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93rd Tour de France - ProT

France, July 1-23, 2006

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Stage 3 - Tuesday, July 4: Esch-sur-Alzette - Valkenburg (Netherlands), 216 km

Live Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Anthony Tan and Brecht Decaluwé

Live report

Live coverage starts: 12:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:10 CEST

23:11 CEST   
Stage 3 will be like a classics cross between Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold as it winds north through the Belgian Ardennes and into the hilly southeast corner of the Netherlands to finish atop the Cauberg climb as in the Amstel Gold classics. If it comes down to a front group, look for names like Dutch champ Boogerd, Valverde or Frank Schleck to take the honours.

11:49 CEST   
Welcome to sunny Luxembourg for the start of the third stage of the Tour de France. Today's third stage starts in Esch-sur-Alzette, which by an amazing coincidence, is where yesterday's stage finished. We're heading pretty much due north today, through the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, then into Belgium, before finishing in Valkenburg, The Netherlands. That's pretty impressive for one 216 km Tour stage, although if the organisers really wanted, they could include France and Germany in their countries to visit today.

We have the usual three intermediate sprints today, planned at Mersch (km 35), Spa (km 144), and Aubel (km 176.5). There are quite a few small climbs too: Côte de la Haute-Levée (Cat. 3, km 131), Côte de Oneux (Cat. 3, km 155), Côte de Petit-Rechain Cat. 4, km 165.5), Loorberg (Cat. 4, km 189), Trintelen (Cat. 4, km 201), and the Cauberg (Cat. 3, km 214.5). The last climb is at 2 km to go, which could well be enough to stop the sprinters from having their say again.

The weather today is very noice: It's already 30 degrees, with temperatures predicted to reach 34 or 35. There are masses of Luxembourgish fans out to watch the start.

11:58 CEST   
Today's stage starts with a 5 km neutral section to take the riders out of Esch and into the Luxembourgish countryside.

12:13 CEST    2km/214km to go
175 riders started the stage, as there were no overnight withdrawals. First town visited today is Mondercange, which is where Discovery Channel's Benoît Joachim comes from. Unfortunately for his fans, he is not riding in this Tour.

12:19 CEST   
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) is a favourite for today's tough finish. "The stage will be special to me because after winning those classics (in spring, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège - ed.], it will be very nice to ride on those same roads again," said Valverde before the stage. "I hope I'm lucky and that I ride well. In the finale, we'll climb the Cauberg, which made Amstel Gold Race so famous. My memory of it is less pleasant, as I really suffered in that classic in April. That's also why I would like to do well there today, but you can't really talk of a revenge as the context is totally different."

Valverde knows that if he has good legs today, he could reach for the overall leadership - even though it's also clear that this would imply a greater responsibility in the race. "The Tour counts 21 stages; it's still very long," he continued. "But I would still like to win that stage, as any stage in the Tour. But this one could give me the Yellow Jersey! We'll see what happens. As I'm part of the overall favourites, this would mean a lot of responsibility for the team. But we could also take it only for one day or two - in that case, the jersey would be very welcome!"

12:26 CEST    8km/208km to go
It's still together in stage 3, as the bunch rolls through Ehlange, Reckange-Sur-Mess, and Roedgen (pop. 336). It's fairly flat here, with the race travelling along a two lane road through the farmland.

12:30 CEST    13km/203km to go
Sebastian Joly (Française des Jeux) and Peter Weening (Rabobank) are the first to try and attack, but are swallowed by the bunch. Thus, for the first time in this Tour, the first attack of the day hasn't succeeded.

12:31 CEST   
Christophe Laurent (Agritubel), Isaac Galvez (Caisse d'Epargne) and then would be mountain king Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) have a go next, but they too can't get clear.

12:33 CEST    15km/201km to go
The real mountains leader David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) goes with Stephane Auge (Cofidis) and Isaac Galvez again. The three get a small gap on the bunch, with CSC keeping an eye on things. But after a short time, it's all back together.

12:35 CEST    16km/200km to go
Now it's time for Jens Voigt (CSC) to have a crack. The powerful German is chased by Jerome Pineau (Bouygues), with the peloton 15 seconds behind.

