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Tour of California - 2.HC

USA, February 14-22, 2009

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Stage 5 - February 19: Visalia - Paso Robles, 216.1 km/134.3 mi

Complete live report

Live commentary by Peter Hymas with reporting from Mark Zalewski and Kirsten Robbins in Paso Robles

09:51 PST    Welcome to today's coverage of the Tour of California. Today's fifth stage, at 134.3 miles, is the longest of this year's Tour of California. The stage opens with a 6.2 mile (10km) neutral section in downtown Visalia before embarking on their southwesterly trip to Paso Robles.

09:53 PST    For approximately the first 100 miles the peloton will be riding through flat, open farmland with virtually no protection from the wind. The terrain gets more rolling over the final 30 miles once the race passes into San Luis Obispo County, but the stage is devoid of any classified climbs. There's a gentle rise from 70 miles to 95 miles, climbing from approximately 400' to 1700', but there's no KOM on offer at the stage's highest point.

09:54 PST    There are two sprints during the stage (in addition to points at the finish), both coming relatively late in the 134 mile trek. The first sprint comes at mile 101.3 in Cholame and the second comes at mile 108.2 in Shandon. If conventional wisdom plays out today, the riders going for general classification should be looking for a day of calm in advance of tomorrow's time trial in Solvang, historically the decisive GC stage of the Tour of California. The journey from Visalia to Paso Robles should be a battle of stage hunters, those riders out of GC contention who will try to keep a break alive to the finish, and sprinters, eager to put their lead-out trains to work in the streets of Paso Robles.

09:55 PST    There were no changes at the top of general classification yesterday, with Levi Leipheimer (Astana) keeping the yellow jersey ahead of Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - Highroad) and David Zabriskie (Garmin - Slipstream). The top sixteen riders on general classification, five of whom are Astana riders, are separated by 53 seconds. Astana will likely keep close tabs on the other 11 riders close on GC, but let those lower overall, many of whom are more than 20 minutes behind, have their day.

09:55 PST    Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) leads the mountains classification by 13 points over Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank). Today's stage and tomorrow's time trial stage in Solvang do not have any classified climbs, so Mancebo will only need to remain upright and beat the time cut to retain his jersey through to Saturday. Saturday's stage 7 from Santa Clarita to Pasadena has only one classified climb, the Cat. 3 ascent of Millcreek Summit, offering six points to the KOM winner, so it's mathematically impossible for McCartney to overtake Mancebo during that stage. Mancebo will have his work cut out for him on Sunday, the final stage from Rancho Bernardo to Escondido, which offers two Cat. 4 climbs, one Cat. 3 climb plus the Hor Categorie ascent of Palomar Mountain.

09:58 PST    The peloton is assembling on the start line in Visalia in advance of their 10am local start time. It looks like another day of sunshine, a welcome sight for a peloton drenched in frigid rain over the first several stages. It's currently in the mid 40s (degrees Fahrenheit) in Visalia and the forecast is for mid 60s (degrees Fahrenheit) at the finish in Paso Robles.

09:59 PST    There's one minute until the start.

10:00 PST    And they're off!

10:01 PST    Visalia, situated in the heart of California’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley, approximately 230 miles southeast of San Francisco and 190 miles north of Los Angeles, is the county seat and largest city of Tulare County, serving as the economic center to the region known as the most productive single agricultural area in the United States. Visalia is sometimes referred to as the "Gateway to the Sequoias," it lies within miles of the tallest mountain range in the contiguous United States, the Sierra Nevada, and is the closest major city to Sequoia National Park, home to the some of the largest living things on Earth, the Giant Sequoia trees.

10:02 PST    Getting back to the jersey classifications, Francisco Mancebo also leads the sprints classification, but will likely relinquish his claim to the green jersey to either one of the two sprinters close behind in the overall points, possibly today. Top-three finishes in today's stage for Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) and Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - Highroad) will garner them enough points to pass Mancebo's total of 30. Hushovd currently has 22 points to Cavendish's 21, so their finishing order, and possibly acquisition of points during the stage, will determine who dons the green jersey after today.

10:03 PST    The riders are making their way through the streets of Visalia, looking relaxed. Levi Leipheimer, the yellow jersey holder, is at the front along with some Team Columbia-Highroad riders.

