By John Trevorrow in Valkenburg
Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) put up the sprint of his life to grab second in the stage behind breakaway team-mate Matthias Kessler when the Tour's third stage swarmed into Valkenburg Tuesday. More importantly he has moved into second overall only one second behind new leader Tom Boonen (Quick.Step).
Rogers was ecstatic after outsprinting some of the world's fastest men in a surprise sprint win. "That was the best sprint I have ever put up," an elated Rogers said. "But although I am only one second behind I must be realistic. I am not going to gain that time on Tom over the next few days. It will be up to my team to make sure we keep it close so I can give it my best in Saturday's time trial."
The fact that Rogers has won the past three world time trial championships will give him plenty of confidence. If he can stay within striking distance of Boonen till Saturday, Rogers is certainly a good chance to take his first Tour de France yellow jersey, though several strong time trialists are also within a few seconds of the lead, including Floyd Landis (Phonak, 7th at 16 seconds), Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto, 11th at 20 seconds) and the CSC pairing of Dave Zabriskie (15th at 24 seconds) and Bobby Julich (19th at 25 seconds).
However, it was a bittersweet day for the Tour's Australian contingent as Stuart O'Grady (CSC) crashed in the hectic final 15 km and has fractured a vertebra. His brave battle for the maillot jaune is over. O'Grady was a big chance to take yellow in the stage and the finish in Valkenburg would have suited him.
I saw him as he crossed the line and he said he was in trouble. He texted me later to say that he had fractured a vertebra and he would make a final decision about his participation in the race in the morning.
Twenty seconds behind Boonen in eleventh place overall, Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) is still looking very much a contender. He managed to escape the carnage in the last kilometres of stage three, but one of his major rivals, Spaniard Alexandre Valverde wasn't and is out with a broken collarbone.
"Yeah, it was bit gnarly at the end. That was more like the Tour as I know it in the last 50km. So I am happy to get through it without too much trouble and fight another day tomorrow," a relieved Evans said.
Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) was disappointed he couldn't quite hold them up the final climb. "I just wasn't strong enough up the Cauberg," McEwen said. "But it was very hectic out there, big crowds, road too narrow. I saw O'Grady go down. He nearly held it up, he was in the grass, he got around most of the obstacles, I think he hit a ditch and went over the handle bars.
"I looked back to see who went down and Stuey missed him and looked like he got out of trouble and then there must have been a big culvert because he just disappeared over the handle bars."
Tomorrow will be a big day for Quick.Step's Tom Boonen wearing the yellow jersey through Belgium where he is the national hero. It won't be too bad if McEwen beats him in St Quentin as then we are back in France.