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A couple of days ago Robbie McEwen suggested with his tongue in his cheek that the Tour might consider only making riders who have won a stage of the race eligible for the green jersey title. Of course, if the Tour did consider this option, after two stage wins that elite group would obviously include McEwen, as well as last year's points winner Thor Hushovd, victor in the prologue.
And after today's long and rain-hit stage into Caen it would also include three-time world champion Oscar Freire, who became the latest to outwit current world champion and yellow jersey Tom Boonen, who is still without a stage win this year.
The stage from Beauvais followed what has become a familiar format in recent days. A series of attacks soon after the start ended with eight riders going clear after 35km. However, the peloton continued to pursue them perhaps because of the presence of time trial specialist Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) in the attack, but when Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) and Bjorn Schroder (Milram) made a break from the break with 38km gone, the peloton settled down and the duo sped west into the incoming rainstorms.
After 84km the pair were almost 13 minutes clear, and at this point the peloton started to react. That reaction was a slow one, though, as the pair were left to dangle until two kilometres from the line, when there were no doubt thinking they might be able to decide the stage between them.
In the jostling for position in the sprint Boonen seemed to be well placed, but Freire caught his rivals napping when he went from 350 metres out. As they waited to see who would take up the chase, the Spaniard charged away and was still a bike length clear at the line as Boonen's final thrust came just too late.
"It's always important to win a stage of the Tour de France. I think I was very good for this Tour but I never got a good position in the sprint until today. I didn't take any risks in the last 300 metres," explained Freire. "This time it was different: I raced and tried to start my sprint very early. There was a lot of wind but I think I had the benefit of the element of surprise. To win was a surprise for me too.
"Boonen and McEwen have a team to help them win the green jersey but I have a different arrangement. Rabobank has a team for the general classification and although the green is important it's not the main priority because I know that it's very difficult to win on my own."
Boonen was philosophical about his latest loss. "I'm very proud of the team because the job they did was impressive today. They controlled the peloton all day and were also up front for the final. I just made a mistake in the last 400 metres. I was shouting at Steven de Jongh to go but he didn't hear me and he waited a little bit and I doubted a little before starting my sprint and I think that's where I lost the race.
"It's a good day though because I'm starting to enjoy wearing the yellow jersey. I realise that you can't win everything. If you see the control that my team-mates have, you can understand why I'm proud of them. My sprint was pretty good but if you want it too bad then sometimes you misjudge things a little."
Stage 5, Beauvais-Caen
1 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 225km in 5.18.50 (42.34kph)
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3 I¤aki Isasi (Spa) Euskaltel
4 David Kopp (Ger) Gerolsteiner
5 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
6 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole
8 Francisco Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
10 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise des Jeux
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 25.10.51
2 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.13
3 Freire 0.17
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel
5 Hushovd 0.19
6 McEwen 0.24
7 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.27
8 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.28
9 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne 0.29
10 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) T-Mobile
12 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.32
14 David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval 0.33
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 122
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 121
3 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 115
4 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre 86
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 81
1 Jrme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 26
2 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 17
3 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 15
Best Young Rider: Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner
Team: Discovery Channel
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