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94th Tour de France - ProT

France, July 7-29, 2007

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Stage 3 - Tuesday, July 10: Waregem - Compiègne, 236.5km

Live commentary by Laura Weislo and Bjorn Haake

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 13:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 18:30 CEST

Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of Le Tour. It's time for stage three, and the riders are facing the longest stage of the Tour at 236.5 kilometres. Having tasted the roads of the spring semi-classics Gent-Wevelgem and Het Volk the day before, stage three will head out of Belgium and into France to pass through the area of the toughest roads of Paris-Roubaix - Wallers, Denain and Solesmes.

The riders won't have to fret, however, as the famous cobbled classic has to go out of its way to find the treacherous cow-paths that challenge the hard men of April, and today they'll be treated to a relatively mild stage with three intermediate sprints and just one categorised climb toward the end.

12:16 CEST   
Live coverage of the third stage will begin at 13.00 CEST.

12:58 CEST   
At the start in Waregem, the riders rolled out under partly sunny skies into a light breeze and temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius. They'll be heading into the wind today, and could face an uncomfortable day in the saddle as there are storms across the border in France.

13:09 CEST   
The riders rolled out of Waregem at noon today, with Discovery's Tomas Vaitkus as the only non-starter. As usual with the Tour de France, the attacks began from the first few kilometres, and after a very active start, two riders were able to break clear just six kilometres into the stage.

Frenchmen Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux) built up a lead of 20" by kilometre 10, and then Vogondy became the 'virtual' yellow jersey just a few minutes later. He started 54" behind Cancellara in the GC.

13:11 CEST   
By kilometre 17.5, the pair had built up a 2'30 lead, and then ten kilometres later, the peloton had completely let go and allowed them an 11 minute lead!

13:12 CEST   
At the first intermediate sprint in Tournai, Vogondy crossed the line ahead of Ladagnous, and it was 11 minutes and 35 seconds before Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) passed the line at the front of the peloton.

13:16 CEST   
Despite dozens of riders going down in the crash on stage two, Discovery Channel's Tomas Vaitkus was the only seriously injured rider. Vaitkus went in for surgery last night to repair multiple breaks in his thumb.

Erik Zabel admitted to the German press that he was indeed the rider seen dramatically switching his line at 2km to go, but said he was trying to avoid running into Tom Boonen's wheel.

Liquigas' Manuel Quinziato became the speed bump that launched dozens of riders off their bikes when Zabel's move took out his front wheel.

The wreck took out many of the top sprinters: Bennati, Cavendish, Förster, and McEwen's leadout man, Fred Rodriguez. Fast Freddy looked pretty bad as he came across the line, but he was lucky enough to escape without any broken bones.

13:26 CEST    44km/192.5km to go
The breakaway is going, going, gone - they've got nearly 14 minutes at kilometre 44. They're about to cross over the border from Belgium to France - surely they've all got their passports in hand?

13:32 CEST   
53 riders were visited by doping control this morning - six teams: Astana, Predictor-Lotto, Française des Jeux, AG2R, Discovery Channel and T-Mobile got a visit from the UCI medical team and all were allowed to start.

13:35 CEST    53km/183.5km to go
With many riders spending late nights at the hospital for x-rays, the teams are taking it easy today to allow their bruised men to rest up. Lampre's Daniele Bennati was at the hospital until 10pm, and his DS Fabrizio Bontempi said, "We have decided that it’s best for him to take it easy today and instead of working for Daniele - the team’s objective is to protect Danilo Napolitano instead."

They have another weapon in the Sicilian powerhouse Danilo Napolitano - winner of a stage in the Giro - who will be their protected rider should things come down to a sprint today.

13:39 CEST   
'Benna', or as the ladies like to call him, 'Bennati the hottie', is sore, but otherwise not seriously injured.

Credit Agricole's big Norwegian sprinter Thor Hushovd was also injured, but he won't be taking a back seat to New Zealander Julian Dean today. His manager Roger Legeay said, "Thor fell heavily on his right side and has damaged his sciatic nerve. He has pain but he's a tough rider who will still be our protected man again today."

Credit Agricole's Julian Dean
Photo ©: Steve Thomas
(Click for larger image)

You can read more about Dean in our newest feature.

