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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti


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

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

Stage 2 - July 5: Charleroi-Namur, 197 km

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

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 12:45 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:15 CEST

12:00 CEST   
Welcome once again to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Tour de France. Today is stage 2, and another day starting and finishing in Belgium, although the middle third of the stage marks the Tour's first entrance onto French territory. The riders face another 197km of generally flat racing, though some rolling terrain throughout the stage could help an early break go clear. Yesterday we saw the first big bunch sprint of the Tour, won by Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r-Prévoyance) ahead of Robbie McEwen and Thor Hushovd. Alessandro Petacchi didn't get to record his first stage win early, while Belgian Tom Boonen also had some bad luck in the finale.

Fassa Bortolo will once more be on double duty, protecting the yellow jersey of Fabian Cancellara and also setting Petacchi up for another sprint finish. Paolo Bettini is in polka dots after grabbing the early mountain points during a break yesterday, and Thor Hushovd has moved into green.

Sadly, one non-starter today will be Lotto-Domo's Nick Gates, who struggled in over half an hour down yesterday after crashing earlier in the stage and missed the stage time limit by around five minutes.

12:45 CEST   
Charleroi start
Photo ©: Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews
As we approach the start time, the crowds are massing five deep all around the square outside the Palais de Beaux-Arts in Charleroi, the sombre city on the Sambre, as they say. At least the weather today looks to be set fair, with temperatures around the 20¡C mark (but getting warmer) with a bit of wind from the west, which will be in the riders' faces as they set out through the Borinage, Belgium's Black Country, towards Mons, the venue for the first of the day's bonus sprints, but after that they turn south and then eastwards again and the run in to the finish in the rather more attractive city of Namur will have a tailwind for much of the way.

The first point of interest in the stage will however be the fourth-category climb of the mysteriously named C™te du M de B™merŽe. Although the stage winds through the decidedly lumpy Sambre et Meuse region, there are only two categorised climbs today, the other being the C™te de Silenrieux at the 50 km to go mark.

13:12 CEST 7km/190km to go
The QuickStep-Davitamon team set Paolo Bettini up perfectly to take the points on the first climb out of the Sambre valley at B™merŽe ahead of Janek Tombak and Jimmy Casper, reinforcing his hold on the spotty jersey. After leaving Charleroi on a main road, the next section of the course is across narrower and more winding back roads, which could be tricky with a nervous bunch.

13:20 CEST 15km/182km to go
After the climb a group of six riders has gone clear, with the peloton not very interested in chasing them. They are JŽrome Pineau (Brioches la Boulangre), Jakob Piil (CSC), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Christophe ƒdaleine (Cofidis), Mark Scanlon (AG2R) and Christophe Mengin (FDJ). A trio of riders tried to get across to them, but have since sat up. Former French champion Eddy Seigneur is in some difficulties at the back of the race.

13:37 CEST   
A few people have asked about Brad McGee, who crashed yesterday and was dropped on the run-in to the finish. He has indeed started today - Nick Gates was the only absentee, but apparently his back is still hurting.

Paul Hathaway in New Zealand asks about the little yellow box mounted on the chainstays of all the riders's bikes - it is a transponder used to automate the timing and check who is in which group at the finish.

And the word from the bookmakers is that they confidently expect a big bunch gallop again today - despite his not showing yesterday Alessandro Petacchi is the favourite at very short odds, with Robbie McEwen second favourite. Not that betting on bike races is anything but a mug's game, of course.

The six leaders are now pulling steadily away from the bunch and are nearly three minutes clear. Best placed among them is Sebastian Lang, 31 seconds behind Cancellara this morning, so he is maillot jaune virtuel, leader on the road.

13:59 CEST    40km/157km to go
Quick.Step bosses plan the day
Photo ©: Jeff Jones/Cyclingnews
Back on straighter roads now on the run in to Mons, where the first of three bonus sprints today will be run off. As the leading sextet, now nearly 5 minutes up (and thus probably bound to be the stage's canonical all-day suicide break), will mop them up, this one won't change general classification significantly (although I suppose I should double-check the gaps between the riders in the breakaway themselves, in case they do the unthinkable and stay away).

A correspondent asked why the Lotto team are wearing black armbands - it's because of the sadly premature death of Stive Vermaut, who rode the tour three years ago for Lotto and is being buried today.

14:12 CEST    53km/144km to go
The break now have five minutes lead as they come to the sprint in Mons; the peloton are three kilometres back in Saint-Symphorien.

Lang is only five seconds ahead of Mark Scanlon with Piil and Pineau three more seconds behind, so if this group goes the distance, then the bonus sprints could well be significant in determining the fate of the yellow jersey.

