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93rd Tour de France - ProT

France, July 1-23, 2006

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Stage 2 - Obernai (FR)-Esch-sur-Alzette (LUX), 228.5 km

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

Live report

Live coverage starts: 11:40 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:10 CEST

08:19 CEST   
It's a long day on Monday for the Tour de France peloton, with the second longest stage of Le Tour on the program. Stage two heads northwest towards Luxembourg with two Cat 3 cols in the first 50km.

After the frantic battle for mountain points on the ascents, a break should get away, but the sprinters teams will have to be careful not to let them get too much time and roll it up. With two Cat 4 hills in the last 17km, opportunistic counter-attackers will try for the winner's bouquet in Esch-sur-Alzette.

11:31 CEST   
Welcome back to sunny northeastern France where we are bringing you the third stage live in semi-real time. Our reporter in Obernai, Anthony Tan, reckons that it looks a lot like Provence here, but not quite as hot with temperatures hovering around 27 degrees Celsius at the moment, and no wind. We can't spot Mont Ventoux in the background but there are a few climbs during today's 228.5 km between Obernai and Esch-sur-Alzette:

Col des Pandours (Cat. 3, km 35.5), Col de Valsberg (Cat. 3, km 50), Côte de Kédange-sur-Canner (Cat. 4, km 187.5), Côte de Kanfen (Cat. 4, km 212.5), and Côte de Volmerange-les-Mines (Cat. 4, km 215). The three intermediate sprints are located at Marimont-Les-Benestroff (km 107), Holling (km 169.5) and Yutz (km 198.5).

175 riders will start in Obernai at 11:40, with Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) a non-starter today due to his inflamed and infected prostate. Di Luca had a high temperature yesterday, and was already over three minutes down on the general classification. A quick and unfortunate exit for the Liquigas captain.

11:44 CEST   
The start in Obernai is at the foot of Mont Ste Odile, which was part of yesterday's route. The town is quite small, only 12,000 inhabitants, but it is quite charming all the same. Alas, we can only spend a short time here as the race is already under way, rolling in the neutral zone.

11:52 CEST   
Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) was a starter today after his unfortunate finishing sprint incident yesterday. It's still unclear what exactly caused his injury, as initially it was reported that one of those ubiquitous green PMU hands held by a spectator sliced his right arm open. But it is now more likely that it was a spectator's camera that caused the injury, which saw Thor lose a bit of blood as a result. The bottom line is that fans shouldn't be hanging themselves or other objects over the barricades in the last kilometre of a sprint. People get hurt as a result, and it's not the first time that something like this has happened.

11:54 CEST    4km/224.5km to go
The official start was given at 11:48am, and the 175 riders are racing out of town. They pass through Ottrott and then Klingenthal, and are now heading for the hills to the west of Obernai.

11:57 CEST    7km/221.5km to go
The first attack doesn't come from a Frenchman today. Instead it's two Spaniards, Aitor Hernández (Euskaltel) and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) who decide to have a stab at things very early on in the piece.

12:02 CEST    13km/215.5km to go
The two leaders, who escaped in the first kilometre, already have two minutes over the peloton. So once again, the first break of the day looks like being the good one.

12:04 CEST   
Of the two, Aitor Hernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is the best placed on GC, starting the day in 146th position at 48 seconds down. So he's already the maillot jaune virtuel.

12:12 CEST    17km/211.5km to go
The two leaders continue to hammer away out in front as no-one seems inclined to chase them now. The gap is 3'20 and growing.

A little more on Thor's injury: he received several stitches to his wound in a Strasbourg hospital last night, but was able to leave the clinic at 19:00. "Thor lost a lot of blood," said his DS Roger Legeay. "It was a terrible sight. The cut itself isn't that bad though. The doctors said that he would suffer more from the contusion, though. He won't feel so well in the next 5 or 6 days during the race."

12:15 CEST    20km/208.5km to go
The lead pair press on, racing towards Urmatt and then Niederhaslach, before tackling some Alsatian hills (no dog jokes please).

