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Stage 3 of the Tour de France, 198km from Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon.
All 198 riders are still in the race as the peloton reaches the depart reel in Olonne-sur-Mer.
And not surprisingly the first attack comes inside the opening kilometre of the stage. A five-man group has a small gap on the peloton.
The first attack comes inside the opening kilometre, as five riders attempt to forge their way clear.
Niki Terpstra (Quick Step), José Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar), Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Mickael Delage (FDJ) and Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskatel-Euskadi) are the five men who have managed to free themselves of the bunch, and their gap is already 45 seconds at the 3km mark.
Perfect weather conditions out on the road today. Clear blue skies and temperatures of 24 degrees at the start.
6km into the stage, and the quintet up front have a very healthy advantage of 2:30 over the peloton. It usually takes a long time for the early break to establish itself at the Tour de France, with attack following attack until a group with just the right balance of teams is allowed to drift clear. Today is looking like a repeat of Saturday, however, with the break being allowed to jump clear as soon as the flag was dropped.
Speaking on Friday, HTC-Highroad's Mark Renshaw reckoned that the new system of just one intermediate sprint per day would lead to longer periods of attacking at the beginning of stages before the race settled down. So far, that doesn't seem to have been the case...
The break has three minutes at the 10km point and there has still not been a strong reaction from the bunch behind.
The highest-placed rider in the break is Jose Ivan Gutierrez, who began the day in 59th place, 1:09 down on the yellow jersey of Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo).
The Garmin-Cervelo team of yellow jersey Thor Hushovd have no interest in shutting this break down just yet, but it will be interesting to see how the work will be divided between the sprinters' teams as we get closer to Redon this afternoon.
The five in front are already almost 3km ahead of the bunch of the road. They've covered 21km and have a lead of 3:20, while the peloton is just through the 18km mark. Garmin-Cervelo are leading the bunch, but the pace is very relaxed.
There'll be some tired legs in the peloton after yesterday's team time trial. It may have been a short 23km test, but team time trials are stressful days all around, both for the strongmen and for the riders who are just trying to hang on to the coattails of the specialists.
We hope that Garmin-Cervelo aren't the worse for wear after their celebrations in Tiffauges last night....
The break are tapping out a steady rhythm up front and their lead continues to rise accordingly. 27km into the stage and they have 4:05 in hand over the peloton.
Today's stage began on at Olonnes-sur-Mer, just north of les Sables-d'Olonne, where Mario Cipollini took his first ever Tour stage win in 1993, beating Wilfred Nelissen and Laurent Jalabert in the bunch sprint on stage 2. Later that week, he would take the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
Olonnes-sur-Mer itself had never hosted the Tour before although the race is very familiar with the surrounding Cote de Lumiere on the Vendee coast. Instead of hugging that scenic Atlantic shoreline, however, today's stage turned inland almost immediately and sweeps through the heart of the Vendee once again before heading north to Redon.
The break have a gap of 5:20 at La Chapelle-Palluau, in the middle of the picturesque Bocage Vendéen, the tree-lined pastureland near the centre of the region.
After an hour of racing, the average speed is a manageable 40.1kph. It's a largely flat route all the way to Redon. There are some slight undulations over the next 20km or so, but the only climb of the day is - literally - a bridge, the mighty Pont de St-Nazaire. Or, as it has been renamed in order to dignify its presence in the GP de la Montagne, the Côte du Pont de St-Nazaire.
That climb arrives 55km from the finish, before the final run-in to the very southern tip of Brittany in Redon. Before that comes the day's intermediate sprint at Saint-Hilaire-de-Chaleons (104km), and at this rate, it looks as though the sprinters will be battling it out for 6th place.
6th place at the intermediate sprint, that is. They'll be confident of reeling in the break before we get to Redon, and their gap certainly hasn't been allowed to spiral out of control.
Niki Terpstra is contributing richly to today's break and Dutchman has shown some decent form in recent weeks. He was second to Philippe Gilbert at the Ster ZLM Toer in June, although he finished the race muttering darkly about being blocked by Omega Pharma-Lotto's Klaas Lodewyck in the hunt for bonus seconds. The Quickstep/Omega Pharma-Lotto rivalry is alive and well, and after Gilbert's stage win on Saturday, Patrick Lefevere will want his charges to respond in kind.
Of course, both of the Belgian squads had troubled preludes to the Tour. Quick Step's bus was searched by French police on Friday evening, while Omega Pharma-Lotto had to cut its ties with former rider Wim Vansevenant after it was alleged that he had imported doping products from Australia. He had been work as a VIP escort for the team's sponsors on the Tour.
