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In a scene reminiscent of the legendary Tour de France, a sea of colorfully clad professional cyclists raced around the corner of Chorro Street and 300 meters up Monterey Street to the finish in front of City Hall.
Amidst the spinning wheels and the cheering crowd, overall leader, American Floyd Landis of team Phonak, rounded the last corner in the lead, but underestimated the length of the last sprint. He was overtaken by the young Argentinean sensation, Juan Jose Haedo, giving the rookie his second stage win.
Despite the loss to Haedo, Landis still holds the gold jersey given to the overall leader. Behind Haedo, who finished with a stage-best total time of 4:41:02, the Northern California native, Fred Rodriguez of team Davitamon-Lotto, took second and the German, Andre Korff of team T-Mobile, took third.
Branded as the “Queen Stage,” Stage 4 took riders a total of 130.9 miles from Monterey through the hills and down the coastal U.S. Highway 101 route to San Luis Obispo. Not only did the stage’s immense distance and steep inclines prove menacing, but the weather also created another obstacle for cyclists.
“It’s difficult to control a long, windy and hilly race like this,” Landis said. “This was a long race for February, this race was fast with a lot of attacks.”
Though light on casualties, Stage 4 still claimed American Andrew Bajadali of team Jelly Belly on the tight “S” turn from Highland Avenue onto North Chorro. Another crash at the 10K mark retired American Zack Grabowski of team Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Homes Wines, and it was rumored that American Ben Jacques-Maynes of team Kodakgallery.com-Sierra Nevada also crashed, but was later proven wrong as Jacques finished the race.
The difficult transition from Chorro Street to Monterey Street also wreaked havoc on teams that had not previously studied the course.
“Though we had good local knowledge, we thought that if you won to the corner, then you would win the race,” Rodriguez said. “We didn’t realize that there was over 200 meters to go after the corner; it was a tactical error that cost us the win.”
But to others who had researched the course ahead of time, the effort paid off.
“I knew I didn’t have to be the first person to the corner, I came into it in fourth or fifth place with a good inside line,” Haedo said. “I cut in on the line and surprised everyone by sprinting by.” Haedo’s bold move earned him the stage win.
While most professional cyclists are just gearing up for the races to come, the riders in the Tour of California are out working hard and say they can feel the strain on their minds and their bodies this early in the season.
“This is the first race of the year and I can feel it. The first races are a lot of fighting with yourself to get over the climbs,” Haedo said. “Riding early in the year is a lot of headwork.”
Thousands packed shoulder-to-shoulder in downtown San Luis Obispo in a standing-only scene finale much like the Tour de France’s ever-popular L’Alp d’Huez stage. With thousands of spectators filling the restaurants and crowding the streets, Mayor Dave Ramero only had accolades to say about the race.
“I think this race is wonderful, it is the exact image we hope to project,” Ramero said. “We are a biking community with generous bike lanes, tons of bike paths and bike racks throughout the city; we are a bike town and the tour fits right in.”
Tomorrow’s stage will leave from San Luis Obispo and continue down the coast toward Santa Barbara before heading into the hills to face a 7.5K category one climb. Look for Haedo, the young winner of this stage to attack early in hopes of earning a third win.