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Hello and welcome to today's live coverage of the Tour of California. Stage 4 will take racers from Santa Clarita to Santa Barbara over 83.6 miles / 134.6km. Stay tuned... the action starts at noon thirty local time.
Veteran Amgen Tour of California racers and fans may recognize this stage from past races, but they’ll be riding it in reverse. After the desert terrain of yesterday's stage 3, riders will welcome ocean breezes as they descend to the finish in coastal Santa Barbara.
The weather is perfectly gorgeous today. Think bright sunshine and comfortable California temperatures - there is no excessive heat which affected the earlier stages of this year's race. It's definitely a much nicer day for bike racing than the previous days.
Stage 4 will begin with Janier Alexis Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) in the yellow overall leader's jersey. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) wears the points jersey while Carter Jones (Bissell) wears the mountains jersey. Lawson Craddock (Bontrager) is the current best young rider.
In case you missed our Giro d'Italia coverage from earlier today, you can check it out here. It's hard to believe stage 11 is in the books. That puts us just over the half-way point of the Italian Grand Tour. Kinda of like we are approaching the half-way point of the Tour of California.
Today's stage begins with a neutral section. It's a short one - just 1.1 miles or 1.7km. The riders are starting at Theater Drive and Town Center. Once they turn onto Newhall Ranch Road, the action goes live.
Racers are officially underway. Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) gets things going with an attack. He is joined by Nathan Brown (Bontrager).
UnitedHealthcare chases down the break. When we spoke with riders before the start, most seemed to think today would be another day for the sprinters. If the usual formula holds, that means a break is likely to get away fairly early, but the sprinters' teams will closely monitor any advantages in the hopes of collecting a stage win.
The field is all together at the moment but attacks are going off everywhere like local fireworks on the 4th of July. So far, they are all getting caught.
Ted King (Cannondale) told Cyclingnews' Pat Malach just prior to the start today. "On paper, this looks like another good one for Peter Sagan. But it's bike racing and anything can happen. We're G'ed up for another Peter Sagan day. Peter's an awesome team leader because you're working so hard for him throughout the day, but he instills an enormous amount of confidence."
There is a long line of traffic backed up for the race, and the racers are weaving in and out of cones that separate the race and traffic.
Amongst the big news today is that Vacansoleil will stop its team sponsorship at the end of this year. That's got to be a bit of a distraction for the team's riders as they are trying to focus on the race. However, Lieuwe Westra, who won the opening California stage, said prior to the start today, "I hope the team goes forward next year, and I think there's a big chance." He said that all he can do is focus on racing and getting results.
At the moment, the peloton is experiencing crosswinds, and the riders are using the stopped traffic for shelter.
Timothy Duggan (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) had a mechanical, but he is back with the field after getting the necessary attention.
The race is on a wide open four-lane road, but the far left lane is still open to traffic going through. However, some of the riders are getting "guttered" there. 8.6 miles into the race, the average speed thus far is 30mph.
It's a pleasant 78 degrees Fahrenheit just outside of Santa Clarita as Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell) goes on the attack. The Bissell riders never miss a chance to mix it up.
Pipp gets some company. There are three riders off the front together: Chad Beyer (Champion System), Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell) and Nathan Brown (Bontrager). Several chasers are trying to connect. They are just 10 seconds back.
The three chasers, looking likely to bridge up, are Christopher Baldwin (Bissell), Marsh Cooper (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) and James Stemper (5-hour Energy p/b Kenda).
The race started today without one its highest profile riders, world champ Philippe Gilbert (BMC). He made an earlier than expected departure to head home for the birth of his next child. We hope he gets there in time!
The three chasers were successful, giving us a lead group of six riders including Chad Beyer (Champion System), Christopher Baldwin (Bissell), Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell), Marsh Cooper (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), Nathan Brown (Bontrager), and James Stemper (5-hour Energy p/b Kenda).
Their chances look good for being our primary break of the day. The peloton decides it's time for a nature break, and the gap, now at 1:10, has grown fast.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is requesting service as the peloton passes through an agricultural area. Workers in an orange grove have stopped working and are taking a break to watch the racers go by.
The gap is up to 1:55, big enough that the media and the VIP cars are being invited to move up into the gap.
Today's stage features two sprints and two KOMs. First up will be a sprint at mile 33.4 (53.7km) in Santa Paula. As racers come into town, they will make a turn and get a big boost in the form of a tailwind.
Wesley Sulzberger (Orica-GreenEdge) dropped back from the peloton for some service, but is fully back in action with the others.
