Welcome to DP's coverage of Stage 3: Metz-Reims, 174.5 km
Be sure to refresh the page (F5) to see the latest details. Newest info is posted at the bottom of the story. We join the race in progress.
Podofdonny describes the stage this way:
"The riders will leave Metz city centre at 13.00 and head due West towards Reims. Apart from two Category 4 climbs, one at the very start and the second after 94 kilometres the parcours for the last 50 kilometres are pancake flat. Any escapee move would seem foolish on a parcours such as these - but inevitably some will try.
They will probably be left to dangle in front of the peloton driven by the yellow jersey and the sprinters' teams who will be looking for glory on a perfect stage for the fast men."
Tour officials yesterday warned that today would have high winds and bad weather, with rain very likely. It is a terrible day for attackers, so, of course, FDJeux.com's Jacky Durand shot off the front early along with Bonjour's Franck Renier. They currently have a lead of around 7', after being over 10' earlier.
"Wacky" Jacky has made a career out of such foolish moves. At the first intermediate sprint, Renier came across first, with Durand second and Lampre's Svorada third.
There are members of Lotto, Telekom, and U.S. Postal at the front sharing the work chasing. It is highly unlikely that the break will stay away with 85k to race.
6:24 PST. Yesterday, Tom Steels of Mapei indicated that he has struggled with his form since winning the Belgian Championships. He has been nowhere near the front, earning two "Ham-Gazer" awards from me already so far in the race.
Steels also indicated his willingness to work now for his teammate Freire if his form returns. Originally, the plan was for Freire to assist Steels in the early sprints, but with Freire only 9" off of the Yellow Jersey and a few points behind Zabel for the Green Jersey, Mapei has changed tactics.
With Steels and Hunter as leadout men, Freire will be very tough to beat in the last kilometer.
Going into the team time-trial tomorrow, CSC has a narrow advantage of 3" over Cofidis and US Postal, and 5" on Kelme. They have held that same advantage since the Prologue, and if they hold it again today, they have the tactical advantage of going last tomorrow so that they will know what times they have to beat along the route.
Riders who have previewed the route for tomorrow say that it is harder than last year, with more tempo changes and more technical sections. Should be exciting.
Zabel of Telekom just took the 2" time bonus at the intermediate sprint, leading the peloton across still well behind Renier and Durand.
Svorada took the 2" bonus earlier in defense of his teammate, Rubens Bertogliati of Lampre's Yellow Jersey. As Zabel was only 2" behind the start today, he is now the virtual Yellow Jersey on the road.
The sky is looking very menacing, but the rain hasn't come down in earnest yet. Zabel is now 7 points ahead of Freire for the Green Jersey. Zabel is not leaving to chance his drive for both Yellow and Green, as this didn't work yesterday.
Several commentators have noted Acqua & Sapone's absence from the Tour...the team of Super Mario Cipollini is built for sprints. They dominated the Giro, winning 8 sprints, 6 of them leadouts for Cipo.
Telekom has done well to chase down attackers, but have struggled the last two days in the final kilometer. It is doubtful that this would have happened with Acqua & Sapone.
Lots of teams still sharing the work. There is now a Rabobank rider on the front. Rabobank is currently in 10th in the team standings, but could pose a major threat to favorites ONCE and US Postal tomorrow. They have talent, and have avoided the constant attacking they usually engage in during the flat stages of the Tour. They seem to be serious about Leipheimer's GC chances, as Boogerd is the only Rabo to launch a serious attack (in Stage 1) while the rest protected Leipheimer.
Lotto riders are at the front now. Despite the overcast weather, their jerseys are unzipped, so it must be hot out there.
Now it's Telekom at the front. Bobby Julich is getting in some work at the front of the race. He commented that he has not had to work like this at the front before, especially in the sprints, but feels that it is good to help get his legs under him for the mountains...as long as he doesn't overcook it.
6:53 am PST. Belgians Brandt and Marichal of Lotto are now pulling at the front. The time gap is down to around 6'.
6:55 am PST. The peloton is really strung out now, as the hammer is down on a slight decline. The leaders are 56k from the finish, with about 14k to the final intermediate sprint.
Not as many spectators on the route today. During Stages 1 and 2, spectators and their belongings were a major hazard for the riders as they rolled through Luxembourg and Germany.
CSC-Tiscali's Tyler Hamilton said he had to "bunny hop" a photo tripod someone left too far into the road. In Stage 1, Benoit Joachim of US Postal hit an overzealous fan by accident. He managed to stay up, but the fan also tangled with riders behind him. This triggered the pile-up that put Moreau on the pavement for the 2nd time, and that also tangled up Hamilton (though he didn't hit the deck). Fortunately, Hamilton has stayed off the pavement so far, unlike his experience in the Giro.
McEwen, Freire, Zabel, and Hondo are at the back of a train of Telekom and Lotto riders at the front. They already seemed positioned for the sprint!
7:02 am PST. Credit Agricole, last year's winner of the team time-trial, is currently in dead last in the team standings. If things remain the same today, they will go first tomorrow.