12:37 CEST    17km/199km to go
In pursuit of Voigt, there are four riders: Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Jerome Pineau (Bouygues), and Christophe Laurent (Agritubel). They are 8 seconds behind, with the bunch another 17 seconds back. This looks promising.

12:39 CEST    20km/196km to go
The bunch is now half a minute behind five riders: Jens Voigt (CSC), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Jerome Pineau (Bouygues), and Christophe Laurent (Agritubel). Voigt is best placed on GC, sitting in 47th at 36 seconds.

12:42 CEST    21km/195km to go
This is an interesting break establishing itself, with strong man Voigt, who will be looking for a stage win today. The gap is up to the magic minute.

12:44 CEST   
Joost, from Holland, reports that it's already very busy at the finish zone in Valkenburg. This town is considered the heart of cycling in the Netherlands, and it's in the beautiful region of Limburg.

12:47 CEST    25km/191km to go
Well, I guess you could say we had a mini-bagarre at the start of the stage, but it still didn't take that long for the break to get established. The gap is up to 1'50 now and growing. Anyone in the peloton with designs on the stage victory will not want to let these guys get more than 7-8 minutes.

12:50 CEST    28km/188km to go
Unlike yesterday, this leading group is big enough to absorb all the bonus seconds en route, so the sprinters don't have to extend themselves behind. The yellow jersey wearer, Thor Hushovd, has his Credit Agricole boys working on the front.

12:54 CEST    32km/184km to go
The five in front now have 2'25 over the Credit Agricole patrolled peloton, as they get within three kilometres of the day's first sprint.

13:02 CEST    36km/180km to go
It's Jens Voigt taking the 6 points at the first sprint ahead of Arrieta and Laurent.

13:05 CEST   
Casper didn't contest the sprint because he is not actually in the breakaway. That makes it tricky, unless he was channeling his friendly spirit through Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who is in the break.

13:08 CEST    42km/174km to go
The bunch rolls through the sprint point 4'25 behind the five leaders, who are heading up to Colmar-Berg.

13:15 CEST    48km/168km to go
The gap is still going up, but not as quickly as it did yesterday. The latest time check was 4'45 as C-A ride a solid tempo behind the break of five.

13:20 CEST   
Frank Schleck (CSC) won the Amstel Gold Race this year, a race which finishes on top of the Cauberg. "It's good to come back but it's not going to be easy, it‘s a hard course," he told Cyclingnews at the start. "It's not going to be the same as in the Amstel Gold Race."

The man from Luxemburg is covered with some bruises on his face, reminiscent of his fall a few weeks before he won the Amstel Gold Race: "That's a good sign for me," he grinned. "I felt pretty good yesterday; but in the prologue and the first stage, I didn't have good legs."

13:23 CEST    52km/164km to go
The average speed in the first hour was a healthy 45.0 km/h, and the break of five now has five minutes over the peloton. For those of you with a mathematical bent, all of these numbers can be divided by five without leaving a remainder. On these stages, it's the little things like that that count.

13:31 CEST    56km/160km to go
Well that didn't last long. The gap is up to 5'20 after 55 km. The break and the bunch have just passed through Fridhaff (pop. 6136) and are now back in the Luxembourg countryside. The temperatures are climbing towards the mid-30s, and everyone is drinking a lot by now.

13:39 CEST    60km/156km to go
World champion Tom Boonen didn't manage to take a victory in the past two stages. Tomorrow the race starts in Belgium, so he is like to be very motivated today. "I hope to win, and if everything goes ok I'll be there," he told Cyclingnews.

Does he feel as though he is as strong as he needs to be? "There's no problem with my condition, I just need that bit of luck that is needed to win."

Today's race finishes close to the Cauberg, which won't be easy for a sprinter like Boonen. "I need to be in a good position at the Cauberg, then we'll see."

Boonen said that he was impressed with Thor Hushovd. "I think he's stronger than last year. Then I could let him be in my wheel, and winning would've still been no problem. This year, every mistake is crucial."

We were wondering what the world champion's main goal is today. "If I take the stage win, I'll take the yellow jersey...so I know my mission."