13:51 CEST    64km/172.5km to go
The riders reached the town of St. Amand nearly 15 minutes slower than the predicted slowest schedule - they averaged just over 40 km/h in the first hour - a very slow pace indeed for the Tour de France.

Right now they're nearing Wallers, home to the fabled cobbles of the Arenberg forest - the celebrated pivotal sector of cobbles in the Paris-Roubaix.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux)
  • Peloton at 11.15

13:56 CEST   
The gap to the breakaway came down from the maximum 13'50 that the pair of Vogondy and Ladagnous enjoyed at kilometre 44, but is still hovering around 11 minutes. The peloton isn't too concerned because after they still have to cover today the distance that they rode in the entire stage yesterday.

14:00 CEST   
The parcours today is fairly flat with some rolling hills to add interest, but even the only categorised climb, the Blérancourt climb with 34 kilometres to go is just 1km long and only 4.6% - barely enough to get the riders' heart rates up.

Once again, the team of GC leader Fabian Cancellara is spending the majority of the race on the front of the bunch, but they will want to start conserving their energy to help their hope for the final classification, Carlos Sastre.

14:06 CEST   
The peloton recorded a snail-like 30.7 km/h in the second hour, and even with this slow pace the breakaway has lost ground. Some time in the next year or so, they'll inch their way into the town of Denain, and will surely be going quite a bit slower than Sébastien Chavanel was when he won the GP de Denain Porte du Hainaut in April.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux)
  • Peloton at 8'50

14:14 CEST   
With all the riders already having had to sign the UCI's agreement to participate in the 94th edition of the Tour de France, the Cycling Federation has extended this commitment.

In their quest to fight doping, the UCI has announced that all managers and staff will have to sign the document as well.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep)
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

14:21 CEST   
In the start town of Waregem thousands of spectators had lined the roads to greet the riders. People were dressed with the flag of the "Lion of Flanders", and people were in a very festive mood, with musicians entertaining everybody while they waited for the riders, that were scheduled to ride out at 11.45

14:29 CEST    83km/153.5km to go
As the riders near the town of Vendegies-Sur-Ecaillon, they've managed to bring the break down to an advantage of 7'50. They're actually starting to ride now, and almost lined out a bit - not in full flight, but they're no longer riding at Sunday coffee ride pace.

14:34 CEST   
While the riders are getting to work on their tans a bit right now, they will probably be going back to the team cars to get rain gear as they head in to some scattered showers.

The riders head around a bend and encounter a sudden traffic median and the riders on the left had to dive left to avoid hitting a bit of decorative shrubbery. They all get through safely, but that little surprise probably got their adrenaline going.

14:38 CEST   
Vogondy and Ladagnous both have connections to FdJ - Ladagnous is currently riding under FdJ's Marc Madiot while Vogondy began his pro career with FdJ in 1997. They'll be getting a little more leash now that the peloton has sat up to answer the call of nature.

There aren't quite as many fans in this part of France as there were in Belgium, and certainly not as many as were lining the roads in England.

The "Lion of Flanders"
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

14:44 CEST    91.5km/145km to go
The situation is mainly unchanged, except the leaders passed through Solesmes with 146km to go and finally encountered some civilization - and some fans! There were hundreds lining the roads.

The pace is way, way behind the scheduled time today. They should have been in that town 45 minutes ago! The two riders are riding a steady tempo to keep their advantage, but certainly not working hard. Ladagnous doesn't even have his mouth open to breathe.

14:47 CEST   
Floyd Landis spends his July on a different Tour than last year. He is still fighting to prove that he is innocent and the rightful winner of the 2006 Tour de France

14:49 CEST   
It's a good thing the pace is pedestrian today - it will give our Cyclingnews team time to shop for clothes after the support car proved too tempting to thieves during a stop in stage two. It must have been the bulk-sized bucket of lollipops that lured them to smash the windows in, and alas, we're left with few changes of undies...

14:54 CEST 97.5km/139km to go The second intermediate sprint in Fontaine-au-Bois at kilometre 104.5 might see a little bit of action. Tom Boonen is leading the green jersey competition by just one slim point over Robbie McEwen. The Australian is sitting up front right now having a chat with yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara. Will he try to get that jersey back today?

