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Hello, and welcome back to Stage Three of the 2009 Tour de France! Today we travel west, 196.5 km from Marseille to La Grande-Motte. We have two Category Four mountains early on, but the last 80 km will be just as flat as they can be.
We already have our first drop out. Quick Step's Jurgen Van De Walle went down in a crash Sunday only 35 km into the race. He managed to finish the race, but was then promptly taken to the hospital, where a punctured lung and a fracture collarbone were diagnosed.
That leaves us with 179 riders on the course today.
You'll be very surprised to hear the weather forecast: hot and sunny. It is already over 30° Celsius.
The neutralized phase is over and the real racing can start now. How long will we have to wait for the first escape?
We didn't have to wait long. FDJ's Maxime Bouet and Cofidis' Samuel Demoulin have a 25 second lead over Ruben Perz Moreno (Euskaltel) and Koen de Kort (Skil-Shimano). The peloton is letting them go and is currently 2:45 behind the first two.
Will this be the group of the day?
Yes, this may well be the group of the day, at least if they all come together. The two leaders now have 45 seconds over the two chasers, with the peloton four minutes behind those two.
Today's start was in Marseilles, famous for giving its name to the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise". It was the Tour's 33rd visit to this harbour on the Mediterranean, first appearing in the very first Tour in 1903.
The four in front are all together now, with a lead of 4:45 over the peloton
>Either the leading quartet is very fast, or the peloton said, it's just too hot to bother. At any rate, the gap has already grown to 7:10.
What do we expect today? An early escape group, most likely allowed to get away with a big lead but caught again in time for the sprinters' teams to set up another mass sprint.
And what else? Wind! Lots of it! Will it be enough to have an effect on the stage? We'll see.
De Kort has just made the acquaintance of the local wildlife. Some insect decided to check out his Dutch blood and had a nibble. He is now at the race doctor's car to get something to make the itch go away.
And the lead is now up to 8:15.
Who is wearing what jersey? Let's take a look at some of the standings. Yellow is currently residing with Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), followed 18 seconds later by Alberto Contador (Astana), with Bradley Wiggins of Garmin one second back.
The green jersey now belongs to Mark Cavendish, and there are many who wouldn't be surprised if he kept it the entire race. He has a five point lead over Tyler Farrar (Garmin) and nine points over Romain Feillu (Agritubel). You may remember, that is the finishing order from yesterday's stage.
Finnish rider Jussi Veikkanen of FdJ took the mountain jersey yesterday and is now three points ahead of Columbia's Tony Martin. Cyril Dessel (Ag2R) is one point behind the German.
The gap continues to grow and grow, now up to 10:20.
Martin is also second in the young rider competition, one second behind Liquigas' Roman Kreuziger. Vincenzo Nibali, also of Liquigas, is third.
To round out all the rankings, Astana leads the teams classifications ahead of Saxo Bank and Garmin-Slipstream.
Who do you think will win today? A sprinter? Or will the peloton say, the heck with it! and let this group through to the end? You can discuss it at forum.cyclingnews.com
The wind – what kind of wind are we talking about? Well, in the last part of the race, we are not that far from the sea, where there is always wind. But the bigger danger comes from the opposite direction, the Mistral from the north. That is the one that blast some wind echelons into the peloton. The favourites will all have to be on the look-out to be near the front of the peloton so as not to find themselves suddenly having fallen behind. That will be noticed on the first half of the race.
This looks like a sprint stage, so we will concentrate a bit on the sprinters today. (And, yes, we realize that by so doing, we will probably jinx them). A lot of the sprinters got caught up in or by that crash near the end yesterday, so they will be doubly motivated today to take the win. Not that sprinters need any extra motivation, they seem to have only that finish line and winning on their minds when it gets down to those last few hudnred meters.
Top pick for today's sprint is, who else, Erik Zabel. Well, maybe not him exactly, but the sprinter he is coaching, Mark Cavendish. Yesterday's win probably only served to whet his appetite for more. The young Manxman is the dominant sprinter in the ProTour this year, with 14 wins.
The leaders have now covered 40 km today and have built up a lead of 11:15.
How about Tom Boonen for the win today? He would surely love it, having been allowed only at the last minute to enter the race. The Quick Step rider has only five wins this season, including the prestigious Paris-Roubaix, and most recently the Belgian championships. His headlines this spring have been for his non-cycling activities.
The leading quartet is approaching the first intermediate sprint of the day, with a lead of 12:15.
Speaking of someone who would dearly love to take this win, that would be Tyler Farrar of Garmin Slipstream. The young American (who is actually a year older than rival Cavendish) has finished second far too often this year for his own taste, and is tired of seeing Cavendish powering over the finish line ahead of him.