Christophe Édaleine takes the sprint and the six seconds ahead of Scanlon and Pineau. The leaders averaged 44.8 kph in the first hour of racing.

From here the course turns south towards the French border close to Malplaquet, and then gradually turns eastwards; the military historians will note that the routes of these three Walloon stages read like the battle honours on a regimental flag and Sambre et Meuse is the marching tune of the French army - this terrain has been fought over many times.

14:28 CEST    63km/134km to go
In the peloton, Crédit Agricole have picked up the pace, with an eye to getting maillot vert Thor Hushovd into yellow. Bad news for the breakaways, whose lead is now falling back a bit as they come up to the border crossing.

A few words on the stage finish today: this is the Tour's fourth finish in Namur, and the first since 1959, alhough several stages in more recent years have finished in Jambes, on the other side of the river (the home town of Justine Henin, for tennis followers and collectors of famous Belgians). The Tour organisers, in their infinite wisdom, have this time declined the opportunity to finish the race up the spectacular climb of the Citadel of Namur (the finish for the Grand Prix de la Wallonie) in favour of a sprinters' finish around the inner ring road. The final three or four hundred metres are around a long sweeping left-handed curve - not really a corner, but it will be a bit more technical than some finishes; also in the last kilometre we have a bit of a right-hand kink as the course crosses the Sambre at its confluence with the Meuse and a roundabout to be negotiated. But it's a way to go until we get there.

14:52 CEST    87km/110km to go
The Crédit Agricole team are still pulling the race along, with US Postal also massed near the front (probably just staying out of trouble), but the gap has stabilised at around the 4.25 mark, as the race passes the Foret de Mormal and comes into Aulnoye.

15:08 CEST    100km/97km to go
Now on the long straight roads of the Nord, and the race has settled into cruise control mode. Still the green and white jerseys lined out on the front of a fairly compact bunch, so not going all out yet; the break still riding steadily, coming through smoothly on the left as they head south with a west wind, but their lead falling back slowly.

Servais Knaven punctures and gets a quick wheel, then collects bottles as he moves back up the race convoy. The leaders are now approaching the day's feed zone.

15:23 CEST    110km/87km to go
The feed zone is negotiated without incident and the race turns definitively eastwards with a tail wind; the six breakaways are now changing the other way round, moving up on the right of the road, textbook stuff. QuickStep-Davitamon hve taken up the chase from Crédit Agricole; their main interest for the day is in getting Tom Boonen up for the sprint, having more or less secured another day in the spots for Paolo Bettini; the lead has now come down to three minutes, not enough to have any real hope of staying away until the end.

Cyclingnews spoke with Matt Wilson (FDJeux.com) before the start today, and the Australian champion was expecting to have another hard day in the service of his teammates. Yesterday he had to nurse the injured Brad McGee to the finish, after McGee suffered from lower back problems throughout the stage. "Brad wasn't feeling too good so I had to look after him and just got him to the finish."

How is Brad feeling today? "Much the same I think, but you never really know until you get on the bike." Matt's role will be to look after Brad "if he's in the same sort of position; I'll look after Baden."

15:33 CEST    117km/80km to go
Roberto Heras punctures and gets a bike change, and most of the Liberty Seguros team have stopped to pace him back up through the convoy, and get some team time trial practice in while they're at it.

15:44 CEST    121km/76km to go
Back on Belgian soil, and the six breakaways are now approaching the second of the days' bonus sprints in the town of Beaumont. Still CrŽdit Agricole and Quickstep pulling the bunch along, edging slowly closer.

One of CSC's GC riders, Bobby Julich, is trying to stay out of trouble during the first week of the Tour while his teammates stir it up in front. Yesterday, both Jens Voigt and Jakob Piil were involved in key breakaways, and the team was competitive right to the finish.

Julich commented before the start that, "Yesterday my teammates had the whole peloton under pressure and then Piil countered so we were in the breakaway all day long. Arvesen did a good sprint so it was good. I think the first week of the Tour is going to be very selective. Fassa has to realise now that this isn't the Giro d'Italia and they can't ride on the front the all day and expect to win the stage. Yesterday they had to make a choice between one or the other - keep the yellow or go for the stage win and they decided to keep the yellow."

Julich added that he wasn't bothered by the rain yesterday, even though it claimed a few victims. "We ride and train in rain all year so it's not that big of a deal. But it's always tricky."

As for himself, it's early days yet but "I feel good and I've had no problems. Stay out of trouble is my number one priority."

We asked Julich whether he would be going in the attacks like Jens Voigt? "No I'm not that kind of a rider," he said.

