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Photo ©: Bettini

91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004

Main Page    Results    Stages & Results     Stage Profile & Start Times     Latest Live Report   

Stage 3 - July 6: Waterloo - Wasquehal, 210 km

Commentary by Roger Hughes, with additional reporting from Jeff Jones and Tim Maloney

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 12:15 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:15 CEST

11:40 CEST   
Greetings and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 3 of the Tour de France, which is something of a tribute to the classics. From the battlefield of Waterloo (starting close to the Lion Mound that marks the spot where the Prince of Orange was wounded) the course loops north into Flanders through the Dutch-speaking outskirts of Brussels, turns west to Ninove, the finish of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, to Geraardsbergen where it climbs the moderately feared (if newly resurfaced) Muur, as seen on TV during the Ronde, Het Volk and just about every other big Flemish race, then back into Wallonia, crossing the province of Hainaut to Tournai and finally crossing definitively into France close to Roubaix. Then, to finish the day off in nordiste style, we take in a couple of sections of pavŽ (a total of 3.8 km) from the Paris-Roubaix course before a 25 km run in to the finish at the not very interesting Lille suburb of Wasquehal.

Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) is in yellow, and also leading the points competition, after his second place yesterday behind Robbie McEwen. He's the first man from his country to wear the yellow jersey, and a contender for a stage victory still after showing that his sprint is on par with the other top finishers. So far it's one for Kirsipuu and one for McEwen in the bunch sprints, but the field is deep with riders like Petacchi, Hondo, Zabel, O'Grady, Cooke, and others looking to notch their first victory.

There are only two categorised climbs in today's stage, both in the first half - the Muur and before that the Bruine Put, a frequent feature of the second string classics Paris-Brussels and the Brabantse Pijl - but the cobbles in the final 65 kilometres could play a role. The GC men, particularly small climbers, will be nervous and hope most of all to avoid crashes or mechanical incidents which could lose them time; the run-ins to the Muur and the cobbled stretches will be tense and fast as the whole field tries to get to the front to stay out of trouble, and may be more dangerous than the obstacles themselves.

12:20 CEST   
The right wheels for the job
Photo ©: Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews
A weather report as the riders roll out on a short neutralised section: it's fine and sunny at the start, with the temperatures a comfortable 22°C and rising; a gentle northeasterly drift is blowing a very few harmless looking clouds along and will also be largely helping the riders on the way after its initial northerly loop.

The cobbled sections, although only brief in length, have given the mechanics some extra work, as many of the teams have opted to use the equipment they normally reserve for the spring classics. Lots of good old box-section 32 and 36 spoke wheels on display today.

12:40 CEST    10km/200km to go
The race has started briskly but a first attack has come from Jens Voigt (CSC) in the company of Bram de Groot (Rabobank). The latter was reported as having "digestive problems" yesterday, so he may just be trying to get away from the Brussels suburbs to open country with convenient hedges.

As well as hospitalised crash victim Gianmatteo Fagnini, another non-starter today is Cofidis's FrŽdŽric Bessy, who also came down in the closing kilometres yesterday.

The lead pair are still going clear with a significant gap now; the bunch has eased up a bit. There's a long way to go yet.

12:58 CEST    15km/195km to go
On the fourth-cat climb of the Bruine Put, De Groot takes the cash (and points and stuff) ahead of Voigt, and behind them Bettini mops up third place and stretches his lead in the spotty jersey competition. Voigt is the better placed of the two on GC - 23 seconds down on Hushovd - and is already the race leader on the road.

Some speculation as to who are the favourites today - the bookies say Petacchi just ahead of McEwen, but the cobbles will add in a certain aleatory element. In any event, despite the references to the classics, this is not a one-day race and all the dynamics will be different, with many more riders having a primary interest in keeping the race together, not least the sprinters' teams and US Postal, who are leading the team rankings and will thus be starting last in the team time trial tomorrow if things stay as they are.

There is no organised chase now, and the leaders are still moving clear. Jens Voigt has just stopped briefly for a bike change, but not lost much time.

13:07 CEST    28km/182km to go
The next significant point on the course is the first of the day's three bonus sprints at Meerbeke, the site of the finish of the Tour of Flanders (42 km). Although the two leaders - still pulling away, five minutes clear now - will pick up the first two places, there are still a couple of seconds bonus (and a point for the green jersey) for the first of the chasers through.

