Cancellara brilliant in Compiegne

A brilliant move by Fabian Cancellara (CSC) netted him the stage win and an increased GC lead in the third stage of the Tour de France in Compiegne. Cancellara attacked from the bunch to bridge up to a four man breakaway with 500m to go, before steaming right past them to victory. The sprinters were surprised at the big man's power, with Erik Zabel (Milram) coming home in second place ahead of Danilo Napolitano (Lampre).

Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara used all his time trialling expertise to snatch Tuesday's third stage of the Tour de France and retain the leader's yellow jersey.

CSC's world time trial champion took the longest stage of the race, a 236.5km run between Waregem in Belgium and Compiegne, from Germany's Erik Zabel and Danilo Napolitano. Cancellara was adding this to his win in Saturday's opening prologue to consolidate his position at the head of the overall standings to 33sec from Andreas Klöden of Germany. Britain's David Millar is lying third.

"This was a really long stage, and the four riders at the front were working well," said Cancellara. "I was asking myself, should I hang on for a sprint? I escaped the peloton over the cobblestones.

"To win in this way, at Compiegne where the Paris-Roubaix begins, is 'perfekt' - there's no other word to describe it. I'm so proud to have won a stage wearing the leader's yellow jersey on French soil."

The day's action was marked by a four man breakaway which was only caught by the peloton with less than 500m to go.

After the drama of Monday's massive pile-up in Ghent it seemed that few riders were motivated to race, in the proper sense, until they really had to. After a rather lethargic 170km of riding, the peloton was gradually shunted into launching a dramatic pursuit over the closing 40km in a bid to deprive a four-man break from going all the way.

French duo Nicolas Vogondy and Mathieu Ladagnous had gone on the attack early in the 236.5 km ride over mainly flat terrain setting out from Waregem. In no time at all they had built a sizeable lead on the bunch, which reached the 13 minute mark as they crossed the border into France at Saint Amande les Eaux.

The peloton let them go in the knowledge that, sooner or later, they would soon begin riding tempo and reel them in. But an opportunist attack from another Frenchman, Stéphane Augé, had the ultimate effect of making the peloton's job much harder over what proved to be a thrilling finish.

He broke ranks on a slight rise with 60km to race, aiming for the points from the day's only climb at the 202.5km mark that would allow him to take the King of the Mountains' polka dot jersey from Scotland's David Millar. Cofidis's Augé was soon joined by Liquigas rider Frederik Willems, and over the next 10km they managed to catch Ladagnous and Vogondy.

The peloton soon awoke but with 45km lefty their 2min 35sec seemed manageable. Gradually, the pace increased - but so did the pace at the front. With 35km to race, the leading quartet had increased their lead to over three minutes.

The possibility of the four-man break going all the way soon dawned on the sprinters' teams, and it wasn't long before Cedric Vasseur of Tom Boonen's Quick Step team cranked up the pace. Vasseur led a Credit Agricole rider and several of the CSC team up the Cote de Blerancourt climb, 34km from the finish line where Augé had come over in the lead a few minutes earlier to secure the polka dot jersey.

At the front the leaders were sharing out the relays and keeping their pursuers on the toes, but the power of the peloton's greater numbers slowly began to tell. With 20km to race the leaders' advantage had dropped to just over two minutes, and Vogondy, of Agritubel, appeared to be tiring.

The pushing peloton made further inroads on the leading quartet in the closing stages, cutting the gap to just over 40sec at the 5km mark and catching them with less than 500m to the line. That's exactly when Cancellara made his move, leaving a pack of stunned sprinters in his wake to steam past the breakaway and claim the stage win.

© AFP 2007 (BikeRadar contributed to this report)

Want more analysis? Check out Ellis Bacon and Dan Friebe's podcasts from stage 3 and and update on the stage 2 crash

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