Tour de France 2: Thor Hushovd powers to victory

A wild finish in Saint-Brieuc

Norwegian Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole claimed his sixth victory from the Tour de France after powering his way to the second stage over 164.5km from Auray to Saint-Brieuc on Sunday.

Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) retained the overall lead ahead of Monday's third stage, a 208km race from Saint Malo to Nantes.

In the general classification there were virtually no changes to the times following Saturday's race opener. Valverde now has a one second lead over Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen, who finished second on the stage to pull on the green jersey, with main rival Cadel Evans of Australia also at 0'01 in sixth place.

"It was a really fast and difficult stage," said Valverde, who, despite being warmed by the crowds shouting his name came close to catastrophe when he nearly hit an over-enthusiastic spectator on the Mur de Bretagne climb. "There was wind, rain and then we had to go chasing the breakaway riders. We spent a fair amount of energy in this stage."

Hushovd had been among the big name sprinters to fail at the finish on Saturday when Valverde punched his way to victory on the uphill finish of the tricky Cadoudal climb in Brest. A day later, a combination of familiar weather - and the profile of the slightly uphill finish - gave him the early stage win he was after.

"I like Brittany, it's a bit like Norway - cold, windy and rainy - and since I'm not a pure sprinter like (Robbie) McEwen and (Mark) Cavendish I prefer the sprints with a little bit of a climb at the end," said Hushovd, who in 2004 claimed his second stage from the race in nearby Quimper.

Two-pronged French attack becomes four

Sylvain Chavanel and Thomas Voeckler led the early break

On the second of three days in Brittany the French riders in the peloton were at the front for most of the day, although in the end their biggest achievement was to show the sponsors' jersey.

A two-man breakaway involving Sylvain Chavanel of Cofidis and Thomas Voeckler of Bouygues Telecom turned into a four-man break when they were joined by compatriots Christophe Moreau and David Lelay at the 107km mark.

At that point the peloton trailed by 2:48, but thanks to some collective pursuit work the deficit virtually evaporated to a minute with 25km to go. With seven kilometres to ride, the gap dropped to just 35sec, and with the last four kilometres over undulating terrain Chavanel split from his companions with 2.5km to race. His decision to attack earlier in the race soon took its toll, however, and he lasted only briefly before he was sucked in.

In what turned into a thrilling finish, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland went on a daring solo attack with 1.5km to go, but CSC's big time trial specialist was followed by Italian Filippo Pozzato, who claimed his first Tour stage here in 2004.

But both riders were stunned by the green shirts of Credit Agricole. Australian Mark Renshaw, who had tried in vain to pull Hushovd to the finish line on his wheel on Saturday, this time made no mistake. He took the big Norwegian up the final 600 metres, past the yellow shirt of Valverde, before peeling off and allowing Hushovd to finish the job on his own.

Kirchen - who had placed fourth on the opening stage - finished in second ahead of a handful of big name sprinters.

Renshaw admitted that his good work would give perhaps get him a favourable nod from Hushovd when Credit Agricole begin negotiations with a new sponsor after what is their last season in the peloton.

"I'm still a bit shocked," Renshaw told AFP. "Near the end I got caught with a bit of a wave and for a bit I thought Thor had crashed. Then I heard him behind me and he went with about 400 metres to go, pulling out of the outside of Valverde.

"On an uphill finish like that nobody's going to beat a sprinter like Thor."

He added: "Once we get a new sponsor maybe he can put in a good word for me!"

Voeckler's efforts at the front with Chavanel allowed him to keep the 'King of the Mountains' polka dot jersey, at least for the time being.

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© AFP 2008

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