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More powerful rain storms dogged the riders on stage 3 from San Jose to Modesto. The riders are pros and they don't complain, but they are clearly hoping for sunny skies and the pleasantries are wearing a bit thin.  At the line it was Norwegian Thor Hushovd who won the stage for Gerard Vroomen's and Phil White's Cervelo Test Team. I spent a lot of time at the starting line talking with the riders and trying to find out how they are holding up.


With Jonathan Vaughters in Europe attending to his new duties as president of the professional rider's union, directorship of the Garmin-Slipstream team is being shared by former Discovery Channel pros Matt White and Chann McRae.  I talked with Chann about the outstanding win by team member Thomas Peterson on yesterday's stage to Santa Cruz.


"The game plan was to get him (Tom Peterson) and Steven Cozza or Trent Lowe into the breakaway and they did that.  Once they established the break the plan was to have Steven Cozza do most of the work with the other guys in the breakaway and have Peterson ride the last climb fairly fresh.  We know that he (Peterson) is climbing well, he tested really well in the testing we did before we came out here and he backed it up.  I told him there were two races, one was to be the first to the top of the climb, the second was for the finish line and he did both of those."


Stage winner Thomas Peterson gave his account of the win. "It (the plan) was perfect. I had already pre-ridden the course so I knew what to expect. I also knew that I could probably hold his wheel. It was a perfect situation."  When asked about  not sharing the pacemaking with Levi, Peterson explained, " He tried to wave me through a couple of times, but he knew I couldn't pull because Zabriskie and Danielson were back there."


Lance Armstrong is in fourth place overall, but he is riding this race in support of his teammate Levi.  I asked him if he felt the team could defend the jersey. "We've got a good team. You are never totally sure, there are other strong guys in the race.  The boys are strong. He's(Levi) motivated and he's obviously riding really well."  When I asked him about how his comeback was progressing, he replied, "Not bad for an old man."


Floyd Landis has had his comeback derailed a bit by some bad luck, flatting out of the lead chase group on stage 1 into Santa Rosa, but he has been soldering on.  I asked him how the weather was affecting his comeback and how he was holding up with all the rain. "The weather could be better, but the bike race is the same for everybody. Bike races are determined by training, strategy and sometimes luck.  I think everyone would be much more pleasant if it was sunny but, we'll get through it."


Tyler Hamilton's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few months ago. His pre-season training has suffered as he returned to Boston to help her through her cancer treatments.  Tyler reflected on his role with the team at the AToC. "I have no problem being in the support role. For me it is all about the team whether it is me up in front or Oscar Sevilla or Paco Mancebo it is all the same. Yesterday, I rode in the front all the way to the base of the last climb. For me that was a lot of fun.  It is something different, but to be honest, I stayed warm, probably a lot warmer than the rest of the guys."


With all the highly publicized troubles the team has endured in the pre-season, a lot of people have written off Michael Ball's squad.  Tyler summarized how the AToC has been going for Rock Racing. "We won a stage. We did a lot of work yesterday in defense of Paco's jersey. Unfortunately, he was still pretty beat up from the day before.  But, we did our best and obviously Paco did his best so we will take it day by day now.  Sevilla is looking very strong.  He is our GC guy."


After an off day yesterday, Rock Racing's Francisco Mancebo looked in better spirits sporting the AToC Sprint Leader's jersey and several other accessories.  I asked him how he was feeling.  "Last night I tried to get as much rest as possible.  We will see today if my strength has returned."


Tom Boonen, who won a stage in the AToC last year, has been absent from the front, even on the flatter stages. I asked him why he was hanging back and it was clear that the best Classics rider over the past four years has the legendary spring races on his mind and is holding back on contesting the sprints.  "Yeah, but I don't like to do it(sprinting) in the rain.  I was hoping that today was going to be a little bit better.  I am trying to avoid the risks of crashing."


When reminded that the California weather was much like that found in Belgium, he jokingly replied "In Belgium it is 50F and good weather right now.  The next time somebody says 'I hate to come to Belgium' They're going to mean California"




Race Notes:


The weather report looks good for at least the next four days with rain nowhere in sight.  It is also warming up.


The riders on the Ouch Medical Team are a true class act. Yesterday, as the racers came across the line I first asked Tim Johnson, then Rory Sutherland, for a quick interview.  Both begged off citing the cold weather and the need to get to the team bus to warm up after five hours in the rain.  This morning at the stage start both came up to me and apologized for not being able to give me an interview.  True class.