The riders get a colourful send off
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
(Click for larger image)

10:05 PST    Large crowds are out yet again to send the riders off. There's plenty of applause and cowbells to be heard.

10:06 PST    The Tour of California kicked off with 136 riders in the peloton, but after completing the prologue and four stages we're now down to 108. Only four of the 17 teams in the race still have their full, 8-rider squads: Astana, Garmin-Slipstream, Quick Step and Liquigas. Team Type 1 and Fly V Australia have been hit rather hard as each of the teams has lost five riders.

10:08 PST    The peloton has finished the circuits and is heading out of downtown Visalia. The crowds remain huge alongside the route, with a few schools having their students out front cheering the riders.

10:10 PST    Lance Armstrong is getting service from the Astana team car. Lance will surely be relieved that his one-of-a-kind time trial bike has been recovered in time for tomorrow's time trial in Solvang.

10:12 PST    Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) is getting service from his team vehicle.

10:14 PST    The riders are currently half way through the opening 6.2 mile (10km) neutral section. Armstrong has made his way through the race caravan back to the peloton. The pace is definitely relaxed, so anyone having a mechanical will have no problem regaining one's position in the field.

10:17 PST    Morale looks high in the peloton during the neutral section. Lots of riders smiling, chatting, and soaking up the sunshine, a welcome change of pace from the opening road stages.

10:18 PST    Thank you for all your emails with comments and questions during our live coverage. Don't worry, even though we can't reply to everyone, we are reading them and trying to answer as many of your questions as we can without missing any of the racing action.

10:21 PST    There's been a non-stop wall of spectator noise following the riders out of Visalia. The crowds are starting to thin somewhat as the riders head to the outskirts of town, but there's still plenty of applause.

10:22 PST    We're now one kilometer from the official start of the stage.

10:23 PST    The peloton is currently on Akers St and will commence racing once it crosses Whittendale Ave.

10:24 PST    Alexandre Moos (BMC Racing Team) is receiving service, delaying the start of the race.

10:27 PST    .7mi/133.6mi to go The race has officially started! And the attacks are immediate.

10:29 PST    The peloton is strung out single file. An initial break of four has been absorbed. There may be some fireworks in the opening miles until a break with the correct chemistry (ie. no general classification threats) forms.

10:30 PST    The peloton has eased up and is now stretched across the road. A few riders are already taking their nature breaks.

10:32 PST    2.1mi/132.2mi to go We're at mile 2.1 and the pace is now a relaxed 18mph.

10:33 PST    Team Astana is at the front as they will be for the bulk of today's racing. In addition to having Leipheimer in yellow, Astana also leads the team classification ahead of Garmin-Slipstream and Team Saxo Bank.

10:34 PST    There's now fertile, green farmland on either side of the road, as it will be for approximately the first 100 miles of the stage.

10:37 PST    We have an email from Andy who says, "Steve Morabito and Gregory Rast better have eaten double portions on their breakfast. They will be chasing all day." Both of those riders are on Astana and indeed will be burning plenty of calories setting tempo all day. Andy also tips Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank) for the stage win.

10:38 PST    Four riders have now attacked and a Jelly Belly rider is leading the move.

10:38 PST    Five riders are now off the front. We're working on identifying the composition of the break.

10:40 PST    The break contains Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Curtis Gunn (Fly V Australia) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing).

10:42 PST    7.0mi/127.3mi to go The break of six has lengthened its lead to 25 seconds. The pace has increased to 28mph.

10:45 PST    Will this be the break of the day? The peloton has now entered Kings County and the break has 35 seconds on the field.

10:47 PST    Astana has assumed its place on the front of the peloton and seems content with the composition of the break. Our six leaders are now 1'00 up on the peloton.

10:50 PST    Once again, here are the riders in the break: Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Curtis Gunn (Fly V Australia), Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) Weening is the best placed rider on general classification, sitting in 33rd overall at 6'13.

