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Tour of California 2012: Stage 4

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Today's stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California is taking racers over 130.2 miles (209.6km) from Sonora to Clovis.

Hello and welcome to today's live coverage from the Amgen Tour of California.  We're expecting them to get underway about 10:35 am local time.

It's warm and sunny in Sonora and there is a surprisingly large crowd out and about to watch the start, especially for a weekday morning.  The town's marching band has just played some tunes to add to the already festive atmosphere.

There is a short, neutral roll-out section of about 2 miles or 3.2km, and then the stage will be officially underway and open for action.

Riders have just rolled out for the neutral section.  Looks like cowboy country around here.

Today's stage looks like a tough one on paper.  In addition to being the longest stage of this year's race, it also features six KOMs and two sprints.

The peloton just passed an old time railroad steam engine waiting on the tracks outside of Sonora.

The first of KOMs will come today at mile 20.4 (32.8km).  It is a cat. 4 climb on California Route 49.  Something to get the legs going early on.

Sébastian Salas (Optum) leads the mountains classification after he took over yesterday from David Boily (Spidertech). Salas spent plenty of time in the break scooping up points. Before the start today, he said, "I'm expecting a battle today. I'm not surprised Boily said that the war is on for today. The team is behind my mountains jersey fight 100 percent."

Sébastian Salas (Optum) leads the mountains classification after he took over yesterday from David Boily (Spidertech). Salas spent plenty of time in the break scooping up points. Before the start today, he said, "I'm expecting a battle today. I'm not surprised Boily said that the war is on for today. The team is behind my mountains jersey fight 100 percent."

In the main classification, it's pretty much been the Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) show thus far.  The Slovakian rider has won three out of three stages, each one in a sprint.

Here's a run down on the General classification as of the beginning of today's stage:
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 14:34:54
2 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin - Barracuda 0:00:12
3 Jeffry Louder (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team 0:00:24
4 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Team Exergy 0:00:26
5 Ben Jacques-Maynes (USA) Bissell Cycling
6 Marc De Maar (AHo) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team 0:00:27
7 Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:29
8 Josh Atkins (NZl) Bontrager Livestrong Team
9 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:30
10 Lawson Craddock (USA) Bontrager Livestrong Team

196km remaining from 209km

Much of the beginning of this stage is downhill, and the peloton is rolling it at 43mph.  There have been attacks, but so far, nothing is sticking.

You'll never guess who is leading the sprint classification?  Yes, it's Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).  He's got 45 points to Heinrich Haussler's 36 and Leigh Howard's 22.  Today, racers have two intermediate sprints, one in Mariposa and one in Oakhurst.  The first one comes at mile 51.4 (82.7km) and the second is at mile 78.3 (126.0km)

As the peloton leaves Sonora behind, it will remain firmly planted in the memory of one of the riders.  Michael Creed (Optum/Kelly Benefits) did his first ever bike race as a junior 21 years ago in Sonora. His 81-year-old Grandmother lives in Sonora and will be out on one of the KOMs cheering him on today. Creed knows this area very well, having spent a lot of time training locally. His Grandmother is probably the only person in Sonora who got a ticket for motor pacing her grandson with her car... about six years ago.

185km remaining from 209km

According to race organizers, as of mile 15, the average speed is 23mph (37kph).

Robert Ferrari (Androni Giacattoli-Venezuela) took the win at the end of today's stage 11 of the Giro d'Italia.  Check out our full Cyclingnews coverage: http://www.cyclingnews.com/giro-ditalia/stage-11/results.

It's crazy to think of the peloton in the Giro racing 12 days straight in between the first and second rest days this year.  The entire Tour of California is only 8 days long.

We've got our first real break of the day with three racers, who have 15 seconds on the peloton: Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Yannick Eijssen (BMC Racing Team) and Bradley White (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team).  The break and the peloton are climbing up to the first KOM of the day.

On this first climb, race leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) has been dropped by the peloton.  At last word, he was trailing by about 10 seconds.

The break has been caught.

176km remaining from 209km

Sebastian Salas takes the first KOM at mile 20.4 by attacking off the front of the peloton and sweeping up maximum points.  Here are the results: 

1) Sebastian Salas (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies)
2) Bram Tankink (Rabobank Cycling Team)
3) Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)
4) Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Cycling)
 

What's up next is the second KOM.  This one is a category 2 climb, and it will come at 38.8 miles (62.4 km).  It's kind of up and down between now and then with one big descent and then a substantial climb up to the KOM line.

