside that mark. The wet roads are causing lots of flats: Darren Lill (BMC Racing Team) and Danny Pate (Slipstream Chipotle p/b H30) get a wheel change, while Jonny Sundt (Kelly Benefit Strategies / Medifast) is suffering at the back and could be our next victim.

11:32 PST    39km/178.8km to go
There aren't any points left in the peloton for the sprint, so our fight for seconds will go to the breakaway. Unfortunately, the Mini-Hindi is not being allowed forward to see what's going on up there. We'll update you as soon as we hear.

One lone fan cheers the peloton on - that is loyalty right there. Give that man some hot chocolate!

11:33 PST   
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is looking mighty chilly. He's blowing on his hands to try to warm them up. The guy must've taken nutrition lessons from his former team-mate Michael Rasmussen, because he doesn't have much body fat to keep him warm at all!

11:35 PST    41km/176.8km to go
As the peloton finds some dry roads, the breakaway is 1km to the sprint line. Right after that line, they'll climb up to Big Sur for the first KOM at km 49.6.

11:36 PST    43km/174.8km to go
Rollin went rolling through that line, taking the points without a challenge from anyone else. Surely his team-mate Jackson Stewart will be going for that KOM coming up next.

11:37 PST   
Despite the work from the Astana team, the pace today is still behind the slowest predicted schedule, less than a 22mph average. That's to be expected on a day like today - a super long day in the saddle in awful weather. You'd think they would want to get it over with quickly.

11:38 PST   
Sprint 1 results
1 Dominique Rollin (Toyota - United )
2 Roman Kilun (Health Net p/b Maxxis)
3 George Hincapie (High Road)

11:39 PST    45km/172.8km to go
To recap, we have 11 riders off the front. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Bryce Mead (Jelly Belly), Danilo Wyss and Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team), Dominique Rollin (Toyota - United), Edward King (Bissell), George Hincapie (High Road), Iker Camaño Ortuzar (Saunier Duval-Scott), Jonathan Hivert (Credit Agricole), Julien Belgy (Bouygues Telecom) and Roman Kilun (Health Net p/b Maxxis) have 1'50 on the Astana-led peloton.

11:42 PST   
The on-again, off-again showers are certainly on now. It's teeming on the peloton, but Fabian Cancellara seems completely unconcerned by the foul weather. He's just humming along, letting Astana do all the work and having a chat with his pals.

11:43 PST   
Chris Horner is leading Leipheimer in the bunch, the yellow jersey is piled under several layers. The riders are all on the climb now, and with increased altitude, they get colder temps and more rain.

11:46 PST    48km/169.8km to go
The first KOM at Big Sur begins with a long gradual ascent, but then kicks up just before the line. Hincapie leads and then lets Kilun take over. Stewart is sitting well up there waiting to nab those points at the top.

11:49 PST    48.8km/169km to go
Last year we had San Luis Obispo native Lucas Euser off the front competing for the KOM's. He was part of a break of six that stayed away for most of the day. Now we have 11 riders heading into the 1km to go to the first KOM.

11:51 PST   
Photographer Graham Watson is waiting at the KOM, cleaning the water off his lenses. He said he feels just like he's at home with this foul weather. The British riders will probably agree.

11:52 PST   
There are a few fans on the climb, one with a big American flag. He's able to keep up with the break as they speed past. They're single file as they head up this not so steep grade.

11:53 PST    50km/167.8km to go
There was no contest at the top. Jackson Stewart goes over first, and now they'll get back to work trying to extend the gap. It was just over two minutes at last check.

11:54 PST   
The breakaway is taking no chances on the descent to Santa Lucia. They're single file and giving each other plenty of room. Hincapie showed he has no fear on the downhills, and is leading this group.

11:57 PST   
The gap has come down to 1'40 on the KOM line, and we have the official results of that sprint.

1 Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)
2 Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing Team)
3 Iker Camaño Ortuzar (Saunier Duval-Scott)
4 Edward King (Bissell)

Dmytro Grabovskyy (Quick Step) has abandoned.

12:02 PST   
So the riders have about 60km of roads which are constantly up and down. It may look boring on the race profile - no sprints or categorized climbs for more than an hour of racing, but it will take plenty of attention on the part of the racers. Some of these sections are tricky, and with the rain-sodden pavement, they'll want to be careful.

12:05 PST    57km/160.8km to go
We're finally getting some feedback from our readers - our commentator inbox was experiencing problems the past two days, so apologies to those who emailed. We've been informed that Roman Kilun grew up in the Berkeley area.

12:06 PST   
Alexandre Moos (BMC Racing Team) has a flat and goes back for a wheel change. The wet roads are causing havoc for the mechanics. It's been busy in the caravan.

