MODESTO (February 17, 2009)
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 Test Team held on to take the stage win. Santa Rosa resident Levi Leipheimer (USA) of 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 101.4-mile 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 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 Rabobank, Brian Vandborg (DEN) of Liquigas, Jeffry Louder (USA) of BMC Racing Team and Bradley White (USA) of 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," commented Leipheimer. "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."
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."
As part of Amgen's effort to honor and celebrate cancer survivors everywhere and to raise awareness about its Breakaway from Cancer™ initiative, the Modesto finish featured a Breakaway Mile that inspired race spectators. Modesto tongue and neck cancer survivor Kenneth Chew participated in the one-mile honorary ride, and he was joined by the team of people who supported him during his battle, including his wife, daughter, mother, brother and friends, as well as Terry Rosen, Amgen vice president, Chemistry Research and Development, who plays a crucial role in developing innovative medicines to treat cancer and other serious illnesses.
Breakaway from Cancer nonprofit partners play leading roles in every aspect of cancer care to help people affected by the disease. The Modesto Breakaway Mile featured Prevent Cancer Foundation, whose mission is cancer prevention and early detection through research, education and community outreach to all populations, including children and the underserved.
"The Prevent Cancer Foundation applauds all of the inspirational men and women who have joined Breakaway from Cancer this week, to share their stories of strength and hope," said Carolyn R. Aldige, president and founder, Prevent Cancer Foundation. "In particular, we thank Kenny for his efforts to raise awareness about cancer. We hope that what he and others have shared will empower both men and women to talk to their health care providers about what they can do to reduce their risk for developing cancer through screening and making healthy lifestyle choices."
Amgen created the national Breakaway from Cancer™ initiative in 2005 as a complementary component to its sponsorship of the inaugural Amgen Tour of California. The Breakaway from Cancer initiative is designed to empower patients by connecting them to education, resources and hope.
For access to resources and details about Breakaway from Cancer activities during the race, visit www.breakawayfromcancer.com