The gap between the break and the peloton has stabilised at around the 5-minute mark over the past 15km or so. The quintet currently has 5:10 in hand on the approach to the town of Beaufou.
While Garmin-Cervelo took the stage and the yellow jersey on Sunday, not surprisingly much of the post-team time trial attention was centred on Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard), who lost a further 22 seconds to add to the 1:20 he conceded on stage one. There were even rumours that his Saxo Bank-SunGard team would seek to appeal to have the time he lost on Saturday reduced to 34 seconds, as the team claimed that he was held up behind a second crash inside the final 3km. On Sunday evening, however, Bjarne Riis confirmed that no appeal would be forthcoming.
The five escapees have picked up the pace a little bit and stretched their lead out to a shade under 7 minutes.
Philippe Gilbert is wearing the green jersey today, and also leads the king of the mountains competition. With the sharp finish at the Mur-de-Bretagne coming up tomorrow, the Belgian is keen to save his legs on the road to Redon.
"I’m not one of the favourites for the stage today," Gilbert said on the start line this morning "It could be difficult with the wind on the bridge though, and maybe Europcar could start something there."
While Europcar may indeed be planning an ambush, the bad news for Thomas Voeckler and the boys is that there is barely a puff of wind in the Vendee this afternoon. Instead, the peloton are riding under serene azure skies.
The temperature has climbed steadily into the high twenties today. In northwestern France, the warm weather shouldn't pose too much of a problem, but when the bunch heads down into the Massif Central towards the end of the week, the expected heat could take a serious toll.
Garmin-Cervelo are maintaining their presence on the front of the bunch but there is absolutely no urgency in their chase at this point. David Zabriskie sits in first position, while Thor Hushovd is in the yellow jersey seven or eight places back.
Our Easton/Cyclingnews Tour de France Trivia Challenge continues today, and we'll have stage 3's question later on during our coverage. Before that, we can reveal the answer to yesterday's teaser. The winners of the team time trial in 2009 to Montpellier were, of course, Astana, although they couldn't do enough to put Lance Armstrong into the yellow jersey on that occasion. Wonder whatever happened to him.
The pace is very relaxed in the peloton right now. A glum-looking Alberto Contador is sitting in the middle of the bunch, chewing distractedly on an energy bar. Jeered at the presentation and already 1:38 down on Andy Schleck, his Tour could hardly have started any worse. But then again, maybe he can consider himself very lucky that his Tour started at all...
Ramunas Navardauskas is on the front for Garmin-Cervelo, trying to keep the break's lead pegged at around the 7-minute mark. This is precisely the kind of role he was selected to perform at this Tour.
Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) puts in a long turn at the front of the break. The Frenchman is riding in his third Tour, and his best result so far was second place on stage two twelve months ago. On that occasion, Fabian Cancellara had led the peloton in a go-slow in protest at the dangerous conditions on the descent of the Stockeu (it had nothing to do with Andy Schleck being caught up in a crash behind, honest). The Swiss rider was not best impressed with Bouet for supposedly breaking ranks by sprinting for second place behind the lone escapee Sylvain Chavanel in Spa.
Zabriskie and Navardauskas are sharing the workload for Garmin-Cervelo at the head of the bunch, but they're not matching the break's rhythm at the moment. The five up front have 8 minutes, with the French duo of Bouet and Delage especially active.
Mickaël Delage cuts a striking figure in the classic FDJ colours. The Frenchman made the move to Marc Madiot's team from Omega Pharma-Lotto in the off-season and after a slow start, he's begun to come to the fore in recent weeks, with fifth place overall at the Tour of Luxembourg.
The race has left the Vendee and is crossing the Loire-Atlantique département. The break has tackled a series of drags and undulations over the past 10km, but none of the quintet have shown any signs of weakness to date.
Puncture for Nicolas Roche, but the Irishman has two teammates back waiting with him and he'll make it back on without any problems. And no, John Gadret wasn't one of the two assigned to come back and help out, that was left to Blel Kadri and Sebastien Minard.
A slight increase in speed from the peloton, and they've shaved a minute off the break's lead. The advantage is now a shade under 7 minutes.
That may in part be due to the break going through the feed zone at Saint-Mars-de-Coutais, although as we approach the midway point of today's stage, the peloton was always liable to begin to stir from its slumber.
French champion Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) is prominent near the front of the peloton. Today isn't a day suited to his talents, but surely it's only a matter of time before we see the tricolour jersey to the fore in an échappé. The Frenchman was in fantastic shape in April in the lead-up to his second place finish in an epic edition of the Tour of Flanders. If he can replicate that kind of form at the Tour, he is bound to be a protagonist, much like he was last year.
