Tour of California Stage 3: Jens!

Robert Gesink Jens Voigt Levi Leipheimer

above: Levi Leipheimer, Jason McCartney, Jens Voigt, Robert Gesink, and Chris Horner go over the KOM line at the top of Sierra Road

Photo Gallery

Stage winner Jens VoigtJens Voigt beat Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner for the stage win after they managed to get over the top of Sierra Road first and hold off a chasing group with Paolo Bettini. Jens was the strongest sprinter and Levi was just trying to stay on Jens' wheel to remain in the overall lead. Levi owes a great debt to Jason McCartney, who was able to help bring Levi to the top of Sierra Road. McCartney had been a breakaway ahead of Levi but was able to stick with his leader when Levi caught up.

Levi called today's stage a "bike race" and it truly was. It first took shape with a large breakaway of 17 riders that included Jens Voigt and Jason McCartney. They got a huge gap over the peloton, but Discovery absolutely drilled it at the front to start bringing it back (with some help from Rabobank and Slipstream). Hincapie, Cruz, and Davis all put in their turns and by the time Sierra Road came, it was Basso's turn to lead the charge. Meanwhile, in the breakaway, Jason McCartney and Jens Voigt put the hammer down at the base of Sierra Road and were able to whittle the breakaway from 17 down to 4.

(Brief aside 1) I asked a rider at the top how Sierra Road compares to Alpe d'Huez: steeper, but shorter.

Then, the amazing bit, occurring all along Sierra Road's 15% grades: Basso was able to reel the breakaway within striking distance and Levi started to jump across the gap. Chris Horner and Rabobank's Gesink glued themselves to Levi's wheel, but it was all Levi. Up ahead Jason McCartney put in an attack and was able to drop everyone except Jens Voigt, and still, Levi continued to bridge up.

(Brief aside 2) Last year, it was Bernhard Kohl and Leipheimer leading the charge over the top. Discovery Channel chased with Barry, McCartney, and Hincapie -- Horner and Julich were tucked in as well. Barry and McCartney were able to pull it all together and Hincapie took the final sprint (photo, more)

With Levi closing in, Jason McCartney switched into domestique mode and began to pull himself further inside out to lead the front group to the top of the climb. As they reached the top it was Levi over first, followed by McCartney, Voigt, Gesink, and Horner all in a tight bunch riding as if there were no hill.

Further back, Paolo Bettini was showing that I shouldn't have been calling out his poor showings in the first three stages. Bettini led the effort to chase down Leipheimer's group and crossed the KOM point twenty seconds back (along with Bobby Julich and Mick Rogers).

Bobby Julich Basso and Cancellara

Levi drove the descent initially, but then McCartney and Horner started to help push the gap over the chase group of Bettini/Rogers/Julich. Jens Voigt, tired from driving the breakaway earlier in the day as McCartney sat on, smartly sat on during the descent.

(Brief aside 3): The course to the finish line is a long, wide, and straight shot into downtown San Jose. Conventional wisdom from last year was that it is too difficult for a breakaway to hold off chasers from Sierra Road all the way to the finish

Jens Voigt attacked and sloughed off Gesink and McCartney. Quick Step and T-Mobile continued to lead the chase. By the time the lead group approached the final turn to the finish line, the large chase group had them in sight.

It didn't matter: Jens Voigt came through the final turn first and simply road Leipheimer and Horner off his wheel. Levi wanted Chris Horner to get the stage win after Horner helped them stay away, but it's hard not to like a win by Jens Voigt. Everyone loves Jens Voigt, fan and cyclist alike -- there's just something about a masochistically aggressive rider that you appreciate.

The win moved Voigt to within three seconds of the lead, which means that Leipheimer will have his work out for him in the Solvang time trial. Levi will also have CSC's Bobby Julich to worry about.

Levi Leipheimer

Other notes: * Slipstream's Tom Peterson didn't have to impersonate Taylor Tolleson on the podium today: this time the best young rider's jersey was his to keep * Lance Armstrong was with the race today. The only photos I got were of his back as he ran away from fans.

kwc Stage 3 Photo Gallery (top of Sierra, podium)

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related articles: Tour of California 2007
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