PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
After a truly shocking start to the Tour in terms of finding their star name Jan Ullrich, plus Oscar Sevilla and directeur sportif Rudy Pevenage, booted out before the race even began, T-Mobile ended the day with six of their seven riders in the top 20 overall, with Matthias Kessler taking the stage victory. Only Italian Giuseppe Guerini was dragging his feet, back in 86th, but a win for Italy in Tuesday's World Cup semi-final against Germany - his sponsor's nationality - would certainly help lift his spirits...
While Thor Hushovd and Robbie McEwen started the day in the yellow and green jerseys respectively, it was sprint rival Tom Boonen who ended stage three with both. Seeing that his two main rivals for the green jersey couldn't keep the pace on the final climb of the Cauberg, the Belgian made it count, doing enough to also grab the yellow jersey for the first time in his career - the day before it heads into his home country. "Now it means that I'll get to ride in the yellow jersey in Belgium, which maybe only happens once very ten years, so I'm very satisfied," Boonen beamed. It took a while to get going, and he's yet to grab his stage victory, but Boonen's quest for the green jersey is looking good. The yellow has just come as an unexpected bonus.
One minute he was riding along as happy as a sand boy in the peloton in his white ProTour leader's jersey, the next the Caisse d'Epargne rider was on the ground, his Tour hopes over. He was quickly on his feet, but his expression turned into a grimace just as quickly as he realised that his right collar bone was fractured. Race doctor Gerard Porte was quickly on the scene, but it didn't look good. The Spaniard couldn't get back up and the dream was over for another year. Such is the lot of the professional rider, but it was still hard to watch one of the main contenders for Armstrong's crown being lifted into the ambulance on a stretcher in tears following the forced withdrawal of so many star names already.
Riders at the mercy of careless spectators
Along with Valverde, Erik Dekker and Fred Rodriguez were also forced to abandon the race after the two riders collided with a spectator. Later, Francaise des Jeux's Sandy Casar fell victim to an over-enthusiastic fan, too, highlighting the additional dangers that the pros face when riding such a large race as the Tour - and this after Thor Hushovd's mammoth paper cut at the hands of a giant cardboard hand-wielding spectator on the first stage. The original fear that Dekker and Rodriguez, like Valverde, had broken collar bones turned out not to be the case, but they are nevertheless out of the race due to their injuries. Casar, on the other hand, managed to get back onto his bike and hobble across the line, but only after the spectator in question had been at the end of a tongue-lashing from team manager Marc Madiot. Let's hope for some less enthusiastic support from the roadside from now on. Wishful thinking.
And the good and the bad.
Straddling the extremes of a good and bad day, it's Iban Mayo - these days second-best in terms of popularity in the Spanish press and public's eyes to Alejandro Valverde. But following the non-start of Ullrich, Basso, Mancebo and Vinokourov as a result of 'Operacion Puerto', and the crashing-out today of Valverde, the in-form Mayo has got to start fancying his chances of a podium finish at this year's race. It could have gone horribly wrong when, at 50km to go, Mayo suffered a puncture; he must have been starting to feel that northern Europe just isn't his kind of place, having crashed not far from today's stage when the Tour used the cobbled section of part of Paris-Roubaix in 2004. But today, having been paced back into the bunch by his Euskaltel squad, five minutes later it was compatriot Valverde who was left feeling unlucky. Yet another favourite gone, and potentially a step closer to that podium for Mayo.