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Boonen does it again, Zabriskie still in yellow

It was Tom Boonen's day at the 2005 Tour de France -again. Still, even after the Belgian sprinter blasted away his rivals to win the 212.5km third stage from La Chataignerie to Tours in the Loire Valley, his back-to-back victory was not the talk of the Tour. Instead, it was the fireworks that erupted between two of the tightly packed speeding bunch he left in his wake - Australians Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Davitamon) and Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), who were third and fourth across the line behind Boonen and Austrian Peter Wrölich (Gerolsteiner). While Boonen had space to rent behind him

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A bit of the bump-and-grind causes McEwen to be relegated

By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

Boonen wins his second consecutive stage

Boonen wins his second consecutive stage

Photo: AFP

It was Tom Boonen’s day at the 2005 Tour de France -again.

Still, even after the Belgian sprinter blasted away his rivals to win the 212.5km third stage from La Chataignerie to Tours in the Loire Valley, his back-to-back victory was not the talk of the Tour.

Instead, it was the fireworks that erupted between two of the tightly packed speeding bunch he left in his wake – Australians Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Davitamon) and Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis), who were third and fourth across the line behind Boonen and Austrian Peter Wrölich (Gerolsteiner).

While Boonen had space to rent behind him as he crossed with arms aloft, wearing the green jersey (with matching green shorts) as leader of the points competition, there was no space between O’Grady and McEwen, who were literally on top of each other as they charged to the line.Results are posted

O’Grady’s move from off the barriers on the right and in to the left to get on Boonen’s wheel brought him into contact with McEwen, who responded by leaning right and digging his head into O’Grady’s shoulder.

Then came a spectacular double whammy of head-butts from McEwen whose antics at high speed swiftly earned the wrath of the race commissaires.

They relegated McEwen to last place in the bunch – 186th on the day – and fined him the cursory 200 Swiss francs. But his greatest penalty in a stage that he had already lost before the incident flared up – despite his lost pride – was the 26 points for third place that may prove vital in the final count for the green jersey competition.

McEwen gets a little too physical with O'Grady

McEwen gets a little too physical with O’Grady

Photo: AFP

McEwen conceded he had – just like on Sunday – launched his sprint too early, but claimed that all he was trying to do in his clash with O’Grady was to prevent a crash.

“Boonen came past. Stuey was trying to come in on Boonen’s wheel and I was just trying to stay upright,” said the two-time green jersey champion who is racing in the Australian champion’s jersey.

To be fair, McEwen was boxed in, with O’Grady was on one side and Wrölich on the other – making a veritable human sandwich out of the feisty little Australian champion.

“The race judges have made a mistake,” McEwen said confidently. “It was O’Grady who started it by leaning on me. He put his elbow and I had to lean on him to stop myself from falling. I didn’t butt him. My arm was trapped by O’Grady’s elbow. That twisted my back and pulled my head towards him.”

Hasten to say O’Grady, who was promoted from fourth place on the stage to third and earned 26 points instead of 24 for it after McEwen was relegated, saw things differently. “(Thor) Hushovd started (sprinting). I got the right spot early and started my sprint with 150m to go I saw Boonen coming past and the next thing Robbie straight out head-butted me,” he said.

Asked if he thought it was intentional, O’Grady said: “Huh? Psst.. yes” with a look of understatement.

Although, while he ruled out taking any action himself – preferring that the commissaires deal with it – he didn’t back off from calling the incident dangerous.

“It was pretty dangerous. I mean, I’m coming past and he throws out elbows and head butts,” said O’Grady. “There are always a few elbows thrown. And no one crashed, but it was a bit over the top. I suppose everything is over the top in the Tour.”

THE UNDERCARD
Before the scandal in the final 10 meters, there were actually 212.5 kilometers of bike racing, and it didn’t take long for the first attack of the day. After only 4km Belgian Philippe Gilbert (La Française des Jeux) attacked but his bold (some might call it “crazy”) move was brought to an end at 15km when he was reeled back in.

But it was 5km after the first of three fourth category climbs – the Cote de Pouzauges at 22km – that the main escape was made by three riders.

Racing off into crisp 18-degree Celsius temperatures and partly cloudy conditions were Dutchman Erik Dekker (Rabobank) who won last year’s Paris-Tours classic, Swiss Rubens Bortogliati (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Frenchman Nicolas Portal (AG2R).

While CSC commanded the front of the peloton in protection of American David Zabriskie’s yellow leader’s jersey, the trio – aided by a tail wind for most of the way – got a maximum lead of 5 minutes and 30 seconds at the feed station at Le Coq Hardi after 93km, before the big chase kicked in.

