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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage three of the Tour de France.
After crashes and chaos on stages one and two, there could be even more today as the race heads back into France and covers seven sections of cobbles.
The 213km stage starts in Wanze in Belgium and ends in Arenberg, at the entrance to the famous section of pave used in Paris-Roubaix. Fortunately the stage does not include the terrible section of cobbles but it is expected to cause more problems for the riders.
The peloton is curnetly in the neutral section of the race. The action is about to begin.
The Garmin-Transitions team has confirmed that Christian Vande Velde has not started today. He fractured two ribs in his back.
New Dutch road race champion Niki Terpstra (Milram) is another non-starter. He has been fighting a temperature for several days and the team pulled him from the race.
The stage is off to a fast start but there have been no real attacks yet.
The peloton is packed with riders in bandages after the crashes of the last two days. George Hincapie put it well on his twitter feed, saying: Woke up feeling like a played tackle football yesterday. But otherwise all good. Hoping for better today.
Setting the mood for today, he also said: Preparing for battle. Today you have to be an a-hole, to stay in front. So I will go ahead and apologize in advance.
Here we go! an attack has now formed, with three riders joining three others who had jumped away a little earlier. Names coming soon.
The six on the attack are: Steve Cummings (Team Sky), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions), Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Roger Kluge (Milram), Stéphane Auge (Cofidis) and Imanol Erviti (Caisse d’Epargne)
They already have a 30 second gap. But will the peloton let them go?
It seems that Canada's Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) started the attack.
There are seven riders in the move. Hesjedal could perhaps go all the way if the peloton allows the break to open a significant gap. Remember his gutsy ride in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of California?
Race leader Sylvain Chavanel (quick Step) stopped for a natural break just after the attacked away and that meant the peloton eased too. The break is away and already has 3:25 on the peloton.
The gaps has grown to 4:10, as the seven ride smoothly together and the peloton rolls along. It will be up to Quick Step to lead the chase for the first part of the stage.
Of the seven in the break, Ryder Hesjedal is virtual leader on the road. He started the stage 3:43 down overall.
Hesjedal is riding his third Tour and is only the fourth Canadian to ride the event after Steve Bauer, Alex Stieda and Gord Fraser. He has a Vuelta stage victory to his name as well as a Giro team trial win, so he’s looking to complete the set on this year’s Tour.
He’s made a fine start to the season, clocking up a great second place in Amstel Gold and a stage win at the Tour of California.
As expected, Quick Step are leading the chase at the head of the peloton.
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) is heading home to Spain as the Tour heads to France but showed the damage to his eye in a photo he posted here on Twitter. He wrote: 5 stitches and a pimpin' Ryan Air exit row. I am smiling on the inside, really.
All the best for rapid recover.
Niki Terpstra was thrilled to secure a place in the Milram team for the Tour de France but is now also heading home after struggling with a fever. He spoke of his disappointment in a statement from the Milram team:
“I am very disappointed and will now go back to my family, to get well again. Since Saturday I have been suffering from a cold and fever, and it just hasn't gotten better,“ Terpstra said.
“I especially had a lot of plans for the first stage. It was an honour for me to start in my homeland in the Netherlands champion's jersey. The mood along the course was an unforgettable experience for me.”
The riders have covered 45.8km in the first hour of the stage and have already gone through the first sprint and over the first minor climb of the day.
Kluge was first at the sprint, while Hesjedal was first to the top of the Cote de Bothey.
The seven have also extended their lead to 4:40.
At the start in Wanze there was a lot of debate about the decision of the race judges not to award the points at the finish for the green jersey competition. What are you're thoughts? Let us know in the Cyclingnews forum or on our Facebook page.
Opinions differ but many beleive it was right for the peloton to wait for the riders who crashed and especially the overall contenders such as Andy Schleck. However many people do not agree with the rider's protest at the finish. As Scott Sunderland explained in his daily stage analysis here on the stage report page under the list of photographs, riders like Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) and Robbie McEwen (Katusha) were stopped from scoring points.
Hushovd looked furious after crossing the line. He got on the Cervelo TestTeam bus to cool down before speaking to Cyclingnews. Read what he said here.
