Thor Hushovd Wins Stage 3 of 2009 Tour of California
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 just the last corner,” said Hushovd. “Then, (Brett) Lancaster (AUS) [of Cervelo Test Team] and I started to pass with only 150 meters to go, so our team did a great job today. I’m really proud of them.”
Mark Renshaw told Roadcycling.com about his experiences riding as leadout man for Team Columbia-Highroad's sprinter ace Mark Cavendish in today's Tour of California stage. “Today’s finish was extremely dangerous with the turns and the wet conditions. With one kilometer to go, I knew he (Mark Cavendish) was behind me. Just before last corner, Mark lost my wheel; I think it was one of the Rock Racing riders. Unfortunately, I got a rider in between George (Hincapie) and myself, and then when the sprint started, Mark lost the wheel. Having guys in between me and Cavendish made it hard to work as a unit today. I tried to do the best sprint I could, and I was hoping he’d find my wheel again. It is a little disappointing; we put in a lot of work today, but that’s how it goes. Maybe we’ll get another chance this week.”
Rabobank's Oscar Freire (ESP) and Team Columbia-Highroad’s Mark Renshaw (AUS) trailed in just behind for second and third, respectively. Mark Cavendish (GBR) of Team Columbia-Highroad, one of the most well-known sprinters in the world, took fifth in the stage. All of the riders that were in the top of the overall classification were in the group for the bunch sprint at the finish of the stage.
Three jerseys remained unchanged after Stage 3, including Leipheimer in the Amgen Leader Jersey, Mancebo in the Herbalife Sprint Jersey and Gesink in the Rabobank Best Young Rider Jersey. Amgen’s Breakaway from Cancer™ Most Courageous Rider Jersey was awarded to White. Mollema took the California Travel & Tourism Commission King of the Mountain (KOM) Jersey.
“Like the level of competition, the crowds here at the Amgen Tour of California continue to increase and get better each day,” said Andrew Messick, president of AEG Sports. “With BMC’s Jeff Louder holding onto the lead for quite some time, and four of the top-five general classification leaders also being American, U.S. cycling has put on an incredible showing, which could certainly continue throughout the remainder of the race. What’s truly exciting is that with five days of competition still to come, no fewer than ten riders could win the race this Sunday in Escondido.”
Commenting further on his crash Leipheimer told Roadcycling.com that "Usually you can put your foot down and pull it out, but not today. I went down. It was actually one of those crashes that hurts really bad right away, but goes away, so I think that’s a good sign. With Chris (Horner) crashing, the gap got a lot bigger so we had to shut it down; without the crash, it would have been a lot easier. The circuit we very, very nerve racking. It’s the first time we’ve done that this year and now it’s back to racing. I forget how hectic it can be."
On riding with his new team and his new lead-out train, Hushovd told Roadcycling.com that “This is the first time I’ve been riding with these guys. I know that with these guys, we are one of the best lead-out teams in the world, and I think we showed that today. With these guys, I’m looking forward to the future and chances for another sprint.”