They have had bad luck, especially in Stage 1 when Moreau lost time in the crashes. They have worked hard the last two days, but seem to be sitting on today. Thor Hushovd overcame his cramps yesterday, made it in under the time cut, and started today. Veldig bra, normann!
The lead of Durand and Renier is now under 5 minutes. Several domestiques have been to the team cars, and are struggling back to the front with shirts full of bottles.
The hammer is still down on the front, so it's not that easy for the domestiques right now. Still, most riders seem to be taking the day off, as the pace and the conditions aren't enough to cause splits in the field. Most are probably saving the juice in their legs for tomorrow's stage.
7:09 am PST. Telekom now seems to be massing at the front. The team time-trial isn't as important for them this year. For Telekom, the future is now as they race to protect Zabel's Green Jersey and virtual Yellow Jersey.
7:14 am PST. Telekom has brought the gap down to 4 minutes. They are getting ready to lead out Zabel for the final intermediate sprint. Zabel would like the extra 2" to make sure of his virtual Yellow. Will Svorada come out to challenge for Lampre?
Here it comes! No contest, the Telekoms were unchallenged and Zabel is now clearly the virtual Yellow by 2" over Bertogliati. The crowds are large in Suippes, approx. 43k from the finish. Telekom must now make sure Zabel finishes well to protect him from Freire, who is now 13" back.
7:20 am PST. Still no heavy rain. The official notice from Tour officials made it sound like the weather would be so bad today that that animals would start lining up in twos in front of an ark. Still no heavy rain yet, as Telekom is leading the flying peloton in pursuit of Durand and Renier.
The peloton is all together. The parcours is much easier today, especially as it flattens towards the end. The rolling hills are behind them for now. This will be good news for riders like Mapei's Steels and Rabobank's Dekker, who have limped in the last two days.
Dekker has literally limped in. Frankie Andreu said that Dekker's limp was very bad, and that he has an easier time riding a bike than walking. He is clearly not fully healed from his broken leg in Milan-San Remo. But he's hanging in, despite a Stage 1 crash. Not bad for a man riding on 1 1/2 legs.
7:28 am PST. Stuart O'Grady seems to be struggling today. He is grimacing, and just visited his team car. He is just hanging on the race doctor's car, and is now being paced back to the front. He is definitely not feeling well.
The Credit Agricole rider has not done very well in the sprints so far, coming in 6th on Stage 1 and 10th yesterday.
7:33 am PST. The gap is dangling at about 3 minutes. The peloton seems like they are going to maintain this for a while, letting Durand and Renier fry off the front to avoid the inevitable counter-attacks that come when you catch breakaways.
7:37 am PST. The gap is around 2' 30" now. Vaughters and Bessy are nursing teammate O'Grady at the back. On the front, Lotto and Mapei have now massed to raise the pace. Postal is tucked in just behind the men on the point of the peloton. Three riders each from Mapei, Lotto, and Telekom are taking turns on the front.
7:40 am PST. 25k to go. Christophe Mengin of FDJeux.com took the mountain jersey back from AG2r's Stephane Berges on the two Cat 4 climbs earlier in the stage. Neither of these riders will be in contention for the Polka-Dot Jersey when they hit the Pyrenees. Still, good for their teams to have the jersey in the meantime.
7:45 am PST. 20 k left, as Durand and Renier just going under the banner. 1'40" is the lead. The peloton still hasn't turned it on full throttle. Once they do, it's over.
Baden Cooke of FDJeux.com had an excellent stage yesterday, coming in 4th behind super-sprinters Freire, McEwen, and Zabel. Not bad for the rookie. He commented after the stage that he has to get a bigger gear on his bike...apparently, he didn't have a big enough gear to pass the men ahead of him. He has won a lot of races recently, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him snatch a stage win before they hit the Pyrenees.
Mapei, Lotto, and Telekom are still on the front, but they still seem to be soft-pedaling a bit. The speed is high, but the peloton isn't strung out at all, indicating that they aren't at full throttle yet.
O'Grady has a few men around him at the back, but he hasn't been dropped yet. He is definitely not looking good. Meanwhile, they pass the Devil and his crazy hopping. He's built a large bike with a German flag this year (at least he's near it...it may not be his.)
It's great to see the support of the fans over the last few days...they are cycling mad. Many cyclists have commented how stunning the support has been, and appreciate it in spite of the occasional crash caused by fans and their junk in the road...
7:57 am PST. 55" is the gap to the leaders. The hammer is down. A crosswind has split the field.
The peloton slows as the road narrows into the streets leading into the city, and the split field rejoins. O'Grady was off the back in the split.
Mapei's Bodrogi takes turns with Telekom's Julich at the front. Good to see Julich so much in the action.
The gap is around 50" and is coming down fast.
O'Grady has teammates with their hands on his back pushing him along. He's just trying to make it to the finish. Two years ago, he crashed hard and then rode alone with a broken collarbone to finish the stage. He's tough as nails, and doesn't give up.
8:02 am PST. The peloton can see the leaders in a long straightaway. 9k from the finish, and they have 23" on the field (Durand and Renier). U.S. Postal has come to the front and put the hammer down as the sprinter's teams bicker.