12:08 PST   
The scenery here would be positively breathtaking if the clouds would just go away and stop giving such a gray and dreary backdrop. The ocean is a long ways down now, and the high cliffs are up to the riders left. The breakaway is taking care on the descent - one wrong move and it's a long way down on the right!

12:10 PST    61km/156.8km to go
The European riders hoped to come to California to get some nice warm, sunny weather to race in. Instead, it's Belgian weather, worthy of Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix.

12:17 PST   
The Astana boys are still doing all the work, they've kept their jackets on for the distance. Horner has a coke, trying to get some sugar and caffeine to help him push through this chase. We wonder if he's kept his fast food habit, maybe hitting an In 'N Out burger before today's stage.

12:18 PST   
The riders in the peloton are kitted out in leg warmers, jackets and hats, but in the breakaway it's mostly vests and no leg warmers. The guys out front will be working a little harder to maintain their two minute gap than the Astana team.

12:24 PST   
The Astana team is having an early lunch. Leipheimer has his cheeks packed with food as he tries to stay up with those calories burned. They're behind schedule today, but not by too much.

Up in the break, Rollin is getting some food and drinks and a jacket. The wind is pretty strong here, and it's still raining, although not quite as hard as before. Rollin just can't seem to get his jacket on right. The wind twisted it around while he was trying to put it on and now it's wrapped around the wrong way.

12:26 PST    69km/148.8km to go
Julien Belgy (Bouygues Telecom) has lost the breakaway - he went back to get some warmer clothes and lost contact.

12:30 PST    73km/144.8km to go
Belgy made his way back to the breakaway after getting some warmer clothing. And even with a slight disruption, that break has extended its gap to 2'55 now. Astana is still setting pace, and up front Hincapie is doing a lot of work to keep this move clear.

12:34 PST    74km/143.8km to go
Belgy has lost contact with the breakaway again. He may have used up too much energy chasing back on after getting clothes and is now swinging.

12:38 PST    75km/142.8km to go
Toyota United's rider in the break, Canadian Dominique Rollin, is on good form right now. He's a very good sprinter, and won three stages of the FBD Insurance Ras last year.

Belgy stopped at the side of the road and got rain gear from his team car. He's resigned himself to going back to the peloton now.

12:39 PST   
Ivanov is leading the peloton for Astana, fully concentrated on the task at hand and looking every bit the tough Russian - impervious to the weather.

12:45 PST   
Mark Zalewski wants to give a shout out to his student Leah, who is following the live coverage.

The broom wagon is all full up, we hear. Three Gerolsteiner riders, Matt Crane (Health Net), Danielson and Sundt have all abandoned on the road. So many riders have dropped out, they have to dump bikes at the Feed Zone to make room for more.

12:47 PST   
Ooh, excitement! We're seeing some brighter skies ahead. That will lift the riders' spirits. We're not even halfway through this race today - not even to the feed zone yet, so anything to lighten the mood would help.

12:52 PST   
Hincapie comes to the front to keep the break focused. He gets them moving again, they had become a bit disorganized. Astana is still stringing out the peloton, but not eating into the three minute plus gap quite yet. Maybe after the feed zone.

12:54 PST    84km/133.8km to go
Belgy (Bouygues Telecom) has abandoned. Hopefully they've got room for him in the team car because the broom wagon is full.

12:55 PST   
Rollin is off the back of the breakaway, possibly having gotten service from the team car. He's drafting his way back to the break - perhaps incurring a penalty. The officials have been strict with the drafting rules, and are handing out lots of financial penalties.

12:57 PST   
The roads are still quite wet, but the rain appears to have let up for the moment. Ed King takes a turn at the front of the break, and Mead takes over next. They're rotating smoothly now, speeding downhill.

12:59 PST   
The breakaway is once more spread across the road on the descent, not taking any chances of a crash. Also, staying off the wheel allows a little less spray of water, making it easier to see what's coming up ahead.

13:03 PST   
Bryce Mead goes back to his team car, maybe he needs some of those sport beans. The 27-year-old is looking for his first professional win.

13:05 PST    92km/125.8km to go
Still another 7km to go before the feed zone... still Astana leading. The break has 3'05, so the situation is pretty much unchanging. Once the riders get their lunch, perhaps they'll feel more energetic. The roads are drying out, so that might help pep them up as well.

13:08 PST   
Ivan Dominguez (Toyota) has abandoned, as the peloton takes a group nature break. That should give the break a bit more time...

Today's finish is pretty exciting. There are some sharp little hills coming into town, and then a fast, flat finish with an off-camber turn that could be tricky in the wet. There was a flurry of attacks inside the last 10km last year, and we expect the same again today.

