2010 Amgen Tour of California stage 3 preview: Ride to Santa Cruz is no cruise's panel of Amgen Tour of Colorado racers analyze Tuesday's stage 3.

The scenic stretch of rugged coastline along Highway 1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz might be a surfer’s paradise, but it will likely prove to be a day punctuated by pain and suffering for the peloton of this year’s Amgen Tour of California.

Starting next to the windy surf of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, the course travels south, covering 113 miles, to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a mile south of the world famous surf spot Steamer Lane.

In between those points the peloton will face two intermediate sprints, in the sleepy coastal towns of Pacifica and Half Moon Bay, as well as four categorized climbs, including the first, the category 2 Tunitas Creek climb, and the final long, steep ascent of Bonny Doon Road — where last year’s overall winner Levi Leipheimer launched an attack that went unanswered among the GC favorites.

Leipheimer proceeded to blast through the remnants of the day’s breakaway, save for Garmin’s Tom Peterson, who latched on to Leipheimer and eventually took the stage win. Leipheimer took the race leader’s jersey, and carried it all the way to San Diego.

Prior to this year’s Amgen Tour of California, VeloNews sat down with five riders for a stage-by-stage breakdown. Those riders — Levi Leipheimer, Dave Zabriskie, Ben Day, Mike Friedman and Rory Sutherland — form an expert panel will refer to all week for insider analysis. Here’s what they had to say:

Levi Leipheimer (USA), RadioShack:
I’d previewed this stage for the 2009 tour, and when I saw Bonny Doon Road I was disappointed because I didn’t think it was that difficult of a climb. I thought 40 or 50 guys would come over it, and it would be a sprint to the finish with those guys. But that’s the thing about racing, you never know. And I think the weather played a big part of it that day. The day before was bad weather and was a hard race, it was February, and I think I just out-trained everyone for the Tour of California. When it came to Bonny Doon people were tired, they were miserable, they were cold. I had a moment where I felt great. Popo and I were at the front, and we noticed Mancebo was suffering. It was a great moment. I said ‘let’s go, Popo, light it up,’ and he went hard for about a kilometer. I could see him just giving it everything and I could see the steep part coming. I said ‘you’ve got to make it to the steep part,’ and he did. And in my mind I was thinking, ‘okay, I’m going to give a big acceleration, let’s cut this down to 10 guys or so, I know Mancebo is not going to be there. We’ll go to the finish, I’ll have the jersey, and then I’ll defend it in Solvang.’ But when I went and nobody came, I thought, ‘um, this is a long ways to go,’ but I was committed, you can’t back down, you have to go for it. It was a great moment in my career. I think every rider dreams of throwing a Hail Mary and making it work. I think that the chances of someone winning this year’s Amgen Tour of California on this stage are very low. I would predict the same thing I predicted before last year; it’s 40 or 50 guys at the finish. But, again, you never know.

The stage 3 profile
The stage 3 profile

Dave Zabriskie (USA), Garmin-Transitions:
I rode Bonny Doon in the training before the (2009) race, but in the race it was all wet, kind of a pain. Levi did a big attack, and everyone was at their limit. I don’t think Levi was planning that. Tommy Danielson did an acceleration, then Levi got excited, and said ‘why not?’ and launched one. It’s difficult to bring someone back if they have time going over the top. I hope it’s more fun to go over it in the dry. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Rory Sutherland (Australia), UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis:
It’s very similar to last year’s stage, down along the coast. I think it’s going to be another beautiful stage. There are a lot of great towns we hit along the way. There are a couple of climbs we go over before the finish. Last year it poured with rain for another day, and it made it atrocious conditions for going up Bonny Doon at the end. It’s a unique finish in that you have a pretty decent climb, pretty hard and pretty long, and then a descent straight down into the finish in Santa Cruz. But it’s a little longer than you think. It’s probably going to be a smaller group. Hopefully it’s better weather. For the domestic guys, we should be a lot more fit since it’s not the first race of the year. It should be a pretty interesting stage.

Mike Friedman (USA), Jelly Belly:

Leipheimer on his way to finish on stage 2 last year.
Leipheimer on his way to finish on stage 2 last year.

It’s not a mountain-top finish, but you go up the mountain, and then you come straight back down. If you’re a good descender you might be able to get back on, since 13 miles is a long way to the finish. There are two sprints and four KOMs day, that’s awesome. There’s a 20-mile stretch where it’s just going up and down. It will split, and then it will come back together before Bonny Doon, and then it will split again, and the climbers will stay away to the finish. I think GC will be set by then. After stage 3 there will be some serious damage to the peloton. There will be a grupetto, and teams focused on their jerseys or spots on GC.

Ben Day (Australia), Fly V Australia:
I think this will be the first shakeup of the GC. The initial climb of Tunitas Creek is a beautiful winding climb that will weaken the legs a bit, but the Bonny Doon climb near the end, what’s significant, is that it’s a very decent climb, it goes for quite a while, then descends down to finish, and that’s the race. There’s no chance of getting back on or bringing back the leaders. Levi showed that last year with Tom Peterson. It’s a decisive stage. I really think a stage like the Bonny Doon stage could even have more impact than the Big Bear stage.