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Tour of California 2016: Stage 4

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Welcome to stage 4 of the Tour of California, a 217km trek from Morro Bay to the Laguna Seca Raceway. It's a long trip up the Pacific coast with a few lumps along the way.

Stage 4 details  |  Start list

Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Tour of California. The riders had a little surprise this morning when the organisers announced 15 minutes before the start that they were starting 15 minutes early. There was a bit of a scramble for the sign on.

As you can see from the profile, it's pretty lumpy along the way but there are no major mountains. Just five climbs - four are category 3 (thanks to the length of today's stage) and one category 2.

Here's a look at how the overall classification stands this morning:

The peloton is down to 143 riders today after Team Sky's Peter Kennaugh abandoned.

213km remaining from 215km

207km remaining from 215km

11 riders have a slight advantage, but so far no ID's on them.

203km remaining from 215km

Evan Huffman (Rally) holds the lead in the mountains classification with 25 points after spending two days in the breakaway. With five climbs on tap he'll need to get into the move again to hold onto the polka dot jersey. Will he have the legs?

Ben King lost the race lead yesterday, his teammates Lawson Craddock and Andrew Talansky are down more than a minute on Alaphilippe in the GC.

194km remaining from 215km

It seems riders from Axeon, Sky, Rally and Jelly Belly were caught up in a tangle, but everyone is back up and riding.

The morning marine layer has burned off and the sun is starting to warm things up for our peloton. There's no view of the ocean at the moment, as the highway is inland about 1km from the water. The hills in between are obscuring the view. The hills are burnt to brown thanks to the drought.

In case you missed our stage 3 coverage, the 'queen stage' was a pretty exciting battle for the last 5km or so.

After a fast start to the race, the peloton has spread across the road on a little uphill section.

It looks like a cat 4 race out there - they're snaking left and right across the road, nobody letting any attacks go, but they keep trying anyhow.

Cannondale are trying to break things up a bit, but they're getting no cooperation.

180km remaining from 215km

177km remaining from 215km

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) marked a move that went off the front with four others, but that all came back together. Still blasting along at 30mph along the coast - it's just too fast for any group to maintain a gap.

A group of dolphins are bobbing along in the water off shore next to the race. Perhaps they'll challenge for the sprint.

Tomorrow we'll see the start of the first Women's WorldTour race on US soil - the women's Tour of California - check out the start list (provisional).

The peloton is all together heading to the first sprint at Hearst Castle, which is in sight.

Woah - Alaphilippe himself took that sprint.

With 3 seconds for that sprint, Alaphilippe extends his lead to 22 seconds on Stetina.

Sagan added one to his tally in the points classification, but expect to see him gain more on the finish line today. He led this morning by just 1 point over Ben King.

166km remaining from 215km

165km remaining from 215km

The furious pace has caused a split in the peloton - about 20 riders have made the front group.

160km remaining from 215km

The fog lifted just enough for the riders to see the elephant seals. But they don't appear to be sightseeing - the 20 riders have forged a 15 second gap and are blasting along the road at top speed.

155km remaining from 215km

Another smaller group is trying to get away now. In the intervening moments, Lachlan Morton needed a front wheel after a puncture, and Greg Van Avermaet got a rear wheel.

Well it looks like Cavendish really wants to spend the day riding in the breakaway. Perhaps he knows that he has a better chance without the likes of Sagan to contend with in a sprint.

Greg Daniel was in yesterday's move, as was Tanner Putt. Daniel is the best placed rider in the escape, at 9:46 from Alaphilippe.

Slept through the Giro d'Italia stage this morning? Check out the video highlights from quite an exciting day in Italy.

146km remaining from 215km

The climb is not too steep to stop Mark Cavendish from taking big pulls on the front. He's helped to push their advantage over the two minute mark.

Care to see what the KOM looks like? It's sunny today just like the Google Earth view.

140km remaining from 215km

Cavendish continues to take big pulls but isn't contesting the mountain sprints. The first one was taken by Routley, and they're now heading up the next one, a 3km climb.

The peloton is giving the seven riders a pretty long leash - the gap is pushing out toward the five minute mark.

KOM 2:

127km remaining from 215km

Holowekso-Citadel has been impressive this week, but today they've missed out on their objective of getting Oscar Clark in the move to go after the KOMs.

119km remaining from 215km

The weather is certainly perfect today, although I'm sure the riders would prefer a tailwind. There's not much wind to speak of and the sun is warming things up to a pleasant 73 degrees.

We just got word that BMC Racing re-signed Samuel Sanchez, the fomer Olympic champion said:

Tinkoff seems to be pitching in to help bring down the gap closer to four minutes. Sagan loves winning in California - and he's proven to be very good at it.