We found out at the start that it's Morgan Schmitt's mom's birthday today.  Perhaps the Team Exergy racer will try to give his mom a birthday present in the form of a good race today?

Garmin-Barracuda team director Geert Van Bondt talked to Cyclingews at the start today. Here's what he had to say about today's stage. "It's a 200+km race with a hard beginning, but there is plenty of time for it to come back together before the end. I'm giving it a 70-80 percent chance of bunch sprint finish. Our team will save its strength for the last two mountain stages of this race. If Heinrich Haussler wants to win today, he has to survive the climbs. He's been struggling every day, but getting closer. He's also getting closer to Peter Sagan in the sprints each day. He was off by just a couple of inches yesterday. Obviously, if it comes down to a sprint today and he's there, Haussler is our guy."

The peloton is on California Highway 49 for about half of today's stage.  It was named for the famous 1849 gold rush which changed the history of this area.

165km remaining from 209km

11 riders are in a break with an advantage of 1:20.

The break's gap has grown to 2:40.  We'll get you all the names shortly.

The break includes Markel Irizar Aranburu (RadioShack-Nissan), Benjamin King (RadioShack-Nissan), Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Yannick Eijssen (BMC Racing Team), Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank Cycling Team), Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda), Timothy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Wesley Sulzberger (Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team), Mikael Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale), Darwin Atapuma Hurtado (Colombia-Coldeportes) and Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia-Coldeportes)
 

The break's gap is up to four minutes.

It's interesting to see that Tim Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale) is in the break. He was on the front yesterday for the last 50km and told Cyclingnews before the start today, "When you have some like Peter Sagan whom you know that you can deliver, you can go above and beyond what you can normally do. Today is a really hot hard and long day. Since the team won three stages already, we're not going to be doing all the work today. We'll see who else wants to work today and win a stage. We might try to put someone into the breakaway." Looks like he's gone and put himself in the breakaway.

152km remaining from 209km

5km to go until KOM #2.

151km remaining from 209km

The 11 men in the break have a gap of 5:25.

1km to go until the top of the second KOM.

We're still waiting on results for the second KOM.  Communication is pretty tough today with all this up and down terrain.

We mentioned earlier today that Sebastian Salas (Optum) was committed to defending his KOM lead.  Previous mountain classification leader David Boily said he wasn't ready to give up and play dead yet either in this recent article: http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/boily-ready-to-fight-to-regain-kom-lead-at-amgen-tour-of-california. Of course, neither one of them is in the break.

The most recent time gap for our 11-man break is 5:00.

147km remaining from 209km

Second KOM results are as follows: Darwin 1) Atapuma Hurtado (Colombia-Coldeportes); 2) Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda); 3) Benjamin King (RadioShack-Nissan); 4) Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia-Coldeportes); 5) Mikael Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale)

The next major milestone in today's stage is the first intermediate sprint of the day in Mariposa.  It comes 51.4 miles (82.7km) into the stage.

134km remaining from 209km

But first, it's time for some lunch and a beverage.  The leaders are passing through the feed zone.  On a scorching day like today, the fluids are just as important as the food. It's 86 degrees Fahrenheit at the moment - the kind of weather you really feel on a day like this with so much climbing.

Javier Gonzalez Barrera (Colombia-Coldeportes) withdraws from the race.  He's the first abandon we've heard of today so far.

The field makes its way through the feedzone and four more riders abandon.  The heat and the climbing must be taking their toll.

127km remaining from 209km

The break enters Mariposa.  The gap has dropped some... it's now 3:40.  The leaders pass the 1km to go until the intermediate sprint marker.

The folks in Mariposa are out in full force to cheer on the racers as they pass.

The race is moving along pretty well today. Organizers provided time splits for 20, 22, 24 and 28 mph paces.  At present, the leaders are two minutes ahead of the 24 mph pace.

126km remaining from 209km

The break riders sweep up the sprint points in Mariposa. Sprint #1 results are as follows: 1) Markel Irizar Aranburu (RadioShack-Nissan); 2) Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda); 3) Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank Cycling Team)
 

In case you've been wondering about race leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), he is back in the peloton after having been dropped slightly on one of the earlier climbs.  Sagan is one of the remarkable young sprinters who also does a good job of making it up and over climbs.