18 miles in, and the six leaders have a comfortable gap of 3:00. They're on a smaller road - two lanes instead of four as they pass another orange grove. It seems like mile after mile of orange groves whizzing by.
We mentioned earlier that Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) is in the points jersey as leader of that classification. His team's DS told us prior to today's stage that they have no intention of defending that jersey since there is no chance of keeping it with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) racing. "Westra can't compete against Sagan. It's more important to go for stage wins," he said.
At 20.5 miles into the race, the gap between the break and the peloton is 3:10. The race is going down a road where Optum had an early season team training camp to practice time trials. The scenery should look familiar to break rider Marsh Cooper (Optum).
That was a quick 35 seconds - that's the amount the break's riders just added to their advantage, for a total of 3:45.
Considering the gaps and who is in the break, Christopher Baldwin (Bissell) is the virtual leader on the road at the moment. He started the day at 3:19 down on the GC.
As broccoli replaces orange groves for scenery, the break speeds past the Amen Ranch. Perhaps they'll say a prayer in the hopes of staying off the front until the end?
Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman), who was in the break on stage 2, told Cyclingnews before today's stage that we shouldn't expect him to go off the front again. "My break days are over, it's all about protecting the yellow jersey," he said. Today plays perfectly into his team's strategy to work for race leader Janier Alexis Acevedo because it's likely a day for the sprinters, who will also want to keep the peloton together in the end.
Less than 10 miles to go until the first sprint of the day in Santa Paula. The top points will go to the break's riders, considering their size-able gap, currently at 4:00.
Chad Beyer (Champion System), who is in today's break, was also aggressive yesterday by being in that day's break.
Two riders have crashed while in the peloton: Cesare Benedetti and David De La Cruz Melgarejo (both NetApp-Endura). The dust devil may have gotten them.
Cesare Benedetti (NetApp-Endura) gets a bike change following his crash. Both riders seem ok and are back up and going.
The leaders hit the 50km mark in today's stage. That means just another 3.7km to go until the first intermediate sprint in Santa Paula.
The break is speeding into Santa Paula. Their gap has shrunk just a bit - to 3:45 - as they near the first sprint.
Results of the first sprint are as follows: 1. James Stemper (5-hour Energy p/b Kenda), 2. Chad Beyer (Champion System), 3. Christopher Baldwin (Bissell)
The next significant milestone in today's stage will be the first KOM of the day. It is a Category 4 climb on CA route 150 at 42 miles or 67.5km into the stage.
Brent Bookwalter (BMC) gets a front wheel change and is back in action as the gap between the leaders and the peloton stays fairly stable, currently at 3:40.
James Stemper (5hr Energy) and Marsh Cooper (Optum) were also in the break of the day on stage 1. Assuming these guys stay away for a while, the KOM battle may be interesting. Stemper started the day second on KOM classification, nine points down on Carter Jones (Bissell). there's 10 points up for grabs (four for winning Cat. 4, six for Cat. 3), so Stemper has a chance to take over the KOM if he wins them both. Bissell's Chris Baldwin and Frank Pipp will likely try to stop that from happening. Also, Chad Beyer and Marsh Cooper also have a decent amount of KOM points, too, and may try to move up the ranking.
The leaders are soon to pass by Thomas Aquinas College, a four-year college in Santa Paula.
The gap is down to 3:30, which means Chris Baldwin is still the virtual leader, but not by much. Back at the head of the peloton, there is an assortment of teams represented at the front.
Jon Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff) wasn't going to start today's stage because he had a bad crash on stage 2. He got lots of road rash. This morning, he was rolling around the parking lot and decided he just didn't really want to drop out. They were trying to get him an early flight home from Los Angeles, and they were having a hard time, so Cantwell tried to ride around the parking lot. He figured if he could do that, he could race today and maybe even sprint.
Just a bit over 4km to go until the first KOM. The overall race situation is stable at the moment, with the break's riders working together and the sprinters' teams keeping it all under control back in the peloton.
Back in the peloton, riders are passing around some bottles. It's not nearly as hot as it was earlier in the Tour of California, but it's still important to stay hydrated, especially in such bright and sunny conditions.
The break was working well together, but now they are attacking each other.
Chris Baldwin (Bissell) attacked in an effort to get the points and keep his teammate, Carter Jones, who is back in the peloton, in the mountains jersey.
Marsh Cooper (Optum) was the only rider to really try to follow Baldwin. Looks like Bissell was successful in keeping the mountains jersey in the team for another day.
Top points for the first KOM went to Chris Baldwin while Marsh Cooper got the second place points. After the KOM, Baldwin sits up and waits as the break re-unites.