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux)
  • Peloton at 8.40

14:56 CEST   
Cancellara is wearing a new band on his wrist watch - it's bright yellow to match his jersey. Behind Cancellara, McEwen is sporting a bandage on his left knee, and one rider back, George Hincapie is spinning along sporting a matching bit of gauze.

15:06 CEST    103.5km/133km to go
The leaders are now in the town of Fontaine-au-Bois - and once more have plenty of fans to cheer them on. They've got nearly nine minutes advantage on the peloton as they approach the sprint.

The sprint is in the home town of former Tour director Jean-Marie LeBlanc, and the pair don't even increase their cadence as they cruise through the line with little effort.

15:08 CEST    105.5km/131km to go
At the back of the peloton, Marcus Burghardt shows the cameraman just how easy the pace is right now - his power meter is showing only 140 watts! Barely enough to make toast, and his heart rate is just 104.

The host town of Bousies, where the peloton is riding, is festooned with Tour decorations. Yellow balloons are everywhere, and a farmer has carved a very nice bicycle into a deep green field.

15:14 CEST    107.5km/129km to go
The most exciting part of the stage so far is a flat by Cédric Vasseur - he gets a quick wheel change that takes maybe ten seconds and then easily makes it back into the peloton.

Up front, David Millar looks like a canary with the measles in his bright red spotted jersey and yellow shorts. The Euskaltel team has come up alongside him... maybe moving Mikel Astarloza up to take another couple points.

15:15 CEST    108.5km/128km to go
They're all surprised by Roman Feillu (Agritubel) who comes around over the curb and bunny-hops back down onto the road and rockets ahead to take the two second bonus! Feillu is gunning to be France's next big thing for the bunch sprints.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux)
  • Peloton at 8.08

15:23 CEST    114.5km/122km to go
The second intermediate sprint was taken by Ladagnous ahead of Vogondy in the breakaway, then third place was our speedy young Frenchman Feillu. The Agritubel team was the target of derision over their selection for the Tour by some who felt other Pro Continental teams were more deserving. But they're showing their mettle so far in the race and have been in every breakaway so far.

15:25 CEST   

Romain Feillu (Agritubel), who just took third place in the second intermediate sprint of the day, may well be the new French sprinting hope.
Feillu said about yesterday's stage finish that he was a bit disappointed as he didn't know about the uphill at the end. "We will study the next finishes a bit better," he confirmed before the start.

Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC)
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

15:25 CEST    116.5km/120km to go
Is this an attack from the field? A Bouygues Telecom rider has gone off the front, and the peloton isn't even flinching... No, it's just a rider who is coming into his hometown - it's Laurent Lefevre - and he smiles and waves to his supporters.

15:27 CEST    117.5km/119km to go
Now Lefevre stops and is mobbed by his friends and family on the side of the road. The peloton leaves him behind as they have passed through the feedzone and are all sifting through their musette bags to take out all the tasty treats.

15:32 CEST   
Mathieu Ladagnous actually won the 4 Days of Dunkerque earlier this year - and the race came through this part of France before turning back to the North. He won the 5th stage and took over the overall classification on the final day.

15:35 CEST    118.5km/118km to go
Ladagnous trailed U23 World TT Champion Dominique Cornu by just one second coming into the final stage of that race, and after picking up some time bonuses along the route, he was able to take over the lead in the overall classification - a lead which was further extended when Cornu was relegated in the final sprint for going off his line.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux)
  • Peloton at 9.50

15:41 CEST    118.5km/118km to go
At the midway point of the stage, the peloton has been positively crawling along at a turtle-like 33 km/h. The breakaway isn't even trying to keep their ten minute advantage, and the peloton is happy to let them get the airtime for their sponsors.

Agritubel directeur Denis Leproux has told his man Vogondy to keep going easy - if they were to speed up the peloton would speed up as well. This way everyone has an easy day.

Mathieu Ladagnous
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

15:42 CEST   
Mathieu Ladagnous, who is in the break, won the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque earlier this year, with Laurent Lefèvre, the man who greeted his family a few kilometres ago, taking second.

15:45 CEST    122.5km/114km to go
We've turned a corner now, and CSC has conceded the lead on the peloton to Credit Agricole's Anthony Charteau and Quickstep's Cédric Vasseur. These are the same two men responsible for initiating the chase on yesterday's stage. They quickly bring the gap back under ten minutes.