Two more riders are confirmed as abandoning: Sam Johnson (Team Exergy) and Ken Hanson (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies).

 

Next up, the racers have three almost back-to-back KOMs.  KOM #3, a Category 4 ascent comes at 55.3 miles (89.0km). KOM #4, also a Category 4 ascent, follows at 61.2 mile (98.4km), and KOM #5, a bit tougher Category 3, comes at 68.7 miles (110.5km).  For all three of these, the course is still following California Highway 49.  By the time they finish KOM #5, they'll still only be a little over halfway done with today's stage.

Yannick Eijssen (BMC) was in both the super short-lived first break of three men earlier today and is also in this longer 11-man break. The Belgian, a second-year pro, is racing his second Tour of California. His best result this year so far was being on the winning team time trial squad at the Giro del Trentino (stage 1). He also helped Cadel Evans win the Criterium International last season. Some of you might remember his from his day-long appearance in a breakaway at the Tour of Austria - also last year.

120km remaining from 209km

The gap between the break and the peloton has been dropping for awhile.  Now it's down to 2:40 at the third KOM.

Carlos Julian Quintero keeps alive the Colombians' reputation for being excellent climbers. Results from KOM #3 are as follows: 1) Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia-Coldeportes); 2) Yannick Eijssen (BMC Racing Team); 3) Wesley Sulzberger (Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team); 4) Benjamin King (RadioShack-Nissan)
 

We think we might know why Tim Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale) is so motivated today to be back off the front and in the break. Apparently after yesterday's stage, Cyclingnews editor Laura Weislo promised him that she would bring him burritos at the finish today. Being off the front will get him there that much sooner!

111km remaining from 209km

KOM #4 results are in and they are as follows: 1) Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank Cycling Team); 2) Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda); 3) Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia-Coldeportes); 4) Wesley Sulzberger (Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team)
 

Two more riders have abandoned: Michael Friedman (Team Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Carlos Eduardo Alzate Escobar (Team Exergy).
 

It's tough out there today.  AG2R riders are trying to beat the heat by taking on ice packs.

The peloton is flying downhill at 53 mph in between KOMs #4 and #5.  All that wind racing by should help cool them off some.

Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia-Coldeportes) seems to have dropped from the break, which would leave 10 men still up there. However, they may not be there for long as the gap is down to 1:20.

99km remaining from 209km

The racers are through KOM #5, but we're still waiting to hear the results.

Carlos Julian Quintero (Colombia-Coldeportes) did in fact drop out of the break and is now back in the peloton.

Neil Stephens, the director sportif of GreenEdge-Orica said that the Australian team sent its "A" team to the Giro d'Italia.  That means the "B" team is at the Tour of California, and it is a chance to experiment with other sprinters that don't normally get to race for themselves and with younger guys for the GC. He was pleased that Wesley Sulzberger, who is in today's break, made it into the top 10 in yesterday's stage.  He finished 10th in stage 3 and is in 32nd overall.

KOM #5 results are in, and they are as follows: 1) Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda); 2)  Wesley Sulzberger (Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team); 3) Markel Irizar Aranburu (RadioShack-Nissan); 4) Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank Cycling Team); 5) Darwin Atapuma Hurtado (Colombia-Coldeportes)

We've got five KOMs done and one more to go before a blazing descent out of the mountains and down toward Clovis.  But first, there is another sprint to contest. The second and final intermediate sprint of the day will come at mile 78.3 (126.0km) in Oakhurst.  Immediately thereafter, they start slogging back upward to that last KOM.

The Omega Pharma Quick Step team is reporting that it is a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit at the finish.

85km remaining from 209km

With 85km to go in today's stage, the gap between the break and the peloton is 1:35.

One kilometer to go until the second and final intermediate sprint.

Passing through Oakhurst, the gap is down to 45 seconds.  There is a good chance it will all come back together on the final climb, or very soon thereafter once they start the massive descent toward the finish.

74km remaining from 209km

Sprint #2 results are as follows: 1) Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda); 2) Benjamin King (RadioShack-Nissan); 3) Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank Cycling Team)

83km remaining from 209km

Sprint #2 results are as follows: 1) Alex Howes (Garmin-Barracuda); 2) Benjamin King (RadioShack-Nissan); 3) Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank Cycling Team)

Just 20 seconds separate the break and the peloton.  Both are already climbing toward the final KOM.

80km remaining from 209km

The gap is just 15 seconds.  Look for a catch on this climb and some possible counterattacks as the pressure builds ... last climb of the day.

