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Heavy rain and a strong head wind turned Thursday?s 218km fourth stage of the Tour of California into a battle of survival.

The ride along the Pacific Coastal Highway was the longest stage of the race and the terrible condition meant the riders were in the saddle, in the rain and fighting a headwind for seven hours. It meant a terrible day for the riders and many did not make it to the finish, but it was a dramatic day of racing.

The overall contenders stayed safely in the bunch in the treacherous conditions, allowing a break to go clear just before the beautiful Big Sur headland after just 25km. The 11 riders worked well together and kept a three-minute gap for six hours before Dominique Rollin (Toyota) attacked alone. The Canadian powered clear with 20km to go and gradually opened a gap that allowed him to win the biggest race of his career in a cold and wet San Luis Obispo.

George Hincapie (High Road) was part of the break but failed to catch Rollin and so give team manager Bob Stapleton a win for High Road in his and the team?s hometown. Gerald Ciolek and Mark Cavendish brought home the bunch at 2-28 but the team again missed out on victory.

Rollin could hardly stand up after crossing the line but revealed that he loves tough conditions. ?The worse it is, the better I am,? he said with a big smile.

In the final 30km CSC tried to close the gap and put race leader Levi Leipheimer (Astana) under pressure. He fought as the bunch stretched and reformed in the wind but finished in the same time as his closest rivals Fabian Cancellara and David Millar (Slipstream).

The battle for overall victory will now be fought out in Friday?s 24km time trial around Solvang. Leipheimer sealed overall victory in the same stage last year against Jens Voigt (CSC) but faces a much tougher challenge against world time trial champion Cancellara.

CSC team manager Bjarne Riis predicted Cancellara would need to gain as little as eight second in the time trial and could gain the other vital seconds in the intermediate sprints on the final two stages. We will find out if he right on Friday afternoon.

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1 Dominique Rollin (Can) Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team

2 George Hincapie (USA) High Road at 18secs

3 Iker Camano Ortuzar (Spa) Saunier Duval-Scott at same time

4 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) High Road at 2-28

5 Mark Cavendish (GBr) High Road

6 Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Team CSC

7 Freddie Rodriguez (USA) Rock Racing

8 Alexander Candelario (USA) Kelly Benefit Strategies

9 Sebastien Turgot (Fra) Bouygues Telecom

10 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Rock Racing all same time

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1 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 20-44-06

2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC at 13secs

3 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 15secs

4 David Millar (GBr) Slipstream-Chipotle at 20secs

5 Gustav Larsson (Swe) CSC at 21secs

6 David Zabriskie (USA) Slipstream-Chipotle at same time

7 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Slipstream-Chipotle at 23secs

8 Christopher Horner (USA) Astana at 25secs

9 Alexandre Moos (Sui) BMC at 29secs

10 Victor Hugo Pena (Col) Rock Racing at 31secs

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Stage four: wind and rain lash race

Stage three: Leipheimer takes the lead

Stage two: Boonen wins in the rain

Stage one: Haedo wins sprint

Prologue: Cancellara wins

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Video highlights: stage three

Video highlights: stage two

Video highlights: stage one

Video highlights: prologue


Stage three video interviews

Millar picks Cancellara as favourite for California TT

Cancellara and Millar to challenge Leipheimer

Tour of California: photo gallery

Cipollini: "Third here is worth a hundred other victories"

Stage two: Cavendish angry after sprint mix-up

Cancellara angry with Hamilton, Sevilla, Botero protests

Cancellara: "I always have to win prologues"

Wiggins and Millar unhappy with prologue rides

Tour of California: preview

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