13:45 CEST    66km/150km to go
Well it looks like the gap has stabilised a bit after 65 km. The five in front had 5'20, but Credit Agricole is keeping a close eye on things and has them pegged to 5'00. With someone like Jens Voigt in front, they don't want to give a breakaway too much room, or Hushovd can kiss goodbye his maillot jaune. Voigt is the maillot jaune virtuel for the moment, having started the day only 36 seconds down, and picking up 6 seconds at the first sprint.

13:52 CEST    74km/142km to go
The leaders ride through Marnach and Fischbach, skirting around the hillier part of Luxembourg, which is in the west.

14:02 CEST    81km/135km to go
The break motors through Heinerscheid, yet another small farming community in Luxembourg. Credit Agricole has definitely decided that five minutes lead is enough, and has adjusted the speed in the bunch accordingly. They have done the most work of any team so far in the Tour.

14:06 CEST    85km/131km to go
The race is almost through Luxembourg - it'll take them a little over two hours to get from the southern end to the northern end, which is less than 100 kilometres.

14:13 CEST    85km/131km to go
The lead has nudged up to 5'35, which is the biggest so far today. Another hypothesis: given certain racing conditions, the size of the breakaway is inversely proportional to the size of its maximum lead. At the end of the Tour, I can publish a thesis of half-baked theories like these.

14:23 CEST   
Bobby Julich has lots of experience in the Tour de France, we asked him this morning how he saw this stage evolving. "There will be differences today, as it will be nervous. But the main part of the bunch will stick together. It's not like the classic, because the finish is two kilometres away from the top of the Cauberg. It will depend more on your position in the bunch and not on your fitness level."

14:26 CEST    98km/118km to go
The Tour crosses into Belgium now, to great fanfare. OK, maybe not that great. Our five leaders: Jens Voigt (CSC), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Jerome Pineau (Bouygues), and Christophe Laurent (Agritubel) are holding 5'25 on the peloton. Status quo.

The average speed after two hours is 43.6 km/h.

14:32 CEST    103km/113km to go
The leaders are gradually descending now, increasing their advantage to 5'45 over the main peloton. The gap will not likely start to come down for at least another 20-30 km.

14:34 CEST   
The Cauberg is already packed solid with cycling fans, who are hopefully staying well hydrated in his hot afternoon sun.

14:39 CEST   
Wilfried Peeters, team director of Tom Boonen's Quick.Step team, spoke about the reaction of Thor Hushovd at the finish yesterday. "I heard that Thor wanted to make a complaint against McEwen, but he wasn't allowed to do it by his team director. That proves they're all scared of Boonen."

Later on, after Hushovd viewed the footage, he realised that he was in error and McEwen had sprinted fairly.

14:42 CEST    111km/105km to go
The lead is now up to 6'01, still increasing slowly. It's unlikely that any chasing will be done until after the feedzone at Trois-Ponts.

14:45 CEST    114km/102km to go
It goes up to 6'07 as Voigt does yet another strong turn, flicking his elbow twice to get Etxebarria to come through for just a short time. Voigt is the engine of this breakaway, and he knows these roads coming up very well, as they form part of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Voigt finished second in that race in 2005, behind Alexandre Vinokourov, after the pair had made a great escape in the last 50 km.

14:51 CEST    120km/96km to go
It's not easy for the CA boys, as they have to ride a fairly solid tempo to keep the breakaway in check. This is going to hurt them by the end of the day.

14:56 CEST    123km/93km to go
The break passes through the feed at Trois-Ponts, with everyone grabbing musettes and taking time out to refuel. Drinking enough is very very important today, as dehydration can knock you around for a few days.

14:57 CEST   
Credit Agricole is getting a little bit of help from Davitamon and also Phonak, with Dutch rider Koos Moerenhout.

15:01 CEST   
The yellow jersey wearer is Thor Hushovd, who is now grabbing a feed bag in Trois-Ponts. How do you pronounce his name though? Ben, who has a Norwegian girlfriend, says it is the following:

"Tor Hus-hovd not Thor Hu-shovd. No "sch" sound in the surname and no "th" sound in the first name."