110km remaining from 215km

Greg Van Avermaet is another good bet for today's finish. He was undecided on if he could contest the stage when we spoke to him this morning:

100km remaining from 215km

We have a trio strong sprinters in this breakaway, with Cavendish being the obvious top man. The Manxman isn't shirking his duties, however.

They won't get to show their stuff until the next sprint in Carmel Highlands, a distant 65km away.

88km remaining from 215km

The breakaway is getting closer to Monterey, heading past Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park - if you ever find yourself in the area, this is a beautiful park to visit. You can hike up to the top of a clear hillside and see for miles and miles.

83km remaining from 215km

But they'll come back to the coast to traverse the iconic Bixby Canyon Bridge.

77km remaining from 215km

The women's Tour of California press conference is going on at the moment. The return to Tahoe is big for the race, especially after the men's stage was snowed out back in 2011.

There's no need for the Extreme Weather Protocol here. Everything is typical perfect California conditions - 70 and sunny.

75km remaining from 215km

The leaders are through the KOM and blasting down a crazy descent at 50mph.

Passing through Big Sur now, but there's no time to stop and hike down to the water.

Routley adds another KOM to his tally, and though there is no competition in this move for his teammate Evan Huffman's polka dot jersey, he's doing a good job of mopping up the points.

The breakaway is now approaching Andrew Molera State Park, another lovely stretch of coastline preserved by the Nature Conservancy. It features the 12m-high Highbridge Falls, and is named after the man who popularized the artichoke.

Soon the riders will get to the Bixby Bridge which is named after the creek it goes over, which in turn is named after Charles Henry Bixby, a lumberman who owned larged tracts of land here. But the man who donated the land for the bridge, Howard Sharpe, really missed out by not insisting they name it after him...

62km remaining from 215km

The leaders are on a more inland stretch of the highway at the moment, it's fairly flat.

It's almost certain that this break will be caught, it's just a matter of when. The category 2 climb up Laureles Grade is no joke, and so the GC men will have to keep an eye on each other there. It's 5.5km long, the biggest climb of the day.

However, the dual ascents in the final 5k that will decide the winner, to be sure. The climb up to Laguna Seca raceway is brutal, although only 1km long. Then they head onto the track and climb up and over the corkscrew inside the final 2km.

Needless to say, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Michael Mørkøv (Katusha), Ryan Anderson (Direct Energie), Timo Roosen (LottoNl-Jumbo), Tanner Putt (UnitedHealthcare), Gregory Daniel (Axeon Hagens Berman), and William Routley (Rally Cycling) have their work cut out for them after being off the front for almost 100km so far.

The gap to the leaders is holding steady around 2:40, they've got a bit of a climb to travel over before hitting the Bixby Bridge.

The leaders are on the Bixby Bridge, enjoying the views and the cheers of the pocket of fans that gathered on the side.

50km remaining from 215km

The peloton has either put on the brakes or the time gaps are wrong - we're hearing 4:45 now which would be good news for the breakaway if true.

Maybe the peloton was told that they were so far ahead of the schedule that the TV broadcasters would run out of content if they finished so early.

There's a layer of fog off to the leaders' left, hovering over the ocean. It's a remarkable microclimate that makes for some very dramatic views from above, where the ocean looks like it's shrouded in fluffy blankets.

44km remaining from 215km

This is the first visit for the Tour of California to the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway, but the Sea Otter Classic has been running races on the track for years every spring.

Tinkoff has decided that it's time to bring down this gap, and they've lined out the peloton single file.

40km remaining from 215km

1k to the sprint for the leaders.

Cavendish led the group across the sprint line, just rolling through ahead of blue jersey holder Greg Daniel and Rouley.

Sprint 2: 

Tinkoff is still lining out the bunch - it's fast and furious out front, but Sir Bradley Wiggins and his eponymous teammates are hanging out near the back just cruising.

33km remaining from 215km

Tanner Putt pulls through in the breakaway - he's spent two big stages off the front and has to be feeling it right about now. But he's persevering up this little rise.

27km remaining from 215km

Their efforts are beginning to pay off as they head due east inland from Carmel, whittling the gap down to 2:30. Just where it was before they decided to ease up and swap recipes.

25km remaining from 215km

The pain is starting to rear its ugly head in the legs of our breakaway riders. Routley is buring himself with a big pull, then fighting to stay on the back as Putt comes through with another strong effort.

Etixx is here with two Czech riders, Zdenek Stybar and Petr Vakoc, and it's always confusing to see Vakoc in the Czech champion's jersey when Stybar has held that title for so many years. Either one of these riders could win the stage today as the finish suits them both.

20km remaining from 215km

20km remaining from 215km

18km remaining from 215km

Starting to see some BMC jerseys moving toward the front, while Cannondale are amassed behind the Tinkoff and Etixx trains.