13:12 PST   
We've had a few questions about why wet weather contributes to more flat tires. The water can hold tiny pieces of glass or stones to the rubber, and give them more time to work their way in and cause a puncture. When dry, the particles are more likely to fall off.

13:13 PST   
George Hincapie is pulling this breakaway into San Luis Obispo, the headquarters of High Road. He'll certainly want to give the home town a warm welcome with a stage win.

13:15 PST   
We've got lovely dry roads now, the first sunshine we've seen for hours. That'll give some time for the chamois to dry out a bit. They're on a long, straight stretch of road, and if the peloton had binoculars, they might be able to just spot the breakaway off in the distance.

13:19 PST    94km/123.8km to go
Hivert gets a rear flat from that breakaway, but gets a quick wheel from Mavic and is off in pursuit. The peloton had a nature break, and the gap is out over four minutes now.

13:21 PST   
Hivert has to work hard to get back to the break. He is working too hard to notice the lovely crashing surf off to his right. Surely, the rest of the breakaway will ease slightly to let him get back. Astana is still chasing, but not furiously, and its' best to keep as many helping hands around as you can until later in the stage.

13:25 PST   
Astana has the chasing peloton, which has shrunk significantly from the beginning of the week, single file on the power of the Russian hard men Ivanov and Gusev. The breakaway has to stay attentive, keep working together and not let up for a moment. Astana isn't even stopping to let Rubiera give the mass of clothing in his back pockets to the team car.

13:28 PST    99km/118.8km to go
The wind is really gusting now on the riders, and it's blown down the signs telling that the feed zone is just ahead. The road is fairly flat here, but the wind is making the riding hard. It's not too cold, probably 50F, but there are dark clouds up ahead which may drop the temps a bit.

13:31 PST    99.6km/118.2km to go
There aren't too many towns along the route today, as this is a pretty remote area. After the feed zone, the riders will enter the town of Gorda, about 10km from the next KOM. The leaders are through the feed zone, and now have 14km to the top of the next categorized climb.

13:33 PST   
There are two very similar category four climbs, one at km 113.6 and one at km 119.6, and then it's a long downhill to fairly flat roads. The second intermediate sprint will be on Hearst Castle Rd. at km 147.3. So there's some action to come, thank the lord.

Rain is beginning to fall on the peloton as they head to the feed.

13:34 PST   
One of the Bouygues Telecom riders attacks out of the feed zone. Astana does not react.

13:35 PST   
Ahh, he was simply getting around the Astana boys to get to his feed. He's taken a musette and gone back to pull all the yummy bits out of it. There doesn't seem to be too much interest in the feed zone. The riders are 20 minutes behind schedule, and have been feeding from their team cars for quite a while.

13:37 PST   
The breakaway is getting wet now, and there is a group of four with Kilun, Ted King, Hivert and one more rider getting shelled from the break. The Astana boys have finally gotten to their feed, and have stepped off the gas to have lunch.

13:40 PST    103km/114.8km to go
The wind is howling now, and is causing the break to have troubles. A BMC rider has lost touch, and is trying to draft off the cars. The weather is putting an additional level of difficulty on this coastal road.

The BMC rider flatted off the back of the break, and is rolling behind the car chasing back on. The other rider from BMC has gone back to the break.

13:44 PST    108km/109.8km to go
The gap is still near four minutes for our ten remaining breakaway riders. We're getting more information about the effect of wet roads on puncture rates. Water lubricates the particles, allowing them to more easily penetrate the rubber. It also allows the filth and grit and brake dust to stick to the rims, making the mechanics' hands black with dirt after changing the wheel. Yucky all around.

13:45 PST   
The leaders are on the climb to the second KOM of the day, a category four affair at 223m in elevation. It's pretty much straight up along the edge of the cliff.

13:48 PST   
The Astana-led peloton is now on the first part of this climb, and looking up ahead, the rain is coming down harder now on our breakaway. They should be getting close to 1km to the top now.

13:50 PST   
We're seeing the Kelly Benefit Strategies team moving up behind Astana. They've missed the move, and also had a bad day yesterday, losing Kevin Lacombe to a crash through the CSC team car's rear window. He's OK, but the team will want to do some thing special to cheer him up.

13:53 PST    118km/99.8km to go
Hincapie is on the back of the break as they head up to the second KOM, while the black jacketed Health Net rider, Kilun, pulls off to let Saunier Duval take over. The two BMC riders are present at the front.

13:56 PST    113.6km/104.2km to go
Jackson Stewart is leading the break up the climb followed by Ed King. King's supporters from Vermont have written in to wish him luck on this stage...

Stewart attacks for the KOM as the peloton sees the 1km sign. The gap is 3'20 at the top of the climb.

