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After a sprinter winning the prologue, day two of the Tour de France turned up another major surprise as Cofidis galloper Jimmy Casper gave the home nation its first victory in a bunch sprint since Jean-Patrick Nazon won stage three of the 2004 race. Casper timed his final dash to perfection as world champion Tom Boonen faded in the strong head wind blowing down the Avenue de la Foret Noire in Strasbourg, and Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel left it too late to get on terms with the flying Frenchman.
"It was the kind of sprint I really like," explained Casper. "There was no real lead-out, it was kind of stop start, and when I went past Tom Boonen it gave me real motivation. It's a dream for me to win today."
This being the opening sprint of the Tour, there was of course controversy as the riders swept towards the line. Race leader Thor Hushovd had stuck tight on the barriers to the right of the road to stay out of the wind as much as he could. Unfortunately, as the sprint wound up to its culmination, the Norwegian suffered what appeared to be the ultimate in paper cuts as a green PMU hand waved by a fan over the top of the barrier about 100 metres out sliced across the inside of his elbow.
Hushovd crossed the line in ninth place but visibly more concerned with the wound that had opened up on his arm. A few metres behind the line, the Norwegian race leader rolled to a halt and lay down on the ground, with blood pumping into the air from the cut and coating his right arm and leg. A race doctor maintained pressure on the 6cm deep wound until Hushovd could be loaded into an ambulance and taken away for further treatment. Race doctor Grard Porte later said the cut was not as bad as it seemed, which will no doubt have provided consolation to Stuart O'Grady and Oscar Freire, who crossed the line covered in substantial quantities of Hushovd's blood.
The Norwegian did not even have the consolation of hanging on to the yellow jersey for another day. That passed to George Hincapie as a result of a canny move at the final intermediate sprint with 9km remaining, where he clinched a vital two seconds to bump himself up over Hushovd and become the fourth American rider to wear yellow.
Hincapie admitted later he hadn't been planning to go for the intermediate sprint bonuses, but "I saw an opportunity as most of the break had just been caught, I took it and it turned out to be a great decision". The Discovery Channel rider said he "would like to keep the jersey as long as possible, but whether we ride to defend it is up to Johan [Bruyneel]. My sprint has gone a little bit because in training all I've been doing is time trialling and climbing so I can't contend with the likes of [Tom] Boonen and Thor. If I get to keep another day or two it would be great."
Hincapie said his main aim now is to remain in contention for the rest of the first week and then see where he lies after the first time trial. "It doesn't matter to me that our team has four leaders, I don't need to be called the leader, I know what my ambitions are," he said.
Stage 1, Strasbourg-Strasbourg
1 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis 184.5km in 4.10.00 (44.28kph)
2 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
3 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
4 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre
5 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
6 Isaac Galvez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
7 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) CSC
8 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise des Jeux
9 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole
10 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
1 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 4.18.15
2 Hushovd 0.02
3 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC 0.06
4 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
6 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) CSC
7 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.08
8 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.10
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.11
10 Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
1 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis 35
2 Hushovd 32
3 McEwen 30
1 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 3
2 Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 2
3 Unai Etxebarria (Ven) Euskaltel 1
Team: Discovery Channel
Best Young Rider: Benoit Vaugrenard (Fra) FDJ
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