Ekimov and Landis are hammering with "Gorgeous" George Hincapie for Postal. A CSC rider joins in.
The breakaway is caught. The field is disorganized except for Postal on the front. The Yellow Jersey is riding at the front! He won't give it up without a fight!! What class!
Mapei, CSC, and FDJeux.com all have trains at the front now jockeying for position.
8:08 am PST. Lampre is also there with the Yellow Jersey.
Now all the trains dissolve, and no organization at the front as people fight for position. The sprinters are asserting themselves slowly. Armstrong is at the front jockeying with the sprinters, to stay out of danger.
Now the peloton is stringing out with some attacks. Nothing serious. Now Telekom and Mapei are taking control with Lotto again.
Zabel is back a bit, but Steels is at the front with Freire...what a leadout man he would be!
Now a Cofidis rider, Mattan, has attacked, but he gets caught. The twists and turns are hairy, but no crashes yet. Not far to the finish.
Again, Telekom is not controlling anything. They are in the last few corners. Mapei's Hunter is at the front hammering. Credit Agricole is coming through now, for Hushovd.
Hushovd is attacking! He is caught now. McEwen is leading out! He is attacking, and Zabel is on his wheel.
McEwen swings a bit to his right, and cuts off Zabel's line. McEwen wins it!!
Zabel will likely protest, but McEwen had better position and Zabel didn't have it to come around. Freire sat up early, as he didn't have it either. He was on Zabel's wheel on the barriers to the left, but couldn't move around.
Zabel shook McEwen's hand afterward, so perhaps he feels McEwen didn't do anything wrong. Of course, Zabel now has both the Green and the Yellow Jersey's so he is feeling magnanimous despite his 2nd place finish.
After all that, O'Grady was in the mix at the end. Amazing.
Baldato from Fassa Bortolo was there too.
Svorada was there too, as was Baden Cooke, who picked up third!
Hushovd either attacked or gave a very strong leadout (a bit too strong...the group lost his wheel for a moment). Then McEwen came around on the left barriers and started the sprint from a long ways out.
Zabel was on his wheel, followed by Freire. Zabel tried to make a move on the right. Freire sat up early and was passed by Baldato and Svorada along the barriers. Zabel came towards the center, and McEwen moved to the right, but came cleanly to the line. Cooke came up the right side of the road, but couldn't take it out at the end.
It looked like Hauptmann from Tacconi Sport in 4th. He came up next to Cooke along the right side of the road, while McEwen et. al. came up the left side.
McEwen got the podium award for the stage win...looks like no protest is forthcoming. Zabel is in Green and Yellow. O'Grady came across in 10th today.
Final results in a moment for the stage and the GC. Mengin of FDJeux.com has the Polka-Dot Jersey. Bertogliati is still in the White Jersey.
1. Robbie McEwen, Lotto-Adecco 4h 13' 37"
2. Erik Zabel, Team Telekom
3. Baden Cooke, FDJeux.com
4. Andrej Hauptmann, Tacconi Sport
5. Fabio Baldato, Fassa Bortolo
6. Paolo Bossoni, Tacconi Sport
7. Jaan Kirsipuu, AG2r Prevoyance
8. Francois Simon, Bonjour
9. Jan Svorada, Lampre
10. Stuart O'Grady, Credit Agricole
11. Jose E. Gutierrez, Kelme
12. Oscar Freire, Mapei
13. Laurent Brochard, Jean Delatour
14. Luciano Pagliarini, Lampre
15. Karsten Kroon, Rabobank
16. Davide Casarotto, Alessio
17. Constantino Zaballa, Kelme
18. Jerome Pineau, Bonjour
19. Pedro Horillo, Mapei
20. Fred Rodriguez, Domo-Farm Frites
GC after Stage 3:
1. Erik Zabel, Team Telekom 13h 31' 35"
2. Robbie McEwen, Lotto-Adecco @ 8"
3. Rubens Bertogliati, Lampre-Daikin @ 14"
4. Laurent Jalabert, CSC-Tiscali @ 17"
5. Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal Service @ 17"
6. Raimondas Rumsas, Lampre-Daikin @ 20"
7. Santiago Botero, Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 21"
8. David Millar, Cofidis @ 22"
9. Laurent Brochard, Jean Delatour @ 23"
10. Oscar Freire, Mapei-Quick Step @ 25"
11. Dario Frigo, Tacconi Sport @ 25"
12. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, ONCE-Eroski @ 26"
13. Baden Cooke, FDJeux.com @ 29"
14. Joseba Beloki, ONCE-Eroski @ 30"
16. Bradley McGee, FDJeux.com @ 30"
17. Francisco Mancebo, iBanesto.com @ 31"
18. Serhiy Honchar, Fassa Bortolo @ 32"
19. Tyler Hamilton, CSC-Tiscali @ 33"
21. Levi Leipheimer, Rabobank @ 34"
25. Richard Virenque, Domo-Farm Frites @ 35"
This concludes our live coverage of Stage Three. Thank you for reading, and see you tomorrow for the Team Time Trial.