MODESTO, Calif. (VN) — Team Sky made it two in a row on Tuesday, as Greg Henderson powered through a chaotic finish to take the stage win after a nearly 200km slog from Auburn to Modesto.
Henderson was trying to leadout Sky’s overnight race leader, stage 2 winner Ben Swift, who lost his wheel in the last kilometer.
With time bonuses, Swift and Henderson are tied on the GC. But the leader’s jersey goes to Henderson, who will wear the golden jersey for Wednesday’s stage.
Tuesday’s breakaway contained some familiar faces. Jamey Driscoll (Jamis-Sutter Home), who took the Most Aggressive rider award for his performance in the big break Monday, joined the stage 3 break straight away. He was accompanied by Bissell’s Andy Jacques-Maynes — twin brother of Ben Jacques-Maynes, who was in Monday’s break.
Also in the break: UnitedHealthcare’s Christian Meier, NetCapp’s Jan Barta, Jelly Belly’s William Dickeson, Kenda-5-Hour Energy’s Phil Gaimon and Kelly’s Michael Creed.
Fighting some stiff crosswinds, the work crew hammered out a six-minute gap over the rolling terrain and became a six-strong group when Gaimon gave up the ghost and faded back to the peloton after the second feed zone.
Barta won all three intermediate sprints. His charge for the third sprint in Oakdale split off Meire, Dickeson, Creed and Driscoll. That left Barta and Jacques-Maynes off the front with 20 miles to go and still a 1:42 gap over the HTC-led field.
The pair worked well together, fighting increasing winds, while their former break-mates were soon sucked up by the field.
HTC-Highroad powered the field much of the day, but allowed Liquigas, BMC and Sky to chip in to close the deal in the final 30km.
When the crosswinds picked up in the final 25km, the ProTeeam took the opportunity to put down the hammer, leaving a long string of riders in the right gutter, fighting to stay in contact.
Jacques-Maynes and Barta were caught with 20km to go (Barta would later be awarded the most courageous award for the day).
The crosswinds abated when the route took a left turn and the lead group came back together, to the relief of some riders, including world champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) and Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) , who had each briefly lost contact with the front.
Spidertech massed at the front when the field entered the finish circuits, hoping to improve on Kevin Lacombe’s fourth place finish Monday. HTC and Sky kept close watch on the Canadian team. Meanwhile, Leopard-Trek’s Jens Voigt crashed in the middle of the pack with a UnitedHealthcare rider. Voigt remounted and rode to the finish behind the field.
With one 4.5km lap to go, Saxo Bank and then Sky took over the front. Sky hammered the front much as the team did on Monday, leaving the other teams helpless to position their riders. Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank) and Michael Matthews (Rabobank) crashed out in the final kilometer.
In the confusion after the crash, Swift lost contact with Henderson, who took a long, long sprint from the last corner. Hushovd could not respond to Henderson’s track speed and was left to try to fight off Saxo’s JJ Haedo for the second spot.
Haedo had jumped later than the other two and was gaining on Henderson and Hushovd at the line, but could not close the gap. He nipped Hushovd for the second; Peter Sagan (Liquigas) was fourth.
Henderson said everything went as planned, except the plan was for Swift to win.
“Jeremy Hunt got me to the last corner at 500 to go, just like we talked about in our meeting. I was unaware that Ben (Swift) wasn’t on my wheel. At 200 to go I thought ‘They will start coming now.’ But I wasn’t getting slower, and at 100 to go no one passed me,” he said.
“It was a surprise to win; I’ve never sprinted from 500m to go. It just shows I’m in great condition. I was fortunate, I was lucky to hold off everyone from the line.”
Wednesday’s stage 4, 132km (82 miles) from Livermore to San Jose, has the first mountaintop finish of the 2011 Tour of California, atop Sierra Road. Before that finish, the peloton will pass over the HC Mount Hamilton climb.