10:57 PST    The 6-man break has has stretched its lead out to 2'30 over the peloton. Here are the general classification positions of the riders off the front:

33 Pieter Weening (Rabobank)  6.13
50 Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing)  15.29
52 Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis)  15.56
55 Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team)  17.42
76 Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team)  26.43
97 Curtis Gunn (Fly V Australia)  30.42 

10:59 PST    The riders in the break are all sharing the work, rotating smoothly. The time gap is still growing, stretching out to 3'05.

11:05 PST    The break is maintaining a rotating double paceline on the left edge of the road. Their current speed is approximately 24mph. It may be a long day off the front for these six riders. I believe we're either on 10 1/2 Ave or very close to it. The riders will head due south on 10 1/2 Ave for 19.3 miles. Then, at mile 42.3, they'll turn right onto Utica Ave. for a straight stretch of 14.9 miles. This portion of the course is on a grid pattern, with long straight expanses of road among farmland and the occasional 90 degree turn to change direction.

11:06 PST    16mi/118.3mi to go We're at mile 16, so the peloton hasn't quite made it to 10 1/2 Ave. yet. It's currently on Ave. 232 heading west.

11:08 PST    Today's stage is sponsored by Rabobank, and had he not crashed out of yesterday's stage, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) would most certainly have been considered one of the favorites on this route definitely favoring the fast men of the peloton. While Freire will be denied his opportunity to contest for a stage win, Rabobank's Robert Gesink, a 2008 Tour of California stage winner and best young rider classification winner, once again leads the best young rider classification, albeit with a slim, 12 second advantage over Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step). Gesink's teammate, Bauke Mollema, is the third best young rider at 1'31 behind Gesink. Perhaps the sponsorship of the stage also motivated Rabobank's Pieter Weening to infiltrate the break, too.

11:12 PST    The peloton is currently in Kings County. The county derives its name from the Kings River, which was discovered in 1806 by an expedition led by Spanish Army Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga and named Rio de los Santos Reyes (River of the Holy Kings).

11:17 PST    21.5mi/112.8mi to go We're at mile 21.5 and the break continues to work smoothly in a rotating paceline. The peloton, led by Astana, shows no sense of urgency and is content to roll along at a steady tempo.

11:20 PST    Let's meet the riders in the break, since I get the feeling that they will be enjoying quite an extended ride off the front today. Pieter Weening (Rabobank), 27 years old, is from The Netherlands and likely looks to his stage win during the 2005 Tour de France as the highlight of his career palmares. He outsprinted Andreas Kloden to win the 8th stage.

11:22 PST    The break's lead has now reached 5'40, and Pieter Weening is getting closer to being the virtual yellow jersey holder on the road. He lies in 33rd position on general classification, 6'13 behind Leipheimer.

11:26 PST    24mi/110.3mi to go The break has reached mile 24 and has further inched out its lead to 6'10 over the Astana-led peloton. Lush, green farmland extends well off into the distance on either side of the road.

11:30 PST    Another one of our riders in the break is Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team) of Salt Lake City, Utah. He's 31 years old and last year won a stage and the overall at the Tour of Utah. He also won a stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic and took fifth at the USPRO Road Race Championships. He was eighth overall at the Tour of Missouri. Louder also figured in the main break during stage 3 of this year's Tour of California, the stage won by Thor Hushovd. Louder entered today's stage in 76th overall, 26.43 behind Leipheimer.

11:34 PST    We've had some questions about the wind today, a particularly important issue when riding in vast, wide open terrain. The riders in the break and peloton are heading due south along a 19.3 mile stretch of dead-straight 10 1/2 Ave. Based on the rotation of the break and the slight echelon of Astana at the front of the peloton, it appears the wind is coming from the rider's right, from the east. If the wind direction holds, that means at mile 42.3, when the racers make a right onto Utica Ave., they'll have a headwind for that 14.9 mile straight length of road.

11:40 PST    Another rider in the 6-man break is the Canadian Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis). He's 25 years old and resides in Vancouver, B.C. He's a former Canadian road champion, criterium champion, madison champion, and team pursuit champion. Last year he won the overall classification at the San Dimas Stage Race ahead of Rock Racing's Oscar Sevilla.

11:42 PST    31.0mi/103.3mi to go We're at the 31 mile mark (50km) and the break's lead has now reached 6'45. Several members of the break have dropped back to their team vehicles to pick up food and water bottles.

