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McEwen wins dramatic sprint as break swarmed at line

Australian Robbie McEwen became the first double stage winner of this year's Tour de France with his victory in the ninth stage - the last chance for the sprinters to win before the race enters the mountains on Wednesday. In one of the tightest finishes so far, McEwen (Lotto-Domo) beat Norway's Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) and Australian Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) in 3:32:55 to take the 160.5km stage from Saint Leonard de Noblet to Gueret. “I'm happy I've won two bunch sprints,” McEwen said. “I probably had a chance at another couple, but you can't win every day. “After today I feel like I

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By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

McEwen is concerned about the climbing to come with a bum knee

McEwen is concerned about the climbing to come with a bum knee

Photo: AFP

McEwen wins a mad dash to the line

McEwen wins a mad dash to the line

Photo: Graham Watson

Australian Robbie McEwen became the first double stage winner of this year’s Tour de France with his victory in the ninth stage – the last chance for the sprinters to win before the race enters the mountains on Wednesday.

In one of the tightest finishes so far, McEwen (Lotto-Domo) beat Norway’s Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) and Australian Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) in 3:32:55 to take the 160.5km stage from Saint Leonard de Noblet to Gueret.

“I’m happy I’ve won two bunch sprints,” McEwen said. “I probably had a chance at another couple, but you can’t win every day.

“After today I feel like I have been – in the first half of the Tour – the best sprinter in the Tour, and that gives me great satisfaction no matter what happens from here on.”

McEwen’s win follows his victory in stage two at Namur, which led to a brief spell in the yellow jersey. His latest success also extended his lead in the sprinters’ green-jersey competition, giving him 195 points to Hushovd’s 177, followed by O’Grady with 175. Six-time points champion Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) is lurking in fourth with 170 points.

Voeckler hopes to stay in yellow

Voeckler hopes to stay in yellow

Photo: Graham Watson

Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Brioches la Boulangere) continues to lead the Tour with O’Grady second at 2:53 and France’s Sandy Casar (Fdjeux.com) at 4:06. Among the top overall contenders, Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service-Berry Floor) is sixth at 9:35, Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) is 11th at 10:11, Germany’s Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) is 20th at 12:30, and American Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) is 23rd at 10:43.

A mad dash to the line

As tight as today’s finish was, there was more to “tight” than the half-wheel separating the first three to cross the line outside a French military base in Gueret. They led home a charging bunch that caught a two-man breakaway just 25 meters before the finish line. It was as dramatic as finale as anyone could imagine.

One of the attackers, Spaniard Igor Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) hung on to finish10th, while Italian Felipo Simeoni (Domina Vacanza) crossed in 17th.

Voeckler's team masses at the front

Voeckler’s team masses at the front

Photo: Graham Watson

Their attack at 38km was the main move of the day, putting them a maximum of 10:05 ahead of the pack at 92km, on the summit of the Cote d’Aubusson, one of only two Cat. 4 climbs. It made for a fast day, too, with 45km covered in the first hour and another blistering 40km finale as the bunch chased the desperate escapees all the way to the line.

“I’m sad and disappointed,” said Simeoni, who before today’s dramatic breakaway has been more known for his stated intention to take Armstrong to court over remarks made about him in France’s Le Monde newspaper last year.

To many, the Italian’s escape was regarded as a defiant message to Armstrong, something he denied.

“It’s not to make a statement,” said Simeoni. “It’s more a question of pride. I came here on good form, and with the intention of taking something away from it. But the Tour’s not over yet, and I still plan to go for a stage win.”

Heavy duty ahead for jersey hunters

For the overall contenders like Armstrong, the stage was their last one of relative quiet. Not only was it inconsequential as regards the overall standings, the chase by the sprinters’ teams of Landaluze and Simeoni gave them an express ride to the finish.

Conditions were also favorable for a tired and battered peloton that now numbers just 172 riders after Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2R) abandoned early in the stage; it was cool at the start and mild but slightly windy toward the end.

“We just sat on the wheels,” said Armstrong. “There was no responsibility for us to chase. We were really flying.”

Still, Armstrong warned that a repeat of the frenetic race pace early tomorrow could prove critical.

“If we start as fast (tomorrow) as we did today, it will be a real big day because there will be a lot of people going home,” he said.

For McEwen and the other sprinters, today was one of their last real chances to savor a victory before the finish in Paris on July 25. And it very nearly eluded them, considering how close the two breakaways were to sneaking across the line before them.

“When we came around the corner, I thought it was not going to be easy to win this with the two in front,” said McEwen. “But I took it (the sprint) on my right. And I knew the two guys in front would became a bit of a hindrance in the middle if they were going to be caught.”

McEwen was quick to praise his teammates for their tireless work in bringing back the two attackers. He paid special credit to Dutchman Aart Vierhouten, and the Belgian pair of Wim Vansevenant and Thierry Marichal, for their hard work.

`’They rode their guts out to catch the break,” said McEwen.

Now, the Australian must turn his attention to the Pyrénées and Alps, where his performance may be hampered by tendinitis in the left leg, an after-effect of his crash in the finale at Angers.

“Coming into today, the most important thing for me was to remain in the race,” McEwen said. “When we went out to train on the rest day, my teammates will tell you, I had to stop six times because my knee was hurting.”

In the coming days, McEwen realizes, the cards are in the hands of O’Grady and Hushovd. And he was told to expect an attack in Wednesday’s stage by O’Grady, who will be trying to get away in a breakaway group.

O’Grady, who also has one stage win to his name, confirmed he would hunt for bonus points in the climbing stages. He knows he is a better climber than McEwen.

“Every point counts,” O’Grady said. “I won’t have as much trouble in the mountains as the other riders. So hopefully I can use my forte there and get over some climbs and let the other sprinters struggle.”


Resultsare postedTo see how today’s stage unfolded, simply open our LIVE UPDATE WINDOW and check back soon for a complete stage report, photos and more.

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