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By Velonews Editorial Staff
5:10.m. (local time)Wauters is the man in yellow. A Belgian takes the day when the Tour finishes in Antwerp.
Stay tuned for complete results of today’s stage, a post-race wrap up story from VeloNews Senior Writer Bryan Jew and analysis and a preview of tomorrow’s race from VeloNews’s John Wilcockson.
4:53p.m. (local time)Wauters! He takes the stage (and that $22,000 diamond) as the leaders have indeed managed to stay away from the frantically chasing field.
And the Belgian from the Rabobank squad is now also the new overall leader of the Tour de France.
4:49p.m. (local time) Blazin’!
The speed in the final three kilometers is very high.
The leaders are still away and it looks like they may be able to pull this off!
4:42p.m. (local time) The leaders have a 30 second gap over the main field.
The chase is still being led by Telekom and Ag2R. Telekom is aiming for another stage win for Zabel and the Ag2R are hoping to snag a top three spot for Kirsipuu to get their man in Yellow.
Of course, up front, if the group stays out there, Stuart O’Grady could take the yellow jersey and he has help from three of his teammates — Julich, Voigt, and Anthony Morin.
4:39p.m. (local time) The chasers have caught on to the four leaders. So we now have a group of 16 with a gap of 41 seconds over the main group.
With 15km to go, Telekom and Ag2R are leading the chase.
4:32p.m. (local time) Roux is back on his bike and riding.
The leaders have a 1:00 advantage over the field and about 14 seconds on the chase group. If the four are caught, this could be formidable group of 16.
4:29p.m. (local time) CRASH!
There has been a massive crash in the back half of the field. About 25 to 30 riders were involved in the crash, including the worst victim of yesterday’s crash, Daniele Nardello. Most of the affected riders have recovered and are back on their bikes, but Jean Delatour’s Laurent Roux appears to be injured and is not getting up. He is being attended to by Tour doctors and medical staff.
4:25p.m. (local time) Wauters and Dekker continue to chase and now a group of 12 riders — including Stuart O’Grady — have jumped off the front of the field trying to join the two Rabobank riders.
The four leaders — Knaven, Frutti, Voigt and Van Hyfte — have 1:20 on the chasers.
4:18p.m. (local time) With 30km remaining, the leaders have a 1:26 gap.Two formidable Rabobank riders — Erik Dekker and Mark Wauters — have jumped off the front of the group in an attempt to bridge up to the leaders.
4:14p.m. (local time) Nope, they didn’t do it. Ag2R couldn’t catch the four leaders in time for the intermediate sprint.
The leaders had a 40-second gap as the crossed the line. Matteo Frutti took the sprint.
4:10p.m. (local time) With five kilometers until the intermediate sprint, Ag2R is still chasing, but the four men up front have built their lead back up to 40 seconds.
4:00p.m. (local time) The leaders are down to 36 seconds. Ag2R is still leading the chase.
Looking ahead beyond the sprint, we’ll still have about 36km to the finish.
With about 13km to go, through the town of Melsele, there is a stretch of 500 meters of cobbles. That might prove to be a bit of a problem for the u.S. Postal’s George Hincapie, who is still revoering from a cut he sustained on his hand the other day.
Hincapie was emptying his dishwasher and grabbed a broken plate. The cut required stitches and anti-biotics.
This morning before the start, VeloNews’s Bryan Jew said hello to Hincapie and reached out to shake his hand. Hincapie jumped back and offered his left hand instead.
“It only really hurts when I go over bumps,” he said.
3:58p.m. (local time) The leaders are still out there, with a 38-second gap.
The Ag2R group is leading the chase, which makes sense, since Kirsipuu needs to grab third in the upcoming sprint to take over the lead of the Tour de France.
3:51p.m. (local time) As Van Hyfte was about to be reabsorbed, three riders — Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven (Domo), Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole), Matteo Frutti (Lampre) — charged off the front of the main field and created a 20-second gap.
Van Hyfte looked over and figured he had little to lose, so he jumped on board.
The four are now holding on to a small 22-second lead.
3:46p.m. (local time) Van Hyfte is having his moment in the sun and he will soon be back in the field.
Ahead, we have to keep in mind that the sprint at 184km ahead. Kirsipuu remains one-second out of the overall lead and will assume the yellow jersey if he finishes even third on that critical sprint.
3:41p.m. (local time) Van Hyfte is about 1:10 up on the field, but he appears very relaxed, smiling and waving at the crowds along the way. Van Hyfte is from the area and appears to be headed off for one of those great Tour moments — for a brief visit with friends and family.