Thanks to Ben's Norwegian girlfriend!

15:05 CEST    128km/88km to go
The road goes uphill now, as the leaders hit the Côte de la Haute-Levée. It's a tough little climb, averaging 5.5% for 3.6 km. After riding hard for so long in the year, this will really take it out of the legs. Pineau will look to take the maximum mountain points here.

15:06 CEST    129km/87km to go
The bunch sees Davitamon on the front row, with Moreau (AG2R) keeping an eye on things, and a Quick.Step rider. The gap is down to 5'20, and the bunch can keep things well under control from here.

15:09 CEST    131km/85km to go
Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis) punctures, but gets a very fast change and is under way. He knows this stage like the back of his hand. He might try to win today like he did in the Giro a few weeks back.

Victor Pena (Phonak) also punctures, but is already going again. The bunch is on the Haute-Levee now, cheered on by plenty of fans.

15:11 CEST   
The leaders sprint for the points, and Pineau gets a jump on them and takes the 4 points easily. Etxebarria second, then Laurent, Voigt and Arrieta.

15:13 CEST    132km/84km to go
Pineau has seven mountain points now, but he still needs to win another few climbs to take the mountains jersey from David de la Fuente, who has 14 points. Speaking of which, his Saunier Duval team is working on the front of the bunch now, causing problems for stage 1 winner Jimmy Casper. The Cofidis rider keeps his own tempo, and regains the bunch near the top.

The gap is already down to 4'40.

15:14 CEST   
The bunch spreads across the road, and Phonak is also quite prominent in front with Landis, Merckx, and Hunter. At the back, Casper is sheltering behind Bäckstedt.

15:19 CEST   
Carlos da Cruz is next to puncture. The roads aren't that bad here, but it is damn hot.

The FDJ rider has Portuguese roots, so he might be concerned more about football these days. The Tour is going international in the first week, and asked how he felt about that. "It's good that the Tour crosses the borders, because we also have some foreigners in our team," he said. "We have a Belgian, Philippe Gilbert. He's got a free role today as the Tour starts in Belgium tomorrow. Although I think there were not too many people in Germany, I think the crowds will be extraordinary in Belgium and Holland tomorrow. We hope to take the win before that crazy crowd today."

Da Cruz gets some adjustment to his brakes and is back in the peloton.

15:20 CEST    137km/79km to go
Vansummeren is up the front with Brandt, but they're not riding hard yet. The leaders are passing the racing track at Spa-Francorchamps, but unlike the Giro d'Italia, they're not riding on it.

15:22 CEST   
Hushovd is well placed in the bunch, and looks good at the moment. Up front, Axel Merckx is near the head, while Evans, Ekimov, Zabel and Savoldelli can also be spotted.

15:24 CEST    139km/77km to go
The leaders start to descend into Spa, where there's another intermediate sprint scheduled. Arrieta manages to grab a bidon from his team car on the descent.

15:25 CEST   
An ambulance drives past the lead group, maybe en route to the Cauberg. A few people will be suffering from heat exhaustion today.

15:27 CEST    144km/72km to go
The leaders race into Spa with 4'35 of their lead intact. No-one is really chasing yet.

Voigt attacks for the points and wins the sprint ahead of Laurent and Arrieta.

15:30 CEST    147km/69km to go
The bunch descends into Spa now, with Vasseur leading with one of the Gerolsteiners. They get sprayed with water from the side of the road.

Etxebarria is reported as taking third in that last sprint. Didn't look like it to me, but I could be blind.

15:33 CEST   
Credit Agricole leads the bunch past the sprint point, with one rider handing off bidons to his teammates. The gap is still 4'35, down from a maximum of 6'07.

A reconfirmation of the sprint: Voigt won it, from Arrieta and Laurent. That's better - I wasn't sure if Laurent pipped Arrieta or not.

15:35 CEST    150km/66km to go
White jersey wearer Benoît Vaugrenard is being brought back to the bunch by an FDJ teammate, after a mechanical or something similar.

The leaders are just about to hit the cat. 3 Côte de Oneux (3.2 km at 5.1%).

