We join the race for the first sprint at Douai (43km). Fabio Baldato (MG-Technogym) gets first and 6 secs bonus, Jan Svorada (Panaria) continues to build on his green jersey lead with 4 seconds and green jersey points, Jeroen Blijlevens (TVM) is third for 2 seconds bonus.
The first three hours of the race are taken easily -- only 30kph average, but with 80km to go there's a crash that brings down Francois Lemarchand (GAN) and Beat Zberg (Carrera). They are soon away; Zberg soaked in mudy water -- the roads are dry but he's tumbled into a big puddle.
A break is way before the second sprint which is on the small climb at Saint-Just-en-Chaussee (km 163). There are six riders: Eddy Seigneur (GAN) trying for the only way he can for a victory in his home area; Wilfried Peeters (Mapei-GB), Marco Lietti (MG-Technogym), Flavio Vanzella (Motorola), Jose Luis Arrieta (Banesto) and Thomas Flesicher (Lotto). Vanzella gets the 6 second sprint, with Lietti second for 4 and Peeters third for 2. The break had reached a maximum lead of 1 minute, but Saeco is pulling the peloton hard behind and it's now around 30 seconds. With Seigneur working hard at the front, the break splits in half, with Seigneur, Lietti and Arrieta up front.
On the only classified climb of the day, the Cat 4 Cote d'Argenlieu (167km), they go through 1 Arrieta, 2 Seigneur, 3. Lietti.
By the final sprint at Clermont (178.5km) the first three are still away at about 30 secs but the other three have been swallowed up by the bunch. The sprint is not contested and they go over the line 1. Lietti, 2 Seigneur, 3 Arrieta.
Before 7km to go (188km) the three leaders are caught, by a peloton that features at various times efforts for their sprinters from Saeco, TVM, Panaria, Telekom and Gewiss. After 3km to go the run in to Nogent is technically difficult with sudden narrowings of the roads and tight bends. With a couple of kilometres to go there's also a moderate uphill stretch which gets the riders out of their saddles and Saeco back in command at the front. With 1km to go Francois Moreau (GAN) pulls clear on the left; it looks like an attack but it seems like he's raising the pace for Frederic Moncassin. He soon drops back and Mario Cipollini (Saeco) launches an attack with Moncassin on his wheel. Erik Zabel (Telekom) slips by on one side and there's a tough fight between him and Cipollini for first. Moncassin does just enough for third and the vital bonus that will take him into yellow...
We leave with Moncassin on the podium, with his baby child being handed up to him. He's another local -- by marriage -- his wife Elodie is from a town near Nogent.
Italian Cipollini, who had won Monday's second stage, looked set for another victory until the powerful Zabel produced his effort in the last 50 yards to cross the line narrowly ahead.
Moncassin had started the day's undemanding 195-km (121-mile) ride from Roubaix in second place, one second behind Switzerland's Alex Zuelle.
Frenchman Eddy Seigneur, who lives near the finish of Tuesday's stage, seized his chance by breaking away with five other riders some 31 miles from home.
The group was soon reduced to three as only Italian Marco Lietti and Spaniard Jose Luis Arrieta could follow Seigneur on the straight, flat roads through the fields of the Oise region.
But the teammates of the leading sprinters then woke up a lazy pack, which was over an hour behind schedule, and Seigneur and his companions were reined in with about four miles remaining.
Cipollini launched the sprint but could not stop Zabel, a winner of two stages last year, from collecting the third stage victory of his Tour career.
``Cipollini's teammates worked very hard to bring the pack back and that helped me,'' Zabel, 26, said. ``I was a bit lucky to win, I'm happy. ``It was easier for me last year because nobody knew who I was. It's also more difficult for me to win stages this year as my first duty is to help (Telekom team leader) Bjarne Riis.''
Moncassin, who had won a massive sprint to take Sunday's first stage in the Dutch city of Den Bosch, is now seven seconds ahead of Zuelle in the overall standings. ``The yellow (leader's) jersey was my goal and I'm impatient to have it on,'' he said after finishing the stage.