12:20 CEST    23km/205.5km to go
The gap jumps up to six minutes as the bunch rolls along at a very sedate pace. It's such a long stage that this breakaway duo could be allowed 15-20 minutes.

12:26 CEST    27km/201.5km to go
And the gap continues to grow, which means that one of these two riders in front will take over the mountains jersey from Fabian Wegmann today. There are plenty of cat. 3 and cat. 4 climbs on offer, and Wegmann only has three points in the mountains classification.

Hernández and De La Fuente are about to start the cat. 3 Col des Pandours, which is 7.8 km long and averages 4.1%.

12:35 CEST    31km/197.5km to go
The lead grows to 7'40 as the pair start the climb of the Pandours. They're not going to be seen again by the peloton for a while.

12:41 CEST   
We spoke to Isaac Galvez, the Spanish sprinter from Caisse d'Epargne – Illes Balears. He was 6th in Strasbourg yesterday, but wasn't happy. "It was not good, I'm not happy with my result. I think I could've won yesterday."

12:44 CEST    35km/193.5km to go
The leaders get close to the summit of the Col des Pandours, with a fairly handy 10'20 gap over the still lethargic peloton. 4 points for the winner of this climb.

12:57 CEST    42km/186.5km to go
The average speed in the first hour is 36.9 km/h - and that's for the two leaders! The peloton is already 11'40 behind, which means they're sitting on about 30-31 km/h. All more fuel for my alcohol beverage company/anti-doping push theory.

13:08 CEST    44km/184.5km to go
Hernández took the 4 points on the climb, ahead of De la Fuente, Wegmann, and Pineau. Wegmann still holds the mountains jersey, but only just.

The leaders descend off the climb through Wolfsthal, Schneethal and Engenthal. They will tackle the second climb (also cat. 3) the Col de Valsberg soon. This is a 3.6 km ascent averaging 5.2%.

13:11 CEST    50km/178.5km to go
The lead has finally started to fall, as the peloton ups its tempo a bit. On the Col de Valsberg, the front duo have 10'15 on the bunch, down from 11'20.

13:15 CEST    52km/176.5km to go
George Hincapie is the actual yellow jersey wearer today, which means his Discovery Channel team is sitting on the front of the peloton, riding tempo. They might not be interested in defending the jersey, and the sprinters teams will almost certainly put their men in front to ride down the break.

13:22 CEST   
Tom Boonen spoke to Cyclingnews about Thor Hushovd's problems, which saw him go from green jersey favourite to a possible also-ran in a matter of metres. "Sometimes you don't crash for a year. Sometimes you have it in the Tour, you have bad luck. I don't know, it all depends on how much pain you have. He's a very strong guy, and he will survive for sure."

The world champion also explained what happened in the finale yesterday. How was it possible that he was at the front of the bunch too early? "Everybody had the same problem, it was a very hectic final. It wasn't the fault of the teams or anything. Tailwind and a big road...when you were sitting in the wheels it was quiet, and when they were pulling, they were pulling at 70km/h; so it was pretty easy for everybody to come back to the front every time. That's why we didn't get it organised."

As world champion, Tom Boonen probably has his own opinion on those dangerous situations in the final kilometre: "I think every finish is dangerous. The teams organise the final, it's not the Tour, because there were only a few corners. The problem was that every team only had two or three guys in the front, to keep the speed up. I've never did a final like this, especially in the Tour: with five kilometres to go, the speed went down to 45 km/h. I had to wait, and nobody wanted to go. I know I wasn't in a situation to win the race. It was a very strange situation."

13:25 CEST    60km/168.5km to go
Hernández also took 4 points for winning the Col de Valsberg, which puts him as the virtual leader of the polkadotted jersey comp. De La Fuente scored another 3 points, while Pineau (2 pts) and Wegmann (1pt) mopped up the rest. The bunch was 9'20 behind the leaders at 50 km.

13:35 CEST    66km/162.5km to go
The race has left the Bas-Rhin department and is now entering the Moselle region. But there's no time for wine tasting as the Tour moves inexorably onwards. The lead pair have a gap of 9'50, but are still a long way from being safe.