Trek-Segafredo are also tucked in there as the WorldTour teams take full control. Giant-Alpecin move up on the left side of the road and draw even with Tinkoff.

The breakaway has the bit between their teeth, and Cavendish is arms-draped over the bars tucked in full TT mode.

15km remaining from 215km

Dimension Data and Katusha seem to have something up their sleeves as they push Tinkoff out of the way and get on the Etixx train.

Sagan has decided to sit back and gamble on others closing the gap down, saving his men perhaps for the final push to the line.

The leaders are just about on the official start of the climb but it's already uphill and Cavendish is beginning to drop anchor.

Crash! Morton is down!

Morton has three teammates with him - they're helping him chase back through the following cars, but he had to wait for a new bike.

Chasing back on a category 2 climb isn't an ideal scenario for the Australian but if he can regain contact on any terrain, it's this.

13km remaining from 215km

Cavendish has rallied after the steep start to the climb. He's back on the back of the breakaway.

Daniel Jaramillo has decided to attack the peloton and try to bridge across the 1:00 gap.

Ryan Anderson attacks and Cavendish slots in front of Putt, taking him out of the back of the breakaway. Is this punishment for him sitting on as Jaramillo tries to bridge?

We saw some movement from Cannondale as the cameras panned away.

Putt is waiting for Jaramillo, but they've got Craddock on them now - that's who was rocketing out of the peloton. But everyone else is right on them now.

Morkov has dropped anchor, as Greg Daniel now attacks leaving Anderson with a difficult decision.

11km remaining from 215km

BMC attacks now, or surgers rather. Looks like Bookwalter feeling fiesty - but he's just chasing after LottoNl-Jumbo who's put George Bennett up with Roosen as he's come back.

10km remaining from 215km

Anderson is somewhere in there perhaps but now Bennett has been reeled in. 35 seconds to the leader with <10k to go.

Talansky now attacks but BMC is right on them.

A Team Sky rider has a bit of a gap from the peloton - Alaphilippe marked the moves but let this one go.

8km remaining from 215km

Greg Daniel gets the KOM, he's 23 seconds ahead as Teklehaimanot attacks the peloton.

Now on the rapid descent, Daniel is tucked low sitting on the top tube. Teklehaimanot still has a slight gap and behind him another Sky rider is attacking.

It's a very fast trip down toward the highway that will take them to the second to last climb - a real sting in the tail of this stage.

5km remaining from 215km

4km remaining from 215km

The peloton can see him - it's 8 seconds but only a 100m.

BMC leads, they've caught the two chasers and are about to sweep up Daniel.

Sagan is still in the group, as is Van Avermaet, and Alaphilippe.

They've come all back together with 3k to go, but now an Axeon rider attacks. Is that Powless?

3km remaining from 215km

Ruben Guerreiro (Axeon Hagens Berman) gets a small gap and sees 200m to go to the KOM.

The pack are content to let the young rider get his TV time, fully confident they can bring him back on the descent. He's hurting his teammate, best young rider Neilson Powless.

They're through the gate, and the Axeon rider is caught on the hard right onto the track.

Dimension data counters.

Nathan Haas goes flat out up the climb toward the corkscrew.

Sagan pulls out to the right, he's not getting any help after his team worked all day.

Sanchez, his new contract in hand, is pulling Haas back alone.

They've timed it perfectly, they catch Haas before the crest.

Another attack! Trek and Axeon.

Down the corkscrew!

Only six riders are off the front with Sagan in third position.

Van Avermaet is there too, with a teammate.

Stetina is one of the riders near the front, as they are caught back by a group.

Dimensio Data leads it out - Van Rensburg goes, btu ti's too early.

Van Avermaet comes on strong, but Sagan is there and he gives it one more push.

15 wins for Sagan in the Tour of California-  Alaphilippe was right on the wheels on the same time and will keep the race lead

It looked like Van Avermaet and Van Poppel in second and third.

Sorry, Haas in third led it out, not Van Rensburg.

Powless was in that small group to hold best young rider.

Bookwalter was fourth, while Talansky's group lost three seconds.

It's been a very hard finish to the long stage, and the shattered peloton is coming in in groups of six and seven.

Stage 4 results:

GC after stage 4:

Sagan's win puts his points jersey well out of reach of Ben King, who is 17 points distant. Neilson Powless keeps that best young rider jersey, while Huffman's polka dot jersey survived the breakaway today.

Huffman kept his 2 point lead on Alaphilippe in the moutnains classification, with Oscar Clark still in third.

Tomorrow will be another big day for the peloton - 212km from Lodi to Tahoe.

Thanks for following along - come back tomorrow for dual live coverage of the men and women's races.

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