Andrew Talansky (Garmin - Barracuda) abandons.

79km remaining from 209km

The break is caught by the peloton.

Correction: Andrew Talansky did not abandon, but Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) did.

A new break has formed, including George Bennett (RadioShack-Nissan), Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Barracuda) and Michael Rodriguez Galindo (Colombia-Coldeportes)

The three new leaders have established a gap rather quickly.  Back in the peloton, a Liquigas rider is setting the pace at the front.  We have a few more riders trying to bridge.

It looks like the chasers are Bram Tankink (Rabobank Cycling Team) and Mikael Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale)

74km remaining from 209km

One kilometer to go until the KOM and the Colombian Michael Rodriguez is setting the pace in the break.

Brian Vandborg (Spidertech Powered By C10) has bridged up to the chase group.

75km remaining from 209km

The three-man lead break and the three-man chase have joined up to form a six-man breakaway.

The racers have gone through the final KOM, but there is still just a bit more climbing before the huge descent.  Lots of riders are out of their saddles on this climb.

The final KOM results are as follows: 1) Michael Rodriguez Galindo (Colombia-Coldeportes); 2) George Bennett (RadioShack-Nissan); 3) Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Barracuda); 4) Brian Vandborg (Spidertech Powered By C10)
 

Rabobank's Eric Breukink said this morning to Cyclingnews' Laura Weislo that he thought Liquigas would give up control today. The team's Brian Vandborg - now in the break - was fourth in the world championship time trial in 2006. Breukink said that yesterday, his team had the sprint all lined up with 5km to go, but then ran out of gas in the final kilometer. They really need two guys to lead out Michael Matthews in that last kilometer. Matthews was on Tom Boonen's wheel in the last corner but then got caught up in somehow and wasn't able to sprint. Looks like Rabobank is trying a different tactic today.

69km remaining from 209km

Liquigas-Cannondale is driving the pace at the front of the descending peloton.  The riders are tucked low in a very aero position.

Rabobank's Eric Breukink said this morning to Cyclingnews' Laura Weislo that he thought Liquigas would give up control today. Breukink said that yesterday, his team had the sprint all lined up with 5km to go, but then ran out of gas in the final kilometer. They really need two guys to lead out Michael Matthews in that last kilometer. Matthews was on Tom Boonen's wheel in the last corner but then got caught up in somehow and wasn't able to sprint. Looks like Rabobank is trying a different tactic today with Bram Tankink in the break.

Spidertech's Brian Vandborg - now in the break - was fourth in the world championship time trial in 2006. He used to be on the Liquigas-Cannondale team.

The leaders have just 30 seconds on the peloton, which is quickly closing in.

64km remaining from 209km

The peloton catches the break.

The peloton lets up a bit now that the break is caught.  There is quite a distance left to the finish, and it's unlikely another break will establish itself permanently off the front.  With the catch made, another sprint finish is likely.

If you're getting tired of sprint finishes, hang in there... tomorrow's action will be an individual time trial, which could well yield a new stage winner and GC leader.

59km remaining from 209km

Liquigas-Cannondale riders, slowing up front, pause to have a chat.  Without race radios, the riders have to communicate the old fashioned way while out there on the bike.

Race leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) is sitting comfortably in the bunch.  Can he make it four stage win sprints in a row?

No doubt Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin - Barracuda) would like to see a different outcome.

Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank Cycling Team) has a flat.

53km remaining from 209km

Spread wide across the road, the peloton's racers are catching their breath.  This slow-down is a good chance to drink to stay hydrated or catch a snack.

51km remaining from 209km

On a bit of an upward grade, Liquigas-Cannondale is back at the front setting the pace.

The route presently is winding and twisting through a wooded area, but the roads are wide enough that the trees don't provide any shade - no relief from the hot sun.  Domestique riders from the various teams are making trips back and forth to their respective team cars to get more bottles.

In addition to the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of California, both currently ongoing, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup will be happening this weekend in La Bresse, France.  It's a big one for cross country riders as this round will be the last race in the period that determines Olympic qualifications.  By next week, we'll know how many male and female mountain bikers each nation will get to send to London.

An AG2R rider abruptly pulls over the side and a race moto narrowly, but skillfully misses him.

The race radio reported that feeding will stay open until 15km to go. It's such a hot day, this should help racers stay hydrated.