13:46 CEST    70km/158.5km to go
The race is now back into flatter territory, rolling along through the vineyards towards Sarrebourg. The two leaders, Aitor Hernández and David de la Fuente (no relation) are holding a steady gap of just under 10 minutes on the Discovery Channel controlled peloton. They've been away since kilometre 1.

13:49 CEST    76km/152.5km to go
The leaders hit downtown Sarrebourg, and get a great big cheer from the crowds in the streets. It's only got 14,457 people, but most of them seem to be out to watch. Allez! Courage!

13:53 CEST    79km/149.5km to go
After two hours of racing, the average speed of the leaders is 38.7 km/h, which is 1.3 km/h behind the slowest schedule today. That means the finish could be as late as 17:45.

13:59 CEST    88km/140.5km to go
As an exercise, maybe we can calculate the excess alcohol consumed (in grams) by the spectators on the side of the road as a result of the reduced average speed. If we can do that for the next 21 days, then we'll have some evidence to support (or disprove) the hypothesis (see stage 1 live coverage) that the alcoholic beverage companies are behind the anti-doping push in cycling.

14:12 CEST    92km/136.5km to go
The lead of the front two has dropped a little to 9'25, as they head through Bisping. Both Davitamon and Quick.Step have stepped up to help with the pace making in front of the peloton.

14:16 CEST   
Michael Boogerd was very nervous when we saw him at the start. His new helmet is gone, and he's now wearing the helmet of Juan-Antonio Flecha, which doesn't fit him too well. He then wanted an old helmet that fitted him better.

14:18 CEST    96km/132.5km to go
The gap sinks to 8'35 as the sprinters teams flex their muscles a bit. It won't be too difficult to pull these two out in front back, because it's such a long stage today. It ain't easy spending 227.5 km ahead of the peloton! Especially with only two riders.

14:22 CEST   
Matt from Adelaide, Australia, writes that he's "more than happy to be a test [or is that basket?] case for alcohol consumed during each stage. I will get a keg set up in the lounge room tomorrow and give it a bash tomorrow night."

Good onya Matt! You're a real trooper for the cause.

14:28 CEST    103km/125.5km to go
The leaders have coverage 103 clicks now, and 102 of those have been ahead of the peloton. The first intermediate sprint of the day is approaching at Marimont-Les-Benestroff.

14:32 CEST   
Now with the alcohol test, we are not condoning potentially dangerous practices, such as the one proposed by Bob in Georgia. "I've stared an IV of pure grain alcohol to combine the effects of doping with the product and the sponsorship conspiracy. After infusing in this manner, I will go out and ride part of the stage 5 of the Tour de Georgia (since I'm here in north metro Atlanta), that is if 1) assuming I can find it, 2) assuming I can remember to bring my bike, and 3) assuming I don't crash off the mountain during the test."

That may be pushing yourself too far in the name of science, Bob, although it is a worthy and noble cause.

14:36 CEST   
Dirk De Mol is one of the Discovery Channel's team directors. He explained to Cyclingnews about George Hincapie's tactics to take the yellow jersey yesterday. "Out of the blue, he chose to sprint for two bonus seconds," said De Mol. "Afterwards, the sprint turned out to be different than predicted. Normally, it would've been a sprint for Boonen, McEwen and Hushovd of course. If you see a chance, you've got to grab it; that way he was presented the yellow jersey on a platter."

"Bruyneel really likes the way the Tour is evolving; the team likes that as well. We think that due to the removal of the four favourites, this Tour is going to be ridden very tactically… and Johan isn't a bad tactician at all."

The Discovery team has four men as co-leaders, are you sticking with that principle? "You can add Rubiera to that list. He has the potential to achieve a high overall ranking. But after the first time trial, and the first climbs, it will be clear who needs our support. We will try to get those five guys without too much loss of time to the first time trial, that would be great."