13:32 CEST    46km/164km to go
Still waiting for a judgement on the prime sprint there. The lead is still stretching and is now the largest margin that any breakaway has had in this tour.

Jens Voigt took the sprint ahead of De Groot, while McEwen took third place (two seconds and two points, sorry), so he is obviously thinking about his chances of taking over the yellow jersey or the green jersey that he is already wearing on behalf of leader Thor Hushovd.

Up the road, on the Muur there are massive crowds with a giant screen; it's going to be a day-long party there.

While you're waiting, the management insist quite reasonably that I plug our interview with Lance Armstrong at his hotel press conference last night, so I shall do just that. Go and read it, then come back here, OK?

13:39 CEST    53km/157km to go
Servais Knaven at home on the pavé
Photo ©: Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews
The bunch has, as might well be expected, picked the pace up a little on the run-in to the Muur and claimed a few seconds back on the leaders; much to our (if not the riders') disappointment the race will not be going over the traditional cobbles, but up the parallel road that diverted race traffic normally uses in the Ronde. Spoilsports. Not sure how that really warrants 3rd category status, to be honest.

This is a pretty quick stage so far - the two leaders averaged 46.8 kp/h over the first hour, so they are a bit up on the fastest schedule, and the main field was moving at 43 kph or so too.

13:54 CEST    61km/149km to go
The two leaders are over the Muur (or rather the Kloosterstraat climb), with De Groot taking the big points over the top.

The peloton go over the top with Brad McGee (about whom many of you have been asking) bringing up the rear, not a good sign. Bettini takes third and behind him his team-mate Richard Virenque takes his first point in the classification. Most of the race favourites were safely up at the front of the group. The two leaders' gap has fallen back below 4 minutes under the effect of the pre-Muur acceleration, but it will probably start growing again now.

A brief split in the bunch after he Muur, with a score of riders trying to get clear, doesn't last.

14:08 CEST    73km/137km to go
A second bonus sprint in Lessines is taken by Voigt ahead of De Groot, and the yellow jersey of Hushovd comes through for third to restore his advantage over Robbie McEwen in both GC and points competitions.

14:31 CEST    90km/120km to go
As predicted, Voigt and De Groot pulled away from the bunch again, and the lead is now fluctuating just under six minutes as he race heads westwards across the gently rolling plain of the province of Hainaut. Still going fast, but not too fast for Thierry Marichal (Lotto-Domo) to get the chance to stop and greet his family beside the road.

This morning, Dirk Demol, US Postal Service directeur sportif and former winner of Paris-Roubaix, was unsure exactly how the tough stage to Wasquehal would play out.

"It's possible a lot could happen, it's possible nothing could happen," he told Cyclingnews. "It will be a very nervous peloton, like in the past two days. And especially today with the cobbles, let's hope that we have no bad luck at all. It's all about positioning, we've got to start the cobbles in good position, and then go steady over the cobbles and see what we have to do."

By Paris-Roubaix standards the two sections of pavé to come are fairly mild ("a cobbled boulevard" according to one radio reporter) and with 25 km of tarmac after the second one, most riders who have trouble on them should be able to make up anything they lose, but there are plenty of nervous riders around. The Tour has been over over the pavé of the Nord many times before (and rather larger quantities of it, enough to cause Lucien Van Impe to lose 10 minutes on a stage here in the late 1970s), but not for a decade or so now.

14:50 CEST    105km/105km to go
The two leaders are moving away again, taking short turns on the front and still looking fairly smooth. Behind them Credit Agricole are leading the bunch as is the way of these things, but the teams of the Big Four GC contenders are all massed up behind them already.

A few people have asked whether Jens Voigt's bonus seconds from the sprints will mean that CSC move ahead of US Postal (who lead by 6 seconds) in the team classification, which is significant for the starting order in tomorrow's team time trial. The answer is no: time bonuses only count towards the individual general classification - the team classifications use the riders' actual time.

15:01 CEST    110km/100km to go
The leaders pass through the city of Tournai, whose gothic-Norman glories are described as "like a head on collision between two cathedrals" by an esteemed colleague. The pace is still very brisk, but the breakaways are still moving away.

