By Mark Zalewski in Santa Rosa, California
Two-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer (Astana) had a tough ride into his hometown of Santa Rosa, compared to the previous three times the race has finished here. Firstly it was cold and raining. But more of a concern was the fact that Francisco Mancebo was up the road and the team had little information on his time gap. Eventually the team rallied enough to keep Mancebo's lead in check, should it hold into Friday's time trial.
"I think I can, I hope I can," Leipheimer said in relation to his chances for the overall after today. "Mancebo is obviously strong and a great rider. Hats off to him today. But we can be happy with the damage we corrected at the end there."
Leipheimer said that if they had more information, and earlier, that the chasing would probably have been different. "We would have had guys chasing before that climb in the middle and been a little more urgent about it. In the end he rode fantastic and hopefully we saved the day."
It was certainly all hands on deck for the Astana team, as Lance Armstrong was driving the train onto the finish circuits to pull the time back. "Lance was fantastic," said Leipheimer. "In the end it was a team time trial and he was pulling with the guys. He asked if he wanted to pull harder and I told him I needed him for the end. He was a great teammate."
The decision by the officials and race organisation to take the GC time on the first lap of the finishing circuit means that Leipheimer is now 1:07 down on Mancebo, along with seventeen other riders.
When asked how today's conditions compared to last year's epic stage into San Luis Obispo, he said. "Not that cold, and we had some intensity today, so that always helps!"