There is no chase underway and, in fact, several riders are stopping to relieve themselves along the side of the road.
3:39p.m. (local time) Lotto’s Paul Van Hyfte has gone off the front and is maintaining a 15-second gap over the field.
3:26 p.m. (local time) Caught.
The nine breakaway riders have been reabsorbed by the main field. We are now at kilometer 146 and approaching an area where construction crews have been engaged in road work. The reuslt is small detour that will add a couple of km to the 218 length of this stage.
3:21 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 143, the leaders’ gap is down to 30 seconds.
The average speed for the thrid hour of racing today was again 50.6kph. For the three hours in the saddle thus far, the overall average is 48.7kph. If they keep this up, we may see a speed record for a stage longer than 200km.
3:18 p.m. (local time) 138.5. The gap is down to 48 seconds.some of the nine leaders know that they are soon to be caught and are trying to escape on their own. The speeds are very high now.
3:14 p.m. (local time) At km 135, group of nine — Guillaume Auger(Big Mat), Christophe Agnolutto (Ag2R), Eddy Seigneur (Jean Delatour), Matteo Tossato (Fassa Bortolo), Ludo Dierckxens (Lampre), Fred Rodriguez (Domo) and former Postal rider Stiv Vermaut (Lotto) — are ahead by 1:20.
Two kilometers ago, the leaders passed through the day’s second sprint with a gap of 1:35 over the field.
Matteo Tossato (Fassa Bortolo), won the sprint.
3:04 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 130, the gap is down to 2:00.
Bonjour and Credit Agricole are joining in the chase.
The winds have picked up to about 25mph – but remember, this is a tailwind today, so the speeds are going to be high.
2:56 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 116, thee time gap is holding steady at 2:32.
In back, the chase is being led by La Française Des Jeux, working for their sprinter Jimmy Casper and by Mapei working for Tom Steels..
2:40 p.m. (local time)Well, before all of this breakaway stuff started, we were talking about the upcoming sprint in Knesselare.
There is another coming up at Stekene at the 176km mark. Now if the break sticks, it may not matter, but if the main field catches on, Kirsipuu could easily move into the leader’s jersey by just finishing third in any of the two.
2:36 p.m. (local time) At kilometer 105, the two chasers have been caught by the main group, but the break — “gruppo Fast Freddy” — has an advantage of 2:25.
In addition to U.S. National Champion Fred Rodriguez, there are two Belgians in this group, the hometown hero Vermaut and Ludo Dierckxens.
If this break sticks, by the way, one of these men will be earning a nice pay day. The winner of this stage will receive a diamond worth about $22,000 (U.S.)… Antwerp is the diamond capital after all.
2:35 p.m. (local time) Vermaut is a happy man to be in this break. We are nearing his home town and the roads are already lined with signs of support for their local hero.
Passing through the feedzone, the leaders had a gap of 55 seconds on their two pursuers and 1:55 on the main field.
The average speed for the second hour of racing today was a brisk 50.6kph. Told ya there was a tailwind!
2:31 p.m. (local time) A new break of nine riders Guillaume Auger(Big Mat), Christophe Agnolutto (Ag2R), Eddy Seigneur (Jean Delatour), Matteo Tossato (Fassa Bortolo), Ludo Dierckxens (Lampre), Fred Rodriguez (Domo) and former Postal rider Stiv Vermaut (Lotto).
They are being chased byFredric Bessy (Credit Agricole) and Franck Renier (Bonjour).
Looking down the road, we have a critical bonus sprint coming up at the 133km mark in Knesselare.
2:20 p.m. (local time) We are at km 86 and the field is still together. The feedzone is coming up at the98km mark. The feedzone, in Ichtegem is also the stage’s peak in altitude — a stunning 55 meters above sea level. Oh the view must be magnificent!
2:04 p.m. (local time) At the 80km mark, everyone is back together again. The lead group has been caught and that group of 50 has rejoined the main field.
We have a bit more information on that group in the back. Tyler Hamilton (U.S. Postal), Francesco Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo) and Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto)were among the 50 riders who were nearly shed by the main field. iBanesto did most of the work to bring them back to the main field.
1:57p.m. (local time) At kilometer 77, the lead group of 13 has just nine seconds on that Rabobank-driven main field. Behind them, the group of 50 — led by ONCE and iBanesto.com — are now within 12 seconds of rejoining the main field.
