Kirsipuu Wins Stage 1 of Tour de France
Jaan Kirsipuu (Ag2r) has earned his fourth career Tour de France stage win. The Estonian outsprinted Robbie McEwen (Lotto) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) to win Stage 1, a rolling, 202.5-km run from Liege to Charleroi, Belgium, in 4:40:29. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) remains the maillot jaune.
The racing began early. Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Jens Voigt (CSC), Janek Tombak (Cofidis), Franck Renier (Brioches La Boulangere), and Bernhard Eisel (La Francaise des Jeux.com) jumped clear at 15 km. By 55 km, the quintet had run up a 3:45 lead. Fassa Bortolo led the pursuit.
Rain began to fall and to create problems for bunch and break. Voigt and Renier crashed on the Cote de Borlon. Eisel crashed while talking with his team car, and Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) had to go off the road to avoid five riders who had crashed. ("It was a lot better than last year," the man from Marblehead said, remembering last year's Stage 1 crash in which he broke his collarbone.) On the Category 4 Cote de Ocquier, Nick Gates (Lotto) crashed and injured his knee. Gates rode the last 90 km alone and was ruled out of the race for finishing outside of the stage time limit.
Fassa Bortolo's pressure split the peloton. A 30-man chase group formed in front of the 80-rider main group. At the rear was the rest of the bunch, which included Brad McGee (La Francaise des Jeux.com) and Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze), along with most of the Euskaltel squad. Euskaltel led the chase, and the three groups merged. With 70 km remaining, the bunch caught the break.
The rain stopped. With 50 km left, Marc Wauters (Rabobank) and Jakob Piil (CSC) attacked. The pair forged a 1:45 lead with 30 km remaining, but Fassa Bortolo, Credit Agricole, and Lotto pursued and caught the escapees with 1.6 km left.
Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2r) led the field into the last km. With 500 m left, Hushovd jumped, but Kirsipuu was having none of it. With 300 m remaining, he came around the Norwegian to win.
In the overall, Cancellara leads Hushovd by 0:04 and Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service) by 0:10. Stage 2 might produce a new maillot jaune. The rolling, 197-km course from Charleroi to Namur will take the riders into France for 50 km before looping back into Belgium for what should be a sprint finish. Will someone win enough seconds worth of sprint bonuses to take the yellow jersey? Who will win the bunch sprint? Check in at Roadcycling.com and find out!
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