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Stage 1: It’s Zabel!

6:00p.m. (local time) Telekom's Erik Zabel is celebrating his stage win and Festina's Christophe Moreau retains the overall leader's yellow jersey. Today's top five:1. Erik Zabel (Deutsche Telekom)2. Romans Vainsteins (Domo-Farm Frites)3. Jimmy Casper (Française Des Jeux)4. Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole)5. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) Check back for complete results, a stage wrap-up from VeloNews Senior Writer Bryan Jew, commentary and preview from VeloNews editorial director John Wilcockson and compelling images from this first stage by VeloNews photographers Graham Watson and Casey

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By VeloNews Editorial staff

6:00p.m. (local time) Telekom’s Erik Zabel is celebrating his stage win and Festina’s Christophe Moreau retains the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

Today’s top five:1. Erik Zabel (Deutsche Telekom)2. Romans Vainsteins (Domo-Farm Frites)3. Jimmy Casper (Française Des Jeux)4. Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole)5. Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R)

Check back for complete results, a stage wrap-up from VeloNews Senior Writer Bryan Jew, commentary and preview from VeloNews editorial director John Wilcockson and compelling images from this first stage by VeloNews photographers Graham Watson and Casey Gibson.

5:53p.m. (local time) Brouchard is caught 300 meters from the line… it’s now a field sprint.

And it’s Zabel! Telekom’s Erik Zabel outsprints Domo’s reigning world champion, Romans Vaisteins, who takes second.

5:53p.m. (local time) Former world champion Brouchard is still ahead.

5:52p.m. (local time) McGee and Bouyer are caught. Now three riders – Brouchard, N. Jalabert and Robbie Hunter – have a small gap.

About to be caught, Brouchard takes off on his own.

McGee crashes! He’s chasing back on.

5:48p.m. (local time) The two leaders — Brad McGee (Française Des Jeux) and Frank Bouyer (Bonjour) have 10 seconds on the field. Telekom and Postal are chasing.

5:45p.m. (local time) The attacks are starting off the front. Brad McGee (Française Des Jeux) and Frank Bouyer (Bonjour) have a slight advantage.

5:41p.m. (local time) Up front, George Hincapie is moving to the head of the field.

Off the back, Nardello is still riding. He is hoping to finish and get medical attention tonight and be ready to ride tomorrow.

5:39p.m. (local time) With less than 10km to go, the big teams are jockeying for position at the front of the field. Rabobank, Festina, Telekom and Domo have moved into the prime spots.

5:37p.m. (local time) The wind has split the field, leaving some key sprinters off the back, including Tom Steels (Mapei) and Fred Rodriguez (Domo).

5:35p.m. (local time) Caught. With 15km to go, the two escapees have been caught after more than 100km.

5:30p.m. (local time) Durand has managed to take the second KOM sprint of the day, the Cat. IV Cote de Cap Gris-Nez. He’ll be in the Polka dot jersey, for at least one day.

The leaders are in view of the main group, now less than a minute behind, with just 17km to go.

Lampre’s key sprinter Jan Svorada flatted and the team sent three of their riders toward the back. The change and the chase were successful. Svorada and company have rejoined.

5:23p.m. (local time) With less than 20km to go, the gap is now under 2:00.

5:20p.m. (local time) With 22km to go, the two leaders have an advantage of just 2:05.

5:15p.m. (local time) Nardello is up and riding, but he looks like he is in pain.

5:13p.m. (local time) Crash. Italian national champion Daniele Nardello (Mapei) has gone down in a crash. He is now being attended to by Tour doctors.

5:11p.m. (local time) With 28km to go, the gap is down to 3:00.

The Credit Agricole squad of Stuart O’Grady has moved to the front, joining Rabobank, Festina in the chase.

5:02p.m. (local time) The chase is getting serious now. Until now, the Ag2R squad has headed up the effort, but the Rabobank, Domo and now Festina teams have assumed more of the responsibility.

The gap is down to 3:38.

4:54p.m. (local time) Jacky Durand has taken the first climber’s points of the 2001 Tour de France, scooting ahead of Oreol at the crest of the Category IV Cote de Desvres.

Durand’s team director has already said that the climber’s jersey was Durand’s big goal for the day. He has one more Cat.IV climb coming in about 20km.

The race leaders now have an advantage of about 3:50.

VeloNews’s Lennard Zinn reports that the crowds are beginning to assemble at the finish area near the beach in Boulogne-sur-Mer. “It seems pretty cold to be at the beach, but these are tough people,” said Zinn.

The crowds have the benefit of having the publicity caravan working the streets near the finish. Because the pace has been so slow, the caravan has been able to spend a bit of extra time on the streets near the finish, so the crowd is getting a good shot at scoring some of the swag being tossed off from the caravan.