It is likely that everyone will come back together soon, but that will probably trigger a new round of attacks.
John Wilcockson reports that the speeds are very high and notes that the clouds are moving in. “It’s looking a lot more like the Belgium we all know and love,” he said.
1:48p.m. (local time) The race has now entered Belgium at kilometer 64. We are now on narrow concrete roads and the speeds are being driven by a brisk, flag-straightening tailwind.
The group of 13 still has an 11-second lead on the main field — about 110 riders. Another group of 50 is about 30 seconds behind.
The main field is being powered by Lampre and Rabobank, while that chase group of 50 is being led by ONCE and iBanesto.com. It looks as though many of the Spaniards missed the moment.
Speaking of which, we had a chance to ask Credit Agricole’s Jonathan Vaughters about what led to his finishing more than six minutes down on the field yesterday.
He said it was a combination of bad luck and bad legs.
“Normally I can just sit through it. I just dropped my chain on one of those of those hills, I dropped back a few places, went round the wrong way on some of the roundabouts – one side’s good, one side is bad. I chose the bad side. When you’re on a bad day, having a bad race, going in a bad direction… then you get in the wrong splits.”
Of course, Vaughters knows he can make up some of that lost time in the mountains.
“You know Zulle was 7:00 down after the Passage du Gois (in the 1999 Tour de France) and finished second overall in the Tour. That doesn’t mean I can do the same thing, but it may mean that I finish 11th overall instead of tenth”
1:45p.m. (local time) The lead group is being reeled in, but at the same time, there is a big slit in the main field. It is cut right about in half, with a 30-second gap between the two main groups.
1:35p.m. (local time) It looks as if the group is likely to be caught. By km56, their lead has been trimmed to 11 seconds.
1:35p.m. (local time) All they needed was a bit of incentive. The attacks have now started.
A small group of six riders attempted a break, started by none other than Jacky Durand. That effort was caught up by seven more riders and the group of 13 has a lead of 25 seconds at the 51km mark. Included in the break are Johan Museeuw, Jacky Durand, Alexandre Vinokerov, Alvaro Gonzales De Galdeano, Fabio Baldato, Nicola Loda, Mark Lotz, Michele Bartoli, Thor Hushovd, Anthony Morin, Stephane Berges, Christophe Capelle and Thiery Govenou.
1:20p.m. (local time) Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2R) has won the first sprint of the day. With his six seconds of bonus time, he now moves to within one second of the overall lead of the Tour, just a tick behind Christophe Moreau of Festina, who has had the jersey since the prologue.
Taking second in the sprint was Credit Agricole’s Stuart O’Grady, who now moves to within four seconds of the overall. Rounding out the top three in the sprint is Lampre’s Jan Svorada.
The accelerations are now beginning in earnest. Iker Flores (Euskatel-Euskadi) appears to have been dropped by the main field.
1:16 p.m. (local time) The group is still together at the 38km mark and the race is nearing Belgium. We are also nearing the day’s first sprint at Km 41 in Dunkirk (Deja Vu?).
Speaking of Deja Vu, these are the same roads where Festina soigneur Willy Voet was stopped on his way to the Tour in 1998… of course, he was heading into France and today, we’re leaving for Belgium.
VeloNews’s John Wilcockson reports that the scenery is familiar to those who race in this area in the spring.
“It’s just like a Belgian classic — except there are more people and the sun is out … okay, so it’s not like a Belgian classic.”
12:56 p.m. (local time) We are now 20km into today’s stage and there have not been any attacks.
This is the flattest stage in this year’s Tour de France and the only one without a single climb along the way. That means that Jacky Durand can actually enjoy his day in the Polka-dot climber’s jersey unchallenged. He earned the jersey yesterday during his long break off the front with Christophe Oriol (Jean Delatour).
12:36 p.m. (local time) We’re nearly 20 minutes into today’s 220.5km stage and the peloton is still bunched together.
They may be enjoying the first sunny weather of this Tour. Temperatures are in upper 60s and the sun is out. The wind is coming from the Southwest – a tailwind – so this could be a fast stage, despite its length.
12:22 p.m. (local time) They’re off. The neutral start took place at 12:10 and the 188 riders starting today past through the flying start marker at 12:18.
You might notice that there, indeed, 188 riders. That includes Mapei’s Daniele Nardello, who crashed yesterday and looked doubtful for a while there.
He’s on his bike this morning and preliminary medical results show no broken bones, just bruises and abrasions.