13:58 PST   
We'll get those KOM results as soon as possible. They've got a quick descent and then head back up to the third KOM of the day in six km's. Once more, the breakaway is being careful on the curvy drop from the top, and in the peloton, Astana has the climbers on the front upping the pace.

14:00 PST   
Just beyond KOM #3 is the San Luis Obispo county line which, while encouraging as it shares a name with the finishing town, is still nearly 100km to go. Here are the results of the last climb:

1 Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)
2 Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing Team)
3 George Hincapie (High Road)
4 Iker Camaño Ortuzar (Saunier Duval-Scott)

14:02 PST   
The rain is steady now, and the winds are blowing into the riders' faces, putting the speeds well below the slowest estimated 35.4 average. They're 28 minutes behind schedule now.

At least today the riders have an excuse to be so far behind. In last year's Tour de France, the stupid-long 237km stage from Waregem to Compiègne was an hour behind for no good reason other than the riders just didn't feel like racing.

14:04 PST   
We have a new theory on the way rain increases flat tires - this one's a good one, especially in places like Southern California where rains are infrequent. Water can wash junk into the road that can cause a flat. Thanks for helping to educate us all!

14:05 PST    118km/99.8km to go
My bad, all, for saying Sutherland is the Health Net rider in the break. Clearly it's Roman Kilun, who has scored in the intermediate sprint. Their gap is down to two minutes as the break got a bit disorganized on the climb.

Back in the peloton, Bettini got a wheel change.

14:08 PST   
The Specialized angel is at the top of the KOM, looking a bit worse for wear with those wet feathers. Astana is closing this gap down now. Some brave fans are standing on top of the wet rocks that line the road, taking photos of the peloton as they come past. The main group is still on the third climb.

14:10 PST    120km/97.8km to go
Roman Kilun (Health Net p/b Maxxis) and Bryce Mead (Jelly Belly) lost contact from the break in the sprint for the KOM, and now that the gap is down to two minutes, they might just sit up and head back to the field.

14:13 PST   
The results of the final mountain sprint of the day are as follows:

1 Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)
2 Edward King (Bissell)
3 Jonathan Hivert (Credit Agricole)
4 Iker Camaño Ortuzar (Saunier Duval-Scott)

14:16 PST   
Hincapie has taken off his jacket, and we can see his most aggressive rider's jersey, with the red back and green sleeves.

14:19 PST    125km/92.8km to go
The riders are heading downhill to the Ragged Point, an appropriate name for our battered peloton. They've not only been plagued by wet weather but also by a hideously contagious stomach bug. It's claimed half the Gerolsteiner team, Tyler Farrar and Tom Danielson from Slipstream among others.

The gap is at 2'20 now, and it's just miserable. Rain rain rain. They're coming out of the trees and will get another cold blast of wind from the ocean.

14:20 PST   
It appears that Mead and Kilun managed to catch on to the break on the descent, which is good for them. They just had a little trouble with the pace of the mountain sprint, but the descent should have helped them recover.

14:25 PST   
Roman Kilun is getting the award for most reader messages. He's got lots of fans following him today. They've entered San Luis Obispo County and are heading for San Simeon, home of Hearst Castle.

14:30 PST    130km/87.8km to go
The break is back to three minutes' advantage now. To recap, ten out of the 11 men who started this move have survived this long. They've lost the Bouygues Telecom rider Julien Belgy. They've been away for more than 100km so far, fighting the rain and the headwind all the way down the coast from Seaside to San Luis Obispo county. Jackson Stewart has mopped up all the KOM points without contest from the others. Dominique Rollin (Toyota) took the first sprint. They'll have another sprint in about 17km at Hearst Castle Road.

14:33 PST   
We've gotten a suggestion that we run a "most loved rider" jersey award for riders with the most fan mail. That's a great idea - we'll be sure to secure Necco, makers of the conversation hearts popular at Valentine's day - to be the sponsor! Look for the rider with "Lover Boy" inside a bright blue heart on his back next year.

14:35 PST    132km/85.8km to go
The pace is so slow today that we've lost the airplane which contains the repeater responsible for race radio. It ran low on fuel and had to go gas up. That's making the time gaps a bit slow to come by, but the latest we've heard is 3'05 for the leaders to the (still) Astana-led peloton.

14:42 PST   
We've got a break of three in the "Most Loved Rider" classification. Teddy (Edward) King, Roman Kilun and Dominique Rollin are all quite popular today. More popular than Gorgeous George Hincapie? We haven't gotten a single "Go George" yet today!