15:36 CEST    151km/65km to go
Credit Agricole is back on the front and riding tempo again with three riders. Agritubel has a couple placed right behind.

15:38 CEST   
Pineau sets the pace up front on the Côte de Oneux, then Etxebarria takes over. He was also in the break on stage 1.

15:40 CEST    153km/63km to go
The break continues to work together on this climb, with all riders taking their turns. Voigt isn't imposing himself just yet. Quite a few fans cheer them on, looking for shade on the side of the road.

15:42 CEST    154km/62km to go
Pineau is pedaling at about 80 rpm, not really what you'd call a fast cadence. Laurent is using a smaller gear, but is suffering. This heat is stifling.

A man dressed in a suit of armour tries not to fall over as the bunch passes him at the foot of the climb. I hope he's not defending the country! If he is, he might need a bigger sword.

15:43 CEST   
The crowds thicken towards the top of the Côte de Oneux, which flattens out a little. Pineau looks back at Etxebarria, who is getting ready to pounce.

15:44 CEST    155km/61km to go
Arrieta leads for a while before Pineau accelerates steadily, then jumps with Etxebarria almost grabbing his wheel. But Pineau is the better climber and takes the points easily from the Venezuelan. Laurent is third, then Voigt. Pineau now has 11 points, with Etxebarria on 7. 14 points is the target to take the jersey.

15:45 CEST   
Beads of sweat are dripping down Pineau's face, as he washes them off with some water.

Credit Agricole sets the tempo behind at 5'05.

15:48 CEST   
Flecha and Bäckstedt struggle with the climb, and even Pozzato is suffering.

Terje from Norway writes in with a little more info about Thor Hushovd's name.

"Thor (or Tor) is as you probably know the name of the god of thunder.

His surname consists of two parts:

Hus - which directly translated is the Norwegian word for 'house'. In this context though: A place where people live.

Hovd - which is an old name for a rock that has a form of a head.

The whole surname then actually means:

An inhabited place beneath a rock formed as a head.

So then: Our cycling Viking is a thunder god with a rock hard head!"

Thanks Terje!

15:50 CEST    159km/57km to go
The race passes by a representation of a giant crawfish of some sort riding a bike. These Belgians are crazy.

Now Phonak and Caisse d'Epargne are massing behind Credit Agricole. More firepower will be needed to chase down the break. The gap is still over five minutes.

15:54 CEST    162km/54km to go
The leaders approach the Côte de Petit-Rechain (1.7 km at 4.7 %).

There's been a crash behind in the bunch: A Davitamon-Lotto rider and a Rabobank rider are both down.

15:55 CEST   
The Davitamon rider is Fred Rodriguez. That's bad luck for the American, who is sitting in the gutter being attended to by the race doctor at the moment. Not sure who the Rabo rider is.

15:56 CEST    164km/52km to go
The front of the bunch snakes under a railway bridge through Petit-Rechain (Verviers) as the leaders commence the climb.

15:57 CEST   
Erik Dekker was the Rabobank man. Hopefully he and Rodriguez can get going again.

15:58 CEST    165km/51km to go
Arrieta sets the pace on the climb, sweat pouring down his arms.

Rodriguez could be out with a broken collarbone.

16:00 CEST    166km/50km to go
Pineau leads on the Côte de Petit-Rechain, until 150m from the summit, then he looks back and starts to accelerate. He doesn't have to do much to win the points from Voigt and Arrieta. That puts him on 14 points, equal leader in the mountains comp. He should take the outright lead before the end of today.

16:01 CEST   
Dekker and Rodriguez are both out of the race after crashing on the way into Verviers. Bad luck for the Rabobank and Davitamon riders, who both had a bit to ride for today.

16:03 CEST    167km/49km to go
The peloton hits the Petit-Rechain, with Rabobank's De Groot setting a hard tempo with Charteau, De Jongh (puffing) and more Credit Agricole riders in tow. Michael Boogerd looks good as he moves up the bunch.

16:04 CEST   
Bäckstedt is once again OTB, but gets a handy turbo bidon from his team car.

