MODESTO, Calif. (AP) — Greg Henderson of New Zealand powered to a surprising stage win and took the overall race lead at the Tour of California from British teammate Ben Swift in the wind-filled and crash-marred third stage Tuesday.
Henderson (Team Sky), usually in the main lead-out rider for Swift, bolted to the front with about 500 yards left and took the 121.9-mile Auburn to Modesto road race in 5 hours, 14 minutes and 29 seconds.
Henderson began the stage in 11th place, trailing Swift, the Stage 1 winner, by 10 seconds. He gained 10 seconds of bonus time for the stage and took the lead based on tiebreaker criteria. Swift is second, with Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) of Slovakia, third overall, trailing by 4 seconds.
“We came to the Tour of California with a super strong team, unfortunately Michael Rogers (last year’s winner) is sick, so we had to change things up a bit,” said Henderson, a former Tour of Spain stage winner who earlier this season won a Paris-Nice stage.
“We have two great sprinters with me and Ben Swift, so it’s either me leading him out or him leading me out.”
Juan Jose Haedo (Saxo-Bank) of Argentina was second in the stage, with reigning world titlist Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) of Norway third, both in the same time.
Veteran Tour de France rider Jens Voigt (Leopard-Trek) of Germany, Jesus Del Nero Montes (NetApp), American Will Dugan (Team Type 1) and Andreas Schillinger (NetApp) of Germany all suffered minor injuries in several crashes in the final few miles.
Andreas Schillinger (NetApp) of Germany crashed earlier in the stage and also suffered minor injuries. All five crash victims finished the stage and are expected to continue racing.
Seven riders escaped from the main field just after the start and built about an eight-minute lead.
With the main group unmotivated and strong headwinds gusting at more than 20 mph, the lead riders rode for several hours at an average speed of less than 20 mph. The winning time was about 45 minutes slower than expected.
But just like in the opening stage, the lead group’s margin was steadily absorbed, setting up the race’s second straight sprint finish.
Henderson moved to the front early for a winning finish and thinking he was setting up Swift for his second win.
“There was a lot of chaos on the final lap,” Henderson said. “We were all lined up. With 100 meters to go, I thought no one had come around me, so I just kept my head down. I was absolutely spent at the line.”
The seven-day race continues Wednesday with an 81.8-mile road race from Livermore to San Jose, the event’s first of two mountaintop finishes.
The stage will feature five climbs, including the concluding 3.5-mile ascent with a 9.4 percent gradient.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)