Thor Hushovd Wins Stage 3 of 2009 Tour of California
Levi Leipheimer crashes, but maintains overall race lead.
After completing one of the most defining stages of the 2009 Amgen Tour of California, which included the Sierra Road (Cat. 1) climb, a signature climb in the race, Thor Hushovd (NOR) of Cervelo TestTeam held on to take the stage win. Santa Rosa resident Levi Leipheimer (USA) of Team Astana had another strong performance in front of thousands of enthused cycling fans to retain the overall lead.
The riders were hit hard early in Stage 3, just five miles into the race, when they took on the first King of the Mountains competition (KOM) Sierra Road (1,930 ft.). The racers then sped through flat sections that twisted and turned, including more than 40 switchbacks on Calaveras Road. After tackling the second KOM climb of the day, Patterson Pass (category 4), the stage concluded with a lap around a downtown circuit in Modesto.
Beginning with the difficult Sierra Road climb, the 168 kilometer stage from San Jose to Modesto started off with a warm welcome from a massive crowd. As the field started up the climb just outside of San Jose, a small breakaway group of four riders separated from the pack and was briefly joined by the previous day’s KOM leader Francisco Mancebo (ESP) of Team Rock Racing.
After taking first place in the first KOM competition, Mancebo sat up, leaving four riders to fight off the front: Bauke Mollema (NED) of Team Rabobank, Brian Vandborg (DEN) of Team Liquigas, Jeffry Louder (USA) of BMC Racing Team and Bradley White (USA) of Team Ouch Presented by Maxxis.
Back in the field, the combination of growing fatigue and inclimate weather conditions contributed to a string of mechanicals and accidents out on the road. Omer Klem (USA) of Bissell Pro Cycling Team and Ian MacGregor (USA) of Team Type 1 both crashed out of the race early on and even overall race leader Leipheimer had an innocuous look at the pavement around the 35-mile mark after clipping a teammate's wheel. Only Leipheimer was able to remain in the race.
"That was my fault; I just looked down for one second and it was windy and everybody moved left and right and next thing I know there was a touch of a wheel," Leipheimer said after the stage. “It hurts but it happens. I didn’t break anything. I’ve done it before; it’s not big deal.”
The four riders in the breakaway built a maximum gap of five and a half minutes, but this was not quite enough to hold off the hard charge by the sprinters in the final hour of racing. A strong move by Louder before the finishing circuit only delayed the inevitable until the very end, where he was the last to be caught. An impressive team effort propelled Hushovd to a sprint victory in front of a roaring crowd at the Modesto finish. Hushovd confirmed that the team lead-out train was what set him up for the race's first mass finish.
“My teammates, including Hayden Roulston (NZL), started with 1 kilometer to go, and then Dominique Rollin (CAN) pulled to