15:49 CEST    128km/69km to go
All six of the breakaways contest the sprint, with Mark Scanlon leading out; Christophe ƒdaleine is the first to jump and just takes it ahead of Jakob Piil who was coming up very fast from the back; Pineau is again third.

Behind the bunch, Baden Cooke has punctured and is chasing back alone through the convoy. He's back in there now. Obviously something isn't to his liking though, because he stops again and is this time paced back by two teammates.

16:07 CEST    141.5km/55.5km to go
The leaders are now on the fourth category climb at Silenrieux, a steady main road drag not untypical of the region. Jakob Piil leads up, but Pineau jumps clear and takes the prime ahead of him with Mengin bringing the rest up in third. Paolo Bettini will retain his spotty jersey for another day at least.

A few people are asking what the race favourites are doing - the answer is that they are staying quiet, anonymous and out of trouble somewhere in the bunch. The US Postal team are bunched up close to the front, and there are orange and pink vests well up there as well. The gap is now coming down to the two minute mark.

16:18 CEST    150km/47km to go
Fassa Bortolo have now sent Mario Bruseghin up to help with the chase; the bunch is looking a little more strung out, and the six leaders who have been up the road for the best part of 140 km now are looking a little ragged as they pass through the town of Philippeville. Gaps are opening up and the shoulders are rolling. The roads around here are "heavy", with constant drags up and down, and straight and open - not really breakaway-friendly terrain.

16:26 CEST    159km/38km to go
The last intermediate prize of the day is a bonus sprint at Florennes, which the six breakaways will take.

At the back of the bunch a few riders come down, including Andrea Peron and Gianmatteo Fagnini. Peron is up and going, but the Domina Vacanze rider looks to have a broken collarbone and is waiting for the stretcher crew. His Tour is over.

Pineau took the sprint ahead of Piil and Scanlon; their lead is down to 1.20 now and it doesn't look very hopeful.

16:46 CEST 169 km/23km to go

The six leaders are finally swallowed by the peloton with 23 km to go after spending 164 km out in front. Fassa Bortolo has just put two riders up there to ride tempo.

16:50 CEST 172 km/20 km to go

Green jersey wearer Thor Hushovd has punctured! Most of the Credit Agricole team drops back to help him, as he is their main man for the stage today. He should be able to regain the peloton, but will it cost him too much energy in the finale? Fabio Baldato (Alessio-Bianchi) attacks and gets a 10 second gap. It will be tough to hold though.

16:56 CEST    182km/15km to go
Baldato's effort comes to nothing. Hushovd is back talking to his car; his team will have a job now getting him back up to the front of the bunch for the finish.

17:00 CEST    187km/10km to go
The speed has picked up, with the whole field trying to make sure that they are in the first 30 like their directeurs sportives are shouting at them to do. Fassa Bortolo are gathering with the yellow jersey up near the front, while a blue jersey with the number 1 is also well up there.

Roberto Heras has had problems and is chasing flat out - that's going to be a difficult job and he could lose time here.

17:01 CEST   
Heras gets back to the bunch, but it will have hurt. The spotty jersey hits the front; Bettini, like Cancellara, has a lead-out job to do here.

17:05 CEST    190km/7km to go
All the sprinters' teams are up now as the riders plummet down to the Meuse valley.

17:07 CEST    193km/7km to go
The peloton successfully negotiates the turn at the foot of the climb; Stefano Casaagranda comes down a moment or two later without problems. Both yellkow and spotty jerseys are up the front; Hushovd seems to have made ut back up into contention as the pushing and shoving starts.

17:08 CEST    195km/2km to go
Up past the bourgeois suburb of La Plante below the citadel, with Cancellara doing a very long pull with Tosatto on his wheel

17:10 CEST    196km/1km to go
Alongside the Meuse and Kirchen takes over for a bit onto the awkward corner under the flamme rouge. Zabel seems well up, but it's all Fassa now

17:11 CEST   
Hondo and Hushovd are in contention as they come round the last long left-hand curve; Hushovd comes off a Fassa wheel on the left but McEwen comes over him out of nowhere to take the stage; Hushovd in second will move into the yellow jersey, while Jean-Patrick Nazon and Danilo Hondo take third and fourth. A crash at the front with 100m to go took out Casper and Arvesen and blocked a few riders, possibly including Petacchi.

Results

1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
3 JEan-Patrick Nazon (Fra) Ag2r-Prevoyance
4 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Gerolsteiner
5 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis
6 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) Ag2r-Prevoyance
 
General classification after stage 2
 
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo
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