Peter Sagan (SVK) of team Liquigas-Cannondale came from behind to edge out Heinrich Haussler (AUS) of Garmin-Barracuda and Tom Boonen (BEL) of Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
The race began this morning in sunny San Jose, the only city that has participated in all seven races. A large group of Slovakians came with their flag to greet and have pictures with their countryman, Peter Sagan.
The peleton had a neutral start to get out of the city. Twenty eight miles later, with sprint points awarded downtown, the peleton entered Livermore.
The riders then took an 87 mile route north. Jeremy Vennell (Bissell Pro Cycling) and Michael Creed (Optum Presented By Kelly Benefit Strategies) attacked first. Creed fell back and Sebastian Salas (Optum Presented By Kelly Benefit Strategies), Jason McCartney (Unitedhealthcare p/b Maxxis), and Wilson Torres (Colombia – Coldeportes) joined Jeremy Vennell in the breakaway group, creating a one minute gap. As the race reached Fenestra Winery the four riders widened the gap to four minutes and 25 seconds.
Once the feedzone was over, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) picked up the pace at the front of the main group of riders. As the 43 mile marker approached, the breakaway gap increased to eight minutes and the ascent of Mount Diablo began. There were huge crowds on the upper slopes to greet the riders as they averaged 13 mph up the grade.
Sebastian Salas (Optum Presented By Kelly Benefit Strategies) made it up the mountain first taking the KOM points. While the main field was stretched out, Salas began a screaming descent. The big teams had to step up and put the hammer down.
At the 44 mile mark, team Liquigas-Cannondale controlled the peleton and narrowed the gap to six minutes and 20 seconds. Levi Leipheimer was at the front of the main group chatting with his teammates.
Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep took over the pace, keeping Tom Boonen in striking distance.
Jeremy Vennell maintained his aggressive riding, again extending the gap while Frantisek Rabon (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) drove a grueling pace for the peleton. There were stunning pictures of wind turbines lining the tops of the hills while the breakaway group’s gap was narrowed to two minutes and 35 seconds.
As Patterson Pass approached the breakaway group was looking shaky and the gap narrowed to 40 seconds. Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep did all of the work, including pulling Peter Sagan along.
Patterson Pass is a category 3 climb with a 4 ½% grade. Riders reach the summit after covering 105 miles. It didn’t discourage the sprinters. The timing couldn’t have been better.
The Garmin-Barracuda team made a move in support of Heinrich Haussler. They worked with the wind. It whipped through the heart of the peleton, splitting the main group of riders. The acceleration of team Garmin-Barracuda put pressure on the back of the peleton.
Fabio Duarte (Columbia-Coldeportes) and Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) made a break. Duarte is a strong climber and he took the initiative. Roche tried to challenge for KOM points, but Duarte crossed first.
As they made the descent, the lead switched between Liquigas-Cannondale and team Omega Pharma-Quickstep. Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep wanted to keep Tom Boonen close to the front. There was not a lot of organization and at the 10 kilometer marker Rabobank joined the front of the peleton.
With seven minutes to go, speeds approached 31 mph. Although Liquigas-Cannondale set the tempo, Hienrich Hauseller was right beside them.
Josh Atkins (Bontrager Livestrong Team – Best Young Rider) dashed to the front and caught all of the sprinters off guard. Chris Horner scrambled to the front in order to keep his position.
AG2R La Mondiale took over the pace for a moment hoping to position Maxime Bouet. But Rabobank, desperate for a win, rushed to the front to retake the pace for Michael Matthews.
The final sprint appeared to be between Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). But Peter Sagan edged them out for his third consecutive stage win.