15:09 CEST    120km/90km to go
The Tour crosses the border at Maulde - farewell to Belgium, see you again in a couple of years.

The weather today is perfect for cycling, and will certainly not contribute to a selection in the race. There is almost no wind and the sun is shining, with temperatures now climbing into the mid-20's. Cyclingnews drove over the final 30 km of the parcours from Cysoing to Wasquehal, including the second cobbled sector at Gruson with 25 km to go. This is certainly a nasty section, and the majority of the riders will opt for the gravelly parts on either side of the cobbles to ride over, although the pavé specialists will tell you to keep to the crown of the road to avoid punctures. It's only 1.1 km long with just one corner, and the peloton could well come back together afterwards.

The finale is full of corners and narrow roads, although the last 5 km contains some long, open stretches of road that will favour a peloton sprint. At the 2 km to go mark, there are two more corners before the finishing straight, which is 1.5 km long and very wide. If the bunch arrives compact, this will be a huge sprint and it will require a very cool head not to jump too early with the line in sight.

15:20 CEST    126.5km/83.5km to go
The lead has now stabilised at around 6.30, which is less than the often-cited minute per 10 kilometres required for a reasonable chance of staying away; unless there is a big lull after the first cobbled section (20 km up the road yet), if nothing major happens there.

Jens Voigt changes bike for no apparent reason - looks like it might be a tactical move from lighter to heavier wheels. He gets back to De Groot fairly rapidly.

15:24 CEST    130km/80km to go
Some CSC riders have now moved up to the front of the bunch, which is now fairly well lined out and closing the leaders down a little. A few riders in the bunch are getting punctures and wheel changes, including Levi Leipheimer and then Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt.

15:31 CEST    136km/74km to go
The pavé at Gruson
Photo ©: Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews
The leaders pass through Wallers, undoubtedly thankful that they are not going to be turning right through the forest this time. 10 km to the first cobbles.

Backstedt is back in the bunch and trying to move up.

Cyclingnews spoke to Quick.Step-Davitamon directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters before the start of stage 3 and we asked him what the team tactics would be today.

"Everyone expects us to make the selection today and to go hard on the pave," Peeters said. "Especially after the second pavé section. And we're going to do that. We think the riders who are looking for the GC will be working together today, although riders like Hamilton are probably going to have some difficulty in that part of the race."

15:34 CEST   
The white jersey of Fabian Cancellara is well up in the bunch. He was, one should note, 4th in Paris-Roubaix this year, so no mug on the cobbles

15:37 CEST    144km/66km to go
Voigt is rocking and rolling a bit now, and the gap is coming down fast as the jockeyinh for position starts.

A crash in the bunch; several orange jerseys, Commesso, Cipollini, ROgers all affected.

Mayo was involved (seeveral Euskaltels were down) and is now chasing alone. Glomser was there too. Marco Velo looks to be the worst victim.

15:41 CEST    147km/63km to go
The leaders are now on the 2.9 km Erre cobbles, both sticking to the crown of the road - the verges are full of spectators anyway, so the gutters will be more dangerous.

Mayo is now being paced back up by half a dozen orange jerseys; US Postal's Benjamin Noval is also with them.

15:45 CEST   
US Postal lead a lined-out bunch onto the cobbles; Ekimov taking the lead. A bit of a split after 30 riders, but nothing that will last.

Voigt and De Groot are through and clear.

15:48 CEST   
Mayo was 1.16 down coming on to the cobbles. Hushovd is the wrong side of the split. The good line is clearly straight down the middle; riders in the gutters are clearly slower most of the time. Hincapie is now leadings through as they come back onto tarmac again.

15:50 CEST   
Hamilton and Ullrich are both up with the Armstrong group, but Heras is the wrong side of the split after a puncture.

15:56 CEST   
The first split closes up fairly fast, but a group with Thor Hushovd and led by several Credit Agricole riders is still chasing, and a small group with Mayo a couple of minutes further down. The situation is decidedly confused, but it looks as though it will come back together.

The Mayo group are now coming up through the race convoy, which is of course behind all the groups that split on the cobbles.

16:00 CEST   
Phonak are now working with US Postal, but the pace has eased up a little bit; Voigt and De Groot are pulling away once again The time checks are getting very unreliable. The second group (Heras) is being pulled back up by Rabobank and Liberty Seguros. Mayo is back up to the yellow jersey group. His shorts are a bit ripped up, but he doesn't look too injured.