Quick Step, riding in defense of Boonen’s stage-winning chances, put Australian teammate Michael Rogers at the front for a full 30 minutes. The Davitamon-Lotto squad also sent up some help as McEwen seemed eager to avenge the tactical mishap that cost him the stage-2 win.

As the three escapees began to close in on the day’s second climb, the French Bouygues Telecom team made a cameo appearance at the front to keep alive the mountain points still on offer to team leader and 2004 Tour revelation Thomas Voeckler, who had added to his KOM lead by winning two points for second place on the first climb.

Try as they might, the boys from Bouygues couldn’t pull back the escapees on the way to the Category 4 Cote de Chinon at 161.5km. Voeckler seemed resigned to his jersey changing shoulders, and he and his team dropped back into the field.

Dekker rode himself into the climber's jersey

Dekker rode himself into the climber’s jersey

Photo: Graham Watson

Dekker, who would end the day wearing the polka-dot jersey, led the trio over the top of the Cote de Chinon with 51km to go, followed by Bortogliati and Portal, with the peloton behind them at 1 minute and 45 seconds.

It was a lead that dropped to 1 minutes and 15 seconds by the summit of the Cote de Tacconniere 18km later, another climb won by Dekker, adding to his grip on the polka-dot jersey. But the Dutchman had his eyes on another prize and refused to give up the effort, plowing ahead with his two breakaway companions stuck to his wheel.

With less than 15km to go, their lead was a desperate 45 seconds; the drop in time indicating every likelihood that Tours would host another a bunch sprint. Not that anyone told Dekker.

Fedrigo and the rest of the Bouyges Telecom crew did what they could...

Fedrigo and the rest of the Bouyges Telecom crew did what they could…

Photo: Graham Watson

With about 5km to go and with the blurred image of the peloton behind them, Bortogliati sat up, knowing that his hopes of a stage were doomed. Dekker and Portal persevered, however, sharing turns at the front in an effort that was reminiscent of last year’s Paris-Tours classic where Dekker held out to win by less than a second on these same roads.

But this was not Paris-Tours. It was the Tour de France, where every man on two wheels will fight for his space in the pack – and for a chance at glory.

Hence, Dekker and Portal were gobbled up as the stage hit the 2.5km stretch to the finish line that is the wide, flat and tree-lined Avenue de Grammont in Tours.

Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) tried his hand, attacking with 1.5km to go; but he, too, was brought back into place under the impetus of La Française des Jeux, which had Australian Baden Cooke hunting the stage win.

CSC did what it had to to protect their jersey

CSC did what it had to to protect their jersey

Photo: Graham Watson

Then Crédit Agricole stepped in with Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu leading out Hushovd, who unleashed his sprint with 300 meters to go – but that also was to no avail.

Nothing was going to stop Boonen from winning. Being the talk of Tours was another thing. That honor fell to McEwen and O’Grady for the bit of push-and-shove that took place a few meters from the line.

Not that any of it mattered to Boonen as he celebrated his second stage win in as many days.

“After your first stage win the pressure is less. But finding a bit of luck is still important,” he said. “It was good business for me today for the green jersey.”

Boonen wins again

Boonen wins again

Photo: Graham Watson

And Boonen declined to jump into the fray that was the two Aussies’ battle.

“I can’t really comment on what happened behind me because they were behind me,” he said with a smile.

STAGE 3 RESULTS
1. Tom Boonen (B), Quickstep, 4:36:09
2. Peter Wrolich (A), Gerolsteiner, 00:00
3. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Cofidis, 00:00
4. Bernhard Eisel (A), Francaise des Jeux, 00:00
5. Allan Davis (Aus), Liberty Seguros, 00:00
6. Robert Förster (G), Gerolsteiner, 00:00
7. Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Liquigas-Bianchi, 00:00
8. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom, 00:00
9. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole, 00:00
10. Angelo Furlan (I), Domina Vacanze, 00:00
Results are posted

OVERALL STANDINGS
1. David Zabriskie (USA), CSC, 8:48:31
2. Lance Armstrong (USA), Discovery Channel, 00:02
3. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun), Credit Agricole, 00:47
4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile, 00:53
5. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, 00:57
6. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, 01:02
7. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Fassa Bortolo, 01:02
8. Jens Voigt (G), CSC, 01:04
9. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Illes Balears, 01:05
10. Igor Gonzalez Galdeano (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 01:06
Results are posted


To see how the stage developed, simply CLICK HERE to bring up our Live Update window.

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