11:47 PST    Steve Morabito (Astana) is tapping out the tempo at the front of the peloton. All of his Astana teammates are behind him in single file. There are a scattering of spectators appearing from time to time, but for the most part the riders have only the wind in their ears (or their team director's voice in their radios) or conversation with nearby riders to listen to.

11:50 PST    35mi/99.3mi to go The break is now at mile 35, still working smoothly. The field is maintaining a steady 24mph tempo, powered along by Astana, the team of race leader Levi Leipheimer. The temperature is now at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The riders by and large are all in shorts, not needing the protection of knee warmers of leg warmers. Most of the riders have also been getting sun on their arms, not having to don arm warmers or jackets. There's a bright blue sky overhead and plenty of sunshine.

11:55 PST    The fourth member of our break is Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team). He's 23 years old, his hometown is Old Greenwich, CT and he currently resides in Athens, Georgia. According to the Jelly Belly Cycling Team website, he rates his strengths as time trialing and breakaways, so he's definitely up for the challenge today. Crane started the day in 55th overall, 17.42 behind Leipheimer.

The breakaway rides through the valley
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
(Click for larger image)

11:58 PST    The break's lead has gone down for the first time today, albeit only slightly, dropping from 6'45 to 6'35. Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank) has suffered a flat. Many riders in the peloton are dropping back to their team cars to load up on food and bottles for their teammates. The official feed zone for today is located at approximately 55 miles on Utica Ave, just prior to the race crossing Interstate 5.

12:09 PST    We have some news from Europe to report. Stefan Schumacher has been suspended and Alejandro Valverde is now under a criminal investigation. Read the news flash for complete information.

12:10 PST    The break's lead is up to 6'50. The Astana-led peloton is maintaining a steady 23mph now.

12:14 PST    The fifth member of the break is Robert 'Curtis' Gunn (Fly V Australia), 37 years old. We received an email from Eddie, which says: "Curtis set the Masters World Hour Record for 30-34 riders before turning pro in 2005 after winning the Green Jersey at the Tour of Southland in 2004. Curtis has won several pro races and proves that with talent and drive you can achieve your goals even when others say you're too damn old! " Thanks for the information!

12:24 PST    The sixth member of today's break is Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing). He's 32 years old and a native of Opunake, New Zealand. This is his first season with Rock Racing, having previously raced for Team Type 1 and Navigators in recent years. He's been a diarist for us at Cyclingnews.com. Here's a link to his 2008 archive. Also, some may have heard about Chadwick's exploits while off the front in last year's Philadelphia International Championship. He grabbed a beer and had a swig while ascending the Manayunk Wall.

12:26 PST    Chadwick was also an Olympian last year in Beijing and finished the road race in 82nd place representing New Zealand.

12:28 PST    49mi/85.3mi to go The break's lead has dipped slightly to 6'25 as the peloton has increased its pace to 25mph.

12:29 PST    Some readers have noticed an error in my wind direction previously. The wind is coming out of the west on the rider's right while on 10 1/2 Ave., not the east. Sorry for the mistake, and thanks for the emails as always.

12:32 PST    Chris Horner has now taken over the pacemaking for Astana at the head of the peloton. Horner was instrumental in stage 1 at keeping the distance from the chase group to race leader Francisco Mancebo in check. Horner also sits in 5th place overall, 34 seconds behind his teammate Levi Leipheimer.

12:32 PST    52mi/82.3mi to go

12:33 PST    52mi/82.3mi to go Largely due to Chris Horner's efforts at the front, the break's lead has dropped to 5'50 as the race approaches the feed zone at mile 55.

The race organisation warns the riders
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
(Click for larger image)

12:36 PST    A few miles ago the Astana team on the front had a laugh seeing a road sign that said 'dangerous descent ahead'. I suppose even the road marshals have a good time with their jobs, too! That dangerous descent was probably all of 5 feet in elevation difference on the completely flat section the race is currently negotiating.

12:38 PST    55mi/79.3mi to go The break has arrived in the feed zone. Astana has picked up the pace in the peloton to 29mph and the 6-man lead group's lead has dropped down to 5'40. Pieter Weening (Rabobank) is no longer the virtual leader on the road.