4:40p.m. (local time) The time gap is still around 4:30. The Ag2R team is still leading the chase, though their pace has slowed.

Tour radio reports that Telekom’s Kloden has pulled off for a tire change. A few of his teammates have slipped back to help him regain the group.

4:30p.m. (local time) With 59km remaining, the leaders have an advantage of 4:43.

4:22p.m. (local time) Credit Agricole’s Stuart O’Grady scooted off from the peloton to take the third spot in the intermediate sprint, earning a two-second time bonus. Ahead, Oriol took first, grabbing the six-second bonus, while Durand earned the four-second bonus for second.

The gap is now down to 5:10.

4:14p.m. (local time) The two leaders have passed the sprint mark with a gap of 5:55 over the rest of the field.

John Wilcockson says the weather is still holding with low clouds, strong winds and no real rainfall.

4:04p.m. (local time) We have about 79km remaining. The leaders have an advantage of 7:00.

Things are back to normal after that odd interuption. The Ag2R squad is heading up the chase.

Lennard Zinn has been chatting with Lance Armstrong’s coach Chris Carmichael in the press room.Carmichael said Armstrong felt good yesterday, though he was surprised by the number of fans boo-ing him along the way. His teammate Tyler Hamilton mentioned it yesterday in his VeloNews race Diary. It seems the Postal squad’s Cedric Vasseur is from the area and his fans were expressing their disappointment in the team’s decision not to include the French rider n the Tour team.

But Carmichael was particularly interested in his rider’s speed and cadence. Armstrong, he said, clearly had the fastest cadence of the riders contesting the prologue.

“It makes sense for a guy like Ullrich to push a bigger gear. He has more power. Lance makes up for that with a higher cadence. The watts-per-stroke are less, but you have to be a lot more aerobically fit to maintain the higher cadence.”

In this case he was, finishing three seconds ahead of the Telekom star.

3:54p.m. (local time) The peloton is underway again and the two leaders have an advantage of 7:15.

3:51p.m. (local time) UCI officials have neutralized the race and will require the peloton to wait at the railroad crossing for the same time that Durand and Oriol had to wait.

Strange, but fair, eh?

3:51p.m. (local time) The two leaders have a gap of 4:34.

3:46p.m. (local time) The train has passed and the two leaders are back on the road. The gap has been cut by 4:00.

3:43p.m. (local time) A train!?!?!?!? Durand and Oriol are stopped at a railway crossing.

Who knows how long this will take?

3:21p.m. (local time) A quick correction: Lennard Zinn reports that Festina’s Moreau had only required a rear wheel change on that second mechanical stop that he made.

Meanwhile the two leaders have passed the 85km mark and have an advantage the remains around 8:00.

Mapei, Credit Agricole and Ag2R are leading the chase. The Domo squad seems to have pulled back. Festina is not involved in the effort.

3:18p.m. (local time) Durand and Oriol have had their advantage cut to 8:05.

3:13p.m. (local time) The two leaders are now 9:00 minutes up on the field and finally a chase has begun.

The Mapei squad, hoping to put Tom Steels in position for a stage win, is leading the chase. The Domo squad, maybe setting up for Fred Rodriguez or Romans Vainsteins, is also up front, led by Johan Museeuw.

Oddly enough, the Festina squad didn’t do much, as it appears that the man in yellow, Christophe Moreau, has been having bike troubles. He’s already made one successful bike switch and is now chasing to get back on after his second.

Meanwhile, Ag2R team director Vincent Lavenu has said that it was the team’s plan to get their ace sprinter Kirsipuu into the yellow jersey, but “it’s Festina’s job to chase… besides, both of the guys off the front are former riders of mine.”

The average speed for the second hour was 34.8kph, giving us a two-hour average speed of 36.3kph.

2:54p.m. (local time) By the 62km mark Durand had enough of a lead, that he decided he could take a “strategic” bathroom break and pulled over to relieve himself. This, of course, allowed Oriol to catch up and the two have been working together for the last seven kilometers.

At the 69km mark, their lead is now up to 7:33. Obviously, the pack is not doing much to chase. The teams of the two leaders — Française Des Jeux and Jean Delatour — are up front, doing very little but chatting between themselves and on their race radios.

2:45p.m. (local time) Durand now has an advantage of 2:45 on the main field at the 62km mark. He is 48 seconds ahead of Oriol.

The two leaders are now in the town of Auchy-les-Hesvin. Of course, with only the prologue behind them, this gap means that Durand is now race-leader on the road.

VeloNews’s Lennard Zinn reports that conditions are still bad. “It’s windier than @#$%, though the rain has stopped.”

2:29p.m. (local time) Mr. Breakaway, Jacky Durand (Française Des Jeux) is off the front.

He attacked at kilometer 55 and quickly built up a 20-second lead.

