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Nazon wins; McEwen in yellow; Armstrong dispatches major rival

Lance Armstrong can strike the name of Iban Mayo from his list of major rivals hoping to keep him from a sixth Tour de France victory. The Spaniard lost nearly four minutes after he was involved in a crash during the third stage, which covered 210km from Waterloo, Belgium, to Wasquehal in France. A final podium finish is still possible for Mayo, but he conceded that his hopes of overall victory are now gone. “That is clear,” said Mayo after the stage finish. “I am very sad about what happened, especially for the team rather than me. There were so many nerves out there Tuesday. Then there

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Mayo and Moreau lose nearly four minutes

By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

Nazon takes the sprint ahead of Zabel and McEwen

Nazon takes the sprint ahead of Zabel and McEwen

Photo: Graham Watson

Lance Armstrong can strike the name of Iban Mayo from his list of major rivals hoping to keep him from a sixth Tour de France victory. The Spaniard lost nearly four minutes after he was involved in a crash during the third stage, which covered 210km from Waterloo, Belgium, to Wasquehal in France.

A final podium finish is still possible for Mayo, but he conceded that his hopes of overall victory are now gone.

“That is clear,” said Mayo after the stage finish. “I am very sad about what happened, especially for the team rather than me. There were so many nerves out there Tuesday. Then there was the crash, which I could not avoid.”

Armstrong stayed out of trouble again today

Armstrong stayed out of trouble again today

Photo: Graham Watson

Mayo was the biggest name among many who literally fell victim to the hazards of the cobblestones of northern France in the ride to Wasquehal.

In a day marked by warm and sunny conditions, he finished 3:53 down on the main group, led home by French stage winner Jean-Patrick Nazon (AG2R).

Other top-five contenders to finish with Mayo were his teammate Haimar Zubeldia; last year’s best young rider, Russian Denis Menchov (Illes Balears); and Frenchman Christophe Moreau (Credít Agricole).

In the main group with Armstrong were other key rivals: German Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile); American Tyler Hamilton (Phonak); Spaniard Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros); and the Italian duo of Ivan Basso (CSC) and Gilberto Simoni (Saeco).

The day could hardly have ended any worse for Mayo or his team from the Basque Country. His spill on the left side of the road may not have occurred on the cobbles, but it was caused by the frenetic pace set on the approaches to the pavé by Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team, which knotted nerves in the bunch.

By the time they neared the first of two sectors of pavé – 2800 meters long, starting at Erre – the peloton had already split into four groups.

And McEwen got the jersey

And McEwen got the jersey

Photo: Graham Watson

The race was led by two riders who had escaped from the stage start — German Jens Voigt (CSC) and Dutchman Bram De Groot (Rabobank) whose maximum lead of 6:30 at 94km was dropping fast.

In Mayo’s spill after 144km were 10 riders: his teammate Ike Flores; Norwegian yellow-jersey wearer Thor Hushovd (Credít Agricole); Spaniard Benjamin Noval (U.S. Postal); Austrian Gerrit Glomser (Saeco); Australians Michael Rogers (Quick Step) and Baden Cooke (Fdjeux.com); and Italians Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) and Marco Velo (Fassa Bortolo). Velo was carted off to hospital with a broken collarbone.

“I was in about seventh or eighth position when it happened,” said Rogers, who suffered a bruised calf. “Someone went down in front of me. I chased for ages on my own and was lucky to catch Mayo’s group. But with him off the back, the front group went crazy.”

The front group certainly did, and while Mayo was joined by four Euskaltel teammates to try to get back onto Armstrong et al, he never ever looked like succeeding.

For Armstrong, who escaped unblemished, the experience was no fun, either.

Hincapie powered the move across the cobbles

Hincapie powered the move across the cobbles

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“Thankfully, I had some experienced guys like George (Hincapie) and Eki (Viatcheslav Ekimov) to get me through that today,” Armstrong said.

The crash set the tone for the rest of the stage, as the various groups behind Armstrong’s regrouped, growing to 60 riders. There was no shortage of drama up front, either. Armstrong’s group contained sprinters like Nazon, German Erik Zabel (T-Mobile), Australian Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) and Belgian Tom Boonen (Quick Step), who would claim the first four places in the stage.

The Postal-led group, knowing full well of Mayo’s downfall, continued full speed ahead to catch Voigt and De Groot at 163km. Also helping to set the fierce tempo for a common cause were Phonak (Hamilton), and T-Mobile (Ullrich).

At the second 1100-meter-long sector of cobblestones at Gruson, after 184km, the gap between the Armstrong and Mayo groups was two minutes. This sector was spared the numbers of falls seen on the first stretch, but it did not pass without a little extra drama. Australian Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) and Swede Magnus Backstedt (Alessio) crashed early in the sector – and worse for O’Grady, he was stopped by the gate of a rail crossing that dropped just as he came within 10 seconds of rejoining the leaders.

“Can anything else happen?” asked an angry O’Grady later.

By this point, with about 20km to go and with Mayo’s destiny sealed, all that was left was the fight for the stage win and the yellow jersey, left vacant by Hushovd’s absence from the lead group.

With 8km remaining, the attacks began, with Frenchman Sylvain Calzati (RAGT) lighting the fuse and taking four others with him. The break was soon caught courtesy of the Fassa Bortolo and Gerolsteiner riders, who wanted a sprint finish.

But it was yesterday’s stage winner, McEwen, who launched the sprint home — just a little bit too early. On a slightly uphill finish, Nazon and Zabel passed him near the line.

Nazon was a happy man for winning the 2004 Tour’s first stage finish in France. The winner of the last stage into Paris last year, he even joked about his fortune, saying of the world’s biggest event: “It is almost easier than some other races.”

However, McEwen was still able to leave Wasquehal with some cause for celebration.

His time bonus for third place and a two-second bonus he claimed at the first of three intermediate sprints, at 42km, was enough to take the yellow jersey.

“I have never worn a leader’s jersey in a grand tour,” said McEwen, who also has leadership of the points competition and now has an overall lead of one second on prologue winner Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) who finished 14th at the same time of Nazon.

McEwen is harboring no false illusion of keeping the yellow jersey after Wednesday’s 64.5km fourth stage team time trial.

“The team will just enjoy having the jersey,” he said.

“I don’t think there should be too much expected from our team. We don’t have a rider for the overall classification.

“We will just go out and try and have a good day and get on with the Tour after. We are not here for a performance in the team time trial.”Weather Forecast for Wednesday:
Partly cloudy skies early. A few showers developing later in the day. High 73F. Winds ENE at 15 to 25 mph. Chance of rain 50 percent, increasing to 80 percent as evening approaches.


Full Results posted.To see how today’s decisive stage unfolded, simply open up our LIVE UPDATE WINDOW.


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