15:49 CEST    126.5km/110km to go
Fortified by their lunch, the peloton has brought our escapees back by another couple minutes - they now lead by only 6'56. It's going to fall quickly now as the leaders are spinning away in their small rings while they cruise along the river.

15:51 CEST    127.5km/109km to go
The rest of the route today will parallel the Oise river - a 302 kilometre long tributary of the Seine which has been widened to accomodate shipping.

15:54 CEST    128.5km/108km to go
The riders have managed to elude the rain clouds today - perhaps this is the reason behind their lackadaisical pace today. The sun is shining and white, puffy clouds are high above our peloton as they pass by endless stretches of brown fields of grain.

Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

15:56 CEST   
Robert Förster from Gerolsteiner was one of the many sprinters who hit the deck yesterday. In a brief reaction he talked about how the crash happened.

16:00 CEST    130.5km/106km to go
Our Agritubel rider in the breakaway has been a professional for ten years, and in the last year he's had some nice results. He won the overall in the Boucles de la Mayenne where he also took the third stage, and was second in stages of the Tour Rhône-Alpes Isère, Circuit de la Sarthe and the 3 Jours de Vaucluse - all UCI 2.2 stage races.

16:03 CEST    133.5km/103km to go
With the chase picking up thanks to the work of Vasseur and Charteau, the gap has plummeted to 4'29 - but it's not as if they're doing anything more than setting a brisk tempo. Behind the two chasers, Cancellara is having a joke with his team-mates.

The scenery here is a stunning expanse of farmland that stretches as far as they eye can see. Fields of brown and green are separated into plots by lines of tall trees.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux)
  • Peloton at 4.25

16:07 CEST   
The riders pass the gigantic Godin family residence. Godin is a well-known brand of heating systems in France. There are three major brick buildings forming a U-shaped area that hosts the family and factory of the entrepreneur Godin.

16:09 CEST    136.5km/100km to go
It is exactly 100 kilometres to go now and the gap is slightly going up again. It is now at 4'44"

16:15 CEST   
It would be good for the riders to have some distraction, like a turn, but the road is going straight for miles. With the lead at 4'35" it almost seems the peloton should be able to see the break. But the landscape is not exactly flat, and slight rollers prevent a déjà vue.

16:18 CEST    140.5km/96km to go
The break is riding past wheat fields right now in this agricultural area of France. The French Champion, Christophe Moreau, is taking the convenience of the wheat field for a natural break. He will have to line up at the back and ride up to the front. But at the current pace that should be n problem.

16:20 CEST   
There are few clouds in the sky, but they are nothing like the dark wall that the riders headed into yesterday when the stage finished in Belgium, a country not particularly unknown to wind and rain.

16:22 CEST    142.5km/94km to go
The field has slowed down again and Bernhard Eisel takes the time out to not only drink a bit out of his bottle, but also chats to Fabian Cancellara. The language of choice between the Swiss and Austrian is German.

Kjell Carlström (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

16:24 CEST   
Liquigas has currently managed to use the time out of CSC and is at the front. The gap has stabilized and the peloton is particularly going all out.

16:27 CEST    146.5km/90km to go
The gap is going up again and has gone past five minutes. The peloton realized that it was too early to roll up the break. Since this the longest stage we just recently passed the half-way point and it is still 90 kilometres to the finish.

Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner)
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

16:33 CEST    149.5km/87km to go
Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) is riding in the German Championships jersey. He promised to take it so his girlfriend could see him better on TV during the Tour. And it works. The French TV team is asking him if it's difficult right now. Wegmann just smiles as the peloton seems to be on a stroll through the country side right now. The gap is up to 5'47".

16:38 CEST    153.5km/83km to go
The field is led right now by Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) and Marcel Sieberg (Milram). The latter has a different number than any other rider in the field. It is red and signifies that he was voted the most combative rider yesterday. There is no continuing classification. The most aggressive rider of one day will get to wear the red number the next day. There is however an overall prize given in Paris. Rather than based on actual points, a jury will decide the overall winner.

16:44 CEST   
The bells are ringing. About every village they pass, there is a priest who loves cycling and rings the bell. Or maybe it's one of the bizarre French laws? The French language is being vigorously protected, which is why people type on ordinateurs and not on computers. The ringing of the church bells may well try to protect the Tour de France, that some see as being threatened by the recent doping problems. But as the spectators in England, Belgium and here in the villages have shown is that cycling is well and alive. It is a beautiful sport after all.