De Groot is riding hard on the front of the bunch, which is at the summit of the Côte de Petit-Rechain 4'23 behind the break. That made a difference. Charteau is also working hard.

16:06 CEST    169km/47km to go
Casper is getting back onto the peloton after being dropped once again. He's passed by all the domestiques carrying bidons.

The leaders are going through Battice (Herve), where a massive crowd is applauding them.

16:07 CEST    170km/46km to go
Pozzato and De Jongh are now working with a Liquigas rider. Perhaps Liquigas fancy the chances of Luca Paolini.

16:10 CEST    173km/43km to go
Björn Schroeder (Milram) gets a puncture and a push, and chases on through the long caravan. The bunch cruises through Battice, working harder now and the gap is just 3'40. That was quick!

16:12 CEST    174km/42km to go
The leaders are close to the final sprint of the day in Aubel, still working well together, but losing their advantage to the hard chasing peloton. Liquigas, Rabobank, and Quick.Step are doing most of the chasing.

16:16 CEST    176km/40km to go
Arrieta steals the 6 sprint points in Aubel from Voigt, while Laurent is third. The points and seconds aren't critical, but they might be if this break stays away to the finish. Then Voigt could end up in yellow.

16:17 CEST    177km/39km to go
The break is starting to work harder now, as is usual in the final 40 km of the race. They'll need to in order to stay away from the bunch, but it's not out of the question at all.

16:18 CEST    178km/38km to go
Iñaki Isasi (Euskaltel) is the next rider to flat. There have been quite a few today.

Voigt puts the power down on a mini-climb, putting people in difficulty. Laurent is suffering. This is how to prepare for a real attack.

16:19 CEST    179km/37km to go
3'10 at the top of this little hill. Arrieta looks across at Voigt as he does a turn lasting approximately 1 second. The pace eases in the break, but now Laurent rides off...

16:20 CEST   
Good move by Laurent, but it might cost him. He has 30m on the break and is riding hard, looking back. He was in trouble on that climb, but it's harder to be dropped when you're off the front.

16:20 CEST    180km/36km to go
Laurent doesn't get a big gap though, and the other four have him at less than 5 seconds. He comes back.

16:21 CEST   
Puncture for Vandevelde next. The road might be a bit sticky in this heat.

16:22 CEST   
Vandevelde squeezes himself past the Gerolsteiner car and a moto. He passes Moncoutié and Pozzato, who are both suffering today.

16:23 CEST    182km/34km to go
Pozzato looks to be gone, while Moncoutié is following a teammate back to the bunch. Hopefully. The chases is really on in front though, with Milram, Rabobank and Quick.Step hammering. The gap is 2'53.

16:25 CEST    183.5km/32.5km to go
The break is working ok now, as it heads into Dutch territory. It's always green here.

16:26 CEST    185km/31km to go
There's a bit of chit-chat in the break. Either the riders talking to their directors, or each other. Does Voigt have the legs to go for a solo win today, or will someone else try? They'd better decide quick, as the gap is 2'40.

16:27 CEST    186km/30km to go
The leaders race towards the Loorberg, another of the climbs used in the Amstel Gold Race. There is more urgency now.

16:29 CEST   
Liquigas, Rabobank, Milram and Quick.Step are driving the bunch, always getting closer to the five in front.

16:30 CEST    188km/28km to go
They hit the Loorberg as De Groot, De Jongh and Boogerd get a small gap over the bunch. This climb is 1.3 km at 5.8%.

16:33 CEST    189km/27km to go
Pineau sets the pace on the Loorberg, looking at the rest. Arrieta attacks for the points, but Pineau marks him and powers away. But it's a bit early. He saves it for the final 50m and wins from Arrieta and Voigt. Pineau has the polkadots now.

Behind, Casper, Carlström, Auge and Charteau are all dropped from the bunch, which is 2'00 behind the leaders.

16:33 CEST    190km/26km to go
The pace is on in the bunch, and Aitor Hernández is also shelled. Commesso leads the bunch with Vasseur and Boogerd on his wheel.

16:34 CEST   
The bunch gets to the top about 1'45 behind the break, where Voigt signals for water from his team car.

