Two for Freire, as Tour speeds to the Pyrenees
The sprinters were at it again in today's fast 9th stage between Bordeaux and Dax, where Spanish speedster Oscar Freire performed his trademark kick at 50m to go to come past Erik Zabel and Tom Boonen. But he was nearly trumped by Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), who got stuck in traffic but managed to manoeuvre his way through a hole on the left of the bunch to take second by less than half a wheel. Zabel claimed third ahead of Boonen, who again saw the finish line too early.
The pan-flat stage - the first after yesterday's rest day - saw three riders on the attack after km 7: Christian Knees (Milram) went first, and was joined by Stephane Augé (Cofidis) and Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom) once the gap became great enough. The three worked well to build up a lead of almost eight minutes after 61 km, before several sprinters teams combined forces to chase them down. It looked like being a close finish until the cooperation vanished up front with Knees continually attacking his companions. It was all to nought, and the break was swallowed with 4 km to go.
The sprint was started by Quick.Step, but Matteo Tosatto proved to be the weak link in the train, forcing Boonen's lead out man De Jongh to use his energy too early chasing a surge by Credit Agricole. When Boonen went, Zabel had him covered and snuck past the world champion 50m before the line. But then Freire came from behind to claim the stage, with McEwen popping up through the middle for a close second place.