14:38 CEST    110km/118.5km to go
While Hernández has been scoring maximum points in the mountains today, De la Fuente has his turn in the sprint. He takes the 6 points/6 seconds at Marimont-Les-Benestroff ahead of his companion. The peloton is expected in another 8 minutes.

14:41 CEST    112km/116.5km to go
Neither of the two in front has won a professional race. Hernández turned pro in 2004 with LPR, then signed for Euskaltel this year. De La Fuente turned pro in 2003 with Vini Caldirola, then joined Saunier Duval next season and has been there ever since. Hernández finished second and third (and ninth overall) in stages of this year's Euskal Bizikleta, while De la Fuente also had a couple of second placings in stages of the 2003 edition of that race.

14:45 CEST    115km/113.5km to go
Boonen takes third in the intermediate sprint ahead of a bandaged Hushovd. So the world champ is obviously keen for green.

The bunch passes across a railway bridge and through some more trees.

14:47 CEST    117km/111.5km to go
The leaders are back on the plains, but are losing their advantage. The last time check was 7'25.

Vansevenant (Davitamon), Charteau (Credit Agricole) and Cretskens (Quick.Step) are working in the peloton. CSC is also up there, but not working.

14:49 CEST   
De La Fuente has done the most work in the break today, spending 59% of the time at the front, while Hernández has only spent 41%. De La Fuente doesn't even have a bidon in either of his cages at the moment.

14:54 CEST   
A few readers have been writing in with their estimations of the extra alcohol consumption in relation to the reduced average speed, which is 39.3 km/h after three hours.

From Simon in the UK: "A simple calculation based upon 1 million people watching the tour live each day, an average 2 km/h slower race and a previous average waiting time of 4 hours during which the average spectator consumes 3 bottles of beer (1 litre):

3600km / 20 stages = 13.8mins extra waiting per spectator per day.
20 million x 13.8mins = 4.6million total extra waiting hours.
4.6 million / 4 = 1.15 million extra litres of beer consumed
Cost of 1 x 330ml bottle of Stella = £1.25
Total value of extra beer consumed: £4,312,500."

It's probably a bit less than this in mainland Europe: about 1 euro for a 330ml bottle = €3.5 million euro of extra beer.

OK, so now we have a ball park figure about how much the anti-doping fight is worth to the breweries. It's big business. And that might do us for the time being :-)

14:56 CEST    124km/104.5km to go
De la Fuente, who looks a little like Joseba Beloki (with the emphasis on the little), rolls through for another turn, as the pair dangle 7'15 ahead of the main bunch. There are quite a few AR2R jerseys near the front today, keeping their man Moreau out of trouble.

14:57 CEST   
The bunch has been following the railway for a while now. Hint: don't take the train, as it is considered cheating.

Aitor Hernández looks a bit parched out in front.

14:59 CEST    126km/102.5km to go
Charteau leads the bunch through the feed zone, with many people applauding the riders as they come by. And a few are holding those PMU hands. Be careful with those! The bunch lines out as Charteau does not ease off the pace.

15:05 CEST    128.5km/100km to go
The leaders are now inside the final 100 kilometres, with over seven minutes on the peloton. 7'40, according to the chalkboard. They're suffering out there on the flat, and De La Fuente chats to Hernández a bit. Hernández hasn't been doing very strong turns - he looks a bit cooked.

15:09 CEST    132km/96.5km to go
Yesterday's winner Jimmy Casper sits at the back of the bunch in the green jersey, unpacking his lunch. The pace is solid, but not hard yet. Cretskens is on the front again, riding tempo with Charteau and Vansevenant helping out.

15:10 CEST   
And for the cow watchers...the peloton passes some black and white bovines grazing in a field. That's the cows' total Tour de France experience for 2006.

15:13 CEST    133.5km/95km to go
The leaders take advantage of a small descent to rest their legs a bit as they pass some brown cows. They separate on a roundabout, with Hernández taking by far the shortest route. De la Fuente has to work to close the gap as he eats some fruit.

The pace has eased in the bunch, with the gap sitting at 8'00.