16:36 CEST    191km/25km to go
The leaders go under 25 km to go, with Voigt still signaling for his car. He gets the bidon he wanted.

De la Fuente is sitting towards the rear of the bunch, which is now being towed by Vasseur and Tankink.

16:37 CEST    192km/24km to go
Tankink does a powerful turn, and Vasseur has to work to get his wheel back. The bunch is lined out, especially at the back. Hushovd is very well placed at the front.

16:38 CEST    193km/23km to go
Pineau and Etxebarria attack, but are marked by the rest of the break. Here we go, it'll be on for young and old now. 1'40 to the peloton.

16:39 CEST    194km/22km to go
The break works again, as Arrieta signals to his car for a bidon. He gets it, and some food.

16:40 CEST    195km/21km to go
Iban Mayo flats and gets a wheel from a teammate - Isasi. He's on his way again. It's not a good day for flats. I even got two this morning and had to ride 20km on the rim, which was great fun.

16:41 CEST    196km/20km to go
The breakaways should cooperate for a bit longer, at least until they hit the next hill. Everyone is knackered.

Mayo has three teammates bring him back to the bunch.

16:43 CEST   
Christophe Laurent attacks again, and the others don't react immediately. But again, he can't get a big gap.

Tankink hammers the bunch, pulling the lead back to 1'20.

16:44 CEST    197km/19km to go
Arrieta rides across to Laurent, and continues to power away. Laurent grabs his wheel. Then Voigt rides across.

16:46 CEST   
Pineau and Etxebarria are going backwards though as they ride up towards the Trintelen, the second last climb of the day.

Another crash in the bunch: Valverde is down, holding his collarbone. That happened about 30 riders into the bunch. Ooh - Valverde looks to be out.

16:47 CEST    200km/16km to go
Valverde clipped the wheel of a teammate in front. He's sitting down, clutching his collarbone as the race doctor looks after him. An FDJ rider waits with him - Seb Joly.

Back to the race. Three leaders: Arrieta, Voigt and Laurent, who have 1'20.

16:49 CEST    200km/16km to go
They are on the Trintelen now, working pretty hard to keep their 1'20 gap. Etxebarria and Pineau aren't completely out of it, trailing at 10 seconds.

Valverde is lying on the grass now, and I think that's the end of his Tour de France. Yes, the ambulance takes him away.

Arrieta jumps for the points and gets them from Laurent. Voigt suffers, taking third.

16:49 CEST   
Arrieta looks to be the best rider today. He's not going to wait for Laurent and Voigt! Behind, Etxebarria has ridden away from Pineau. All the breakaways are separated.

The bunch is another minute back.

16:51 CEST    201km/15km to go
Commesso leads the bunch with Calzati and a Milram rider on his wheel. Calzati surely won't work, with Arrieta away in front. De la Fuente has been dropped too.

Valverde looks in pain as he is stretchered into the ambulance.

16:52 CEST    201km/15km to go
Arrieta powers on the flat/downhill, en route to the Cauberg. He's got a good lead, but can he hold it? This will be a close finish.

16:53 CEST    202km/14km to go
Commesso keeps the pace going in the bunch, as no-one really wants to chase. It's been a tough day. That's to Arrieta's advantage of course. The experienced Spaniard could take a great stage win today.

16:54 CEST    203km/13km to go
Arrieta, 35 years old, is flying on this false flat/downhill, chased at 20 seconds by Voigt and Laurent, who look a bit cooked.

Commesso has got a gap on the bunch now.

16:56 CEST    206.5km/9.5km to go
Gilbert was also caught up in that crash with Valverde. He's back in the bunch now.

Arrieta goes under 10 km to go, with half a minute on the two nearest chasers. Through a tunnel now.

Quick.Step and Liquigas are chasing hard. Commesso is caught. The bunch is at 1'25!

16:57 CEST    208km/8km to go
Now the chase is at full gas, with Liquigas and Quick.Step swapping off turns. They go under 10 km to go.

Arrieta has a lot of pain on his face, but he could definitely do it.

Etxebarria and Pineau are caught by the bunch, which is 1'15 behind the leader.