KOM #1 official results are 1) Christopher Baldwin (Bissell), 2) Marsh Cooper (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies), 3) Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell), 4) James Stemper (5-hour Energy p/b Kenda)
The peloton rolls over the KOM, 3:00 behind the six leaders.
After the KOM, racers will speed down a technical, twisty descent of Dennison Grade. That takes them into Ojai, where the second and final intermediate sprint of the day happens. The sprint comes at 49.9 miles or 80.2km into the stage.
The break will soon turn onto Baldwin Road - after the sprint in Ojai. That seems especially appropriate for break rider Christopher Baldwin (Bissell).
The peloton is going through the feed zone - taking on both food and water.
The gap is slowly and steadily coming down. It's at 2:45 with just over 60km to go.
With just over 5km to go until the sprint, racers don't have much time to digest whatever they picked up in the feed zone.
The six break riders are using the entire road as they fly downhill - from the left shoulder to the right shoulder and back and forth. It's a high speed, sweeping kind of descent.
The peloton gets its turn on the descent. The riders are all strung out and speeding downhill. Sprint favorite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is in the bunch, no doubt trying to stay out of any trouble on the descent.
The break didn't compete for the first sprint of the day. It will be interesting to see if they care about this second sprint. About 1km to go until the sprint.
Fans in Ojai have come out to watch the break race past. The six men are all rotating through, taking even turns thus far.
Chris Baldwin (Bissell) takes the top sprint points and a small, three-second time bonus.
Intermediate sprint #2 results are 1) Christopher Baldwin (Bissell); 2) Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell); and Chad Beyer (Champion System). They picked up 5, 3 and 1 points respectively.
With all the intermediate sprints done for today, what comes next is the second and final KOM of the day. It's Casitas Pass, a Cat. 3 climb, at 21.5 miles to go / 34.6km to go.
Yellow jersey wearer Janier Alexis Acevedo Colle (Jamis-Hagens Berman) is hanging out safely in the peloton. So far, it's looking good for him to keep the jersey for another day.
With 53.9 miles ridden, today's average speed so far is 24.9mph. It will likely get even quicker as they get closer to the finish.
With 48km to go, the break's gap is 2:20. It's still slowly coming down.
A Cannondale rider sits at the front of the peloton with 45km to go. He and the rest of the peloton are 2:00 behind the break.
Optum sprinter Ken Hanson is one of the sprinters who will be looking for his chances at a stage win today. Optum DS Jonas Carney of Optum told Cyclingnews yesterday that sprinter Ken Hanson was not feeling well, so he led out Alex Candelario, who finished seventh. Hanson said that he did not fully recover from stage 2, but he hopes to have it back together for today.
The race is still rolling through a generally rural area as it heads toward the finish. The peloton is mostly taking up the left lane of the road as it powers along.
We've spotted some Orica-GreenEdge riders, who abandoned on a previous stage, out riding on the route well ahead of the break. Perhaps they are heading toward the finish to see how their teammates do?
The riders pass by Lake Casitas on their way to the KOM. It's a man-made, dammed lake, which stores water, much of which is used locally for agricultural purposes.
The gap is down to 1:35 with 38.5km to go. Approximately 4km until the KOM.
The peloton is spread all across the road, about 1km behind the break.
The break speeds past a cheering fan dressed as Santa Claus.
As the break approaches the final KOM, they've already climbed 8,240 feet today.
The break riders are out of the saddle, and Frank Pipp (Bissell) makes a move as he aims to scoop up more points to protect his teammate's lead in the classification.
Correction: That was Nathan Brown (Bontrager), not Frank Pipp (Bissell) make the move.
Nathan Brown rides past a running fan dressed as the pope, plus some others in unidentifiable costumes.
Nathan Brown (Bontrager) scooped up the first place KOM points.
Brown keeps going over the summit and the break is ... well... (pun intended) broken up.
The 21-year-old Nathan Brown gave it a good effort, but it wasn't enough, and the six-man break is re-united.
Top 3 over the final KOM of the day are officially: 1) Nathan Brown (Bontrager), 2) Christopher Baldwin (Bissell), 3) Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell)
There are a few other minor climbs en route to the finish, but none are categorized or otherwise called out on the race profile. By day four of racing, the climbs, even if small, will still hurt the legs late in the stage.
The break's gap is down under 1:00 with 30km to go. It's at 55 seconds.
Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell) can't hang with the rest of the break rider's and is likely to be caught soon by the peloton.
Ted King (Cannondale) is driving the pace in the peloton; he's got everyone all strung out behind him as he assumes the aero position.