Chris Horner (RadioShack) defended the protest, saying the race organisers got what they deserved after opting for a route that was out of place for the opening stage of the Tour de France.
"They put on a dangerous stage and so when they put it on like that, that's the result they'll get," Horner told Cyclingnews.
Read the full article here.
Back in the today's stage, the gap has now stabalised at 4:30. The peloton will not want to let a break steal the glory today and the teams are already nervous as the kilometres tick down.
Other teams angry about the protest included Omega Pharma-Lotto. Team leader Jurgen Van Den Broeck crashed and hurt his wrist but the cancelation of the points at the finish, apart from those awarded to Chavabnel for winning the stage, stopped Jurgen Roelandts taking the special jersey.
Instead Chavanel now leads the points competition. However he is also in the yellow jersey and so Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) is wearing it during today's stage.
“I can’t accept it. The judges told me it was a decision of the peloton but I don’t agree,. It was the decision of one rider..."Team manager Marc Sergeant told Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure.
Do we cancel the racing because it’s too dangerous? Won’t it be dangerous on the pave? Following that logic, they won’t even race then.”
Fortunately the riders are racing today. and we're set for some great action.
For those of you playing our Easton-Cyclingnews Wheelset a Day Giveaway during the Tour de France, here is your trivia question for the day:
Which country has the most stage wins (from all Tours)?
For a hint, click here.
Enter your answer in our contest page here
Today's prize is a set of Easton EC90 Aero wheels.
Click here for information about the prize.
Good luck. We'll let you know the name of the winner in the next couple of days, here on our live coverage.
Back out on the road, the pursuit of the break is underway. Quick Step are leading the chase and the gaps has fallen to 3:30. The peloton is lined out behind Quick Ste, with race leader Chavanl carefully protected by his teammates. The Frenchman has a special Eddy Merckx bike for today, painted half yellow and half green to celebrate him leading both special jersey competitions. His teammate Jérôme Pineau is leading the climber's competition and so has a polka-dot bike.
The seven breakaway riders are not losing heart. They will not give up without a fight and are all good in breaks. Pavel Brutt, now with Katusha, was part of the former Tinkoff team which attacked the Giro d'Italia almost daily in 2007 and 2008. Most of their efforts went to naught, but Brutt managed to win stage 5 to Contursi Terme in 2008, making his team owner Oleg Tinkov ecstatic.
Steve Cummings (Team Sky) is another hardman of the peloton. He is writing a blog for Cyclingnews during the Tour de France, revealing how he is working for team leader Bradley Wiggins. Cummings is in the break today so that Team Sky does not have to do any early work chasing at the front of the peloton. That way, the rest of the team wil lbe fresh for the finale on the cobbles.
Steve's first blog, called 'Looking after Wiggo' is here.
The pace in the second hour of the race eased to 40.9km/h making an average of 43.3km/h for the first two hours of racing. That's pretty steady for the Tour de France peloton. Things will be much faster later on.
Alessandro Petacchi punctured a moment ago. He got a quick front wheel change from his mechanic and will soon be back in the bunch. He was lucky. Now is the right time to have problems. if a rider punctures later on, in the cobbles, they might not get back up the peloton. That's why today's stage is so feared by the overall contenders.
Looking at the riders in the break, Pierre Rolland one of the younger riders up there. Just 24 years-old, got his start with Credit Agricole before moving across to Bbox Bouygues Telecom. His claim to fame is a win in the mountains classification at the 2008 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré.
We're approaching the half way point of the stage and we're getting closer and clsoer to the cobbled sections. Are you ready?
Stéphane Auge is no stranger to being in Tour de France breakaways. We’re hard pressed to think of another rider in this race who's spent more kilometres off the front. He has worn the polka dot jersey in two different Tours due to his aggressive efforts - in 2007 and last year after a romp in the Barcelona stage. At 35, he's the oldest rider in the breakaway.
Cummings and Hesjedal are 29, Kluge and Rolland are 24, Erviti 26 and Brutt 28.
The first of the seven sections of pave is one of three inside Belgium and comes after 128km of the stage. It is only 350 metres long but will be a taste of what is to come later in the stage.