15:17 CEST    135km/93.5km to go
The leaders ride through Faulquemont to plenty of applause. They've been out in front for 134 km now, and it hasn't been easy. There's another sprint coming up in 30 km.

15:18 CEST   
Valverde and teammates take advantage of the slow pace to get rid of some excess fluid.

15:22 CEST   
It's been reported that Würth has withdrawn as co-sponsor of Astana-Wurth, in the wake of the Operacion Puerto affair. That team looks to become completely Kazakhstani then.

15:25 CEST    143km/85.5km to go
De la Fuente is shaking his legs now, suffering from a bit of cramp in the hot sun. Back in the bunch, Cretskens gets a bidon from his teammate Tosatto. They'll be hoping that Boonen rectifies his result from yesterday, which wasn't really his fault - he needed a couple more teammates to lead him out.

15:27 CEST   
Best young rider Benoît Vaugrenard (FDJ) sidles up to Magnus Bäckstedt (Liquigas) in the bunch.

Farming folks sit on large bales of hay, watching the race go by. Some of those bales are pretty artistic. Is that a mini Arc-de-Triomphe??

15:31 CEST    145.5km/83km to go
We have another two hours of racing to go, and the gap between the bunch and the two breakaways has come back to 6'30. The sprinters teams, namely Quick.Step, Davitamon and Credit Agricole, are working hard to reduce it. Look for Hushovd to go for third place in the next intermediate sprint and try to reclaim the 2 seconds he needs to take yellow. He almost did it in the first one, but was beaten by Boonen, who, if he won the stage, could take yellow too.

15:33 CEST    150km/78.5km to go
Ralf Grabsch stuffs three or four bidons in his pockets, and a few more down his jersey, and brings them up to his teammates.

Walter Beneteau is wearing the red number today as the most aggressive rider yesterday.

15:35 CEST   
Hushovd sports a bandage on his upper right arm, as he chats to his team manager in the car. He's at the back of the bunch getting some assistance from the doctor.

15:39 CEST    154km/74.5km to go
The gap sinks to under six minutes, and it's mainly due to the work of Anthony Charteau (Credit Agricole), Wilfried Cretskens (Quick.Step) and Wim Vansevenant (Davitamon-Lotto). Looks like Wim will have a teammate helping out now: Christophe Brandt.

15:41 CEST   
The peloton starts to line out as the pressure is being applied in front.

15:48 CEST    158.5km/70km to go
There's still enough time for a bit of chit-chat at the back of the bunch, as Casper and Beneteau exchange ideas.

There's not much wind here, as the big electricity generating windmills turn slowly.

Johan Vansummeren, all 198cm of him, has joined Vansevenant and Brandt at the front of the bunch.

15:51 CEST    162km/66.5km to go
Hushovd is back near the front of the bunch, near Hincapie. Boonen is also there, but not as close.

A Milram rider signals for his team car, needing a front wheel. He gets one, and is on his way. His team car reverses through the caravan though - that is risky!

15:54 CEST    163.5km/65km to go
Chris Horner is also near the front of the bunch, which has got to within 5'07 of the two leaders. There are five riders actually doing the work: Charteau (CA), Cretskens (Q.Step), Vansummeren, Brandt, Vansevenant (Davitamon).

15:57 CEST    165.5km/63km to go
The two leaders are approaching the vast metropolis of Holling (pop. 313). The town comes to a standstill as the Tour de France rolls through it, increasing its population by at least an order of magnitude.

15:58 CEST    167km/61.5km to go
De La Fuente has been doing the most work today. His time-in-front ratio sits at 55%, while Hernández' is 45%.

16:01 CEST    168.5km/60km to go
The two leaders are just 1 km from the next sprint in Holling. The bunch is 4'35 behind, and it will be interesting to see who can take third in the sprint.

16:02 CEST    169.5km/59km to go
Hernández licks his lips, as it's hard to drink enough today. De La Fuente gets out of the saddle and takes the sprint uncontested. Hernández second.

16:04 CEST   
Quick.Step leads it out for Boonen, pretty hard. Note: Garate is not in the Spanish champion's jersey.