It's just a matter of time now until the catch is made with the gap down to 35 seconds at 27.7km to go.
Frank Pipp (Bissell) manages to catch back up to the rest of the break's riders.
The racers are heading toward the town of Carpenteria, a sleepy little agricultural town with lots of nurseries. It's a comfy 66 degrees.
Even though it's not that hot out today, race officials have again extended the allowed zone for feeding on the fly up until 15km to go.
RadioShack sends a large contingent to the front of the peloton and they up the pace, trying to take advantage of the winds to perhaps split the peloton.
Jake Keough (UHC) knows it will difficult for his squad to take the stage win today. He told Cyclingnews before the start this morning, "It will take teamwork to beat Peter Sagan. He is super strong, but the more we work together and utilize our strengths in that last kilometer, that could make the difference. The next couple of days are not straightforward sprint stages. They are selective sprints, but we made it yesterday, and it was good to be there." Keogh was 11th at the end of stage 3.
The gap is coming down fast with just 15 seconds separating the break and the peloton with 20km to go.
James Stemper (5-hour Energy p/b Kenda) sees the writing on the wall and makes a last ditch effort to attack off the front of the break.
The break is all split up in three pairs of two.
Marsh Cooper (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Nathan Brown (Bontrager) are together at the front. James Stemper (5-hour Energy p/b Kenda) and Frank Kevin Pipp (Bissell) follow.
Nathan Brown slightly distances Marsh Cooper. Brown is an excellent time triallist, but the sprinters probably won't want to let him go.
At the moment, we've got Nathan Brown leading, solo, followed by three riders: James Stemper, Frank Pipp and Marsh Cooper. All four riders are members of the stage-long break.
Nathan Brown has made a bold move and is on the way to doing what may be the biggest time trial of his young career. He's hoping to hang on to the finish for a stage win. We'll see if 40 seconds is enough.
The peloton is taking it pretty chill at the moment. No one team is driving the pace and they are spread wide across the road.
Nathan Brown (Bontrager) is far enough down the GC that he poses no threat to the GC. He's just hungry for stage success.
Crowd favorite Jens Voigt (RadioShack) takes advantage of a small hill to launch off the front of the peloton.
Jens Voigt bridges up to James Stemper's wheel.
Jens Voigt has taken Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) along with him.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) saw danger in Voigt's move and jumps up to him, bringing along the rest of the peloton.
The surging over that hill has brought everyone back together, including the last lone survivor of the break, Nathan Brown.
It's 68 degrees at the finish line in Santa Barbara. The finish straight is beautifully situated, along the coast.
José Joao Pimenta Costa Mendes (Team NetApp-Endura) tries a move.
It's mostly downhill as they fly toward the finish.
Everyone is all strung out as Mendes is caught.
But NetApp says it's not finished yet and sends another rider off the front in an attempt to foil the sprinters. However, he, too, is caught. The peloton is back together.
The peloton sits up a bit as the sprint trains start to form. Everyone's getting grouped up, and all eyes are on Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
The average speed for today's stage is 25mph.
A Cannondale rider leads an Omega Pharma QuickStep rider. Behind them is a small army of Garmin-Sharp riders, who are racing for Tyler Farrar.
Vacansoleil-DCM riders take a turn at the front with 5km to go, then Garmin-Sharp moves up with David Zabriskie on the front of the train.
Peter Sagan's Cannondale train lines up behind Garmin-Sharp.
The peloton is strung out single-file, with just a few minutes of racing left to go.
It's still Garmin-Sharp train at the front, ahead of Cannondale. The peloton splits around a round-a-bout and comes back together.
Matt Brammeier (Champion System Pro Cycling Team) launches an attack and gets off the front.
Brammeier is losing steam.
They're back together and elbows are flying.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is a few riders back.
Peter Sagan is too far back and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) takes the stage victory.
Farrar has just enough time to lift both arms and celebrate. Garmin-Sharp will be extra elated today after also winning the day's Giro d'Italia stage.
Ken Hanson (Optum) took second, ahead of Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma Quick Step). Peter Sagan (Cannondale) ended up fifth.
Janier Alexis Acevedo Colle (Jamis-Hagens Berman) succeeds in keeping the leader's jersey for another day. He leads the GC ahead of Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare).
That wraps up our stage 4 live coverage from the Tour of California. Thanks for joining us.
You can join us again tomorrow for stage 5 from Santa Barbara to Avila Beach. Racers will cover 186km, and Cyclingnews' coverage will begin around the time of the stage start, at 11:00 am local time.