It will perhaps show who will ride aggressively on the pave and who will be on the defensive.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) is still in the peloton, despite his painful crash yesterday. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his left wrist and has other multiple abrasions and bruises but seems to okay for now. He has just changed his bike but was quickly back into the peloton.
The lead of the breakway has gornw again as and is up to 3:55. That means Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) is once again virtual race leader. He is 27th in the overall classification at 3:43.
CHUTE! First crash of the day in the peloton.
Numerous riders went down but most are back up and chasing to get back in the peloton.
Unfortunately David Le Lay (Ag2r-La Mondiale) went down hard in the crash. The other riders are back up and still in the race. It seems like Le Lay's Tour is over.
We're just five kilometres from the first section of pave now. The guys in the breakway are working smoothly, coming through and then moving over. Hesjedal seems to be making extra long turns on the front.
The peloton squeezes over a narrow bridge. And up front the break hits the first section of cobbles. Here we go!
It is only 350 metres of pave and is straight but the entrance is narrow and there are huge crowds on both sides. It's more like a mountain climb than a section of pave.
RadioShack, Team Sky and Saxo Bank are on the front as they hit the pave.
All the peloton has made it through and seems to have let out a big sigh of relief. But the gap on the break has come down. It is just 2:00 now but will probably grow as the peloton eases.
The bunch stayed togerher on the pave, with the riders staying on the crown of the road to avoid tangling with the spectators.
That first section of pave was only 350m long. The next one, with 44km to go, is 1200m - that should split things up a bit.
A puncture for Christope Le Mevel (Francaise des Jeux). He quickly gets a wheel and has two teammates to take him back to the bunch.
The Cyclingnews reports were at the start in Wanze, talking to riders and directeur sportif on what happened yesterday and what will happen today.
Jens Vogt of Saxo Bank defended the decision to sprint yesterday. "Why did the bunch decide not to sprint at the finish yesterday? Of course, we understand that the teams had to wait for their leaders to come back in the finale, but not doing the sprint is a different thing."
"For us, it was a matter of decency and solidarity with all those riders that went down hard and got badly injured. When you see all of these guys lying on the street crying out, spilling blood, you don't want to take advantage of their situation."
"I can understand that Cervélo was disappointed because they really worked hard that day for Hushovd. Still, it wouldn't have been right. There were riders with us that were really badly injured."
Saxo Bank team manager said: "Nothing has changed since yesterday. We will protect the Schleck brothers throughout the stage today. They are hurt, but they're fine. Today is not a day to cry..."
Are you going to try and take the jersey back with Cancellara?
"Three minutes is a lot. But you never know what can happen. We have some plans. You'll see what they are very soon."
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) was having a great time showing off his yellow jersey to the crowd this morning in Wanze
"I won't lie to you: I'm a bit tired today..." he told Cyclingnews, all smiles. "But I feel confident for the stage. The cobblestones are not too far away from the finish, so I should be able to defend my jersey.
"Last night was a bit long with the press and dinner and all that - especially dinner!
The gap is now at 2:50 as the bunch takes on some food. 70km to go but there are also six more sections of cobbles.
Another crash! Simon Gerrans (Team Sky).
He seemed to touch wheels and his pedal hit his head. However he is up and chasing back on. He seems okay.
Nicolas Roche (AG2R) avoided the big crashes yesterday but is still hurting:
"I didn't crash yesterday, but I'm still suffering from my two previous crashes. I'm pretty bruised on my hip."
"Today's stage? It's really not my cup of tea. I will wait a bit longer in the race to try something," he told Cyclingnews.
Some riders were happy to have avoided the crashes but are not too confident about today. They know it is going to be a crucial day for their team leaders.
Lars Boom (Rabobank):
"I was lucky, I didn't crash yesterday. I feel OK. Robert Gesink has a broken wrist, but it's a hairline fracture, so he will continue today. I thinkt oday will not be too hard for him, he'll make it.
"The team's strategy is just to protect Menchov and Robert, and get them through the day, and keep their GC position."
Brian Vandborg (Liquigas) did not go down in yesterday's stage, either.