14:45 PST    137km/80.8km to go
10km to go for the next intermediate sprint of the day, and the race is definitely on sprinters' ground. It's nearly dead flat, rolling along by the beach. The rain is still coming down steadily, and as the road dips closer to the ocean, we should be able to see some of the elephant seals that frequent the shores here. The rain and fog will probably obscure the view of Hearst Castle, however.

14:48 PST   
So just like last year, we can play "guess the catch". Email your guess to commentator@cyclingnews.com of the spot you think the break will be caught. We've got one guess for 12km to go, but another saying that they stay away and George wins.

14:55 PST    142km/75.8km to go
Well, that mention pushed George up to the top of our most loved rider poll. He's up there in the break, and lots of folks want him to win today. He'll have to stay away, and it's not looking good. Gap is down to 2'55 with 5km to the sprint.

14:59 PST   
The gap is falling as steadily as the rain now, which is bad news for our breakaway. Seems like we've got some hungry sprinters in the bunch aiding the chase in a near repeat of last year. We've gotten a report of one rider dropping off the break, perhaps Jackson Stewart. His work is done - he's gotten all the KOM's today.

15:00 PST   
Most of our guesses for the catch have been inside the final 10km, with one at 12km to go, but we fear it may be sooner than that. Teddy King is putting strong competition in for Most Loved, catching Hincapie...

15:06 PST    147km/70.8km to go
The riders will hug the coastline, which will begin to turn more toward the east, giving the bunch a solid cross wind as they head inland toward San Luis Obispo. But that's not for a while. They've just crossed the sprint line, and the break is enjoying 2'50 lead. Stay tuned for sprint results.

15:12 PST   
The riders have been suffering with this massive headwind all day, and they're about 45 minutes behind the slowest schedule at the moment. It's a miserable day for all of us, but we're trying to make it fun with silly contests. George Hincapie surged ahead in the most loved, but Teddy King is giving him strong competition.

We're still awaiting the sprint results, which are being delivered by hand as the race radio is still out because of the relay airplane's absence. It had to go get more fuel because it was also fighting that headwind.

15:14 PST    153km/64.8km to go
The radio is still down, so no sprint results, but we can give a shout out to the Coffee Den in Cambria and many thanks for the warm beverages.

15:17 PST    153km/64.8km to go
The breakaway hasn't quite reached Cambria yet, they're about 3km away. No word if they're going to stop for coffee, but I'm sure the temptation will be there. The good news is they'll be off the coast line for a while, and that should cut down on the head winds and help the race get back on schedule.

The gap has come down now, 2'05 at last check. Stand by for those intermediate sprint results.

15:20 PST   
Most of our readers are banking on a sprint finish today. The catch guesses are hovering around the 25km-40km mark. We've had guesses for Tornado Tom to win, Oscar Freire, Fred Rod and even Cipollini to win. Last year, of course, it was Bettini ahead of Ciolek, but if it's wet it will be a rider with excellent bike handling skills and nerves of steel. Too bad Robbie McEwen isn't here!

15:21 PST   
JJ Haedo is pretty fearless, and he'll have a very strong lead-out train to keep him safe. The CSC team hasn't had to do much work today since Astana has been on the front all day, but we haven't heard if they've escaped the dreaded virus.

15:24 PST   
It was interesting to see Oscar Freire in the group only 4'20 down yesterday. The three-time world champion said something about his form maybe not being the best at the start of the Tour, but if he can climb that well? Watch out Milano-Sanremo and certainly watch out San Luis Obispo!

15:29 PST    162km/55.8km to go
The gap is up to three minutes now...

Results of the sprint in Hearst Castle Rd.
1 Dominique Rollin (Toyota - United )
2 Roman Kilun (Health Net p/b Maxxis)
3 Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing Team)

15:31 PST   
So two of our most loved riders placed in that intermediate sprint - keep the good vibes coming! The break has gotten a bit more room - three minutes as they head from Cambria inland to Cayucos. Once in Cayucos, they'll be on the coast again for a short 10km or so. They'll take in the view of Morro Rock (if they can see it) and then head inland to the finish with a cross to cross-tailwind to the finish in SLO, as they call it here.

15:34 PST   
Rollin picked up six points today in the points competition, putting him at 17 points and third place so far on the road now that Haussler has abandoned. We have confirmation that Jackson Stewart (BMC) has gone back to the field.

15:37 PST    164km/53.8km to go
We're down to eight riders in the breakaway now... we lost Stewart a while back, but we'll try to find out who else was dropped. The Jelly Belly rider Mead and Kilun were dropped on a small climb, but rejoined on the descent.

15:39 PST   
Astana is still on the front, waiting for some help from the sprinters' teams. They probably won't start pulling through until we get over the little bumps in the road between here and Cayucos. CSC has Cancellara near the front. He's not looking too chipper anymore. Millar is there, too, as is Fred Rodriguez, who is riding near Leipheimer.