The pace is beginning to rise in the peloton, with 10km to go to the intermediate sprint. The bunch is stretched out a little now, and the gap to the break is tumbling steadily. 6:25 their advantage now.
The French duo of Delage and Bouet seem to be the keenest to press on the pace in the break up front, although all five are contributing well. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar) is riding very smoothly every time he comes to the front, as befits a man who has five Spanish time trial titles to his name.
At the intermediate sprint on Saturday Jeremy Roy (FDJ) jumped clear to take the 20 points on offer. It will be interesting to see if anybody has the same idea in today's break. 1000 metres to the the sprint.
Roy's teammate Delage takes a flyer and hoovers up the 20 points. They clearly like their primes at FDJ... Jose Ivan Gutierrez took the 17 points for second place, ahead of Terpstra, while Moreno and Bouet showed little interest in the sprint.
It's going to be interesting to see which sprinters go for the remaining 10 points on offer to 6th over the line. Lampre-ISD 's pink jerseys have now massed on the front of the peloton, Alessandro Petacchi either fancies this or wants to try out his legs before a potential sprint finish in Redon.
Hondo leads it out but he had Gilbert on his wheel....
And it's Mark Cavendish who flies through to take the 10 points ahead of Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha). The Manxman makes amends for his mix-up at Saturday's sprint.
Cavendish started off alongside Hushovd in the sprint, but simply left the yellow jersey standing. Interesting to note that Farrar had left the sprint to Hushovd.
Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) took the points for 8th, ahead of Gilbert, Tom Boonen and Leonardo Duque.
After that sharp increase of pace in the bunch, the break's advantage is down to 5 minutes.
Denis Galimzyanov was closing fastest on Cavendish in that sprint, although the Manxman was clearly easing up. The young Russian one Tour debutant certainly worth watching this year. His manager Andrei Tchmil reckons that he can finish in the top 3 in some of the sprint stages.
Anthony Charteau (Europcar) has been allowed to slip clear of the peloton and greet his family at the roadside. King of the mountains last year, Charteau is enjoying his moment at Chauve.
Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) drops back to the team car, although he doesn't seem to have any major mechanical problem.
Meanwhile, Thor Hushovd is locked in conversation with Stuart O'Grady. It's hard to believe that it's ten years since the pair were teammates on Credit Agricole's team time trial-winning squad of 2001. You can read their thoughts on that special performancehere
Here is today's trivia question in the Easton/Cyclingnews Tour de France Trivia Challenge: Which two riders jointly hold the record for the most number of Tour de France podium finishes, and how many times did they finish on the podium? You are entered for the random drawing for prizes by filling in your answer here - http://easton.cyclingnews.com/. Good luck!
Garmin-Cervelo are still leading the peloton, although Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad) is also sitting up there keeping an eye on affairs for Mark Cavendish. After his show of speed at the intermediate sprint, HTC-Highroad will be confident that their leader is ready for the finish in Redon.
It's worth noting that in spite of Lampre-ISD's efforts in setting up the intermediate sprint, Alessandro Petacchi sat up and didn't even contest it. He told Cyclingnews before the start of the Tour that he was lacking race sharpness, and that he needed at least the first weekend to find his sprinting legs.
The curves of the Pont de Saint-Nazaire - sorry, the Côte du Pont de Saint-Nazaire - loom on the horizon, and the break will tackle the climb in around 20km.
The roads are wider and straighter on the approach the Loire estuary. and not surprisingly the gap between the bunch and the break is beginning to fall still further. It's down to just 3:20.
In spite of their dwindling lead, there doesn't appear to be any particular urgency among the break. Gutierrez puts in a steady turn and then pulls over to allow Delage too. Even with 68km still to race, there's a grim inevitability about their fate.
Garmin-Cervelo continue to lead the peloton, but a few rows back it's striking that there are a number of RadioShack jerseys staying up near the front and out of trouble. The team's elder statesmen have put together a string of astonishing results and performances this year. All deep into their 30s, Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer have found a way to turn back the clock for much of the first half of the season. It will be interesting to see if they can repeat that at the Tour.
Horner was pleased with their opening weekend when he spoke to Cyclingnews after the team time trial.
So far this stage has worked out perfectly for HTC-Highroad. Garmin-Cervelo have pegged the break back to 2:35 and Mark Cavendish's men haven't had to lift a finger to help them. Lars Bak has been up at the front for them for the last 30km or so, but so far his services haven't been required.