16:06 CEST    171.5km/57km to go
The Quick.Step train works very well, possibly practicing. But they are challenged by Credit Agricole. Hushovd chooses Boonen's wheel, and easily gets it from Boonen, who again went into the wind far too early. Hushovd back in virtual yellow.

16:07 CEST    172.5km/56km to go
Hushovd grimaces in pain as he ends up a couple of hundred metres ahead of the bunch. He slows, drinks, waits for the peloton to catch him. That hurt. But there's still another intermediate sprint and the final sprint to go.

The gap came down to 3'03 as a result, but will go up again.

16:09 CEST    173.5km/55km to go
Well, that last sprint was interesting. Boonen had a pretty good lead out, but he just couldn't wait long enough, and was perhaps a little overconfident of beating Thor. Hushovd waited on the world champion's wheel for a long time, until going by him fairly easily.

Voigt and Zabriskie are refuelling at the back of the bunch, getting bidons for their teammates.

16:11 CEST    174.5km/54km to go
The two leaders are croaking in the heat, with their gap just 2'25. Not unexpected, after the pace went up so much. Now Vasseur is on the front with Vansevenant as the bunch rides through Freistroff.

Now it's up to 2'45.

16:14 CEST    177.5km/51km to go
There's a little more wind here, blowing from right to left. That has prompted Merckx to move to the fore, protecting Landis. Moreau is also right up there behind his teammates. It doesn't look like Quick.Step is going to try to split the bunch though.

16:17 CEST   
Gonchar (T-Mobile) punctures and chases back on through the caravan, but alone.

16:22 CEST    181.5km/47km to go
Gonchar is back in the bunch, as teammate Rogers goes back for bidons. Also French champion Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) is back there. The gap has gone up to 3'37 from 2'35, so obviously the sprinters teams don't want to bring the leaders back just yet. Too early, and the race opens up again for counter-attacks that the teams might not be able to control.

16:25 CEST    184km/44.5km to go
Laurent Brochard is back with the Bouygues team car, grabbing bidons for his colleagues. He makes his way back through the maze of motorbikes and cars, avoiding them all with ease.

16:29 CEST    187km/41.5km to go
The leaders have hit the third climb of the day, the Cat. 4 Côte de Kédange-sur-Canner (1.2 km at 5.9%). This hurts, after so many kilometres of riding hard. De La Fuente leads.

16:30 CEST    188km/40.5km to go
De La Fuente sprints for the summit and gets the points. Hernández second, and is dropped as De La Fuente hammers on his own.

16:31 CEST   
The average speed after four hours is 39.8km/h, so the race is sitting just below its slowest schedule.

16:32 CEST    190km/38.5km to go
De La Fuente has already put 15 seconds into Aitor Hernández, so he is obviously not interested in any extra support. Still 40 km to go, and he has 3'00 on the bunch.

Wegmann sprints for the third place point and gets them from a Euskaltel rider.

16:33 CEST   
There are two more cat. 4 climbs today, so David de la Fuente could well take the lead in the mountains classification. He has 30 seconds on Hernández, and 2'45 on the bunch.

16:36 CEST    193km/35.5km to go
De la Fuente eats and rides at the same time (who said that men can't multitask?). He has his sights set on the sprint at Yutz in a few kilometres time.

Lampre is leading the bunch now, along with Charteau (CA) and Milram.

16:38 CEST    195.5km/33km to go
The chases is gathering speed as the leader puts 1'05 into his former breakaway companion. The two Spaniards have really earned their dough today.

The bunch is at 2'40, so De La Fuente is doing well.

16:41 CEST    196.5km/32km to go
David de la Fuente is giving it the works, trying to keep his breakaway alive and away from the sprinters' teams. Milram, Lampre, Davitamon and CA are working. Hincapie is up there, possibly thinking of snaffling some bonus seconds back at this last intermediate sprint.

The bunch passes by the Cettenom nuclear power station, watching out for those three headed chickens again.