15:41 PST   
Looks like we've lost the Credit Agricole rider from the break. He had been swinging on the back earlier, so it's not a surprise.

15:43 PST   
So far, according to the officials, King, Rollin, Hincapie and Kilun are still in the break - all our most loved riders.

15:45 PST   
We're only seeing seven riders in the break so we'll try to figure out who we're missing. Jackson Stewart has pulled up and abandoned the race! He would have been most aggressive rider most likely.

The gap is down to 1'45.

15:46 PST    167km/50.8km to go
It looks like we're missing Bryce Mead of Jelly Belly. Too bad for the bean team, and definitely too bad for Jackson Stewart, who has ridden his heart out since stage one. He's got Wyss up there for the sprint.

15:49 PST    169km/48.8km to go
Levi Leipheimer is sitting behind the CSC train, and is looking really done with racing today. We can see thoughts of hot tea and a warm bath tub in a little dream bubble above his head.

15:52 PST   
Mead may have been at the team car when we saw the break earlier, because it looks like eight riders back at the front.

Astana is still getting no help, and the tough eastern Europeans are doing the work as the skies get darker and darker. The sprinters might not contest this one if it's too dicey. One crash can seriously ruin the early season.

15:56 PST    174km/43.8km to go
Stewart abandoned because he was going hypothermic. There will be more than a few riders shivering uncontrollably after the finish, and if you're a fan on the roadside in SLO, don't expect autographs. They'll be diving into their team vans and cranking the heat.

16:00 PST   
David Millar is having a little chat with his team-mate Vande Velde in the bunch, where it doesn't look like they're working too hard. Up ahead, the break is in a downpour - the cars behind have their lights on and it's quite dark up the road.

16:02 PST   
We received a message from last year's hero of this stage, Lucas Euser. He sends a shout out to his Slipstream boys:

"Just wanted to pop in and say hi and wish the breakaway the best of luck in staying away. We were too close last year, it's gotta happen this time. Not that I'm against my own team or anything, they are biding their time for tomorrow. It will be a great TT to follow online, can't wait.

"Also want to say hi to everyone in slo. I would say I wish I was there but the weather sounds terrible and I know how bad that head wind hurts. I spent many a day getting punished by that thing. I'll take sunny southern France for now, but we all know how fast the weather can change over here. Best of luck to my Slipstream boys tomorrow. Cheers from Aix en provence (in route to Trofeo Laigueglie on Saturday and Haut Var on Sunday)"

16:05 PST    178km/39.8km to go
The race hotel is preparing vats of hot soup for the riders to have at the finish of the stage. I hope they also have plenty of towels handy! Sopping wet and filthy riders are a-coming.

Still, the gap to our leaders is vacillating. It's now up to 2'35. Still no help for Astana with the chase, and no sign of the sprinters' teams. In fact, one of the Rabobank riders gave the thumbs down.

16:08 PST    180.8km/37km to go
The leaders made it to Cayucos, and enter a divided highway. This means they have all of 37km to go. The horses can smell the barn now, but they are still going along the coast and suffering from the headwind. It could be another hour before the get warm.

Gap up to 2'45.

16:11 PST   
Our breakaway riders have cleared the worst of that downpour, and are seeing slightly brighter skies. By no means dry, but at least it's not coming down so hard. They're still working smoothly together, taking turns on the front rather than doing a rolling paceline.

16:14 PST    185km/32.8km to go
Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell) is the latest victim of the foul weather. He's abandoned. But Bissell isn't the team which has suffered the worst. Half of Gerolsteiner is gone.

16:15 PST   
The breakaway is nearing Morro Bay, and can see the famous rock of the same name. Despite all of the riders who have dropped out, the peloton is stretching out as long as the eye can see under the pressure of Astana, who have clearly picked up the pace.

Gap is falling, now down to 2'15.

16:17 PST   
Bryce Mead is off the back of the break again. He was calling for the team car, but hasn't come back.

16:21 PST    186km/31.8km to go
Rollin is sitting at the back of the break, looking pretty fluid still. Hincapie's jacket is sodden and sticking to his arms, as is Wyss' kit. You can almost feel the cold, damp fabric sticking to their skin. Kilun has the plastic jacket on, which is probably a good deal warmer.

16:23 PST    187km/30.8km to go
The sprinters' teams have yet to take control of things, and the gap is hovering around two minutes. Bryce Mead has been caught by the peloton now, where Astana continues to have its entire squad at the front.

