Sunday, July 02, 2006

Stage 1 - Sunday, July 2: Strasbourg - Strasbourg, 183 km

The stage started out like every other flat stage. There was a break of seven riders including the eventual King of the Mountains, Fabian Wegmann and Young Rider, Benoît Vaugrenard. The break, as everyone predicted (and somehow this rarely fails) was eventually caught. And it was then that the real excitement of the stage began. Of course, no one guessed the winner or the incident that followed. Luckily, all the drama on stage one had nothing to do with doping and everything to do with the crowd and the sprinters.

It was only a matter of seconds between the Yellow Jersey of Thor Hushovd and second place George Hincapie. Hincapie, when interviewed by OLN after the stage, mentioned that he was extremely unhappy he hadn't won the stage yesterday (I, on the other hand, was pretty damn happy about that) and wanted a bit of revenge. The only way he'd get the jersey was if Hushovd finished the stage in one of the top three positions.

As the peloton rounded the final bend toward the finish line, the attacks began in earnest and no one was sure who was leading (and I was busy cursing myself for forgetting to save an excel spreadsheet and closing it without saving -- I learned my lesson). It looked like Tom Boonen was going to blow everyone away, but Robbie Mcewen (I think) grabbing Boonen's back wheel and Boonen it was then that Boonen realized he'd gone too early. Boonen, out of the sprint for the day, slipped back (eventually coming in in 13th). With that, the race was wide open.

The name on everyone's list to win if Boonen couldn't, was Robbie McEwen (I want to like him, I really do -- I just can't). But, by some miracle, it was a French rider who took the glory. Boonen had gone too early, leaving the remaining sprinters to fight it out and fight they did. The winner, Jimmy Casper of Cofidis, rode hard, powering his way past everyone else. Never far from the action was McEwen (of course) and hot on his heels was my personal favorite, Erik Zabel. It was really nice to see Zabel fighting out the sprint. I know he misses Petacchi (who doesn't? I know I do), and I was excited when Paul and Phil mentioned Christian Knees (Milram) working hard for Zabel.

There were a number of other sprinters up at the front, aside from Zabel, McEwen and Casper. But then something happened. At first, no one was quite sure, but almost as soon as Casper crossed the line, the cameras switched to show the yellow jersey on the ground, covered in blood. At first we all feared the worse, a horrible crash in the final sprint. But replays showed that was not the case. Instead we could see Hushovd crossing the line, looking down at his arm. And in later replays and pictures you can see the blood just pouring out of a cut. Though the team doctor said that Hushovd will be okay and that the wound isn't that serious, for a few minutes we were all scared.

It looks like a fan waving something, possibly one of the green hands, hit Hushovd in the arm, cutting him. Luckily he'll be okay, but he's lost the yellow jersey he wanted to hold onto for at least a few more days. The recipient? George Hincapie of course. Hincapie, who might possibly be Discovery's new leader (in their lamely titled 'Race to Replace'), took the yellow jersey when Hushovd crossed the line in 9th place.

Though Hushovd is only two seconds behind Hincapie, we'll have to see how his arm holds up to see if he'll win the yellow jersey back from Hincapie. Or if we'll have another day, such as two years ago when Thomas Voeckler made all of France proud. Today, though, it was Jimmy Casper's day. He raced a good sprint and finished on top.

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