Thor Hushovd is another good possiblity. The Norwegian is Cervelo's hope for the green jersey. He has only four wins this year, one of which was the Catalunya time trial. He was fourth yesterday, with his train getting derailed in the crash.
The leaders went through the first intermediate sprint with a 12:45 lead, in this order: Bouet, Dumoulin and De Kort.
Richard Virenque has just predicted that Cavendish won't win today, because he will be caught by the wind. He will find himself too far back when the wind echelons form and not be able to get back to the front, the Frenchman said.
Cavendish? Another sprinter? Or the escape group? Who will stand atop the podium tonight? Talk about it here: forum.cyclingnews.com
The gap is starting to come down slowly, and is now at 10:22.
Speaking of wind, the French forecasters are calling for 30 kph winds, with gusts up to 55 kph. That could definitely cause some gaps in the peloton!
Saxo Bank leads the chasing peloton, of course, and successfully. The gap is now down to 9:19.
The first mountain today came at km. 56, and is the Côte de Calissanne. It has a 1.3 km climb with a gradient up to 5.5%. De Kort was the first over the top, followed by Bouet and Demoulin.
The lead is dropping with every metre, it seems like. It is now down to 8:45.
You can never forget Rabobank's Oscar Freire. The three-time World Champion has surprisingly only one victory this season. He was another one caught up by the crash yesterday.
The gap is 8:18 now. There is, to be perfectly honest, not a heck of a lot happening.
Heinrich Haussler of Cervelo had a good spring, but isn't too happy with the Tour so far. He said he was too nervous before the time trial, where he finished 48th, and that it was just plain too hot yesterday. He is the newest diarist at Cyclingnews, so check out what he has to say at www.cyclingnews.com/blogs/heinrich-haussler/together-we-roll
The gap is crawling back up, to 8:49.
Andy Schleck has problems with his radio, and has dropped back to the team car to pick up a new one. He has his Luxembourg Champion's jersey totally open on this hot day.
The hot weather doesn't bother Caisse d'Epargne sprinter Jose Joaquin Rojas. "The weather is really hot and I am used to that becuase in Murcia, where I live, it's just the same," he said. Yesterday he was on the rear wheels of Boonen and Freire in the final sprint, but of course got caught in that final sprint and went off-course. He finished 18th.
Koen De Kort of Skil-Shimano is a 26-year-old Dutchman. He rode with Liberty-Seguros and Astana before joining the small Dutch team this year. He is still looking for his first win this year.
The gap has jumped back up to 10:21. Is the peloton really not going to give chase today?
The gap is creeping up again to 11 minutes.
The yellow jersey is quite near the rear of the peloton. They are definitely not hurrying today, and putting in a nice slow pace.
Bouet is 22 years old and in his second year with Agritubel. The young Frenchman has several wins this season, having won a stage in the 3 Jours de Vauclause before finishing second overall, and a stage in the Volta ao Alentejo, on his way to the overall win there. He also won he one-day race Boucles de l'Aulne.
Saxo Bank is not leading the chase. No one is leading the chase. There is no chase. There are just 175 cyclist out for a nice ride on a hot day.
Saxo Bank has woken up a bit, anyway, and has gathered at the front of the field again. They have even picked up the pace a bit.
The field rides through a nice wooded section where they have a bit of shade. The pace has definitely picked up now, but the gap is coming down only minimally.
Dumoulin is 28 years old and has been a pro since 2002. He had an unfortunate experience with the Tour in 2004, when he hit a dog and crashed, He was out four months, or the rest of the season. He had a good experience with the Tour last year, though, winning the third stage.
Team Columbia is continuing its winning ways. Michael Albasini won today's stage at the Tour of Austria, ahead of Giampaolo Caruso (Ceramica Flamina) and Ruslan Pidgorny (ISD). Albasini took over the leader's jersey from teammate Andre Greipel.
Saxo Bank is doing the lead work and the gap is now down to 10:38.
Here's a look at the last of our four leaders: Perez Moreno is a 27 year-old Spaniard who has been with Euskaltel since 2006. He is also looking for his first win this season.
Gerald Ciolek is another good possiblity for the sprint today. The German youngster got slightly derailed by yesterday's crash. He was able to catch back up with the four leaders but didn't have enough strength to pass them. The Milram co-captain has only one victory this season, in the Mallorca Challenge. He had a number of top results again in the Tour de Suisse, though.
Columbia's Tony Martin has a mechanical. Bernhard Eisel drops back to help bring him back up to the peloton.
No doubt you have missed the usual livestock reports. Here you go: the peloton has just passed by a field of large black cows.
