Nocentini Takes Stage 7, Astana Confident Under Pressure

James ThompsonCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2009

Today's Stage Seven of the Tour of California saw a breakaway go up the road, as expected; however, this breakaway included some very heavy hitters.

Perennial Tour de France contenders Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank), George Hincapie (Columbia) and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin), as well as Hayden Roulston (Cervelo), Peter Weening (Rabobank), Martin Elmiger, Rinoldo Nocentini (AG2R) Markus Zberg (BMC), Addy Engles (Quick Step) and Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing), broke free from the Astana-controlled peloton and built up a lead of about four minutes.

With virtually every big team was putting a man in the breakaway and second placed David Zabriskie's team Garmin-Slipstream putting pressure on Astana, race leader Levi Leipheimer and his team had to control the pace of the peloton for most of the day without any help from their competitors.

Astana's goal was, by no means, to reel the breakaway back and set the stage up for a bunch sprint, but rather to keep the breakaway in check and make sure that no one ahead of the peloton gained any significant time to threaten Leipheimer's lead.

Up the road, the breakaway riders were attacking each other left and right going into the final circuit and it was AG2R's Rinoldo Nocentini who took the day and delivered the first stage win for his team in California.

Hayden Roulston (Cervelo) came in second, while Peter Weening (Rabobank) came in third.

The Astana-led peloton came in 2:15 behind, protecting their lead going into Sunday's final stage.