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By Andrew Hood
Alessandro Petacchi didn’t really want to come to this year’s Tour de France.
After winning six stages and holding the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia, the big Italian sprinter thought his season was pretty much a wrap. But Fassa Bortolo team brass convinced him to change his mind.
Now he’s glad they did, because on Thursday Petacchi won his third stage in five days after sprinting into Nevers ahead of Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) to win a steamy fifth stage as the Tour plunged south across the rolling hills of Burgundy and Nièvre.
“I came here with the aim of winning a stage,” Petacchi said. “I feel more tired mentally than physically, but I am very happy to have won the three sprints I’ve been in, more so because it’s a quality group of riders that are here.”
Fdjeux.com controlled the race coming into a narrow, curving finishing stretch, but nothing could stop Petacchi, who jumped early and held out for a clear win. “I made my move from far back and started to go with about 200 meters to go. It was risky because I’m not a sprinter like [Robbie] McEwen or [Oscar] Freire, who can make the jump then change gears in the final 50 meters if they need to.”
Petacchi’s dominance has kept perennial Tour sprint winners such as Erik Zabel and McEwen fighting for scraps. The only other sprint of this week went to fdjeux.com’s Baden Cooke, who came across third on Thursday. Petacchi is also now within a single point of grabbing the Tour’s points jersey from McEwen.
Temperatures nudged into the 90s for what’s been the hottest stage so far in this year’s Tour. Riders came across the line soaking in sweat after fighting through the rolling stage with a brisk average of 47.201 kph.
Another quick start
The riders soon went into action, with 14 men easing away just 14km. But one of those riders – Postal’s Roberto Heras – was too far ahead on GC to be ignored by the peloton and the chase began soon after.
Indeed, the peloton’s target was clearly Peña, because as the 14 were being reeled back in, five riders managed to elude capture and they were allowed to stay off the front for much of the day.
In the group were the French riders Nicolas Jalabert (CSC), Frédéric Finot (Jean Delatour) and Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r), along with Hungarian Laszlo Bodrogi (Quick Step) and German Jens Voigt (Crédit Agricole). They worked together to build a 3:05 gap about halfway through the 196.5km stage, but the sprinting teams weren’t about to let them go with the Alps looming Saturday.
Peña stays in yellow, Finot gains polka-dots
U.S. Postal-Berry Floor started the day in the warm afterglow of Wednesday’s dramatic win in the team time trial, with Victor Hugo Peña enjoying a first full day in the yellow jersey on his 29th birthday. As for his team leader, Lance Armstrong finished safely in 53rd with the same time as Petacchi.
“I can’t imagine a better birthday present,” Peña said after retaining the jersey. “It’s been a very special day.”
Peña is the first Colombian to wear the yellow jersey, but Postal Service had to do very little work to defend it on Thursday.
His teammate Floyd Landis said, “It was hotter than normal, a little bit nervous. Guys are getting tired, but we avoided crashes, so we’re getting through it. That [break] worked out well. We were happy about that. The course was hard, just all day up and down. That was the worst kind. We didn’t have to do anything.”
From the five-man front group, Finot made a late solo charge when the peloton reeled in the others, but he fell short with 20km to go. Jean Delatour’s Finot – who was also in a long break on stage 2 – was first over two Cat. 4 climbs in Thursday’s stage and grabbed the polka-dot climber’s jersey from Christophe Mengin of fdjeux.com.
Quick Step’s Paolo Bettini, Alex Vinokourov (Telekom) and Sebastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole) jumped with 15km, but the move didn’t last long. La Boulangère’s Jérôme Pineau then tried to get clear but was caught inside 4km to go. Heading into Nevers, ONCE’s Angel Vicioso crashed with 3km to go and was sent to a local hospital where X-rays revealed that he has a fracture of the humerus bone in his left elbow. He won’t start the race on Friday.
Hamilton presses on
Meanwhile, CSC’s Tyler Hamilton bravely fought through another stage but admitted that riding with a fractured right clavicle is taking its toll.
“For me, it was hard at the end. It’s hard for me to stand up on those rollers and if you have to sit down, it makes for a hard stage,” Hamilton said. “There were some pretty big bumps today and you cannot avoid every one. It takes its toll. I’m not super-comfortable on the bike and that’s part of the reason I don’t ride right at the front. The first day, I rode at the back all day for respect for the whole peloton. If I’m dangerous, I don’t want to cause any trouble.”
Wednesday’s searing temperatures caused Hamilton’s shoulder to swell and he was forced to have the protective padding and bandages removed during the middle of the race because they were causing even more pain.
“It really started to swell. I had it all taped up, but the tape didn’t stretch so I had to take it off. It was becoming so painful we decided to take it off,” said Hamilton, who added the pain was bad once again Thursday. He had an ice bag on his injured shoulder after the stage finish, and he was scheduled to visit a local hospital for X-rays Thursday evening to see how the collarbone is healing.
The Tour rolls on Friday with a very long, 230km stage 6 from Nevers to Lyon, one of the six original Tour cities featured in 1903. The stage has this Tour’s first Cat. 3 climb, the Côte des Echarmeaux at 159km and the Cat. 4 Côte de Lozanne at 207.5km, before a fast run into Lyon for a flat finish over the final 5km.
To see how today’s stage unfolded, just bring up our Live Update Window.