16:47 CEST    157.5km/79km to go
We are near the Oise river. The stage race in this area, the Tour de l'Oise, has often visited Compiègne, which is today's finishing town.

Oh, the church of St. Martin. There goes another church bell.

16:50 CEST   
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) is joking around on the front right now. The gap is at 5'28, as the riders head down the valley of the l'Oise.

16:56 CEST    163.5km/73km to go
Even though the field looks like it is still going on a leisurely pace, the gap has come down again and is just above five minutes. Maybe the winds aren't the breakaway's friend, but at least it's dry. This may not last as there are dark clouds hanging over the finishing area.

Stuey O'Grady
Photo ©: David Reinhardt
(Click for larger image)

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux)
  • Peloton at 5.33

16:58 CEST   
The temperatures are cool in Compiègne, where the race finishes today. The finish is only 500 metres from the start of Paris-Roubaix, which was won this year by Aussie Stuart O'Grady.

17:06 CEST   
The whole team of Astana is riding with limegreen numbers. They are so bright, it will be hard for them to make a sneak attack. The special number is for the leader of the team classification.

17:08 CEST    167.5km/69km to go
At the final intermediate sprint of the day, Vogondy took the front as the breakaway rolled through Achery with Ladagnous taking a back seat. When the peloton approached the line four minutes later, Astarloza jetted off the front of the bunch and took third by a hundred metres or so.

American Fred Rodriguez (Predictor-Lotto)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

17:13 CEST    173.5km/63km to go
The peloton is heading through Danizy now, and 'Fast Freddy' Rodriguez is back at the Predictor-Lotto team car collecting bottles. He has a long stretch of bandages on his left arm covering up wounds from the crash yesterday.

Anthony Charteau described the help the Credit Agricole team gets Roger Legeay this morning, saying that they get instructions on the radio warning them of upcoming obstacles, right turns, left turns, which side of the road to be on - all designed to keep them safe.

17:17 CEST    175.5km/61km to go
Charteau and Patrice Halgand are on the front doing their work for big Thor 'thunder thighs' Hushovd. They've stabilised the gap at 4'07...

We have an attack! Finally, some action! Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) was able to sprint easily from the front of the peloton and is joined by Frederick Willems of Liquigas.

17:20 CEST    178.5km/58km to go
It's a bit early for Augé to be going for the KOM at 34km to go, but he does have that on his objectives for this week. Augé is tied with David Millar on that classification, but Millar got the dots because of his higher standing on GC.

Frederik Willems
Photo ©: Cyclingnews.com
(Click for larger image)

17:24 CEST    179.5km/57km to go
Saunier Duval is nowhere near the front of the bunch, and it looks as if he's not interested in defending his polka dot jersey. Fränk Schleck is also near the back going back to the car for assistance. He crashed in stage two, but not in the big pile-up at the finish.

17:29 CEST    181.5km/55km to go
It's just about that time, folks - time to play 'guess the catch'. While the somewhat underpowered engine of our Skoda Fabia pales in comparison to the Ferrari that's been towed to the auto glass shop, the engines of the men at the tête de la course have no trouble keeping the peloton at bay. Vogondy and Ladagnous have four minutes while the chasing duo of Augé and Willems have gained more than a minute on the bunch. How long can they stay away? Will they get caught? Will the two front groups come together? Send in your guesses!

17:34 CEST    184.5km/52km to go
The catch has happened at 52 kilometres to go. There are now four riders on the front:
Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas)

The Campagnolo electronic rear derailleur
Photo ©: James Huang
(Click for larger image)

17:36 CEST    186.5km/50km to go
Now that the four leaders have come together, the peloton is starting to worry a bit and are picking up the pace. CSC has brought the entire team to the front and are stringing things out a bit.

To recap, Augé, who is using the new Campy electronic shifting group and Willems have bridged up to Ladagnous and Vogondy - the quartet have 2'27 on the field.

