|Hello, and welcome to Stage 3 of the Tour de France!
Stage 3: La Châtaigneraie-Tours, 212.5 km
Today the riders face 212.5 mostly flat miles from La Châtaigneraie to Tours. There are three Cat 4 climbs along the way... one near the start, one at 161.5km and one at 179.5km. This should be another day for the breakaway riders to spar with the teams of the sprinters.
So as we begin, Eric Dekker (Rabobank), Nicholas Portal (AG2r Prevoyance), and Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval-Prodir) are on a long break. They have about 4' with 100km left.
Bertogliati, of course, was the man who jumped from relative obscurity to hero a few years back when he jumped the peloton and took an early stage of the Tour on a finish that had a nasty little uncategorized climb near the end.
Bertogliati took the sprinters' teams by surprise, and took enough time and enough of a time bonus that day to take the Yellow Jersey.
Dekker, for his part, is best known for his amazing Tour a few years back where he took three separate road stages in one edition, a feat nearly unheard of for a man who isn't a GC threat.
Portal is a strong rider who is another perennial Tour attacker, one of the men who give the French something to really cheer about other than the quality of their race that foreigners keep winning.
This is another good day of exposure for the Yellow and Red team of Saunier Duval. They had a rider off the front most of the day yesterday, David Canada, and Zaballa tried to jump near the end. They clearly have a plan to go out and try to snake a stage early in this race.
Those Saunier Duval kits are extremely cool... very good looking, not like some team kits (*cough* T-Mobile *cough*).
Of course, American stage hopeful Chris Horner is on the Saunier Duval squad as well. He'll be a good bet for a stage win once the road starts to tilt up a bit more. He won a very hard uphill finish at the recent Tour de Suisse.
At the front of the peloton, of course, is the Belgian armada... the Quick-Step men are chasing for "T-Bone" Tom Boonen, the man who handily won the sprint yesterday. They are joined in the chase by the Davitamon-Lotto boys who are in the service of Robbie "Napoleon" McEwen, the Australian Champion and defending champ of the Green Jersey competition.
Robbie will want to take the Green Jersey from Boonen, its current owner in this Tour. Boonen clearly anticipated wearing the Green Jersey, as he brought a pair of matching green shorts that he is wearing today as well.
1532 CEST - Ah, yes, another exciting long, flat, thrill-packed early stage of the Tour. The big news right now is that Ullrich is pulling out an energy bar and tearing it open with his teeth. He's trying to stay fueled up for both today and the next few days (when you get a hunger bonk, it takes a toll on you for a few days in a race like this).
Bertogliati, despite being a former wearer of the Yellow Jersey, wasn't on the Tour team until just before the beginning of this year's race. Last Thursday his team called him up to replace Inigo Cuesta, who was suffering though injuries that kept him from starting.
75km left. At 79km into the race, Portal took the sprint ahead of Bertogliati and Dekker (in that order). Now Bertogliati takes the final sprint of the day ahead of Dekker, with Portal third.
It's cool today, a nice overcast keeping the riders nice and comfy. Some parts of France have been suffering a heat wave, so the riders are likely lucky to have comfortable weather.
It's about 30 degrees cooler today than it was yesterday, for example. Oh, wait. A change at the front of the peloton. With the two climbs rapidly approaching, the team of Polka-Dot Jersey holder Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) have come to the fore to help with the chase. Clearly, they want their boy to take more points in that competition. I wonder if they are serious about him taking this competition over the long term?
Voeckler certainly could contend for it if he made up his mind to... as Richard Virenque showed so many times, you don't have to be the strongest climber in the race by any stretch to win the Polka Dots. It's just a matter of focusing on that competition and getting into a couple of good breaks at the right time.
Virenque, of course, helped tow Voeckler up a climb last year when the latter was struggling on a long climb while wearing the Yellow Jersey. Virenque did his part to keep his compatriot in the Yellow for another day.
I can tell you that at the time trials last year, the girlish screams of "Thomas! Thomas!" were actually louder than the girlish screams of "Reeechard! Reeechard!"
So perhaps Voeckler is trying to continue on with his claiming of the mantle of best-loved Frenchman in the Tour. I think Voeckler is actually quite popular outside of France, much moreso than Virenque was.
1552 CEST - 61km left. The riders are having a go at the "King of the Bushes" competition... there is a nice, remote field with no fans, so the riders are pulling over and pulling down the lycra.
So Quick-Step is back setting the pace at the front of the peloton. Tommy V's boys have backed off for some reason.