Jussi Veikkanen explains why he was so successful yesterday, being in the long break and winning the mountain jersey. "I live about 20 kilometres away from Brignoles, so I know all the streets here," he said.
The gap is down to 9:07 now, as the four leaders hit the top of the second and last ranked climb.
That last climb was the Col de la Vayede. De Kort took the top points, followed by Bouet and Dumoulin.
Rabobank has moved into help with the lead work. Hoping to set up a sprint for Freire, perhaps?
The peloton has finally woken up, it looks like, and is really zipping along now. And the gap is coming down, as might be expected, to 7:47. Hm, sounds like an airplane to us...
Mechanical for Rosseler of Quick Step. He decides to take a new bike instead of getting some repairs.
The gap continues to fall and will soon hit the seven minute mark.
Yesterday we had a new face at the front of the bunch sprints - one of our two Japanese riders in the race, Yukiya Arashiro of Bouygues Telecom. His fifth place behind Hushovd was a great debut for this Tour de France rookie.
Most of the last 80 km or so run through the protected nature preserve of the Camargue, a marshland with wild horses and flamingos. We will keep our eye out for the wildilfe.
Also making an impressive sprint was Agritubel's young speedster Roman Feillu. He has his brother Brice in the race with him this year.
Garmin has moved up just behind Saxo Bank now. The gap is down to 6:30.
6:35 now for the quartet in front.
The Camargue is also known for its mosquitoes. So don't be surprised to see the riders batting at insects or scratching like crazy.
Astana and Rabobank move to the front, and the speed picks up again.
Astana, Ag2r, Columbia are all at the front, quite a mixed bag. And another field of cows, who run away from the road.
The gap is now down to 5:44.
The landscape has definitely changed. No more forests or fields here, but very definitely marshy. Woudn't want to try to ride across that...
The landscape has definitely changed. No more forests or fields here, but very definitely marshy. Woudn't want to try to ride across that...
Columbia is helping seriously with the lead work now, and Cavendish in his green jersey is not far back.
Skil is right up there with Columbia. There were some problems between the two teams in yesterday's finale, but maybe they have put that behind them now.
54 km to go and a gap of 4:25. We think the sprinters may have a chance after all.
A big crash with several Saxo Bank and Liquigas riders going down. Also Marzio Bruseghin of Lampre, who crashed yesterday. He is up and going again, although he is bleeding quite a bit from his left knee. Ouch!
He is also bleeding from the elbow and is now at the team car for help.
Bruseghin has been fixed up, more or less, and has joined some other riders who went down. They will all work their way up to the front again together.
The pace has slowed down now, so that the injured can catch up again. Stuey O'Grady was one of the Saxo Bank riders who went down. They have now all nearly caught up again.
The gap is at 5:07.
Columbia has taken command of the lead work, with Cavendish at the back of the line-up. Will the other sprinters try to get on his rear wheel this early?
We see lots of sunglasses in the peloton with glimmering green or yellow lenses. Makes the guys look rather like insects.
Grischa Nierman of Rabobank and Filippo Pozatto have a little chat with Lance Armstrong.
Cancellara moves up near the front of the peloton.
Dumoulin gets a bottle of water from his team car. He is the smallest rider in this race, at 159 cm.
Speaking of size, Columbia's Mark Renshaw says that is the secret of Mark Cavendish' success. The Manxman is 175 cm tall and weight 69 kg. "He's so much smaller than the other sprinters, and so saves a lot of watts."
There was another casulty at that crash a while back. The Astana car ran into the Milram car. We haven't heard whether they were able to continue.
Rabobank and Liquigas move up near the front, with Columbia still at the lead.
And there is one of the flamingos! Wearing a straw hat, cool sunglasses and Hawaiian shirt!
Too bad it wasn't real...
Word time trial champion Bert Grabsch leads the parade, followed by Bernhard Eisel.
So what can we look forward to eating tonight? No surprise to find seafood on the menu: fish, shellfish, even stuffed squid. (No thank you!) But how about some Gardianne de tarueau? That is a stew made of wild boar meat slowly cooked with the local wild rice.
Another cow! But this little black and white fellow isn't running anywhere. His little fuzzy stuffed legs don't work. He's just an onlooker!
The gap is just barely over two minute now. Looks like the escapees won't make it after all.
The peloton has fallen apart into many groups. Ciolek for one is in a back group. All of Columbia it looks like leads the first group, including Cavendish. We'll see if we can figure out who else is in the group. We think we saw Armstrong.
The Schlecks are in the second group. There are maybe 20 riders in the first group, including WEgmann and Gerdemann, and of course, Cancellara.
The Columbia grou can now see the first four riders. Their time at front is nearly over.
They are caught. The large chase group is maybe 15 seconds back?