17:44 CEST   
The peloton still rides through the l'Oise valley, but now with four guys pulling in the breakaway, the field's action is a little less tranquilo. The gap is around two and a half minutes and the field is led by Crédit Agricole and CSC. No sign of David Millar for the moment. It is not clear if he doesn't want to defend his jersey.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas)
  • Peloton at 2.50

17:47 CEST   
We've had a lot of guesses for catches between 8-15km to go, and plenty of readers believing that Thor Hushovd will take the stage...

Oh dear - the crashes are back and Gert Steegmans (Quickstep) and Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole) go into a railing on a bridge. They're OK and up and riding.

17:48 CEST    197.5km/39km to go
Yesterday's stage winner Steegmans has a teammate bringing him back to the field - it was a silly crash. He appeared to be having a snack and he and Botcharov just ran into a hay bale that was protecting them from the railing.

17:50 CEST    199.5km/37km to go
Carlos Barredo is bringing Steegmans onto the back of the field. He delivered his sprinter and then headed back to the team car for bottles. Such a loyal, hard-working domestique!

17:52 CEST    200.5km/36km to go
Steegmans is back at the race doctor's car - he's smiling, so it can't be that bad. He's getting a bit of gauze on his knee and enjoying the break he gets by holding onto the car.

Up front, the breakaway is extending its lead and are now 3'20 ahead of the field. Barredo gets to take Steegmans back up through the cars once more - but they only have to pass a few cars this time.

17:54 CEST    201.5km/35km to go
The leaders are on the only categorized climb now, and Augé takes the lead. Willems indicates to Ladagnous that they should continue to swap pulls, and then goes to the front.

The road on the climb is narrow and below a steep embankment on both sides. It's a tunnel of trees and fans as they head up the Cote de Blerancourt.

Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) wins
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

17:56 CEST    202.5km/34km to go
Augé took the points ahead of Ladagnous and Willems . Augé now leads the mountains classification and will be in polka dots tonight.

17:59 CEST    204.5km/32km to go
The peloton is on the climb, and Quickstep and Credit Agricole are once again leading as they head over the top. The pace has certainly picked up in both groups now as the riders get down to business.

18:01 CEST   
Willems pulls really strong over a little crest. He desperately wants the break to stay away and buries himself.

18:03 CEST    208.5km/28km to go
Now Lampre is putting a man on the front of the peloton, chasing for the Sicilian sprinter Napolitano. They get help from Predictor-Lotto, Quickstep, Credit-Agricole - all the sprinters' teams are pitching in now. 3'21 is the gap.

18:05 CEST    211.5km/25km to go
The four in the front are working very well together. They can start dreaming of staying away. The gap is at 3'18" and it is less than 30 kilometres to the finish. However, predictably Predictor-Lotto is starting to take over at the front and this is bad news for the brave souls ahead.

18:07 CEST   
The field is passing the Château Pierrefonds, but at this point in the race there is no more sightseeing. The peloton is now riding down the French country roads at full speed.

18:09 CEST    214.5km/22km to go
The breakaway still has 2'48 with just over 20 kilometres to go, and while bringing this down is perfectly do-able for the chasers, they're on some more rolling terrain at the moment and are having to work considerably harder than they have all day.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas)
  • Peloton at 2.43

18:12 CEST   
Vogondy in the break takes on more fluids from the team car. They are just outside the 20-kilometres to go sign, which is the point where they can't go to the team car and get drinks, otherwise they'll get a penalty.

The sprint
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

18:13 CEST    216.5km/20km to go
A tall, blonde Rabobank rider is now at the front of the field - could it be Thomas Dekker chasing for Oscar Freire? He's brought the gap down to 2'27 as the leaders are going under the 20km to go banner.

18:17 CEST    219.5km/17km to go
It's a good thing our Cyclingnews crew was able to swap the Skoda for the new Audi A4 because the peloton is positively flying now. After a very sluggish first few hours, they've picked up the pace to race speeds at last. The breakaway is still at 2'10 ahead - and the sprinters' teams are keeping a little back to make the final push to catch them.

Current Situation

  • Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux), Stéphane ö (Cofidis) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas)
  • Peloton at 2.30

18:19 CEST    221.5km/15km to go
This chase is going to come down to the wire today, and one false move on the peloton's part could spell disappointment for the sprinters. These four men up front are determined to stay clear now - they're all in the drops and swapping pulls.

