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Hushovd captures stage, Leipheimer retains lead

NORWAY'S Thor Hushovd sprinted to a stage three victory in the Tour of California on Tuesday, while hat-trick seeking American Levi Leipheimer recovered from a minor spill to retain the overall lead.

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, competing on home soil for the first time since ending his three-and-a-half year retirement, finished in the main pack to maintain his fourth place in the overall standings.

Hushovd powered clear of the bunch in the closing meters of the 167-kilometer San Jose-to-Modesto stage to cross the line more than two bike lengths ahead of Spaniard Oscar Freire and Australian Mark Renshaw in a time of four hours, 28 minutes and 12 seconds.

Leipheimer cruised home just behind the sprinters to retain his 24-second lead over Australian Michael Rogers.

American David Zabriskie remained third overall, a further four seconds adrift, with Leipheimer's Astana teammate Armstrong another two seconds back in fourth.

Leipheimer, who brushed wheels with Armstrong at one point, suffered a crash during the stage but quickly returned to the field after receiving a new bike.

"It was my fault," Leipheimer told reporters. "Usually, you can put your foot down, but not today. I just didn't concentrate for a second. I landed on my butt.

"It hurts, but nothing's broken, so it's no big deal. It's racing etiquette not to attack when the race leader crashes, so I just took my time."

Armstrong wasn't available after the stage, but Astana team spokesman Phillipe Maertens said Armstrong spent the day "working for Levi. There was nothing special today."

Race organizers shortened the stage for safety reasons by eliminating the second of two finishing circuits and reducing the length of the neutralized stage start.

For the third straight day, strong rain fell throughout the stage, and it took its toll. American riders Ted King, Omer Kim and Ian MacGregor individually crashed during the stage and abandoned the race.


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