16:08 CEST   
The two leaders decide to call it a day and sit up, with De Groot collecting a sackful of bottles to take back to his team.

Marco Velo has apparently fractured his collarbone, as is the fashion. That means that Petacchi, Cipollini and McEwen have each lost a lead-out man.

Credit Agricole and Euskaltel are still riding hard to pull themselves back to the leading group. Ivan Basso is also in there somewhere; Erik Dekker is bringing up the rear.

16:19 CEST    170km/40km to go
The Mayo group are coming back towards the leading bunch, but only slowly - it doesn't look as though they're going to get back before the second section of pave. T-Mobile, US Postal and Phonak are all working hard on the front (whatever happened to not attacking favourites who crash, I hear you ask - and have no answer). Illes Baleares have moved up to help in the chasing group, to work for Denis Menchov. The sprinters' teams are all taking it nice and easy for the moment.

16:24 CEST    176.5km/33.5km to go
Proceedings are interrupted briefly for the final bonus sprint of the day, taken by Danilo Hondo in front of Stuart O'Grady and Jean-Patrick Nazon, which could be a pointer to the final result today. The bunch is now slowing up and spreading over the road a bit.

16:29 CEST    181km/29km to go
The chasers are now losing time again, out to 2.10, with US POstal and T-Mobile once again picking up the pace. The second section of cobbles coming up in a couple of kilometres.

16:33 CEST    186km/24km to go
The crowds on the second pave section are massive. Stuey O'Grady is in trouble straight away but the majority of the front group are through and clear.

Bernhard Eisel is in trouble and Matt Wilson has stopped for him.

The second group are on the pave now.

16:36 CEST    190km/20km to go
Bramati leads the ssecond group through but there is a dispiited look about them.

Hvastija takes a flyer off the front of the leaders but it doesn't last long. The chasers, just to make things better, get slowed momentarily by a level crossing barrier.

16:38 CEST    181km/29km to go
The second group has split on the pave, but Mayo is at least in the front part of it. The front group is powering away, though, and the lead is now up to 2.36

Sorry about slight technical difficulties here.

16:41 CEST    193km/17km to go
Dekker and Hushovd are discussion at the back; it's now become a damage limitation exercise for these riders - they're not going to get back now.

16:47 CEST    197km/13km to go
Still Phonak, T-Mobile and (to a lesser extent) US Postal leading the front group.

Mario Cipollini is riding along cheerfully at the back, waving at cameramen and the like.

Mark Wauters and Rasmussen and another Rabobank rider come down on a tricky right-hander; Wauters looks worst hurt.

16:50 CEST    200km/10km to go
Rasmussen is back on the front group. The chasers are still losing time, 3 minutes now.

16:52 CEST    202km/8km to go
Attacks starting to come now on the very winding run-in, with four or five riders straggling off the front of the group, Calzati for RAGT Semences in the front.

16:54 CEST    203km/7km to go
Calzati is joined by Axel Merckx, Mark Scanlon, Juan-Antonio Flecha and Sebastian Lang, just a few metres off the front.

16:56 CEST    205km/5km to go
Sylvain Calzati goes off again on his own, but he hasn't got the momentum to stay out for 5 km. Gets his face on TV, though, which may be the point for the smallest team in the race.

16:58 CEST    206km/4km to go
Calzati is caught. The twists and turns are keeping the bunch strng out.

Now Fassa Bortolo take the front; it looks like it should be big bunch gallop from here.

17:00 CEST    208km/2km to go
Lotto, Gerolsteiner and AG2R all have riders well up. Although this section has had more twists and turns than a corkscrew, the actual finishing straight is a lot more straight(forward) than yesterday's.

Straight in now...

17:03 CEST   
Jean-Patrick Nazon nicks it from Erik Zabel on the line, while McEwen can only manage third this time, timing his effort too early; he will be able to claim that green jersey for himself though, since Hushovd is still out there somewhere...

17:08 CEST   
The Mayo/Hushovd group come in nearly four minutes down. Could be game over for Mayo's GC hopes. Robbie McEwen moves into the yellow jersey now thanks to his consistent sprinting.


1 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) AG2r-Prevoyance
2 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo
General classification after stage 3
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo

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