18:20 CEST    222km/14.5km to go
Augé and Willems are doing a bit more work, which is understandable since Ladagnous and Vogondy have been out front all day long, but even with the fresher legs of the late joiners, the gap has come down below two minutes with 14.5 kilometres to go.

18:21 CEST   
Vogondy is still in the 'virtual yellow' as he was 54" behind Cancellara at the start. CSC isn't worried, though, and they are letting Lampre, Rabobank, Quickstep and Credit Agricole do all the chasing.

18:22 CEST    223.5km/13km to go
The break has 1'40 still... In the field we have an attack - it's Wegmann, O'Grady? and a Lampre rider.

18:23 CEST    224.5km/12km to go
It's a little disorganised at the front - Wegmann was trying to pull through for his sprinter Förster, and opened up a gap.

18:23 CEST    225.5km/11km to go
1'36 to the break and the Quickstep team finally tries to get things together. They just don't have the power to control it themselves, and now Voigt comes through to lend a hand.

18:24 CEST    226.5km/10km to go
The leaders are at the 10km banner with just 90 seconds advantage! Can this breakaway stay clear? It would be a 75% chance for the win for the French if they succeed.

18:25 CEST    227.5km/9km to go
Willems attacks! He and Augé get a gap, but Vogondy and Ladagnous bring it right back. This will not be good for their lead. It's down to 1'20

18:26 CEST    228.5km/8km to go
1'16 with 8.5 kilometres to go and now the breakaway is back in line. Willems was just trying to kick them into action. In the field, T-Mobile is coming to the fore - and Boonen is sitting close to the front.

18:27 CEST    229km/7.5km to go
Willems is encouraging his companions, and they're holding 1'15 with 7.5 km to go.

18:28 CEST    229.5km/7km to go
Ladagnous stops pedalling for a moment to let Willems past - they're all breathing hard now, the effort showing on their faces - the sweat pouring from their brows.

18:29 CEST    230.5km/6km to go
Vasseur is on the front gong all out now - Barredo is behind him and comes through. We now have Milram in second wheel.

18:30 CEST    230.5km/6km to go
The gap has come under one minute for the first time now - Milram pulls through and the breakaway is still surrounded by motorcycles and team cars. The peloton can see the break now.

18:30 CEST    231km/5.5km to go
The gap is plummeting now that they are in sight of the field. 44" - bad news for the break!

18:31 CEST    231.5km/5km to go
The leaders are under 5km to go and have 44" still - but the follow cars have been pulled out from the gap.

18:31 CEST    232km/4.5km to go
The peloton splits at a roundabout and speed under the 5km to go banner coming back together. 33" - this doesn't look good for the escape.

18:32 CEST    232.5km/4km to go
Credit Agricole on the front with Liquigas behind... Quickstep has Boonen and the yellow jersey is right up front.

18:33 CEST    233.3km/3.2km to go
Willems has attacked! The rest of the escape are struggling to get back to him.

18:33 CEST    233.5km/3km to go
27" only and Willems and Vogondy have a gap but the field is in sight behind.

18:34 CEST    234.5km/2km to go
Augé and Ladagnous have gotten back on terms with 2km to go they have 15"

18:34 CEST   
Gerolsteiner is moving up, as is Milram. Up front Willems goes again!!!

18:35 CEST   
There's a rise in the road then a sharp left turn - the peloton is breathing down their necks!

18:35 CEST   
Six hours of racing and they're in the last km!

18:35 CEST   
Vogondy hits the front on the cobbles - they hit the last kilometre and the field is right there!

18:36 CEST    235.5km/1km to go
Lampre leading the field as the leaders site up for a moment

18:36 CEST    235.8km/0.7km to go
Willems goes again!! and Cancellara attacks from the field!!!

18:36 CEST    236km/0.5km to go
Cancellara attacks!! He drops the break!

18:37 CEST   
HOLY COW! Cancellara is hammering - can he make it? Here comes Zabel?

18:37 CEST   
Napolitano is right behind and comes around Zabel

18:37 CEST   
Unbelievable! The YELLOW JERSEY has won the stage!

18:38 CEST   
Fabian Cancellara put in a huge attack in the last kilometre to take the third stage!

18:40 CEST   
Who could have predicted that Cancellara would take a bunch sprint today? He might have been trying to stay out of any crashes and decided to go for it in the end.

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