16:25 PST   
Once they get through Morro Bay and head inland to SLO, they'll encounter some reasonably hard but short hills. Normally, they would not pose as much of a problem, but after 200km in the cold rain, the riders' legs will be feeling like lead weights. It could be a great launching pad for an attack, especially the two hills in the final 10km.

16:28 PST   
The peloton is hitting the cross-winds now, and echelons are beginning to form as they pass by the beach and see a fan with a gigantic California flag. Astana isn't guttering the peloton, however. They're not interested in creating a split, they just want to hold onto Levi's jersey.

16:30 PST    190km/27.8km to go
At the moment we have Edward King (Bissell), Roman Kilun (Health Net p/b Maxxis), Dominique Rollin (Toyota - United), Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing Team), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), George Hincapie (High Road) and Iker Camaño Ortuzar (Saunier Duval-Scott) at 1'50 ahead of the peloton and still working together, but not at an urgent pace. They're on the hoods, and not down in the drops yet as they pass through Morro Bay.

16:34 PST   
Coming into SLO, the riders will face a number of turns, some of which can be a little dangerous. Most of the riders will be thinking of the last left hand turn which is just 200m from the line, but we remember one greater than 90 degree turn along some farmland outside of town that had a number of riders off-roading it.

16:35 PST   
Rollin is still looking good in this break of seven, and word is his Quebec upbringing prepared him perfectly for a day like today. As we learned from Kevin Lacombe's crash through the CSC team car window yesterday, those Canadians are tough!

16:36 PST   
There is still no sense of urgency, neither in the break nor in the peloton. Everyone is riding along on the hoods, just getting through the day.

16:38 PST    192.8km/25km to go
The break has passed the 25km to go, and Rollin gets a last minute feed from the car. They won't be able to feed in another 5km. They still have 2'05.

16:41 PST    194km/23.8km to go
The leaders still have about 10km to go before they get off this highway and start twisting and turning into San Luis Obispo, so they're taking advantage of the fast roads. Hincapie is in the drops now, and took a strong pull as they head slightly downhill.

16:44 PST    197km/20.8km to go
The rain has let up to a drizzle over our breakaway, as Mollema stops working. There are some grim faces up in his move - there's no chatter, no gestures, just workmanship mixed with some misery.

16:45 PST   
The gap is down below two minutes, but still, there is just steady efforts on both groups. No attacks, no other teams helping Astana chase. They're just banking on the breakaway falling apart due to exhaustion.

16:47 PST   
Maybe the boys are trading recipes. We're sure that Teddy King has shared his banana bread recipe with the Bissell boys, so perhaps they're sharing with this with the Euro riders.

16:47 PST   
Now Rollin attacks! Camaño goes with him.

16:48 PST   
Rollin has opened up a sizeable gap, and he's got two riders chasing him. The break has just disintegrated! Hincapie gets up to Camaño as Rollin is still alone on the front.

16:49 PST   
Rollin isn't waiting for the field sprint, but he's being chased by two experienced Euro pros. The peloton is not stirred by this news.

16:50 PST   
Hincapie comes to the front to chase now, and then Camaño comes through, sharing the work.

16:50 PST   
Mollema just stopped at the team car and was passed by the peloton.

16:51 PST   
Leipheimer goes to the front of the peloton and calls off the chase? He gestures to the bunch behind.

16:52 PST   
Rollin has opened up 15 seconds on Hincapie and Camaño. He's low and aero and driving it past some open fields. The peloton is not reacting at all.

16:53 PST    205km/12.8km to go
The gap has now gone out to 2'50 now that Levi has called things off. Rollin is still rolling it, Hincapie and Camaño still chasing. The sun comes out!

16:54 PST   
CSC starts moving to the front, perhaps just in time to chase this down for Haedo? Bettini is shedding his cape now - does he think he still has a chance?

16:55 PST   
Rollin is still alone, 20" ahead of now three riders chasing. Slipstream joins CSC on the way up to the front. This does not look good for the breakaway... They're not putting the hammer down yet, but just picking it up enough to string things out.

16:56 PST   
Hincapie and Camaño are still chasing Rollin, and a group of three is behind, between the two chasers and the peloton.

16:57 PST   
CSC has picked up the pace - it's no longer the casual pace being set by Astana, but an in-the-drops big ring pace.

16:58 PST   
Quick Step starts moving up as the break passes Cuesta College. They'll be inside all those right/left turns now where the longest straight stretch is about 1km.

16:59 PST   
Rollin has 30 seconds now and is passing a big group of fans. The rest of the break is being caught by the CSC-led peloton.

17:01 PST   
There's a rainbow above the finish line today, and we're not talking about Paolo Bettini. A real-live natural phenomenon. Rollin takes the hard right and then another right and left.

