Baldato and Nelissen, two of the sprinters involved in the crash before the finish yesterday, are no longer in the tour. Their injuries prevented them from riding further. Laurent Jalabert, on the other hand, could start the stage along with Abdujaparov and the others.
With 60km to go to the finish the swiss rider Rolf Jaermann leads the race with around two minutes. He had broken away some 40km earlier and had had a maximum lead of some 2 1/2 minutes. As could be expected it was the Gewiss riders who kept the gap from getting too large and they were helped by Abdujaparovs Novell team.
Jaermann's lead was whittled down quickly as the strong winds started to take their toll. As Watten is reached, 40km from the finish, the field catches Jaermann again. Immediatly Steve Bauer (Motorola) takes the initiative along with Loda (MG) on his wheel. With Bauer doing the larger part of the work the two open up a lead of 24" over the field. Mercatone now have two riders at the front of the field along with the Novell and Gewiss riders.
The final points sprint of the day is won by Bauer, in the chasing field Abdujaparov takes third. Abdu has worked hard in the sprints today and now has the same number of points as Cipollini. The stage finish will decide who wears the green jersey tomorrow.
With 20km to go the pace of the field is a lot higher as the preparation for the sprint begins. Mapei moves Rominger up to the front to give him a safer position. 4km later Bauer and Loda are caught again. At almost the same time Durand punctures, despite quick service from the team car he looses some time on the field. It's not clear if a teammate falls back to help him. At the front of the field Moreau strings the field out - obviously showing that Gan is not a beaten team yet. Ekimov punctures near the front of the bunch and has to fall right back for a new wheel.
The Castorama team is not having much luck in the tour right now, and their bad luck continued as Durand lost control in a corner while still chasing the bunch. His front wheel slid out and he crashed to the ground, slamming into the curbside with his back. He looks pretty shaken as he eventually gets up and gets back on the bike again. Ironicly it's Magnien, the rider he towed yesterday, who waits to help Durand to get to the finish.
Meanwhile things are happening on the front of the bunch. Four riders have opened up a small gap, Moreau, Njidam, an Once rider, and Berzin - yes Berzin. The excitement is great. It's worth noticing that Berzin does not take the lead at all and is obviously riding for the tour leader Gotti. Not what one would have expected. The field reacts immediatly and the four are caught again, though Moreau stays on the front of the bunch. The action from Berzin and the impending sprint has moved the favorites to the front positions now. Indurain is in second position and Rominger is back in about tenth place. Ekimov has also managed to get back up to the front again, and Cipollini is tucked away in about 15th position.
With 8km to go Moreau trys his luck again but can't get away now. At almost the same time there is a crash at the back of the field with numerous riders going down. De las Cuevas of the Castorama team is one of those that goes down and a helper is quickly on his side. It's possible that Armstrong was involved in the crash as well.
At the front Chiapucci has a go but the pace is too high. Indurain leads with Vanderarden, Bugno and Jalabert close behind. Two Telekom riders move up as well. Vanderarden trys his luck several times but the bunch is winding up for the sprint and there's little chance of getting away now. At the 3km mark Vanderarden is rolled in for the last time and Bugno has a go by himself. His caution in a 90 degree left hand corner prevents him from opening up a gap. Various helpers keep the pace high now, first Stevens for Jalabert and then a TVM rider for Blijlevens. As the red flag is reached its Polti leading out for Lombardi.
Museeuw switches to the other side of the road and winds the pace up. Martinello follows with his captain, Cipollini, on his wheel. Behind Cipo is Zabel who looks well positioned and behind him is Svorada. Abdujaparov has a lot of ground to make up and has to start his move now to prevent Cipollini from getting too far away. Blijlevens is on Abdu's wheel.
Martinello passes Museeuw but doesn't accelerate enough - Abdujaparov and Cipollini are at the same hight as they start their full sprints. The work from Abdujaparov gives Blejlevens a perfect lead out and he sweeps past into the lead. Abdu is beaten and a swing to the left does comes way too late. Cipollini doesn't come up to speed and as he opens a gap on the inside Zabel flys past. On the line Blijlevens wins in front of Svorada and Zabel.
Lombardi and Armstrong aparantly come in after the first bunch - possibly involed in the crash 6km before the finish.