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Robbie McEwen may have won three stages of last year's Tour de France, but in equalling that total after just a week of racing in this edition the Australian has shown that he is in the form of his life. Alessandro Petacchi may be missing, but 34-year-old McEwen looks like he may well have been too much even for the Italian to handle on the basis of what he produced today as he creamed his rivals at the finish in Vitr, finishing a couple of bike lengths clear of Daniele Bennati and the visibly angry Tom Boonen, who did at least keep the yellow jersey going into tomorrow's time trial.
The stage ran to what has become the familiar template, although there was some slight variation as attacks went and were brought back throughout the opening 80km until Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas), Anthony Geslin (Bouygues Telecom) and Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) were allowed to slip away and build a lead of more than five minutes going past the halfway point of the 189km stage.
There has been much criticism in recent days of the use of earpieces, with French Tour legend Raymond Poulidor the latest to condemn the use of technology that seems to give all of the aces to riders chasing down breaks. This week we've seen several snuffed out in the final 10 kilometres which might have succeeded in previous years, and today's plucky trio were denied 5km from the line. Chasing riders now get so much information that they seldom get the timing of their pursuit wrong any more.
That led to the latest of what have been extremely well contested sprints. Boonen came into the Tour as the man to beat, and so far that is exactly what's happened. Boonen's been beaten by three of his rivals, McEwen on less than three occasions now.
"It went really smoothly in the last couple of kilometres," said McEwen. "Geert Steegmans was really focused today. I think he was so motivated to make up for his mistake yesterday. He felt really bad about the end of stage five. He said he wanted to ride into the asphalt and just disappear, he felt that bad about it. Those were his words. Today he's made up for it with the perfect lead-out.
"I told him to wait until the 400-metre to go mark and he did exactly that; he didn't go one millimetre before 400. and when he took off he was going that fast that nobody else could follow. I felt I could just back off a little and go on the inside and it was perfection!"
McEwen explained he had had a long chat with Steegmans after stage five on the Davitamon team bus. "I told him that after one good performance, he couldn't let it go to his head and lose concentration and think he can do anything. He started studying the book immediately for today and he did a fantastic job. The guy has got a massive engine and it's like I'm sitting on my own personal TGV and I've just got to get off at my stop and that's the finish line."
Stage 6, Lisieux-Vitr
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 189km in 4.10.17 (45.31kph)
2 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre
3 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
4 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise des Jeux
5 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole
6 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
7 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
8 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
9 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto
10 I¤aki Isasi (Spa) Euskaltel
1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 29.21.00
2 McEwen 0.12
3 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 0.21
4 Freire 0.25
5 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel
6 Hushovd 0.27
7 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel 0.35
8 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.36
9 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne 0.37
10 Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) T-Mobile
12 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 0.40
14 David Millar (GB) Saunier Duval 0.41
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 157
2 Boonen 147
3 Freire 135
4 Bennati 116
1 Jrme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 28
2 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 17
3 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner 15
Best Young Rider: Benot Vaugrenard (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
Team: Discovery Channel
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