Tour Reports - Stage 5

Blijlevens takes Stage 5

Jeroen Blijlevens of the Netherlands took the 242km fifth stage of the Tour de France from Lac de Madine to Besancon on Thursday -- after twice finishing second in earlier stages.

Stephane Heulot of France retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.

The 25-year-old Blijlevens, whose name translates into 'good life', won in a sprint finish; passing former yellow jersey wearer Frederic Moncassin of France within 20 metres of the line.

"I was not satisfied with my two seconds, so this is very satisfactory," Blijlevens said.

The Dutchman, winner of the stage into Dunkirk last year, made it a good day for his TVM team as they had lost teammate Servais Knaven earlier in the stage.

The stage was dominated by abandonments and crashes, a feature of the race so far.

Sprint specialists Mario Cipollini of Italy, winner of the second stage, and Jan Svorada of the Czech Republic both abandoned. Cipollini did not start the stage because of a fever and Svorada retired after 106km following the effects of a fall on Wednesday.

Russian ace Yevgeny Berzin, who shadowed five-time winner Miguel Indurain of Spain throughout the stage, suffered a blow when his Italian teammate Ivan Gotti, fifth in last year's Tour, also abandoned with tendinitis.

One mass pile-up 70km from the finish led to American Lance Armstrong and Gilles Bouvard of France briefly coming to blows.

Heulot, the French national champion, highlighted the frustrations and problems that the peloton had faced. "It was windy and the surface was very slippery, provoking several crashes," Heulot said. The peloton went at snail's pace, finishing an hour and

a half behind the scheduled time, as the crosswinds stopped anyone from making an early break.

Giuseppe Calcaterra, 32, finally attacked 56km from the finish. The Italian, no longer responsible for his team leader Cipollini's welfare, set up a lead of over two minutes at one point.

The peloton, though, led by the remaining specialist sprinters' teams -- like Telekom for German Erik Zabel and MG-Technogym for Italian Fabio Baldato -- led the chase to catch him.

The valiant Calacaterra, second in the 1992 stage into Revel, was caught with 12km to go.

Despite the habitual late attacks by Erik Dekker of the Netherlands and 10 time world pursuit record holder Viacheslav Ekimov of Russia, the sprinters were not going to let go one of their final chances to win a stage.

Roger's Report from in front of his TV

Sorry, no time for a proper report today. The highlights. Cipollini did not start. Retirements on the road included Jan Svorada (injuries from crash yesterday), Ivan Gotti. Giuseppe Calcaterra went away on a lone break to show the Saeco flag post-Cipo. When caught a couple of Rabobank attempt to get away, first Erik Dekker, then near the line Viatcheslav Ekimov again. Bjarne Riis tried for the sprint but Frederic Moncassin outpaced him and was in turn outpaced by Jeroen Blijlevens. Several crashes today. One in mid-bunch has Lance Armstrong show up at last.... in a near fist fight with Lotto's Gilles Bouvard.