That lead is up to 45 seconds at 57km. The roads are very twisty and Durand is well out of sight of the main group, which is not giving chase — yet.

One rider — Christophe Oriol (Jean Delatour) — is in pursuit. He has a 20-second advantage over the field.

2:10p.m. (local time) The race is into its second hour now. The first hour was covered at a speed of 37.8kph, though that should be increasing soon as the course has now turned out of the straight-on headwind that was present throughout the opening section of the stage.

Though the course profile makes this stage look almost completely flat, John Wilcockson – who on riding the course in the VeloNews car – says that the map is “a bit deceptive,” in that the entire route is on winding country roads that constantly dip and rise through the countryside.

There are still big crowds along side the road, though many of them are starting to bring out their umbrellas as the rain is starting up again.

1:59p.m. (local time) As is to be expected, a small break formed up just after the bonus sprint. Three riders — Ludo Dierckxens (Lampre), Frederic Guesdon (Française Des Jeux) and Bram De Groot (Rabobank) — built up a 15-second lead by the 35km mark. They were being pursued by Credit Agricole’s Jens Voigt and Big mat’s Sebastian Talabardon (the first starter in yesterday’s prologue, by the way).

All five riders were caught as the day’s first hills appeared and the pack was all back together again by the 37km mark.

1:50p.m. (local time)Here are the results of the day’s first bonus sprint:1. Jaan Kiripuu (Ag2R)- he earns a six-second time bonus

2. Jan Svorada (Lampre)- he earns a four-second time bonus

3. Matteo Tossato (Fassa Bortolo)- he earns a two-second time bonus

Credit Agricole and Domo were working hard in the lead-up to the sprint, though neither team managed to pull of a top-three spot. Kirsipuu’s teammate Christophe Agnolutto offered up an impressive lead-out in the final meters before the line.

are 1:40 p.m. (local time)The riders have passed the 22km mark. There have been no attacks and the field is bunched together. Lotto’s Guennadi Mikhailov has switched bikes and caught back on.

The first of today’s three sprints is at the 30km mark in the town of Burbere (very near the site of yesterday’s prologue in Dunkirk). It may be a tough one. Leading into it is a sharp right turn followed by a sharp left and then a steep – seven percent – grade to the line.

1:21 p.m. (local time)VeloNews’s John Wilcockson – riding shotgun in the “official VeloNews Tour de France news vehicle” (actually a rental with a lot of VN stickers on it – ed.) – reports that the rain has stopped, though the clouds are “menacing.”

Wilcockson reports that despite the uncertain weather, there are “huge” crowds lining the roads out of St. Omer.

Wilcockson had a chance to speak with a few riders this morning at the starting village on the cobbled town square beneath the medieval cathedral of St. Omer this morning. A couple of guys to watch on the intermediate and finish sprints will be Domo’s Freddie Rodriguez and Credit Agricole’s Stuart O’Grady.

Rodriguez said that it may not be the team’s plan quite yet to try and put current world champion Romans Vainsteins in the yellow jersey.

“We’re all pretty far back on GC,” he said. “I had a pretty bad ride yesterday. So the goal today is for one of us too win the stage and maybe take a jersey – perhaps the green (sprinter’s) jersey.”

O’Grady said he’s ready to mix it up today and try his best for the Tour’s golden fleece.

“Yes, you don’t do a prologue flat-out and (then) sit back and do nothing. The plan is to go out there and win the bonus sprints. More importantly, just be up there for the end. That’s possibly going to break the bunch to bits. It (the finish) will be pretty chaotic and dangerous and we’ll try to keep out of trouble.”

1:05 p.m. (local time) Well, we have our first correction of the day: There were only 188 starters this afternoon. Race radio reports that the man who finished last in yesterday’s prologue, Fabien De Waele (Lotto-Adecco) crashed during the time trial and x-rays have revealed a hair line fracture of his right hip. He has gone home, leaving the title of lantern rouge to his teammate Jeroen Blijlevens.

The official start time today — the point at which riders passed through the “flying start” at the edge of St. Omer — was 12:53 p.m.

12:45 p.m. (local time)And they’re off. All 189 riders competing in the 2001 Tour de France have left the starting area, for the day’s neutral ride to the edge of town.

12:21 p.m. (local time) We are about 20 minutes from the start this afternoon. Today’s stage is a 194-km ride from St. Omer to Boulogne-sur-Mer.

The weather is improving slightly from this morning. Winds are brisk from the nearby English Channel. It’s been raining lightly off and on all morning. The roads are wet, though for now the rain has stopped. It’s about 65 degrees (F) under cloudy skies.

Check back for reports from the road from VeloNews’s crack editorial staff, including Lennard Zinn, Bryan Jew and John Wilcockson.