17:02 PST   
Rollin still has 30 seconds on the two chasers, not even slowing for the turns. He's got no fear of sliding out, he knows he needs every fraction of a second he can get, and he can get it on these turns!

17:03 PST    208km/9.8km to go
Rollin is on a long, straight, flat road, and is hammering along in the aero tuck. Riders are starting to be dropped from the main peloton now with the increased pace.

17:03 PST   
Kevin Hulsmans (Quick Step) has a rear flat, which will hurt the Boonen lead out train.

17:04 PST   
Rollin gets out of the saddle, looking calm and focused on his effort now. He doesn't have the desperate tongue-wagging that screams "I'm going to get caught". He is holding 27" with 10km to go.

17:05 PST   
The sun goes back behind the rain clouds, and the roads will stay wet for the finish here. The peloton is taking those turns with much more care than Rollin. Hincapie and Camaño pulled back two more seconds.

17:06 PST   
The peloton is single file now, gaps opening up in the back all over. The front group has one prominent white jersey near the front - perhaps Millar, perhaps Bettini.

17:08 PST    209km/8.8km to go
The CSC pace is shredding the peloton now, but could that be some Rock Racing jerseys coming up? Maybe Cipo is feeling good?

17:08 PST   
CSC still has control, and according to our gaps it's 3'30 to the break? Insanity!

17:10 PST   
The peloton is down to about 40-50 riders now. Lots of Slipstream, all of CSC - they're still hammering on the front, so either they're trying to bring it to a sprint for Haedo, or Levi is in a dropped group and they're trying to ditch him.

17:11 PST   
Certainly Rollin isn't a GC threat, and the pace being set by CSC is furious. Hincapie and Camaño are now 20 seconds behind, and surely he's getting to the final 5km.

17:13 PST    212.8km/5km to go
Rollin is at the 5km to go point now, still 20 or so ahead of Hincapie and Camaño. Last we heard, the peloton was minutes behind.

17:14 PST    213.8km/4km to go
Rollin still has to tackle a little leg-breaker, and he has no worries from the field, but only ten seconds to the chasers!

17:15 PST    214.8km/3km to go
Rollin is looking back now, and he looks pretty fatigued. It's been a gutsy move, and he'll certainly get most aggressive, but can he hold on to the win?

17:16 PST    214.8km/3km to go
Oh, ouch! He's hitting the hill and up and over.

17:16 PST   
Rollin is holding onto 12 seconds with just under 3km to go. Camaño is pulling through, and Hincapie working equally with the Spaniard.

17:17 PST   
Peloton just saw 5km to go, so that's no threat to Rollin.

17:18 PST    215.8km/2km to go
Rollin hits the right turn coming into 2km to go and will hit a hard hill. There is an attack from the peloton - a Credit Agricole rider has gone clear. Rollin still with 15 seconds...

17:19 PST   
Nearly seven hours of racing today, and Rollin is within the last 2km with just 15 seconds. Can he hold it? Or will Hincapie bring him back with Camaño?

17:19 PST    216.8km/1km to go
18 seconds with 1km to go for Rollin! Looks like he's going to get this one for Canada and for Toyota United! A huge, huge victory for the domestic squad.

17:20 PST    217.6km/0.2km to go
He takes the last turn gingerly, and gets to celebrate the win!

17:20 PST   
The chasers are in the final turn, and Hincapie gets out of the saddle. He passes Camaño for second.

17:21 PST   
That is a beautiful win for the rider from Quebec, and surely it has won him the "most loved rider" award for today! The rest of the bunch still has yet to make it to the final kilometer.

17:22 PST   
Rock Racing is on the front inside the 1km now.

17:22 PST   
It's a fasts downhill into the final turn, it looked like Cavendish was on the front with Ciolek.

17:23 PST   
Ciolek took fourth ahead of Cavendish, unofficially, of course.

17:23 PST   
Levi Leipheimer was safely in that group, and he shakes his head after a comment from David Millar, probably talking about what an awful day that was.

17:25 PST   
But what a beautiful win for Rollin and for Toyota-United Pro! They lost their sprinter Ivan Dominguez at the start of the stage today, and Rollin was able to step up and get the stage win with a soulful move into San Luis Obispo.

17:26 PST   
Another group of riders is coming to the finish, It's a few Credit Agricole riders, a Rabobank, maybe Mollema, and a few BMC and Bissell riders.

17:27 PST   
As an added bonus, Rollin will surely get the points jersey from Haedo. Nydam should hold onto the mountains jersey.

Provisional results

1 Dominique Rollin (Can) Toyota United Pro
2 George Hincapie (USA) Team High Road
3 Iker Camaño Ortuzar (Spa) Saunier Duval-Scott
4 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team High Road
5 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team High Road                 

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