But the Frenchman, who struggles in the high climbs, should let Zuelle and the other favorites such as Spaniard Miguel Indurain battle it out as the race heats up in the Alps from Saturday.
Indurain, bidding for a record sixth win, came in with the pack to remain sixth overall.
Frenchman Frederic Moncassin has answered those who doubted his ability to match the best with two rare feats in just three days in the Tour de France cycling race.
The 27-year-old rider from Toulouse, who defeated more celebrated sprinters to score the biggest win of his career in Sunday's first stage, went on to take the race leader's yellow jersey by finishing third in Tuesday's third stage.
``I have achieved my goal,'' Moncassin said after crossing the line behind winner Erik Zabel of Germany and second-placed Italian Mario Cipollini in Nogent-sur-Oise. ``I wanted this jersey, even just for one day.''
Moncassin needed a top-three finish to seize the lead from Switzerland's Alex Zuelle, now second overall seven seconds back. ``The sprint was tough and I was nervous but I managed to stay just behind Cipollini's wheel,'' Moncassin said proudly.
Two days earlier Moncassin had been blocked by Cipollini in the final straight and nearly collided with Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens's bike. But he recovered to win the stage in the Dutch city of Den Bosch.
``I want the yellow jersey,'' he said then. ``Nothing could make me more happy.''
He certainly looked delighted on the podium on Tuesday with the coveted shirt on his shoulders and his little daughter, Capucine, in his arms. ``I don't think she realised how happy I was,'' Moncassin said.
Moncassin, who raced alongside world number one Laurent Jalabert in the amateur ranks, has struggled in the past few years.
Often in the top five but rarely first, he heard critics say he was just not quite good enough. He had to leave French team Castorama to make a new start under the orders of Dutch team director Jan Raas in the Wordperfect stable and then with Novell. ``It was difficult for Raas to trust me as I was inconsistent,'' said Moncassin, whose duty last season was to prepare the sprints for Uzbek Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. ``Perhaps I lost a bit of time helping Abdoujaparov but I also learned a lot from it.
The Frenchman is now back in a French team, Gan, whose leader is Briton Chris Boardman. Moncassin has often been unlucky. In 1994 he broke his ankle during the official presentation of the Tour de France riders and had to pull out of the race before the prologue.
Last April he crashed into a press photographer at the end of the first stage of the La Panne Three Days race in Belgium, breaking his cheekbone.
But sprinters are tough and he soon recovered. ``For a sprinter, to have the yellow jersey on for one or two days is quite an achievement,'' he said proudly, aware that life will get difficult for him in the mountains from Saturday.
Before the Tour Moncassin had thought of leaving the race early to prepare for the Olympics. But now he dreams of reaching Paris, where the race ends on July 21. ``To win the last stage on the Champs-Elysees would be something,'' he said with a gleam in his eyes, probably thinking of his second place in that final stage in 1993.
Frederic Moncassin of France took the overall leader's yellow jersey -- claiming an eight second bonus for third place in the sprint finish. "I achieved my objective and I am delighted. It's quite something to wear the yellow jersey, particularly here as my wife comes from the area," Moncassin said. The 27-year-old from Toulouse leads Alex Zulle of Switzerland by seven seconds.
Zulle's teammate Laurent Jalabert, attempting to become the first French winner since Bernard Hinault in 1985, said the Once team were not interested in defending the yellow jersey at this stage. "It was a pleasant surprise that Alex won the prologue, but at this stage the team has a longer term strategy than to defend the jersey in the early stages," Jalabert said.
Zabel, winner of two stages last year, took the initiative early in the finishing straight and try as Cipollini might to regain the ground the German held on to win by half a wheel.
Moncassin was satisfied to lock onto Cipollini's wheel and follow him, beating off the challenges of green jersey wearer Jan Svorada of the Czech Republic and Jeroen Blijlevens of the Netherlands.