Columbia has blown this race apart.
The four previous leaders have been caught by the Columbia train, and a Skil-Shimano rider has remained off the front. There are about 25 riders in this front group with the entire Columbia-HTC team. Armstrong made it. Contador didn't.
The huge chase group is desparate to get up to the front. But is it too big?
Wegmann and Gerdemann do their part of lead work. Armstrong rides next to Cancellara near the back of the group.
The Columbia team split the peloton in the strong cross winds. We see 3 Astana riders in this group of 27 - Armstrong is there, but who else? They will turn into a head wind soon which will make the chase even harder.
We have 4 Skil riders in teh group, and virtually all of Columbia. Contador and Evans are not in this group.
30 seconds now for the Columbia group. All nine of them are there!
If this group comes through, it seems unlikley that the others would wait and let Cavendish take the sprint all by himself. We would look for further break attempts nearer the finish.
We have three Astana riders in the group: Armstrong, Popovych and Zubeldia.
No one team is leading the chase. Have they given up hope?
Grabsch has done his work for the day and falls back out of the lead group. The Columbia group has a 23 second lead.
Skil helps with the lead work in the first group.
Wind echelons are forming at the front of the chase group. A good chance for even more riders to drop off the back if they don't watch out.
The riders in the front group are as follows: Thor Hushovd and Hayden Roulston (Cervelo Test Team), Lance Armstrong, Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia(Astana), Fabian Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank), Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi, Mark Cavendish, Bernhard Eisel, George Hincapie, Kim Kirchen, Tony Martin, Maxime Monfort, Mark Renshaw and Michael Rogers (Team Columbia - HTC), Stéphane Auge, Samuel Dumoulin, and Christophe Kern (Cofidis), Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Maxime Bouet (Agritubel_, Linus Gerdemann and Fabian Wegmann (Team Milram), Cyril Lemoine, Fumiyuki Beppu, Koen de Kort, Simon Geschke, Jonathan Hivert and Thierry Huppond (Skil-Shimano)
It looks like chase group is slowly catching up with the lead group.
Armstrong just raised his hand and urged all on to share the lead work. He and his teammates move up to the front. Now the group has a good chance to come through.
The chasers are now strung out single file, while the gap has grown to 27 seconds.
Has Astana decided to give up on Contador? Why would they pick up the tempo when their captain has been caught behind?
And will Columbia use up all its strength today and have nothing left for the team time trial tomorrow?
Thirty seconds now.
Columbia, Astana, Milram share the lead, as they pass by a 10 metre high flamingo.
And the gap is getting bigger again.
33 seconds now.
Zubeldia moves into the lead work.
Just 10km to go and the time gap to the lead group is going out. One team who missed this move is Garmin-Slipstream, and they don't seem to be chasing. They may have had a slim chance of taking yellow tomorrow after the team time trial, but if they can't bring this gap down to Cancellara, that will be less and less likely.
Dumoulin has already been named as the most aggressive rider on the stage.
35 seconds now.
Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall of some of the team buses later? Those teams who didn't manage to get anyone into this group?
The Columbia team not only wants to give Cavendish the stage win, they also hope to extend Cancellara's grip on the yellow and move Rogers up in the GC. Cavendish is saving his legs for the sprint, but with a headwind, it will be less predictable. Could Skil-Shimano have a chance today with De Kort? What about Pineau? He's pretty good with a tough finish.
HIghly concentrated faces on those the leading group, with a 38 second lead and 5 km to go.
36 seconds and 2.5 km to go.
The peloton is being split apart in the winds, and the front group is still pulling away now that Skil-Shimano has begun to contribute to the work.
Columbia, Astana and Skil still sharing the lead.
Almost at the last km marker. Cavendish's green jersey is showing.
A Skil rider leads, followed by Cofidis. Then lots of Columbias.
Hushovd gives his all to catch the speedy man in green, but in vain. Two in a row for Cavendish!
Evans and Contador are among the losers today, as they cross the finish line some 39 seconds later.
We think the rider in third was De Kort of Skil-Shimano with a Cofidis rider in fourth behind Cavendish and Hushovd.
Over a minute later, small groups are still dribbling over the line.
There will be some changes in the overall today.
Cavendish took the win ahead of Hushovd and Lemoine.
And here is our new GC: Cancellara still in first, 33 seconds ahead of Tony Martin, with Armstrong moving up to third place, 40 seconds down.
Well! That was something! Thanks for joining us today and come back tomorrow to see what happens in the team time trial. Will Armstrong slip into yellow?
It was actually Cyril Lemoine in third for Skil-Shimano, and our other Japanese rider in the race took a top ten! Fumiyuki Beppu led out Lemoine and took 8th.