"I feel good. Today we're just going to try and stick together for Roman and Ivan. I've never done this before, not in this kind of race. I once did De Panne, but that was many years ago."
Gerrans is at the team doctors' car. He is getting treatment on the cut on his face. He has a hole in his jersey but quickly accelerates back into the bunch.
Dmitriy Muravyev has dropped back to the RadioShack car. The mechanic is changing his race radio. He wil lneed that later.
We also spoke to Martin Elmiger (AG2R). He was hurting.
"Those who weren't happy about the neutralisation will attack today, I think. It's going to be nervous, also with all the injured riders in the bunch.”
"I usually feel OK on the pavé, but with my boo-boos it will be harder. Plus, the motivation is down when you're in pain.”
"I crashed before the Stockeu, on the first descent, and bruised my hip. There's a huge hematome there.
"The plan for today is just like the other teams: be in front when we hit the pavé sectors, hoping not to crash and not to lose any time."
We got some photographs of the special bikes the riders are using today. Some teams are using their Paris-Roubaix bikes and most have low profile rims to handle the pave.
Have a look here. But don't miss the action in the cobbles. They start in just 20km.
The peloton is getting more and more nervous as the cobbles approach. And the gap is coming down. The seven have just 1:50 now.
Cervelo and Saxo Bank are moving up to the front of the bunch now, they don't want this gap to grow.
Mark Cavendish is among the cars at the rear of the peloton. It looks like he's coming back after a puncture. Mark Renshaw has dropped back to pace him up to the main field. They'll have their work cut out to get back on, Saxo Bank are starting to wind up the pace ahead of the next cobbled section.
Jens Voigt is driving hard on the front now, at the head of a line of Saxo Bank riders. There is a lot of grappling for position behind them as they approach the cobbles. Alberto Contador is up near the front about fifteen riders back.
The break has reached the cobble section of Hollain, Ryder Hesjedal is powering on the front.
The main group are on the second cobbled section. Saxo Bank are pushing hard. Thor Hushovd is moving up the outside and world champion Cadel Evans is well-placed too. Menchov and Armstrong up towards the front too.
Hesjedal has opened a gap on his breakaway companions, Pavel Brut is trying to peg him back.
Crash! Francesco Bellotti (Liquigas-Doimo), Grega Bole (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne), David Zabriskie (Garmin - Transitions) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) are among those held up.
The gap is down to 60 seconds on the break. the third sectuion of pave is coming soon. Hold on!
Saxo Bank riders are bakc on the front. Stuart O'Grady is giving it big, taking a huge turn on the front. Behind there are already spltis in the peloton.
Christophe Moreau (Caisse d'Epargne) is already off the back.
We're into France. The next section of pave, and the start of the four sections that come one after the other, begin with 24km to go.
French champion Voeckler is also right up front behind Chavanel. Van Summeren is up there for Garmin.
Cervelo TestTeam hit the front now. five riders on the front, probably riding for Hushovd.
Carlos Sastre is also there, well protected and up front. [15:48:42] Laura Weislo: Evans is up there with Armstrong and Contador.
The break is doomed. The neutral serivce car has passed them the gap is falling fast.
Saxo Bank are back, driving up the left of the road. Everyone else is in the wind.
Chavanel is still up front in the yellow jersey. He hands off another rider as Cadel Evans avoids any problems.
Jeremy Hunt and Brett Lancaster (Cervelo Test Team) driving the pace now. riders are moving up on the footpath, including Contador!
The peloton is bunched up as riders trying to hold on. A tail wind is making it very, very fast. Full gas, as they say.
The peloton can see the break now. More cobbles. Section 4. This one is nasty. As Cummings goeson the front.
The peloton is also on the pave.
Fank Schleck is down! It's carnage.
Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) also went down.
Frank Schleck lost contorl in the middle of the road and landed hard. His race could be over.
Up front Fabian Cancellara has surged clear, shredding the front group.
George Hincapie has also flatted.
Lance Armstrong is still up there, so is Cadel Evans, as the cobbles end and riders take a bottle.
The Cancellara group is ahead of Johan Van Summeren (Garmin - Transitions), Lance Armstrong (Team Radioshack) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) led group.
