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What is now being dubbed 'the Tour of anarchy' continued with its unpredictable way this afternoon as the bunch got together for a sixth bunch sprint, which once again saw world champion Tom Boonen roasted by his rivals. Given a good lead-out by his Quick Step 'train', the Belgian went from a long way out on the finishing straight in Dax, but saw Oscar Freire, Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel zip by in the final few metres.
With Boonen on the right-hand barrier, Freire went up the middle of the road. The former world champion got his timing just right to claim his second stage win of the race. The Spaniard just managed to hold off triple stage-winner McEwen, who produced a typically audacious manoeuvre in the final 50 metres, swerving dramatically left from the wheel of the fading Boonen right across to the left-hand side of Freire, but coming up three inches too short in the 'throw' for the line.
That final effort sent the pair bumping into each other, but there were no hard feelings as McEwen quickly patted Freire on the head as the Spaniard wondered whether he had actually won. "I didn't know that I'd won. Three months ago I was in another close finish in the Tour of the Basque Country and everybody said, 'Oscar, you've won the race.' but I found out afterwards that I'd been beaten," said Freire.
"This time, I thought that perhaps I was in the first position but I didn't see McEwen in the last 10 metres. After my previous experience I knew not to celebrate too soon. I thought that maybe I'd won but I had to wait for the decision of the jury. McEwen offered his congratulations immediately after the sprint but at that moment I wasn't sure."
The victory cut Freire's deficit to the Australian in the points competition to 30 points, but he says he's not aiming for it. "The green jersey may be within reach but it's not my biggest objective. I have another goal; I think that we now have very good riders for the mountains and the overall. We'll see what happens in the next days but my ambition is to help the team now. Not only Michael Rasmussen, but Denis Menchov also," said the Spaniard looking ahead to Wednesday's first mountain stage.
McEwen congratulated Freire on his win afterwards. "I knew I had to try and steer my way out of a bad situation but I couldn't get out until 100 metres to go and I just missed catching Freire. I was almost there - I passed everybody - but he was just too strong to catch today," he said. "To get to the mountains and not have a day out of the top five and to have the green jersey isn't too bad. We're almost at the halfway mark of the Tour but the hardest part is yet to come. For me it's been fantastic so far and I'm going to keep trying to defend the jersey.
"Being strong and fast is what wins sprints and that's what Oscar was today. He had a little bit better position than me. Our tactics the past few days was to come from behind and drag race the others to the finish. I didn't expect that to work three times in a row though. I thought Quick Step would try something new and that's what they did. They started on the left, went to the right, back to the left. they changed direction all the time. I anticipated this happening but still got blocked in. It's a bit disappointing to not ride the sprint exactly how I wanted to but that's how it is with racing and Oscar was great today."
Stage 9, Bordeaux-Dax
1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 170km in 3.35.24 (47.21kph)
2 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
3 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
4 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
5 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis
6 Isaac Galvez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
7 Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval
8 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
9 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner
10 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole
1 Serhiy Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 38.14.17
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 1.00
3 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 1.08
4 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile 1.45
5 Andreas Klden (Ger) T-Mobile 1.50
6 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne 1.52
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
8 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC 1.53
9 Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 2.03
10 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2r 2.07
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 211
2 Boonen 188
3 Freire 181
4 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre 151
1 Jrme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 28
2 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 17
3 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 15
Best young rider: Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner
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