12:41 PST    Just a reminder as to the makeup of the 6-man break: Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Curtis Gunn (Fly V Australia) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) currently have a 5'30 lead. They're about to turn left onto 25th Ave. from Utica Ave, which will happen at mile 57.5.

12:44 PST    The peloton is currently in the feed zone, loading up on food and drinks.

12:48 PST    The peloton has turned left onto 25th Ave from Utica Ave, 57.5 miles into the 134.3 mile stage.

12:53 PST    The San Joaquin Valley is also well-known for its cattle farms. The break has just rolled past some cattle in a field off to their right. The break is still rotating smoothly, riding along the left edge of the two-lane road.

12:55 PST    62mi/72.3mi to go We're now at mile 62, about to enter Kern County in approximately six more miles. The break's lead is 6'00 as they begin to encounter some slightly rolling terrain.

13:02 PST    Soon the riders will be passing Devils Den, off to their right. Devils Den is located in the northwest corner of Kern County, just south of the Kings County line. According to the book 'Kern County Place Names' by Curtis Darling, Devils Den, California was named for an unusual volcanic formation.

13:04 PST    66mi/68.3mi to go The break has just reached mile 66, and their lead is holding steady at approximately 6 minutes ahead of the peloton. Currently, it's at 6'15. In two miles the 6-man lead group will be entering Kern County, traveling south on 25th Ave.

13:08 PST    Our Kirsten Robbins is at the stage finish in Paso Robles. She reminded me that Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis) was in the all-day break during stage 2 from Sausalito to Santa Cruz and then successfully made it over the final climb in the Mancebo (yellow jersey) chase group to help his teammate Landis. Evans and Louder both have logged plenty of miles off the front during this year's Tour of California.

13:10 PST    67mi/67.3mi to go We've just reached the halfway point of today's 134.3 mile stage. The riders are currently rolling along at approximately 24mph.

13:12 PST    The break no longer has lush green farmland on either side of the road. The vegetation appears to be more brown, looking a bit arid.

13:14 PST    Today's route will take the racers right past the location where legendary actor James Dean died in a tragic car accident in 1955. At about mile 98 they will pass the intersection of State Highway 46 and State Highway 41 where the accident occurred. Coincidentally, Dean was headed to Paso Robles, the site of the stage finish, when he died. There is a memorial to Dean at the small diner at the intersection.

13:15 PST    It appears that the break is now passing through orchards, although at this time of year the trees are devoid of leaves.

13:20 PST    Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing), one of the members of today's 6-man break, experienced some difficult times approximately one year ago. His daughter, 2 years old, was diagnosed with a spinal infection and was in intensive care for nearly 3 months. He and his wife lived at the hospital with her. Chadwick himself was then diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus shortly after and was bed-ridden. We're happy to report that his daughter is perfectly healthy, and that Glen bounced back at the end of last year to ride in the Beijing Olympic Games.

13:22 PST    72.7mi/61.6mi to go The break has just turned right onto Twissleman Rd at 72.7 miles. Their gap is holding steady at 6'15 over the peloton.

13:27 PST    The break has approximately 18 miles until the first sprint line at mile 101.3 in Cholame. They'll likely just roll through without contesting it in order to maintain the steady rhythm of their paceline. Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team) is the only member of the break to have accumulated any points in the overall points classification to date in the Tour of California. At the beginning of today's stage Louder held 31st, with 4 points. Francisco Mancebo (Rock Racing) leads the points classification with 30 points, although he'll likely turn his points jersey over to Thor Hushovd or Mark Cavendish at the end of today's stage.

13:29 PST    The tempo of the peloton has eased as it appears a general truce has been called for riders to take a nature break on the side of the road.

13:31 PST    The six-man break, comprised of Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Curtis Gunn (Fly V Australia) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing), continues to work well together. Each rider is doing his fair share of the work in a rotating paceline.

13:31 PST    With the peloton addressing the call of nature, the break's lead has reached it's largest of the day at 7'15.

13:36 PST    Garmin-Slipstream's Allen Lim and Astana's Johan Bruyneel have had ample opportunity to make Twitter updates in today's stage. Allen Lim said that he just gave the Quick Step car some rice cakes because they have upset stomachs. Lim adds that they're now in a state of bliss.