The gap is down to 1' 44". But the peloton is slacking the pace right now with men like Armstrong having a go at the King of the Bushes. For those of you who don't know, it is very taboo to ride hard when a big rider like Armstrong pulls over for a natural break. If you want to get yelled at by a veteran, try attacking while a man like Armstrong is tapping a kidney off the back.
Doing stuff like that will get you on lots of people's "flick list" in a hurry.
1601 CEST - Armstrong is now back near the front. He's back into his accustomed spot, sitting right behind CSC and current Yellow Jersey wearer Zabriskie. He's surrounded by his lowland gorillas, big enforcers like Padrnos and Hincapie keeping him out of the wind and making sure nobody gets too close to him. Noval and Padrnos are the designated Lance bodyguards at the moment, actually.
Davitamon-Lotto and Quick Step are still sharing the pacemaking at the point of the pack. The riders off the front will reach the 2nd "climb" of the day ahead of the peloton. They now have a 2' 05" gap, so that natural break took the, um, impetus out of the peloton for a moment and allowed the men off the front to build their lead.
1607 CEST - So Dekker takes the sprint over the top of the "climb"... more of an uphill bump (said the man who rode Ventoux last summer)... Bertogliati looked 2nd. The first climb earlier today was actually quite interesting, and likely shows who has long-term ambitions in this competition: 1) Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), 2) Voeckler, 3) Laurent "Le Mullet" Brochard (Bouygues Telecom).
Wegmann won the King of the Mountains competition last year in the Giro, and is of course a big threat to take it this year in the Tour. Voeckler currently has 5 points, enough for the lead still in the competition. If Dekker wins the next climb, though, he'll move 1 point up on Tommy V.
So Brochard, known for having the worst haircut this side of a 1980s Whitesnake concert, could have been working with Voeckler on that first climb of the day. But he is also a man who can climb very well and threaten for victory in the race for the Polka Dot Jersey.
In the race for bad hair in this year's Tour, here are the current standings: 1) Laurent "Le Mullet" Brochard, 2) Vladimir "Shag" Karpets (who is working a Kurt Cobain after mopping the house floors with his head look), 3) Tom Boonen (who is still earning points for that awful psuedo-mohawk mullet he had during the classics).
Of course, Lance has the best haircut in this Tour: the Jean Luc Picard look (said the bald man judging the competition)...
Brochard has won this bad hair competition for the last several years now. The man who wins the competition gets a free visit to a military barber after the race.
1619 CEST - The peloton is really moving along right now. Zabriskie is looking comfy with his Yellow Jersey again today. Tomorrow, he will look to hold off Lance as he faces the Team Time Trial... CSC has some big motors, and has to be considered a favorite for a top finish (Zabriskie, Basso, Julich, and Voigt can all hammer out a mean time trial).
Armstrong's team has owned the TTT for the last couple of years, however.
Vinokourov is sporting a very snappy kit as Champion of Kazahkstan. It is a solid light blue kit with a large gold stripe around the chest. He's got a matching helmet, shorts, and shoes. (God help me, I think I've started to channel Crazy Jane...).
1624 CEST - 36km left. So it looks like the break of Bertogliati, Dekker, and Portal will stay away for the final "climb" of the day. If Dekker comes in first, he'll take the Polka Dot Jersey.
Jaan Kirsipuu (Credit Agricole) is wearing the Estonian Champion Jersey, which is three Blue, White, and Black stripes around the torso. Nice looking that. Kirsipuu won a sprint stage last year, and he's worn Yellow before in the Tour. He's moving on in years, so he's working for Hushovd in this race. He gave Hushovd a great leadout in the sprint yesterday, as the big Norwegian came in 2nd.
Portal sets the pace in the break, but it seems unlikely they will stay away to the finish. Well, Dekker takes the sprint and is now the leader of the King of the Mountains competition. Good result for Dekker, a very popular man amongst the fans.
That hardly looked like a climb... it looked more like a false flat, and not even a false flat with attitude. The Italians and Spanish are probably shaking their head over this being classified as a climb. The Belgians and the Dutch, however, can clearly see why it is a Cat 4. It was 1.2 km to 4.8%, but it didn't look like 4.8%...At any rate, that race for the KOM jersey was exciting regardless of what the French organizers are calling climbs these days.
1635 CEST - Credit Agricole has now contributed a rider or two to the chase at the front of the peloton. They must have liked how Hushovd looked in that sprint yesterday.
1' 15" is the gap now for the leaders. Dekker tries to accelerate, not really an attack, but he's trying to stay away as they wind through the narrow roads of a town. Bertogliati would have to be favored in the sprint if these three stay away (not likely, though).
Lance Armstrong is about fifth wheel right now as the peloton rolls through town... he must not have liked the look of these corners and wanted to stay out of trouble.
