(photos from yahoo)
Another stage, another break. This one, unlike the one in stage two, was almost successful. The always hard-working Erik Dekker attempted to repeat his Paris-Tours win. But, sadly, it was not to be. Instead, he and the AG2r rider, Nicolas Portal, were caught just in sight of the finish. Starting at about 32 km, Portal and Dekker, joined by Rubens Bertogliati, began their long break. On the course, Bertogliati was the virtual tour leader and Dekker managed to win both sets of mountain points to take the jersey from Voeckler.
My mother and Paul and Phil were hoping that Dekker could pull out the win. And, eventually, so was I. (For some reason I was annoyed that he'd taken the jersey from Voeckler, but when I saw how happy it made Dekker, all was forgiven.) I believe he is retiring after this season (it's either this or next, I'm not quite sure) and if he'd been able to win, it would have been quite amazing. But, sadly, the sprinters had to have their day. And, well, what a finish it was.
The first thing I noticed (and it was mentioned by both Paul and Phil) was that it took the peloton much longer to pull in the break. The first attempt was tried by Voeckler's team, but it didn't last. The next (and eventually complete) attempts were all made by teams with sprinters going for the green jersey. Not even Quickstep was able to keep the pace that high. The lack of Petacchi in the peloton meant that there wasn't the silver Fassa train and the chase was quite chaotic. Eventually Quickstep, FDJ, and Credit Agricole managed to get things sorted, at least for a bit. But then, of course, things got hairy. It seemed like Thor had the best lead-out, but Robbie McEwen (of course) was right there and, again from the middle of the pack, Tom Boonen swept in to take the win. And he did it by another significant margin.
He is now temporarily secure in the green jersey. Behind him, the rest of the sprinters were mixing it up in spectacular fashion. Gerolsteiner had two riders, Peter Wrolich and Robert Forster, who came in in the top ten. There were three Aussies, Robbie McEwen, Stuart O'Grady and Allan Davis (more on that later), contending as well as Maggie Backstedt, Bernhard Eisel for FDJ (a strange change from Baden Cooke), Anthony Geslin (a nice surprise), Thor (of course) and a Domina Vacanze rider, Angelo Furlan (perhaps attempting to fill the empty spot of Cipo). It was a very tight sprint, and Tom, of course, pulled himself ahead. But what made it really interesting were the antics of McEwen. Robbie is, of course, known for doing rash things on the bike. He did a few things last year, and at this year's Giro (though that went unpunished), and he wasn't above it this year.
For some reason, still unknown to me, Robbie decided it would be fun to butt his head against Stuart. Probably, Stuart would have gotten third (maybe second?) but in the end it was Robbie who finished third. Of course, why he thought he could get away with this at the tour (where it was certainly caught from every angle possible) is beyond me. And, well, caught he was. "The race jury has decided to relegate McEwen, who was deemed to have deliberately put his head into O'Grady's shoulder in the final 100 metres." (cyclingnews live coverage)
According to the velonews article, Robbie claims that it was Stuart who elbowed him first and started it. Though I don't recall seeing any evidence of that, it doesn't excuse Robbie's behavior. From the article: "O'Grady's move from off the barriers on the right and in to the left to get on Boonen's wheel brought him into contact with McEwen, who responded by leaning right and digging his head into O'Grady's shoulder. Then came a spectacular double whammy of head-butts from McEwen whose antics at high speed swiftly earned the wrath of the race commissaires." In my opinion, Robbie burned himself by keeping up his very odd behavior. He can claim that he was in the right and O'Grady was in the wrong, but that doesn't change what he did. He lost third place himself, and he should take responsibility. As I recall from last year when he used Nick Gates to swing himself forward, he attempted to blame everyone else as well (please, correct me if I'm remembering it wrong). I am not amused by Robbie, nor am I impressed with his behavior. But, then again, I suppose there's always one in the peloton. And it's been Robbie who has blamed both Baden Cooke and Rene Haselbacher, among others, for crashes in previous tours.
But enough of that. The stage was exciting and interesting as usual. There were no changes in the overall leadership of the peloton, Dave Zabriskie is still leading. Tomorrow should be even better, as it's the team time trial. I know Disocvery wants to win the stage, but I think that both Gerolsteiner (who won the pro tour ttt) and CSC have really strong chances. I can't wait!
Two photos before I end this post.