13:37 PST    Astana is riding in an echelon at the front of the peloton. It appears that the wind is coming from the riders' left.

13:40 PST    We've received an email from Eric who has some information about one of the riders in the break, Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis): "A lot of people don't know that Cam has returned to top level from a near-career ending knee injury in 2004. He broke his patella quite badly training in Australia and sat out the entire 2005 season and for a while did not think he would ever come back as his recovery was very slow. After some extra hardware in his knee was removed in early 2006 he was able to regain full motion and started training again, and returned to racing later that season. Cam was also teammates with Tyler Farrar on the Broadmark Capital team in 2002. Broadmark can also take some credit for other ToC riders: Svein Tuft (2001), Omer Kem (2004), Tom Peterson (2004, I think)." Thanks, Eric!

13:42 PST    As the break starts to tackle some rolling hills, their lead has increased to 8'00 over the peloton.

13:44 PST    Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream) has had a mechanical, but is now safely back in the peloton.

13:47 PST    Pieter Weening (Rabobank), one of the 6 riders off the front, is now comfortably in the virtual leader's jersey on the road. He started the day in 33rd overall at 6'13 behind Leipheimer. There's still plenty of time for Astana, and presumably the teams of the sprinters, to bring the break back. Any guesses as to to the break's fate? When they may be caught? Or, will they actually survive?

13:50 PST    85mi/49.3mi to go The break is now at mile 85, riding on Kecks Rd. At mile 87.2 they'll turn right onto CA 46 and make their way into San Luis Obispo County at mile 94.5.

13:55 PST    Astana has finally received some help at the front of the peloton. A Columbia-Highroad rider is now at the front with a Quick Step rider tucked in behind him.

13:56 PST    Domestiques, who have dropped back to the team cars to load up on bottles, now ride through the peloton to disperse them to their teammates.

13:59 PST    89mi/45.3mi to go The break has reached mile 89 and their lead has slipped slightly to 7'25. It appears that the teams of the sprinters may have begun to chip away at their lead. An Astana rider is once again at the front, but a Team Columbia-Highroad rider and a Quick Step rider sit 2nd and 3rd in the echelon.

14:05 PST    The peloton is stretching out single file under the pace of a Quick Step rider. The last two stages have been won by sprinters Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish, and it looks like Quick Step wants today to be the day which their fast man Tom Boonen emerges victorious.

14:07 PST    Kirsten Robbins spoke with Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) this morning, and he's in good spirits now that the sunshine has arrived. He's feeling good and looking forward to tomorrow's time trial in Solvang.

14:09 PST    The responsibility for pace making appears to have shifted to the teams of the sprinters. We now have a Saxo Bank rider, a Cervelo TestTeam rider, a Columbia-Highroad rider and a Quick Step rider at the head of the peloton.

14:14 PST    Under the impetus of some fresh legs at the head of the peloton, the break's lead has dropped down yet again to 6'20. The general consensus so far among our readers is that Paso Robles will be treated to a bunch finish. Mark Cavendish is the clear favorite for the win today, and it's hard to argue with that assessment.

14:16 PST    Speaking of Paso Robles, it's located on the Salinas River north of San Luis Obispo. Paso Robles is known for its hot springs, its abundance of wineries and for playing host to the California Mid-State Fair. In English, the name means "Oak Pass" or "The Pass of the Oaks."

14:17 PST    The break just crested a climb, and had some tifosi running along side them shouting encouragement. It appears the Batman has made an appearance at the Tour of California.

14:18 PST    The peloton is now stretched out in one long line. The riders at the back are battling the crosswinds out of the protection of the echelon in the front portion of the peloton.

14:19 PST    We have to once again thank Chuck Hodge, the technical director for the Tour of California, for allowing our Mark Zalewski to tag along in his vehicle today in the race caravan.

14:24 PST    100mi/34.3mi to go We're now at mile 100 and the break's gap is now at 4'45. They've just passed the James Dean memorial and are approaching the first sprint line at mile 101.3.

14:25 PST    The peloton is on a descent and speeds are approaching 50 mph. Amazingly, some riders are answering the call of nature while coasting downhill at these speeds.