The peloton is split up by a bit of road furniture. But they keep it together and keep the pace high.
1641 CEST - 20km left. Crash!! Well, it was not really a crash... almost a crash... a couple of guys clipped out as the road narrowed between some funky concrete barriers.
There were lots of guys shouldering into each other, but none of them hit the deck... lucky that. A couple of guys went out and around the barriers, through some hay bails.
1645 CEST - Well, the hammer is still down. Vinokourov is right up near the front... no pink jerseys near him, which is strange.
14km left. 45" lead for the break. The three breakaways roll through a hairy corner... the peloton will not like that one bit. Dekker is now doing all the work, hammering like a madman.
Zabriskie is being protected by Lombardi near the front, and Voigt is there for him too. Davitamon-Lotto and Quick Step are working with Cofidis and Credit Agricole to keep the pace high. O'Grady (Cofidis) had a very good finish yesterday, taking 4th in the sprint, so he's on form. The Cofidis boys must have liked that.
The gap is now 35"... over soon, but a great effort by Dekker, Bertogliati, and Portal.
1653 CEST - Bertogliati has sat up, and he's caught. Dekker and Portal have the bit in the teeth, not giving up. They still have 20".
10km left. Dekker still drives it. The peloton is breathing down the neck of the break. 15" is the gap. Well, it is all strung out single file in the peloton. The pain is on. Gerolsteiner and Quick Step on the front. Gerolsteiner is working for Förster.
1700 CEST - 5km left. A nasty little uphill corner... there are only a few meters now for Dekker and Portal...
Dekker looks over his shoulder and sees that the jig is up. FDJeux.com is now at the front... they are pulling hard. A sharp left-hander, but no problems. Dekker is still not giving up even though the gap is only 5".
3km left. Dekker and Portal are still clear! Holy Toledo!
Baden Cooke's boys are still hammering in the peloton. It looks almost over, but it's looked that way for a long time now. 4" the gap. Amazing!
A counter-attack! Dekker has caught on... but the counter-attack goes by him. The White Jersey of Cancellara!
They are on an uphill shunt... they are in the final kilometer, and McGee on point, catches Cancellara.
FDJeux.com gives way to the Credit Agricole train... Hushovd has Kirsipuu leading him out.
Here comes a big sprint! Boonen and McEwen... Boonen wins it!
McEwen got left behind, and then he and O'Grady were headbutting and leaning on each other behind him. Long history of that between these two...
Boonen just dusted everybody again, coming right up the middle of the drag strip. McEwen and O'Grady banged together, and Robbie had to put his shoulder into O'Grady to keep from going down... but having said that, it looked like he put a little more body language than necessary behind that headbutt he lobbed at O'Grady. There will be lots of discussion about that tonight.
It was a very competitive sprint. Hushovd had the perfect leadout up the right side of the road, but Hushovd got swamped by the charge of Boonen, McEwen, O'Grady and Wrolich. Wrolich snuck in to take second while McEwen and O'Grady were blowing kisses at each other.
Wow, McEwen was really the aggressor in that game of patti-cakes with O'Grady... McEwen took O'Grady by a hair.
And, might I add, Brochard's hair is still ugly.
Eisel seems to have better sprinting legs than Cooke... But "T-Bone" Tom Boonen is a bike faster than everyone right now. He came from about ten positions back, picked his way through and then blew the doors off.
Wrolich put in a big smile as he crossed that line... that is a great finish for him. He really timed it well, and benefitted from the Aussie civil war.
No changes in the GC headed into tomorrow's big TTT showdown, but McEwen has been relegated! O'Grady has been moved up to third, and McEwen has been shipped to the bottom of the stage results.
Zabriskie says that for the TTT, CSC has a good opportunity to keep the Yellow with their strong team, good equipment, and pole position.
The official remarks with the top ten:
"The rider who crossed the line in third place in stage three has been relegated by the race jury. Robbie McEwen hindered the line of Stuart O’Grady in the final meters of the stage. The new top 10 is:
1. Tom Boonen (QST)
2. Peter Wrolich (GST)
3. Stuart O’Grady (COF)
4. Bernhard Eisel (FDJ)
5. Allan Davis (LWT)
6. Robert Forster (GST)
7. Magnus Backstedt (LIQ)
8. Anthony Geslin (BTL)
9. Thor Hushovd (C.A)
10. Angelo Furlan (DOM)
"McEwen was relegated to 186th place - the last place of the main peloton."
All righty, there's our coverage of today's stage. Full results to come, and you won't want to miss the team time trial on Tuesday. Happy Independence Day to our American readers, and a good day and evening to all!
Full results and classifications