16:42 CEST    198.5km/30km to go
De la Fuente puts his head down and powers through Yutz (pop. 15472). He takes the 6 seconds and points for the sprint, which gives him 18 seconds for the day. He'll need a lot more than that to win the yellow jersey though.

16:43 CEST   
Hernández is caught before the sprint, which means that there are still 4 and 2 seconds up for grabs. Credit Agricole on the front, leading out. Boonen has Hushovd's wheel.

16:45 CEST   
Pozzato launches a pre-emptive lead out, but it's Boonen who jumps past Hushovd and takes second in the the sprint from Thor. O'Grady fourth. They're really going for it!

Now Boonen has a chat to Hushovd. That's three times he's sprinted today for points, so obviously he has the green in mind.

16:46 CEST    201km/27.5km to go
Hushovd did manage to increase his lead in the yellow jersey comp, and he now has four seconds on Hincapie. But that could all change depending on who wins the stage.

De La Fuente has spent 200 km in front of the race!

16:47 CEST   
Vansummeren leads the bunch through Thionville, a rather bigger town along the route. The pace is on now, and the leader has under two minutes of his advantage intact.

16:50 CEST    203.5km/25km to go
The leader has 1'40 as he nears the next climb. He need to win this to take the spotted jersey. Still another 8 km for him though.

16:54 CEST    206km/22.5km to go
The leader keeps his advantage at 1'40, and will certainly get to the climb alone. It's been a tough, long day for him though, and these little hills are going to hurt the legs.

16:57 CEST    208.5km/20km to go
De la Fuente gets a bottle of energy drink from the team car, and swallows a bit of it. He's really hurting now as he fights to stay ahead of the peloton. Big ride by this 25 year-old. He goes under the 20 km to go banner.

16:59 CEST    209.5km/19km to go
The peloton is at the 20 km to go banner now, riding reasonably hard. 1'15 behind the leader.

17:00 CEST    210.5km/18km to go
The Côte de Kanfen is a cat. 4 ascent, averaging 4.5% for 1.9 km. De La Fuente hits it and gets out of the saddle.

Lampre is doing a lot of work in the peloton, along with Davitamon. Robbie McEwen must believe in his chances today, as Boonen and Hushovd have already sprinted three times.

17:02 CEST    212.5km/16km to go
The leader changes down into a smaller gear, and punches his way up the climb. He needs the points here.

17:03 CEST   
A tailwind is helping his cause as he sits just 50 seconds ahead of the bunch. He will take the 4 points at the top.

17:05 CEST    213.5km/15km to go
Rabobank has taken over in the peloton, setting a strong tempo. De la Fuente crosses the summit of the Côte de Kanfen. Wegmann easily takes second ahead of a Bouygues rider, with a Euskaltel rider joining them.

Bäckstedt and Cretskens have been dropped.

17:06 CEST    214km/14.5km to go
It's Wegmann, Lefevre and a Euskaltel in pursuit of David de la Fuente, who is in great pain as he tackles the final climb: Côte de Volmerange-les-Mines, 1.4 km at 6.5%.

17:07 CEST    215km/13.5km to go
A crash in the bunch: Marchante, a Saunier teammate, two from Agritubel, and Tosatto.

Wegmann hammers on the climb in pursuit of De La Fuente.

17:09 CEST    215.5km/13km to go
Wegmann catches and passes De La Fuente before the top, taking the 3 points. But De La Fuente will take two points, and still keeps the lead in the mountains comp.

An FDJ rider has jumped away from the bunch: Gilbert? He's back in the bunch.

Casper is dropped.

17:10 CEST   
No, Gilbert has caught Lefevre and Verdugo, and the three swallow De la Fuente. Four men in pursuit of Wegmann.

17:11 CEST   
But now the Quick.Steps, Milrams and Lampres are chasing in the peloton, 38 seconds behind the leader, who is adopting a very low position on his bike on the descent. Gilbert leads the chasing break.

17:12 CEST    218.5km/10km to go
This descent is very quick, and Gilbert asks Verdugo and Lefevre to work with him. They're not particularly keen.

The Milram train is disrupted a little by Eisel in second wheel.