The race organizers are concerned that, at 5200', the top of the Palomar Mountain climb might be in snow if the rain returns.  They have an alternate route which eliminates the final seven miles of the Palomar climb by heading straight (south) on Highway 76 and doing a loop around Mesa Grande before returning to the original race route at the bottom of East Grade Road on Palomar Mountain.  Mesa Grande is still a bit high at 3200', but should be snow-free.


Non-Race Notes


Rob Jensen, owner of the Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, hosted the Versus team, Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen, Craig Hummer, producers John Carter and Mike Long and me for a special wine tasting and dinner after the stage into Santa Cruz. It was a great time for everyone to sample some tasty wines and relax after some hard days in the saddle(so to speak).  Thanks Rob (and his wife Diana).

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The rain continued to fall on the second road stage of the Amgen Tour of California(AToC), but that didn't deter the 135 riders from taking to some of the prettiest roads in Northern California. Bicycles crossed the main road of the Golden Gate Bridge for only the second time in history (the first time was in the first Tour of California in 1971) then headed south along Highway 1 toward Santa Cruz.  By the first of the day's two major climbs a group of ten riders had broken away from the pack and established a three-minute lead. At the head of affairs was Bissell Pro Cycling rider Ben Jacques-Maynes who went to college near the finish at UC Santa Cruz and knows the roads of the race route like the back of his hand.


Yesterday, I asked Ben if he thought the big boys would be firing on the last climb of the day, Bonny Doon Road.  "I am not going to wait around to try to get to the line with them . So we will see what happens." True to his word, he seemed to be the leader of the breakaway, bringing his group to the base of Bonny Doon Road with their three-minute lead intact. But, Team Astana, who is clearly the strongest squad in the race took charge launching Levi Leipheimer in pursuit of the escapees. The two-time overall race winner rocketed passed all the early leaders like he was on a motorbike and only Garmin-Slipstream rider Thomas Peterson could gain his wheel.


Leipheimer and Peterson kept their advantage all the way to the finish line where Peterson took the win and Levi gained 31 seconds over his rivals throwing a Tiger Woods fist pump in the air as he crossed the finish line.  I asked Levi if his attack was motivated by the time he lost on yesterday's stage into Santa Rosa. "It was payback for what Mancebo did to us yesterday," replied Leipheimer


Michael Rogers of Team Columbia-High Road finished third on the day. The three-time World Time Trial champion led the chase to catch Levi.  "We had to.  We were just trying to limit our losses to Levi." The team's hard work paid off as Rogers moved into second place overall, only 21 seconds behind Leipheimer.


The day's big loser was overnight race leader Fancisco Mancebo who finished 1'52" behind Leipheimer and dropped to 16th overall. I asked him what happened to him on the stage.  "I am dead, dead, dead.  I went very hard yesterday. Today I was tired and not able to go hard."


Even though Ben Jacques-Maynes didn't win the stage, he was awarded the Amgen Breakaway from Cancer Most Courageous Rider's Jersey for his day's efforts.  He recounted how it all unfolded. "We wanted to animate the race and my move was the one that went.  Andy was in a move and Frank was in a move before that.  I had the luck of the draw. I was cramping a bit by that point.  It was just so cold and wet.  The cold just takes it out of your legs so when it is time to push hard it is very difficult."


Race Notes


Lance Armstrong got knocked down on Highway 1 by a photo motorcycle driven by his personal photographer. He was unhurt and got back into the peloton without incident.


Ben Jacques-Maynes brother Andy crashed and was taken to hospital.  Ben knew his brother had crashed and was in the ambulance when it passed his breakaway heading to the hospital, but there was nothing he could do about it at that time.


With all the rain at both this year's and last year's race, there is some serious discussion about moving the race to the April dates vacated by the recently defunct Tour de Georgia.  Clearly, certain top-name pro riders would not be able to attend as it is the height of the one-day-classic season, but the weather should be better, in theory.


Lance Armstrong continues to impress.  He finished in the chase group behind Levi and is now in fourth place, only 30 seconds behind Leipheimer.


The weather for Tuesday still show rain, but Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday look dry.  Sunday might be a little wet, but the accuracy of the forecast models that far out is pretty poor.



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