Robbie McEwen got the better of Thor Hushovd and Tom Boonen to take stage 2 of the Tour from ObernaiPIC BY TIM DE WAELE
For a brief moment in the pacific Duchy of Luxembourg this evening, not for the first time in his career Robbie McEwen looked in danger of coming to blows with a fellow sprinter. Instead, McEwen and Thor Hushovd repaired to a television enclosure alongside the Esch-Sur-Alzette finish-line to decide whether the Australian was guilty of foul play en route to the ninth Tour stage win of his career.
The verdict was that he had not, and tonight McEwen could be grateful that those who maintain that he is the peloton's most dangerous sprinter had been denied further ammunition. Hushovd, meanwhile, could console himself with having reclaimed the yellow jersey he had lost to George Hincapie in Strasbourg last night.
The giant Norwegian said tonight the shoulder injury sustained in bizarre circumstances yesterday had troubled him sporadically, but not enough to prevent him picking up 12 bonus seconds in two intermediate sprints and at the finish-line. It was these 12 seconds which returned the 28-year-old Credit Agricole rider to the top of the overall standings tonight.
Tom Boonen, second behind McEwen today, occupies the same position on GC, five seconds behind Hushovd. McEwen later explained that he had veered to the right inside the final 300 metres after he felt Hushovd's front wheel touch his foot.
"Then, [Stuart] O'Grady and [Erik] Zabel were on the front and I wanted to pass them. Two hundred metres from the line, the road veered slightly right but I went straight," McEwen recalled.
Hushovd said that the "adrenalin you always feel in a sprint" had given rise to his angry, fist-toting reaction as he crossed the line. "I can see now from the video that Robbie did nothing wrong," he said.
McEwen then expressed his delight at his 20th stage victory in major tours and issued a further warning to his more junior sprint rivals at the Tour. "Every stage you win is special. I have different memories of all of my nine [Tour stage wins]. I come here and have to prove myself every year. I've turned 34 now, and people often say that sprinters get slower with age. Well, I've not slowed down yet..."
McEwen's coup de grace came after a brave victory bid by Matthias Kessler was snuffed out inside the final 100 metres. Kessler had attacked five kilometres from the line, and had looked well set to notch his first Tour success when two-thirds of the peloton was held up behind a crash 1.5 kilometres from the line. Phonak's Bert Grabsch and Lampre's Patxi Vila came down hardest, but both should start tomorrow.
The profile and length of tomorrow's stage from Esch-sur-Alzette to Valkenburg in Holland resemble those of an Ardennes Classic. Six categorised climbs punctuate the final 85km of the route, including the Cauberg - the 800-metre, 7.3 per cent ramp of Amstel Gold Race fame. Stage 3's finish-line, though, is positioned in Valkenberg, two-kilometres beyond the summit of the Cauberg. Two kilometres which may allow to the sprinters to come back together in time for a third bunch sprint in successive days. That, at least, is what McEwen was forecasting tonight:
"The stage tomorrow is slightly tougher than today's, but I definitely think that we could see a bunch sprint," the Davitamon-Lotto ace commented. "I imagine that it'll be very difficult for someone to escape on those last few climbs. I expect a few guys to survive: Hushovd, Boonen, Freire, Zabel, O'Grady and hopefully I'll be there, too."
Stage 2, Obernai-Esch sur Alzette
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 5.36.14 @ 40.775 kph
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole
4 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
5 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre
6 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
7 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC
8 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise Des Jeux
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
10 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 9.54.19
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step 0.05
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.08
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.10
5 David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC 0.16
6 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC
9 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.18
10 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.20
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 65 pts
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 62
3 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic 49
1 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 14 pts
2 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 12
3 Aitor Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 10
1 Benot Vaugrenard (Fra) Francaise Des Jeux 9.54.40
2 Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank 0.07
3 Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.09