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SAN JOSE - The peloton may not arrive in the shadow of the Hollywood hills until Sunday, but, with the third stage win in four days by a big-name US rider, the inaugural Tour of California is following the kind of script usually seen in fairytales.
After Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie, today it was Floyd Landis's turn to delight both race sponsors Amgen and the fans in this, the Phonak rider's adoptive home state.
Landis won Wednesday's 27km time trial heading out of the southern suburbs of San Jose by an emphatic margin of 26 seconds from pre-race favourite Dave Zabriskie. This tour de force was enough to put the Phonak rider 29 seconds ahead of Zabriskie on general classification on Wednesday night, with Zabriskie's team-mate Bobby Julich third at 34 seconds. Overnight leader George Hinacapie is now 45 seconds down on Landis in fourth.
If the extent of Landis's superiority was a surprise, then so was Levi Leipheimer's disappointing ride to finish only ninth on the stage, 1-16 adrift of Landis. Leipheimer later attributed his poor result to a headwind which put the lighter, smaller riders at a disadvantage. Whatever the reason, his hopes of winning the race now look slim with just four stages remaining, one of which is a criterium around Redondo Beach on Sunday.
Landis admitted that he expected attacks from Leipheimer and the Discovery and CSC teams on some hilly terrain before the weekend, attacks that the Phonak man is confident that his team can repel.
"I have the team I'd want to have here," Landis commented. "I have confidence in them, but we'll just take one day at a time. I really want to win this race: if I did, I think it would be the most satisfying of my career to date."
Zabriskie gave Landis a further vote of confidence by hinting that CSC and Discovery may have missed their last real opportunity to win the race. "I think Floyd may have won the race today," said the 27-year-old American. "That doesn't mean we're giving up: we're still going to be aggressive but I think that the last two days were pretty important. Now we have to try to give Floyd a run for his money."
Landis revealed that a visit to the Allied Aerospace wind tunnel in California last week had resulted in minor tweaks to his time trial position, which may have contributed to his superb ride today. "More than anything, it just proved to everyone that the changes I made myself were the right ones," he said.
More crucial, no doubt, was the pacing of Landis's ride. Sixteen seconds behind Zabriskie after 10 kilometres, Landis powered through the dead-straight latter part of the course. "I tend to try and start slowly in time trials these days," Landis admitted. "I often used to make the mistake of going too fast at the start. I didn't have a radio or know any split times, but I wouldn't be surprised if Dave was ahead of me halfway round."
Thursday's fourth stage from Monterey to San Luis Obispo is the longest of the race at 210km.
Stage 3, San Jose time trial
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 27.4km in 35.59 (45.71kph)
2 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC 0.26
3 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 0.35
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.55
5 Nathan O'Neill (Aus) Health Net 0.57
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC 1.02
7 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel 1.03
8 Hayden Roulston (NZ) Health Net 1.08
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 1.16
10 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 1.23
11 Robert Hunter (SA) Phonak 1.28
12 Tom Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel 1.42
13 Christian Vande Velde (USA) CSC 1.43
14 Jason McCartney (USA) Discovery Channel 1.44
15 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) Discovery Channel 1.46
16 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) CSC
17 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) T-Mobile 1.47
18 Nicolas Vogondy (Fra) Crdit Agricole 1.58
19 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery Channel 2.00
20 Lars Bak (Den) CSC 2.01
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 7.56.36
2 Zabriskie 0.29
3 Julich 0.34
4 Hincapie 0.45
5 O'Neill 1.08
6 Leipheimer 1.10
7 Evans 1.29
8 Danielson 1.49
9 Vande Velde 1.55
10 McCartney 1.58
11 Vogondy 2.14
12 Kohl 2.15
13 Chris Horner (USA) Davitamon-Lotto 2.17
14 Josep Jufre (Spa) Davitamon-Lotto 2.20
15 Phil Zajicek (USA) Navigators 2.32
16 Rmi Pauriol (Fra) Crdit Agricole 2.52
17 Michael Barry (Can) Discovery Channel 2.56
18 Saul Raisin (USA) Crdit Agricole 3.11
19 Alexandre Moos (Swi) Phonak 3.22
20 Jos Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval
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