Wegmann goes under 10 km to go, driving.

17:13 CEST    219.5km/9km to go
The chasing four have been caught by the bunch, which is just 19 seconds behind Fabian Wegmann. It's going to be tough for the German to stay clear.

17:14 CEST   
Tankink rolls through for a turn with a Milram on his wheel. Wegmann takes a corner through Rumelange, now in Luxembourg. The crowds are quite large here.

17:15 CEST    220.5km/8km to go
Wegmann doesn't give up though, but the peloton is just 17 seconds behind him. He is working flat out, looking back and seeing lots of boys in blue chasing him. It's mostly Milram and Quick.Step doing the work.

17:16 CEST    221.5km/7km to go
Wegmann blows, swings to the left, and lets the bunch go past. Good effort, but there just wasn't enough in it for him. He's now off the back.

Bruseghin cranks it up on the front, hoping that his sprinter Bennati will win the stage today.

17:18 CEST    222.5km/6km to go
An Ag2r rider attacks next, looks like Calzati. Yes it is. He's caught by a Gerolsteiner - David Kopp - who passes him. A T-Mobile is in pursuit - Kessler, who flies right by David Kopp.

17:19 CEST   
The road goes up here and Kessler has a few seconds, but he really has to work for it. Hincapie sits back in 5th wheel in the bunch, which has a Lampre in front.= and Boogerd second. Rujano is up there, maybe he can lead out Boonen today.

17:19 CEST    223.5km/5km to go
Kessler has 10 seconds gap now as he reaches the descent. A pretty useful attack, this one. 5 km to go.

17:20 CEST    224.5km/4km to go
Now the bunch has reorganised, but is 12 seconds behind the lone leader. Kessler adopts the aero position as he flies under 4 km to go.

17:21 CEST    225.5km/3km to go
Kessler keeps his speed up as he races through Esch, now with 14 seconds. The bunch is in a line, with Lampre and Milram leading. Boonen is up there and McEwen.

17:22 CEST    226km/2.5km to go
Matthias Kessler goes under 3 km to go with the bunch in hot pursuit. The German is riding great, navigating the streets of Esch with aplomb. Milram has a couple on the front.

17:23 CEST    226.5km/2km to go
2 km to go and Kessler is in his biggest gear, sitting on over 50 km/h. Now Rabobank moves up - crash in the peloton - Liquigas rider attacks. The back of the bunch has stopped, but it's in the final 3 km so no-one will lose time.

17:23 CEST    227.5km/1km to go
Kessler reaches 1 km to go with 8 seconds.

17:23 CEST   
Matthias Kessler keeps his head down as the sprinters wind up behind. Boonen moves up next to McEwen. Flecha leads out then Ballan for Bennati. Freire on Bennati's wheel.

17:24 CEST   
The bunch flies towards Kessler. It will be close.

17:24 CEST    228.5km/0km to go
The sprint starts and Kessler is gone. McEwen wins it, Hushovd pulls out of his pedals, and Boonen is second. Hushovd takes third and takes back yellow. Impressive.

17:25 CEST   
Hushovd is not happy, thinking that McEwen pushed him and caused him to click out of his pedal.

17:34 CEST   
Well, that looks like bad luck for Hushovd who finished third today, but he does get to keep yellow. McEwen drifted to the left slightly, and Hushovd didn't...luckily he didn't crash. Boonen got a couple of pushes earlier in the sprint, and was well out of it for the win, but he still finished with second.

That's it from us for today's long stage. We'll be back with another one tomorrow between Esch-sur-Alzette and Valkenburg (Netherlands) - that should be an interesting finish!


1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                     5.36.14
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic                         
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                             
4 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank                                    
5 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                          
6 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas                                    
7 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                                  
8 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Francaise Des Jeux                        
9 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram                                        
10 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner                              

General classification after stage 2

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                     9.54.19
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic                    0.05
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                       0.08
4 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel                   0.10
5 David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC                            0.16
6 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                       
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears                 
8 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                                           
9 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                             0.18
10 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel                 0.20

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