The front group is not waiting for anyone. Contador is in the second but Armstrong is up front.
The second group contains 40 riders so may catch the front group.
Hesjedal is still off the front.
The front group includes Thor Hushovd Fabian Cancellara, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) Geraint Thomas (Sky), Cadel Evans (BMC), Steve Cummings (SkY) and Armstrong.
Hesjedal now has 30 seconds but the big-names are closing.
There are multple groups on the road.
Armstrong is in the second group, 20 seconds behind hushovd, Evans and Cancellara.
Hesjedal hits the next section of cobbles. He's opted for the gutter in this 3.7km section.
The two groups merged but is splitting again.
Armstrong has flatted.
Armstrong is slipping back. There are no team cars up there, just Mavic neutral service on a motorbike.
Popovych is pacing Armstrong but they are off the back of the group.
Chavanel has flatted too. Front wheel. He takes a new bike.
Cancellara is leading Andy Schleck up front as one section of pave ends and other begins. There is no respite to the suffering.
Cancellara and Schleck are working on the front. They know that Basso, Contador and Armstrong are all losing time behind them. Armstrong is at 40 seconds.
Cancellara is trying to surge off the front.
Hushovd brings Cancellara back.
Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharms) crashes on a corner. It's crazy out there.
There's Contador with Menchov but they've lost significant time.
Official time gaps have shuffled Armstrong and Contador. The Texan is shown as 1:40 down.
Here comes the final section of pave. It's 2.3km long. This one will make the gaps even bigger.
Armstrong is giving it everything. He's left Popovych.
Armstrong knows he has to close the gap to the team cars behind the front chasers before the cobbles end.
Hesjedal is still out front, parting the crowds better than Moses.
Chavanel has flatted again. He's fighting to hang onto his yellow jersey.
Cadel Evans leads the front group off the cobbles. There is just five of them about to catch Hesjedal: Hushovd, Evans, Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Cancellara.
Armstrong is still chasing Contador's group. He may yet catch them.
Armstrong is back! Almost He weaves through the team cars but there's still a 50 metres to close.
Armstrong gets on and takes a big drink from his bottle.
We've got an update on Chavanel. He's 3:40 behind and so is likely to lose the yellow jersey.
Who's going to win the stage? Hushovd? Evans with an attack? Thomas?
It's still crazy out on the road, with different groups chasing each other.
Race radio has corrected its times again, putting Armsttong at 2:00 not in the Contador group.
Here we go.
Hushovd gets it! He takes the sprint and precious points.
Geraint Thomas gets second.
Vino leads home a group but has left Contador behind! Wiggins is with Vino.
Where's Armstrong? McEwen brings in another group.
Here is Basso and Rgoers. Cavendish is already in. Good ride. Hincapie finishes too.
Armstrong finished with Basso, it seems.
Here comes Chavanel. It's close. but he's going to loose yellow.
Cancellara will be in yellow. But Saxo Bank has lost Frank Schleck.
Thor Hushovd banged his chest as he crossed the line.
Cancellara is confirmed in yellow.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) is second at 23 seconds
Alberto Contador limited his losses and is ninth at 1:40.
Here is the top ten on the stage and the provision top ten overall. Some big winners and some big losers!
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team
2 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
4 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions
5 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank
7 Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions 0:00:53
8 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana
General classification after stage 3
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 14:54:00
2 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team 0:00:23
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:39
4 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions 0:00:46
5 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 0:01:01
6 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:09
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 0:01:19
8 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:01:31
9 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:01:40
10 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:42
We're hearing that Frank Schleck has been taken to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone.
The big winners today, after Thor Hushovd, are Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck. They gained almost a minute on Contador.
Lance Armstrong lost 55 seconds to Contador after he flatted in the finale. According to provisional results, he was 32nd at 2:08 on the stage and is now 18th overall at 2:30.
Wow! What a day. And it's only stage three. That's it for live coverage today. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Sorry for any confision there with times and gorups. It was crazy out there.
Check out the full stage report for further details, results and the best selection of photographs from the stage.
We'll be back tomorrow for stage 4 from Cambrai to Reims.