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Cadel Evans was one of many caught out by Columbia's tactics to split the peloton AFP/Getty Images
Evans drops to eighth as Armstrong strikes
Thanks to an unintentional but deadly turn of pace by Mark Cavendish's Columbia team Armstrong moved up seven places from 10th to third overall at just 40sec off the pace.
While the 37-year-old American was the only yellow jersey contender to benefit from a dramatic split in the peloton 30km from the finish, Evans and the rest of his fellow challengers were given a day to forget.
Race leader Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank said it was "simply part of bike racing" after finishing with the front group 41secs ahead of Evans.
For the Australian, however, fighting to limit time losses that could cost him the race was not the best preparation for Tuesday's time trial.
"It was a really nervous day - there were left and right cross winds, especially after the feed zone when you come down to the sea level where there is a risk of cross wind," said Evans. "Two years ago we had a similar finish here and a similar thing happened again.
"As it was, it caught out a lot of people, which in retrospect isn't quite as bad as I first expected when we first took the turn. That's racing in the Tour. At any moment something can go wrong."
Although at this early point in the race ahead of all the crucial climbing stages, there is no cause for alarm for Evans.
He did not lose time to any other rivals apart form Armstrong. He is now eighth at 1:04 behind Cancellara and still just five seconds down on Contador.
If there was any cause for alarm it was in the Spanish end of the Astana camp, with Armstrong's teammate Alberto Contador - the 2007 champion and this year's favourite.
Contador was reportedly the rider who failed to keep pace when Columbia's pace at the front of the main peloton started to take it's toll on the bunch.
"When the split happened I was right on (behind) Contador's wheel," claimed Française des Jeux rider Christophe Le Mevel.
"If it's true there were 29 guys in front he must have been 30th and I was 31st. It was him who caused the split."
Once round a right hand bend, the wind changed, catching most of the peloton out. Panic ensued as the teams of Contador, Evans, Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre tried to close a gap which Columbia's riders, along with others including Armstrong, soon increased to 30secs.
Evans at one point was even at the head of the chase, pulling like a man possessed in a bid to limit the damage. But with riders from several teams in the leading group, a lot of teams refused to help.
"Columbia had all their guys there and with that motivation they were working for a common effort as well as a stage win, but Astana didn't want to ride because they had guys in front," added Evans.
"CSC (Saxo Bank), they rode because they had the Schleck brothers (Andy and Frank) behind, but it is a little bit of a mixed effort even if there are more riders behind.
"At first when it happens you have less than a second to make a decision. That is where you have make a instinctive decision, you can recover later, but it is very difficult to recover minutes back."
Tom Boonen: Columbia's breakaway surprised us all
Belgian sprint specialist Tom Boonen admitted he was impressed by the speed of Columbia's breakaway 30km before the finish line of Monday's third stage of the Tour de France.
The 28-year-old was part of the peloton and along with some leading names - such as Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov and defending champion Carlos Sastre - finished 41secs behind Columbia's stage winner Mark Cavendish.
The breakaway was the key event of the day as it contained seven-times Tour winner Lance Armstrong who bolted up to third in the overall classification from tenth.
And Boonen admitted he was caught by surprise by the speed of Columbia's breakaway in the later part of the 196.5km stage from Marseille to La Grande Motte.
"It was a good decision by Columbia," admitted Quick Step's Boonen, the 2005 world road race champion. "It came after a corner, they just bolted off and pulled 40 to 50 metres clear, no one saw that coming and I certainly didn't expect that.
"I was trying to stay cool, but I did wonder how we were going to claw the time back. It was a big battle which was won by between eight to ten riders at the front."
Ullrich faces disciplinary procedure from Swiss
Swiss cycling authorities confirmed on Tuesday that former Tour de France winner Jan Ullrich is facing renewed anti doping proceedings after new evidence was gathered.
Formal disciplinary proceedings were launched against the German in the Swiss Olympic committee's anti-doping chamber about two weeks ago, Swiss Cycling federation director Viktor Andermatt told AFP, confirming a nespaper report.
"The disciplinary commission is now dealing with the Ullrich case." he said. "It was two weeks ago. They have received some more information."
However, he was unable to give details on the case against the cyclist, who was a Swiss licence holder because of his residence.
Swiss anti-doping foundation expert Bernard Welten told the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the proceedings were "necessary and justified."
Ullrich, now 35, was suspended for six months for taking amphetamines in 2002.
He won the 1997 Tour de France and was a multiple runner-up behind American seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.
Ullrich was later thrown out of his team T-Mobile in 2006 amid suspicions that he was involved in the Spanish "Puerto" doping network and he subsequently retired from the sport.
In the absence of a positive drugs test, Swiss anti-doping officials said three years ago that they were unable to pursue their case against Ullrich because of legal obstacles in using other evidence from Spain, and suspended their bid for disciplinary proceedings.
However, several officials had vowed to pursue the search for usable evidence.
"It's good for us and for the sport to find the truth," Andermatt said.
"It's a matter of principle, ethics, that are important for cycling and we can't leave the case without a result," he explained.
© AFP 2009
Robert Marchand rides 26.9km at new French velodrome
Sharper handling and lower front end with IsoSpeed suspension