14:27 PST    We have the results of the first sprint in Cholame, near the Jack Ranch Cafe: 1 Pieter Weening (Rabobank) 2 Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis) 3 Curtis Gunn (Fly V Australia)

14:28 PST    103mi/31.3mi to go Slowly but surely the break's lead is coming down. We're now at mile 103 and the lead has dipped to 4'40.

14:31 PST    It looks like the day has gone according to plan for Astana and the other teams with riders racing for general classification. Levi Leipheimer has been out of the wind all day, as well as the other riders in the top-16 who are all within 53 seconds of Leipheimer. Now it's time for the teams of the sprinters to do their work.

14:32 PST    105mi/29.3mi to go We're at mile 105, three miles before the second sprint at Shandon, and the time from the break to the field is at 4'30. It's warmed up into the 70s (degrees Fahrenheit), the balmiest weather the riders have seen so far this week.

14:37 PST    The break has 1 kilometer to go for the second sprint of the day. Their lead is at 4'20. It looks like they're now feeling the effort of being off the front all day.

14:39 PST    Allen Lim noted that Big Hair Superfan was also on that ascent a few miles ago, offering his encouragement to the peloton.

14:40 PST    We have the results of the second sprint in Shandon: 1 Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis) 2 Pieter Weening (Rabobank) 3 Jeffry Louder (BMC Racing Team) They didn't sprint for the line, just continued to keep their paceline steady.

14:43 PST    According to the 2000 census, 986 people reside in Shandon, the location of the sprint line at mile 108.2. It appears that probably everyone in town is out lining the course as the break and peloton rolled through.

14:44 PST    110mi/24.3mi to go The break has reached mile 110, and it's gap is now at 4'15.

14:45 PST    Team Columbia-Highroad, Cervelo TestTeam and Quick Step riders continue to set tempo at the front of the peloton.

14:47 PST    Second by second, the teams of the sprinters are drawing back the break. The 6-man group off the front now holds a 4'10 lead.

14:51 PST    Up in the break, Jeff Louder has signaled his team car. He probably wants some bottles and gel to get him through the final 20 miles of the day.

14:53 PST    Garmin-Slipstream has now contributed some riders to the chase in the peloton. Could this be the day for their sprinter Tyler Farrar?

14:56 PST    The stage finish in Paso Robles does not have any circuits to negotiate within the city center. It looks tailor-made for a field sprint, with only a few turns to handle in the final 4 miles and a finishing straight of approximately 1km in length. Of course, there's still a break to reel in first.

14:59 PST    Mark Renshaw (Team Columbia - Highroad) has flatted and is now in the caravan, trying to make his way back into the peloton. The field is really flying along, now, and it's taking some time to make contact. Renshaw will be a critical part of Cavendish's lead-out train in Paso Robles, so he's definitely trying to return to Cavendish's side as quickly as possible.

15:01 PST    The break is starting to attack each other! Pieter Weening (Rabobank) has put in a hard effort up a climb and two riders have been dropped.

15:03 PST    118mi/16.3mi to go Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) are now leading the race. The break has 2'50 to the peloton at mile 118.

15:05 PST    There are now four riders from the break left at the front: Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing). Louder and Gunn have been dropped.

15:08 PST    The peloton is being powered along by two Garmin-Slipstream riders and the field is strung out single file behind them.

15:09 PST    The four riders at the front, Weening, Chadwick, Crane and Evans are digging deep, but still sharing the work.

15:11 PST    It looks like the break is in horse country now approaching Paso Robles.

15:13 PST    The roads are beginning to be lined with people and I'm sure the break appreciates hearing the applause after an extended stretch of seeing nary a soul.

15:15 PST    Quick Step, Team Columbia-Highroad and Cervelo TestTeam all have riders setting the pace in the peloton. Boonen is tucked in near the front, next to a cluster of Liquigas riders.

15:15 PST    The break is still out of sight of the peloton on a long, straight stretch of road. Chadwick is driving the break right now. Can they stay away?

15:16 PST    We're still working on getting a time gap between the break and peloton. We'll pass that along as soon as possible, as well as an update of the race distance covered.

15:18 PST    All four members of the break are sharing the load, putting in 10 second pulls and then rotating off.