45km remaining from 209km

With such a long run-in to the finish after the final KOM, the peloton isn't in any hurry to cover this section of the route.  We wonder how the race might have been different tactically if the finish had come closer to that final KOM - there probably would have been more incentive for breaks to try and hang on.  Still 45.7km to go.

Chris Baldwin (Bissell) pays a visit to his team car and gets some handoffs.

42km remaining from 209km

The peloton is more strung out again.  An Omega Pharma Quick Step rider is setting the pace at the front.

The finish town of Clovis is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  Having a Tour of California stage finish there seems like a fun way to celebrate!

Mark Cavendish won a bunch finish sprint in Clovis in 2009.  Not at the Tour of California, Cavendish is occupied otherwise this year... he is busy racing the Giro d'Italia, where he has already collected stage wins.

Remember Lance Armstrong?  You know, the seven-time Tour de France winner who has previously contested the Tour of California. He's retired from pro road racing now, but had this recently to say with regard to ongoing doping allegations.  http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/armstrong-not-wasting-any-more-time-fighting-doping-allegations

This Tour of California weather could be a bit of a shock to the European members of the peloton.  It's been a cold winter and spring across the pond - nothing like today's 90+ degree (Fahrenheit)  temperatures.

29km remaining from 209km

Just under 30km to go until the finish.

The trees are gone and the peloton is racing through some open, brown, parched-looking terrain.  It's a tough day to stand out there as a course marshall.

26km remaining from 209km

Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma Quick Step) is off the back of the peloton, in the stream of team cars, working his way back forward.  We've had no word on why he dropped back.  He's getting some help from a team car and a teammate.

24km remaining from 209km

There are riders from a mix of different teams at the front of the peloton.    Race leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas) is sitting comfortably in the pack.

Tom Boonen's Omega Pharma Quick Step team said he had flat and required a wheel change; hence, why we saw him getting paced back up just a bit ago.

At the front of the peloton, a Cervelo rider leads, followed by an Omega Pharma rider, then a Rabobank rider and a few men from the BMC squad.

18km remaining from 209km

Less than 20km to go.  It shouldn't be too much longer before they start winding it up for the bunch sprint.

15km remaining from 209km

A United Healthcare rider rides himself off the front.  It's Jonathan Clarke.

The peloton is not really chasing Jonathan Clarke, but they are keeping him comfortably in sight.  The sprinters aren't going to want to give this one up.

12km remaining from 209km

Jonathan Clarke has just 50m or so on the peloton, which has picked up the pace a bit. 

The peloton is closing in on Clovis.  It will be a flat run-in to the finish.

11km remaining from 209km

The peloton catches Jonathan Clarke.  Then the pace slows dramatically and the peloton spreads wide across the road.

9km remaining from 209km

Racers from their same teams are starting to bunch up in preparation for setting up the sprint trains.

Two AG2R racers are taking a pull at the front, just ahead of a pair of Rabobank riders.

8km remaining from 209km

Tom Boonen is sitting in the Omega Pharma Quick Step train of riders with 8km to go.

5km remaining from 209km

Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) is also visible near the front.

Two more riders ride off the front.

4km remaining from 209km

They are caught and Dave Zabriske (Garmin Barracuda) launches an attack.

Zabriskie's attack is convincing and he gets a substantial gap very quickly.

3km remaining from 209km

Dave Zabriskie is a good time trialer.  Maybe he can pull this one off?  3.5km to go.

2.5km to go and Zabriskie has about 30 seconds.  The sprinters' teams get serious and start turning up the power.

1km remaining from 209km

Zabriskie's attack has certainly messed up the plans of sprinters though it looks like he might get caught.

Zabriskie is caught and an Omega Pharma rider takes to the front.

1km to go

Garmin-Barracuda is lined up at the front.

Marcel Kittel is in there.

It's the final dash and Sagan makes a move.

Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) makes it four out of four as he takes the stage victory.

With his stage win, Sagan picks up another 10-second time bonus.

Heinrich Haussler takes second place, ahead of Michael Matthews in third place.

Peter Sagan keeps the overall race lead for another day.  In the GC, he has 16 seconds on Heinrich Haussler and 34 seconds on Jeff Louder.

That wraps up our live coverage of stage 4 of the Amgen Tour of California.  Thanks for joining us, and we hope you'll be back again tomorrow for the 29.7km (18-mile) individual time trial in Bakersfield, California.

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