16:58 CEST    208.5km/7.5km to go
Arrieta gets to 8 km to go, with another 4 km until the Cauberg. Credit Agricole, Liquigas, Quick.Step and Milram have one rider each training.

Voigt and Laurent will be caught next.

17:00 CEST    209.5km/6.5km to go
Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) is en route to a great victory if he can hold this gap. It's 1'02!

Laurent and Voigt are swallowed. One rider left in front.

17:01 CEST    210.5km/5.5km to go
Arrieta gives it the works as he nears the Cauberg. He's still the virtual yellow jersey.

Now the chase lifts a notch with Albasini burying himself, then a Lampre and a host of Milrams. Boonen is up there on Garate's wheel.

17:01 CEST    211km/5km to go
Arrieta is under 5 km to go with 50 seconds. This will be close...

17:02 CEST    212km/4km to go
Now Arrieta is in Valkenburg, direction Cauberg. Gerolsteiner has put men in front, pegging the gap back to about 40 seconds.

O'Grady is dropped a long way back. Not sure what happened to him.

17:03 CEST    212.5km/3.5km to go
Arrieta is under 4 km to go, still keeping his head down and focused on his speed. The Cauberg is going to hurt. 31 seconds. Probably not enough.

17:04 CEST    213km/3km to go
Arrieta rides through the crowded streets of Valkenburg, takes the left hander, then another, then a right, and hits the Cauberg with 21 seconds. 800m at 7.3%.

17:05 CEST   
Arrieta is cheered by the billions of boisterous Dutch fans as behind him, Caucchioli? has attacked the bunch.

17:05 CEST    214km/2km to go
Caucchioli comes up to Arrieta and passes him, but Boogerd drives the tempo up behind with Gilbert and Boonen on his wheel. Freire next.

17:06 CEST   
It's anyone's race now. Kessler attacks with Gilbert. Boogerd blows with Boonen in tow.

17:07 CEST    214.5km/1.5km to go
Kessler makes it to the top with Gilbert. Then drops him. Full gas for Matze!

Boogerd continues to work with Boonen, Freire on his wheel.

Casar punctures and will lose a bit of time.

17:07 CEST    215km/1km to go
Kessler hammers on the flat and has 5 seconds. Gilbert is caught. Just one leader. Boonen still on Boogerd's wheel. Freire still there. Now another Rabo rider comes up to chase. It's Flecha.

17:07 CEST   
Kessler has a great gap as he goes under the km to go banner.

17:08 CEST   
Kessler could do what he couldn't yesterday, as it's a slight downhill finish. The T-Mobile rider is going to do it, surely.

17:08 CEST   
The sprint starts behind Kessler, led out by Lampre.

17:09 CEST   
Kessler wins from Rogers(!) and Bennati

17:10 CEST   
Tom Boonen might be in yellow, as Hushovd lost a little time. Boonen was fourth or fifth in that sprint.

17:14 CEST   
Boonen is in yellow! He was only five seconds behind Hushovd at the start of the day, and the Norwegian looked to lose just a bit of time, which cost him yellow.

Arrieta crosses the line at 2'00, while Casar loses a good 3'30. Maybe he'll be credited with the same time, as his flat happened in the final 3 km.

17:22 CEST   
That's it from today's very eventful stage. Kessler rode a great race to finish 5 seconds clear of the bunch, then his teammate Rogers was second ahead of Bennati. Tom Boonen took fourth place on a flat tyre (he had a slow leak before the Cauberg), but because Hushovd lost time, he is in yellow. And green. That's a pretty impressive sprint by the world champ. It was a good day for flats.

Signing off from sunny Valkenburg, tot morgen!


1 Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile                  4.57.54
2 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                       0.05
3 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
4 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic 
5 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
6 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas                       
7 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
8 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) T-Mobile                     
9 Georg Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner
10 Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Gerolsteiner                  

General classification after stage 3

1 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic          14.52.23    
2 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                       0.01
3 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel             0.05    
4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                  0.07
5 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel            0.15  
6 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
7 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                           0.16
8 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balear0.17
9 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile
10 Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile                    


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