McEwen Wins First Stage of Tour
Robbie McEwen (Predictor) has won Stage 1 of the Tour de France. The Australian did it the hard way, crashing with 23 km remaining in the rolling, 203-km run from London to Canterbury, battling back to the front of the peloton, and taking a bunch sprint from Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) to win in 4:39:01. Prologue winner Fabian Cancellara (CSC) remains the maillot jaune.
The stage began under fair skies and mild temperatures. Agritubel and Francaise des Jeux made early moves, but Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom), Charles Wegelius (Liquigas), and Andriy Grivko (Milram) made the first breakaway. The peloton overtook the quartet quickly, but David Millar (Saunier Duval) escaped before 10 km had been ridden. The Scot rode alone for 40 km, but Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), Grivko, and Stephane Auge (Cofidis) joined him at about 50 km. At 76 km, the break led the bunch by about 5:00.
At 121 km, the chase began. Quick Step took over at the front from CSC, which had been riding tempo. Eventually, Predictor joined the Quick Steppers, and the two Belgian squads began to hammer. At 140 km, the break's advantage was fewer than 3:00.
Ahead, Bichot attacked his companions, and Auge and Kuschynski joined him. The pair, however, were attempting to drop Grivko, whom they accused of not doing his share of the work. Millar would not tow Grivko to the leaders, and the bunch reeled in the pair with 44 km left.
Saunier Duval took over at the front, and the escapees' lead fell to 1:00. With 26 km left, and the fugitives' advantage down to 0:17, Auge attacked his companions. Behind him, a crash occurred.
The crash took down McEwen and T-Mobile's wunderkind Mark Cavendish. Five Predictor men waited for McEwen, but Cavendish did not receive the same team support and never made it back to the peloton.
With 20 km remaining, the peloton reeled in Auge. Quick Step took over at the front to set up Boonen, and Lampre joined the Belgian squad. Perhaps in deference to those who had crashed, the run to the finish was at a leisurely pace for a Tour de France finish. With eight km left, McEwen was 0:18 behind the yellow jersey group.
With one km left, Quick Step was leading out Boonen on the left side of the road. Milram moved up on the right to launch Erik Zabel. Robert Hunter (Barloworld) bolted early, but Tomas Vaitkus (Discovery Channel) took the South African's wheel. Sebastien Chavanel (Francaise des Jeux) had a go, but Hushovd and Boonen started sprinting with 200 m left and put paid to the Frenchman's effort.
McEwen, however, had been overlooked. With his right wrist injured and blood streaming down his right leg, the Australian fought his way from 10th wheel to a stage win in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. Everyone else appeared slow.
In the overall, Cancellara leads Andreas Kloden (Astana) by 0:13 and Millar by 0:21. Cancellara should remain in the lead after Stage 2. The flat, 168.5-km ride from Dunkirk, from which the British army was evacuated in 1940, to Gent, Belgium, will have a classics feel with the possibility of the wind splitting the field into echelons. The stage should, however, end in a bunch sprint. Will McEwen win again? Will Hushovd, Boonen, or Oscar Freire (Rabobank) break through? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!