Zabel, who celebrates his 26th birthday on Sunday, produced a pleasant surprise for Telekom boss Walter Godefroot -- as it was his birthday. "Last year Eric won on his birthday and I had little idea that he would win on my birthday this year, particularly as he was feeling quite ill this morning," Godefroot said.
The stage, which finished almost an hour and a half behind schedule, was brought alive by a three-man breakaway 35km to the finish. The 1995 French champion Eddy Seigneur, five-time winner Miguel Indurain's teammate Jose Luis Arrieta and Marco Lietti of Italy held a 27 second lead going into the final 10km.
However, the Saeco team of Cipollini, just as they had done on Monday, chased the escapees down and left the sprint to their leader -- who was unable to deliver this time.
The Italian Carrera team had a terrible day with several of their team crashing and the Tour of Italy runner-up Enrico Zaina abandoning with a sore knee picked up in a fall on Monday.
Nelissen, the reigning World road race amateur champion, was forced to retire from the professional ranks last year when doctors told him he had a dangerous heart condition.
The 26-year-old Dutchman produced the perfect riposte by winning the amateur crown in Colombia last October, and on the back of that was signed by the new Dutch professional team Rabobank. The team manager Jan Raas won the stage into Leyden, the last time the Tour visited the Netherlands.
Nelissen joined the cream of a fading Dutch professional group, which has suffered since the retirements of Stephen Rooks and Gert-Jan Theunisse, including 1990 Tour third Eric Breukink and 1992 Olympic silver medallist Erik Dekker.
The team has been boosted by the arrival of foreign riders Johan Bruyneel of Belgium, yellow jersey wearer from last year, and Russian Viacheslav Ekimov, 10 times the world pursuit record holder.
Nelissen has not won a stage yet, though, he has captured the imagination of the crowd with his lone escapes and was awarded the most combative rider of the first stage. He also captured the first King of the Mountains jersey, awarded every day even when the climb is no more than a steep hill, on Monday.
He pulled away from his two fellow escapees on the climb of Mont d'Enclus leading till 25kms from the finish, where he failed to go with the young Italian Rosano Brasi.
Nonetheless he was defiant when asked about his heart problems. "I've had two further tests and they found nothing wrong with me. It's important to me to prove the rest of the peloton wrong, as they thought I was finished -- well there's a lot left in Danny Nelissen," said Nelissen.
His hometown of Sweikhuisen has his defiance to thank for winning 72kg of cheese after he climbed d'Enclus first. "As they are 60 metres below sea-level they will be having a good laugh at how I managed to win the first climb!" said Nelissen.
Nelissen's bravery and the other attacks by his teammates earned them a bottle of champagne from Raas and his assistant Theo de Rooy. The team decided that although they had had a couple of good days it would be left untouched for an even greater day -- a stage victory. Should it be, Nelissen will truly have proved his point to the rest of the peloton -- that there is no rider with as good and tough a heart as him.
Jan Svorada, who finished fourth, is still the race's best sprinter. Miguel Indurain and Laurent Jalabert stay in sixth and seventh place, respectively, while Zulle gets second place. Roming
Neither Moncassin nor Svorada were able to get points in the stage's second and third sprint because of two breakaways that animated a very very slow stage overall (first four hours at 31.7 k.p.h.). The last of these breakaways finished just eight kilometers before the finish line. Seigneur, Arrieta and Lietti, initially accompanied by Peeters, Fleischer and Vanzella, started chasing Saligari and Boogerd, the stage's first escapees. With 48 kilometers left in the stage, they left Saligari and Boogerd behind, building a one-minute gap in the process.
But Cipollini's Saeco teammates were working hard again at the front of the field, and rejoined them eight kilometers before the finish line. They went on to take their leader to the final sprint in good conditions, but Zabel's Telekom teammates were just behind, doing the same thing. Cipollini came up short, and Moncassin, with as little support as in stage one, which he won, managed to tag along, finish third and get the overall lead.