15:19 PST    Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) is talking to his team car, which has pulled alongside the break.

15:20 PST    Garmin-Slipstream, Team Columbia, Quick Step and Cervélo TestTeam have all contributed multiple riders to the chase in the peloton. It looks like about 10 riders are rotating at the front of the peloton, with Astana sitting behind them.

15:22 PST    We think the break of Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) are approximately 1'30 ahead of the peloton, but we're still looking for confirmation.

15:23 PST    128.1mi/6.2mi to go The break just passed the 10km to go marker. It's going to be close!

15:25 PST    The break is attacking each other once again! The two riders dropped from the break have been absorbed. The break is about 50 seconds ahead of the peloton.

15:26 PST    Crane and Evans have now dropped Weening and Chadwick in the break.

15:26 PST    Weening is towing Chadwick back. The lead group of four is together again.

15:27 PST    The team cars have been pulled out of the gap between the break and the riders as the gap has fallen to under one minute.

15:28 PST    Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Cameron Evans (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) and Glen Chadwick (Rock Racing) are working, but they're eyeing each other closely.

15:28 PST    The peloton has the break in sight. It looks like their lead is now about 20 seconds.

15:29 PST    Saxo Bank and Astana riders are at the front of the peloton.

15:30 PST    Chadwick is looking back to the peloton, checking on the gap.

15:30 PST    The break hasn't quit yet, they're still rotating and maintaining a slim gap.

15:31 PST    It's all over now. The break has been absorbed!

15:32 PST    Team Columbia-Highroad has massed at the left side of the road, Cervelo TestTeam is on the right side of the road.

15:32 PST    Astana riders are still at the front, too, keeping Leipheimer out of trouble.

15:33 PST    Tim Johnson has attacked! He's been joined by Jens Voigt!

15:33 PST    Voigt and Johnson have about 5 seconds to the field. A Liquigas rider is trying to come across.

15:34 PST    It's Johnson and Voigt off the front, with a Liquigas rider on the front.

15:34 PST    1 kilometer to go!

15:35 PST    It's all together. It's a drag race between Team Columbia-Highroad and Cervelo TestTeam.

15:35 PST    Team Columbia-Highroad has more horsepower and leads it out with Hincapie and Renshaw making huge efforts..

15:36 PST    It's Mark Cavendish with his second stage win in a row!

15:37 PST    The peloton split on the way into Paso Robles. A big group just rolled in about 30 seconds behind.

15:39 PST    In the replay, Cavendish had a clear gap over Boonen and had plenty of time to celebrate today.

15:43 PST    We have a provisional top-five: 1 Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - Highroad) 2 Tom Boonen (Quick Step) 3 Pedro Horillo (Rabobank) 4 Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) 5 Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) We've awaiting confirmation that Leipheimer was in the lead group.

15:44 PST    Leipheimer finished in 15th place on the stage and successfully defended his general classification lead.

15:58 PST    That wraps up our live coverage for stage five. Please join us again tomorrow for stage six, 15 mi (24km) individual time trial in Solvang. In the previous three editions of the Tour of California, the winner of the Solvang time trial has gone on to win the overall general classification. The top sixteen riders on general classification all lie within 53 seconds of Leipheimer, the two-time defending winner in Solvang, so it should be quite a battle for stage and GC supremacy tomorrow. The stage will start at 12:00 pm local time. We hope to have your company again then!

Provisional results

1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Columbia-Highroad                     5.07.29
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step                                       
3 Pedro Horillo (Spa) Rabobank                                      
4 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas                                  
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo TestTeam                               
6 Lucas Haedo (Arg) Colavita Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light          
7 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Rock Racing                                  
8 Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale                             
9 Bernard Sulzberger (Aus) Fly V Australia p/b Successful Living    
10 Karl Menzies (Aus) Ouch p/b Maxxis                               
11 Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank                             
12 Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank                                  
13 Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) Bissell                                 
14 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream                            
15 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana                                     
16 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Slipstream                          
17 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank                                  
18 Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Team Columbia-Highroad                     
19 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana                                     
20 Chris Horner (USA) Astana                                          
General classification after stage 3
1 Levi Leipheimer (Astana) ?                               

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