The first two sprint today were won by Abdujaparov in front of Jalabert, Cipollini took third in the first sprint and Moncassin took third in the second. The last sprint is as usuall about 25km from the finish.
As the sprinter teams start to pick up the pace in the field the lead of the first two riders starts to melt. Despite some disruptive efforts by both the Castorama and Lotto teams the lead is soon down two 2 minutes and then 1. The sprinter teams turn on the speed to catch the leaders before the last bonus sprint of the day. Unfortunatly for these teams a Lampre rider jumps away just after the two leaders are rolled in and the first place points for the sprint are already lost. As the field reaches the sprint some 10" after the Lampre rider Novells Dekker manages to steal the second place from Jalabert. With his 2 second and one third place Jalabert has managed to move himself up the G.C rankings again and will be in striking distance for the lead again tomorrow.
With about 20km to go Maurizio Fondriest attacks and opens up a handy gap. Brasi (Polti) and J. Bernard go with him and start working well together. They open up a lead of about 10". At the 16km mark T. Marie from Castorama has a go at joining them but cannot get away from the chasing field. Strangly enough its a Polti rider leading the field although a teammate (Brasi) is among the 3 leaders. Their lead grwos to 24".
With 10km to go another Castorama rider (Thibout) trys his luck unsuccessfully. Mercatone now takes firm control of the chase and the lead shrinks rapidly. As the three leaders are caught Brasi trys his luck again followed by Bernard but there is no chance against the field now. Once again M. Indurain went out of the way of all trouble by setting himself at the front of the bunch. With 5km to go there were attacks from various riders but none with any chance of success. At the 3km mark N. Stevens (Once) once again took over the lead with Mapei moving forward behind him. Mario Cipollini is well placed in about 5th position. V. Ekimov attacked less than 2km from the finish but was too well watched to get away and was caught just after the red flag.
Martinello took the lead for Cipollini who was now in third position. Lombardi charges forward on the left side of the road but has no support, instead its Olaf Ludwig who takes the lead and leads them out. As Ludwig rounds the last corner and heads for home his teammate Zabel is not ideally positioned but is still in fourth position. As Ludwig pulls over Svorada pulls off his wheel and lauches his sprint proper, Abdujaparov behind him. Svorada is can't hold Abdu who now moves up beside him while Zabel positions himself on his wheel. Zabel waits a bit and then moves up on Abdu's left. Jalabert comes from a long way back and starts to go 'round Abdu and Svorada to the right. Zabel has a straight line to the finish now and goes past Abdujaparov with ease. Jalabert has the longer line to the right and doesn't have the time to challenge Zabel who wins clearly. Jalabert took second in front of Abdujaparov and Svorada.
This was a really well earned win for Zabel who has been in at the finish several times this tour. If he'd gotten room earlier yesterday then he'd certainly given Blijlevens more trouble than he did. A great 25th birthday treat for the German rider and a great reward for the Telekom team. Nice to see two Castorama riders under the first ten as well.
* That guy who rules Belgium met the King. :-) That is, King Albert II of Belgium attended the stage finish and was shown on ESPN shaking the hand of Eddy Merckx.
* Ivan Gotti lost the yellow jersey to Bjarn Riis. "I'm a bit disappointed to lose the jersey, especially because I didn't realise that I was behind but I lost it to a teammate so it's not too bad," said Gotti.
* Stage winner, Zabel, took advantage one of the last sprint stages before the ITT and the Tour approaches the mountains. "I had promised myself to celebrate my birthday in a special way and to win this stage is a dream come true," he said.
* Gaining time with his strong second place in the finishing sprint and other intermediate sprint bonuses, Jalabert moved five places up G.C. to third place.
* Cipollini, ill-placed in the middle of the pack through the last turn before the finish, was unable to contest the sprint.
* Stage 7 takes the peloton on a route similar to the route of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic. But, as one racer commented, the route becomes a completely different race for the Tour de France.