The unity of the break has been fractured slightly. Gutierrez puts in a tentative dig, or maybe just a searing turn on the front. In any case, Bouet and Moreno have to grapple to get back up to their companions.
The peloton rides though Saint-Brevin-les-Pins and a number of riders have to think quickly by riding across the centre of a roundabout. There's been a vast amount of road furniture for them to tackle today, but luckily nobody has come a cropper so far.
The five breakaways are on the Pont de Saint-Nazaire. It's very exposed up here, but luckily the wind isn't too strong today.
Rabobank jerseys have suddenly massed to the front as the peloton approaches the foot of the bridge...
The break rides underneath the iconic red and white cantilever arches that mark the top of the bridge and Delage wins the sprint to take the sole mountains point on offer.
The bunch is strung out under Rabobank's initial impetus, but the only men in trouble are a trio from Europcar, including Vincent Jerome.
The bunch has broken up a little more now. There's a front group of about 50 riders, and the rest of the field is splintered behind.
The wind isn't strong up here today, however, and those gaps don't look to be particularly insurmountable. Even so, those caught behind will need to get back on quickly before the rapid run-in to Redon.
Word reaching us that Ivan Basso was caught behind. Certainly a lot of Liquigas-Cannondale jerseys back there chasing.
Surprisingly, Sylvain Chavanel has also been caught behind along with Ben Swift but the pace isn't especially high at the front of the peloton.
Basso, Chavanel and Swift are safely back on, and the larger group behind them should also rejoin the peloton in due course. They still have 20 seconds to make up, however.
Meanwhile, the five escapees have just 1:20 in hand now. Lars Bak gestured at Garmin-Cervelo and Leopard Trek to calm the pace, however. HTC-Highroad clearly don't want to catch the break too early.
The large group that got caught behind has rejoined the main peloton. That was certainly an unexpected moment of drama on today's stage. On such a still day, few people would have expected the Saint-Nazaire bridge to make any real impact.
Full marks to Rabobank for sensing the danger and shepherding their man Robert Gesink in the lead-in to the bridge.
Vladimir Karpets is still off the back at the rear of a group of 7 or 8 riders. It seems that he has a mechanical problem.
Karpets stops for a bike change and now chases back on alone. He tucks in behind a team car. Interesting to note that Katusha haven't sent anybody back to wait for their leader for the general classification.
The cat and mouse between the bunch and the break continues. They're leaving the five dangle a minute out in front. Karpets is 50 seconds down on the peloton and trying to chase back on all by himself. He'll be hoping the pace in the peloton stays calm for the next 10km or so.
Lars Bak is doing it all today. He was the HTC man keeping an eye on the front of the peloton for much of the afternoon, and now he's riding through the bunch with a jersey choc-full of bidons, distributing drinks to his teammates.
Karpets is back up in the convoy and desperately trying to close that 40 second gap to the peloton. He's churning a massive gear and has made it back up to a small group that was also left behind.
Paolo Tiralongo leads Alexandre Vinokourov up towards the front of the peloton. Cyclingnews caught up with Tiralongo at the Tour presentation in Le Puy de Fou, and he said that his stage victory at the Giro d'Italia hadn't changed his mindset and that he remains a gregario at heart.
Karpets makes it back on to the peloton and has managed to drag that group of dropped riders with him.
Big crowds on the roadside today and they'll only be bigger in the two days to come. The final 4km of today's stage sees the race cross into Brittany, and then there are two whole stages in French cycling's most passionate outpost, from Lorient to the Mur-de-Bretagne, and from Carhaix to Cap Frehel.
Jens Voigt comes to the front of the peloton now and puts in a huge turn for Leopard Trek.
Remi Di Gregorio (Astana) and Benat Intxausti (Movistar) are among a small gaggle of riders still trying to chase back on at the rear of the bunch.
Interesting to see the teams at the front of the peloton with 30km to go - Leopard Trek, Astana and Rabobank. They're trying to keep their the Schlecks, Vinokourov and Gesink out of trouble, and the sprinters' teams are able to keep their powder try for now.
Delage and Gutierrez aren't giving up the fight, they're doing a lot of work in the break. The peloton is still letting them hang out there in front, and their lead grows ever so slightly out to 55 seconds.
A platoon of Lampre-ISD riders snake up the left hand side of the peloton, with Alessandro Petacchi tucked on the wheel of his second in command Danilo Hondo.
A crash at the rear of the peloton just as the road narrows at Saint-Gildas-des-Bois. A couple of BMC riders went down, but Evans seems to be safely up ahead in the peloton.
