With today's parcourse it looked like U.S. Postal would have a hard time controlling the peloton, but Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole won a sprint from a breakaway group of nine riders on an otherwise uneventful day. The stage included seven categorized climbs: one Cat 1, one Cat 2, two Cat 3, and three Cat 4 climbs. There was very little flat terrain, as the roads were rolling up or down all day. Yesterday there were more attacks than you could shake a stick at, with riders flying off the front so often that you'd think they'd all had bad burritos and were racing for the outhouse. Today the winning break went after four kilometers, and the peloton was content to sit up and coast most of the day. Lotto came to the front for a while early on to try to pull things together for their sprinter Robbie McEwen. They didn't make much of a dent in the breakaways and subsequently sat up. Having failed to put a man in the break, Bonjour also came to the front for a while. They too gave up, and from there on in it was a Postie-led roll in the sun for the rest of the stage.
The breakaway included ten riders: Nicki Sorensen and Jakob Piil (CST), Thierry Loder (AG2), Christophe Mengin (FDJ), Jorg Jaksche (ONE), Leon Van Bon (DFF), Thor Hushovd (CA), Gian Matteo Fagnini (TEL), Nicola Loda (FAS), and Erik Dekker (RAB). They worked well together, establishing a lead of over 8' by the final climb of the day, the Cat 2 Col du Berthiand. With only 35km left and the peloton satisfied to let one of the breakaways win the day, the men up front attacked each other up the climb. Mengin, Sorensen, Jaksche, Loder, and Fagnini put a gap into Dekker, Piil, Van Bon, and Hushovd. Loda was completely shelled. Dekker and Van Bon did most of the work on the chase, and over the top the lead five only had a 6" advantage. On the descent the group came back together and began to attack each other again over the rolling terrain into the finish. Dekker attacked but was quickly countered. Then Mengin, Sorensen, and Jaksche got a gap that was eventually closed down by Dekker and Hushovd. By this point the peloton was 10' 30" back. Finally, with under 15km to go, Hushovd put in a blistering attack on a slight incline and only Piil and Mengin could catch his wheel. These three began working well together, putting a 27" gap on the remaining six chasers by the 11km point. The chase became demoralized, and the three leaders came to the sprint with a safe lead.
Hushovd, clearly the best sprinter in the group, was outpositioned by Mengin and Piil and forced to lead out. Mengin was in second wheel and Piil was third wheel. Piil tried to get a good jump from the back, but pulled his foot out of the pedal clip! This sparked Mengin to attack, trying to sprint around Hushovd on the right. He made a good go of it, but "The Thunder God" Hushovd was too strong and took it by half a wheel. This was an outstanding win for the young Norwegian who had almost pulled out of the Tour with heavy cramps in Stage 2. He straggled in dead last that day 31' 30" behind the winner; his perserverance paid off today, as he brings a much-needed win to the hard-luck Credit Agricole squad.
The peloton came in 11' 42" back. McEwen won the sprint for 11th from Telekom's Zabel to take a slight lead in the points competition (the two were tied coming into today's stage). McEwen now has 239pts to Zabel's 238. This race will be the most exciting part of the final stage to Paris. There were no changes in the GC today. For the live race report and results, go here
Thor Hushovd, Credit Agricole: "I was just happy to get through to this day, and I never realized I could go for a win. I had a hard day yesterday, but this morning the chief said we have to be in a breakaway because he was sure it was going to be a breakaway with ten minutes and that's exactly the thing that happened. And I was in the right one, and I'm glad I was. [My team director] helped me in the end, but I did the small attacks, but he helped me when I was in difficulty up the climbs, so today he was a good man to have in my ear."
Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal. "[The mood of the team] is relaxed, we have the last hard day behind them and they can take it easy in the time trial tomorrow. The ride into Paris is a very fun day, so hopefully we can avoid any accidents tomorrow, I can avoid accidents, and finish. Like I've said every year, I think it's important that the person in the Yellow Jersey really rides like the Maillot Jaune, proves that he's the best rider in the race. I hope I can do that [in tomorrow's time trial]."
Ham-Gazers of the Day:
Golden Hams of the Day:
- Laurent Jalabert, CSC-Tiscali. The universally popular Frenchman has attacked so often and so well in this Tour that he sewed up both the King of the Mountains competition and the Combativity competition yesterday. With two teammates up the road today, he got a much-deserved day off. All that remains is for JaJa to stay upright and roll triumphantly into Paris. This is a brilliant end to a brilliant career, and Jalabert will be missed by all.
- The Peloton. With the exception of U.S. Postal and the guys up the road, everyone was content to just sit on and recover from their seemingly endless march through the mountains. Lotto and Bonjour pulled on the front briefly, but even they gave in quickly and joined the rest of the peloton in their efforts to save what little they have left of their legs for tomorrow's time trial.
- Lance Armstrong, U.S. Postal. He just looked at the eight sets of Postie hams in front of him all day, and never had to do a lick of work. As he said to the press, he's going out tomorrow to win. His form to this point and his unofficial rest-day today looks like more bad news for his opponents.
- Thor Hushovd, Credit Agricole. "The Thunder God" has ridden well all Tour, coming across the line in 5th yesterday before his victory today. He had that one bad bout of cramps in Stage 2, but otherwise he has been nails. A great win for a deserving and classy rider, the first Norwegian stage winner in fifteen years. There will be parties in Arendal and Oslo tonight! Skol!
- Christophe Mengin, FDJeux.com; Jakob Piil, CSC-Tiscali. They both rode well today, and hung with the Norwegian when he made his big attack towards they end. Mengin has attacked several times this Tour, and this was his first break to go the distance. A great 2nd for the Frenchman. Piil had back luck when his foot came off the pedal, but he still had a wonderful ride for 3rd.
- U.S. Postal Service. The Posties have done their job, delivering Armstrong to the final time trial with a lead of over 5'. They have been dominant throughout the last two weeks, proving that they have the strongest team in the world. They have excelled on every terrain, and when the road went skyward they were truly untouchable. Kudos to the boys in blue on another outstanding Tour.