There is little action on the yellow jersey front on the road to Quimper, but plenty to make up for
While the struggle for the yellow jersey has seen little more than the contenders shadow boxing with each other since the team time trial, the Tour’s sprinters have more than compensated by serving up a multi-sided battle where fortunes are constantly changing. After a couple of days when things seemed to be going the way of Stuart O’Grady, he lost the green jersey to compatriot Robbie McEwen today, but both of the Australians now find themselves under growing pressure from Thor Hushovd, who won the uphill sprint into Quimper this afternoon. Hushovd’s first stage win of this race – which adds neatly to his yellow jersey from last weekend – came at the end of a day that followed the pattern of much of what has gone before. A small breakaway group got away early on, was eventually chased down by the pack, which was affected by another big pile-up which left several riders on the road, and with a lot of the action conducted in weather more reminiscent of April than July. On this occasion, Fassa’s Matteo Tosatto, Gerolsteiner’s Ronny Scholz and, yet again, CSC’s Jakob Pill were the riders to go clear. Initially they were a four, but when Karsten Kroon punctured as they were still making good their escape there was no time for waiting around. Their escape lasted the best part of 140km before they were reeled in by the bunch, whose pace was being set by Quick Step for Tom Boonen and Crdit Agricole for Hushovd. At about this point, and with rain falling persistently yet again, there was a major crash in the peloton, reportedly caused by a dog running into the road. Ag2r’s Samuel Dumoulin was left on the road receiving attention and the pack got under way and the Frenchman eventually trailed in on his own more than 10 minutes after Hushovd had tied up the stage. That concluded with a flurry of activity that saw Paolo Bettini try to get away late on. Green jersey wannabe McEwen chased after the Italian, then seemed to decide it was too early to be that close to the front and sat in to let the rest catch up. Fassa’s Kim Kirchen was the most prominent of those that did, the Luxembourg national champion making a long dash for the line. But Hushovd was given the perfect lead-out on the slightly uphill finish, and Kirchen was denied. Behind the Norwegian and Luxembourger, Erik Zabel took third, McEwen fourth, with O’Grady eighth. That all resulted in a green jersey swing back towards McEwen, but O’Grady, Zabel and Hushovd are all within 11 points of the 2002 green jersey winner, with Danilo Hondo not out of the picture either. Who would you bet on now?