Chris Anker Sorensen familiar bobbing style is prominent near the front of the peloton, as Saxo Bank-SunGard look to keep Contador out of trouble.
Jose Ivan Gutierrez accelerates at the front of the break and strings them out, and the attacking starts... The gap is just 30 seconds to the peloton, however, and this isn't going to help their chances of staying away.
Gutierrez and Delage have gone clear, which isn't overly surprising. The pair looked to be the strongest of the break over the last hour of racing.
Bouet, Terpstra and Perez Moreno look to have given up the ghost, and there is no real sparkle in their pursuit of their erstwhile breakaway companions.
The stylish Gutierrez is still riding very smoothly. Delage is a little more ragged, but has put in a huge effort today.
HTC-Highroad have finally come to the front and the train is beginning to chug out of the station...
Terpstra, Perez Moreno and Bouet are caught as Lars Bak leads the peloton.
HTC-Highroad are joined by Garmin-Cervelo at the front of the peloton, with Ramunas Navardauskus putting in a huge stint in the service of Tyler Farrar.
Contador is up near the front, with king of the mountains Cadel Evans tucked on his wheel. None of the overall contenders want to get caught out in the fast finale.
Puncture for Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), and he is desperately trying to chase back on. He has three teammates back with him to help out, but the pace is ratcheting upwards in the peloton.
12 seconds the gap between the leading duo and the peloton under the 10km to go banner. Gutierrez is having to do almost all of the work here, Delage can only hang onto his wheel.
Gutierrez sticks a finger in the camera lens to say his farewells. The leading pair sit up and are caught by the peloton with 9km to go.
The pace is touching 70kph now on the final run-in to Redon and the peloton is strung out in one long line.
Taaramae has managed to get back on. Just in time too, the pace is soaring now. HTC's train is on the right, but Lampre-ISD are trying to move Petacchi up on the left.
The peloton is safely through a roundabout with 6km to go, and it's still HTC doing the pace-setting with Petacchi lined up behind a group of his Lampre teammates. Could it be a repeat of stage one of the Giro, another Petacchi-Cavendish duel?
Eisel leads Martin, then Goss, Renshaw and Cavendish, with Petacchi tucked onto Cavendish's wheel.
The wily Hondo is sweeping alongside Petacchi.
Tony Martin leads the bunch. This is a crucial part of HTC's lead-out and his time trialling skills are vital here.
The yellow jersey of Hushovd is looking for Farrar, but he has Galimzyanov on his wheel.
Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) attacks on the slight rise with 2km to go.
Goss chases him but it's all gone a bit too early for HTC. Renshaw is on the front under the red kite. This could be a costly error...
Geraint Thomas (Sky) jumps off the front and HTC are nowehere.
Thomas is brought back and it's Thor Hushovd leading out the sprint for Tyler Farrar. Surely this is Garmin-Cervelo's to lose.... Cavendish is nowhere in sight.
Farrar opens the sprint and takes the win.
Romain Feillu was closing fast for Vacansoleil-DCM but he ran out of road. Jose Joaquin Rojas was third.
That worked out perfectly for Garmin-Cervelo. Hushovd led Julian Dean and Farrar into the final bend, and then swung over to let them do their stuff. Fine effort from Feillu for second place.
There was some confusion at the last real bend with 600 metres to go, however, as Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) was forced into the barriers.
Cavendish and HTC-Highroad's hopes had already been derailed by that point. It all fell apart when Marcato attacked with 2km to go. It was left to Matt Goss to try and chase and he seemed to be forced to unleash his effort far too early, leaving Renshaw to lead under the red kite, and Cavendish appears to have been crowded out thereafter.
Farrar remembered his late friend Wouter Weylandt as he crossed the line, forming a W with his hands. An emotional day for the American, whose first Tour stage win also arrived on Independence Day.
Cavendish came across the line in 5th place. Although he lost his lead-out, he managed to pick his way through to get in a sprint at least, even if his chances of winning had were already dashed.
1 Tyler Farrar (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 4:40:21
2 Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
3 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
4 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
5 Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad
6 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo
7 Julian Dean (NZl) Team Garmin-Cervelo
8 Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
9 André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10 Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Saur - Sojasun
General classification after stage 3:
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo 9:46:46
2 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:01
4 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:04
5 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Leopard Trek
6 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
7 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
8 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
9 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
10 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
Thanks for joining us today's live coverage of the Tour de France on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and pictures will be online soon, and we'll also have all the news from our team out on the road in France. Join us again here tomorrow for live coverage of the172.5km stage from Lorient into the very heart of Brittany, where we can expect plenty of tension on the sharp finish atop the Mur-de-Bretagne.