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Welcome to our live coverage of stage 3 of the 2012 Tour de France. After starting off in Belgium for the first three days, the race now moves into France for the first time for this 197km stage from Orchies near the Belgian border to the northeastern seaside town of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Yesterday’s second stage was won by Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish in dramatic style, where he reinforced his reputation as the best sprinter in the world. Read about how he did it right here, and here’s a recap of yesterday’s top ten finishers:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 4:56:59
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team
3 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
4 Tom Veelers (Ned) Argos-Shimano
5 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
6 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
7 Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) FDJ-Big Mat
8 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
9 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team
10 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Sharp
And we're off and underway in stage 3. There was an immediate attack involving a handful of riders but it didn't work. All still together after the opening 2km.
Yesterday's stage was a bunch sprint and as a result there was little change in the overall general classification. Fabian Cancellara starts the day in yellow. Here’s the top ten:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 10:02:31
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 0:00:11
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:17
9 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
10 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Sharp
Things started yesterday at a very sedate pace. Already it's looking different here on stage 3, and I'm sure that it won't be long until we have our first breakaway.
Today’s stage should be one for the all-rounders. After a pretty flat opening 100km the riders will encounter more undulating terrain in the second half of the race. There are six categorised climbs in all, including four in the closing 16km. One of these is a 700m ascent to the finish line.
And on that note, here's a link to our preview page for this stage. There's a map, descriptions and a video preview from former yellow jersey holder Chris Boardman.
And, as predicted, we have our first breakaway. Five riders have gone clear after 6km: Morkov (Saxo Bank), Bernaudeau (Europcar), Grivko (Astana), Moreno (Euskaltel) and Minard (AG2R). They have already buolt a lead of 15 seconds and are pulling away.
The breakaway are now 8km in and the lead is over two minutes...
Morkov was involved in yesterday's three-man break, which held the lead for well over 100km. How long can he stay with this leading group today? He's obviously feeling strong at this early point.
In terms of the general classification, Grivko is the highest placed of the quintet. At the start of the day he was in 43rd position, 38 seconds off the pace. So this now means that the Astana man is the virtual leader of the Tour.
And the leaders are really turning on the afterburners. At the 11km mark they are almost three-and-a-half minutes ahead.
Morkov is ahead in the mountains classification, but is the furthest back of these five breakaway riders in the general classification. He has a long way to hold on if his rationale is making this breakaway count for the mountain points on offer today. Most of them are up for grabs in the final run to the finish, and the first categorised climb isn't for another 120km.
Just realised that today is Nicolas Roche's birthday. The AG2R-LaMondiale rider is 28 years old today.
Today's finishing town of Boulogne-Sur-Mer is the birthplace of French track cyclist Mickael Bourgain, who is a double Olympic bronze medallist. It's also the birthplace of France and Bayern Munich footballer Franck Ribery.
Morkov was also in the breakaway group on stage 1, don't forget. So this is a pretty full-on display from the Dane...
23km in, and the gap between the leading quintet and the peloton is now at the five-minute mark...
And back in the peloton RadioShack are the most prominent over the early part of the stage. There are four or five of them at the front, dictating the pace for Cancellara.
As we've discussed, Cavendish's victory yesterday came without a leadout train and underlined his status as the world's best sprinter. They're not our words - they're from Sky team boss David Brailsford. Read exactly what Brailsford said about Cav right here. Warning: contains back-slapping.
In more Tour news for the future, the success of this year's start in Belgium has got plenty of countries thinking. Read about Scotland's bid for the 2017 start here. This morning we also learned that the power brokers in the Belgian province of Limburg are looking to follow suit in 2018 - and you can read all about that here.
Lead has come down to 4:40. Peloton clearly keeping their eye on things up front...
We've already heard a lot about Morkov over the last couple of days. Those of you following our live coverage closely will know that it's his debut in the Tour de France this year. It's the same for Bernaudeau, who tackles his first Tour at the relatively late age of 28.
The other three have more experience but none have won a stage. The best they have achieved is a fifth-place finish. Grivko has finished fifth in a stage twice and Minard once. But not in recent years.
STATS FOR FIRST HOUR:
Distance travelled: 45.7km
Distance from finish: 151.3km
Average speed: 45.7km
Gap between leaders and peloton: 4:31
150km to go here. Gap is remaining fairly constant.
Returning to the Belgian theme, national champion Tom Boonen has revealed his plans for the build up to the worlds in September. They're not likely to include the Vuelta, as he states right here.
The gap is now back over the five-minute mark...
As my mind starts turning towards the salad I'll be eating for lunch, I've just been reliably informed that today's start town, Orchies, is known for its asssociation with chicory. There's even a chicory museum there...
Tour Shorts: Here's the latest brief dispatches from our crack team out there in France
Team Sky DS Sean Yates has identified this stage as one where the team will be trying to stay safe. He said that Peter Sagan (Liquigas) is the favourite for today's finale but that it could also suit Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen...
Still RadioShack are pushing at the front of the peloton and keeping this gap under control. We're now 90 minutes into the stage.
Apologies - lost connection there, folks
Gap is down to just above the four-minute mark. First climb of the day is still a long way off.
Sagan has "The Tourminator" written on his bike...
It's pretty overcast, weather-wise. Local reports suggesting that there could be rain before the end of the stage here today. It would make an already difficult finish even tougher.
The final 35km are packed full of short challenging climbs, tight turns and technical descents. Rain would make it even more interesting. At least for those of us who have the luxury of just watching...
Amazing sight here - eight RadioShack riders at the front of the chasing group...
Crash in the middle of the peloton there. Nothing serious. Trying to go around a traffic island. Astana and Lampre riders involved but doesn't look like there's any injuries...
Janez BrajkoviÄ� (Astana) appears to have been the main culprit in that crash...
Still the gap remains pretty constant. Around the four-minute mark. No moves being made here.
Liquigas ride to the front of the peloton for the first time today...
Average speed for the second hour was 42km/h - slower than the first hour, but only marginally.
Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar) is building up towards the Vuelta here at the Tour de France. Last year's winner of the Spanish grand tour caught up with Cyclingnews' Alasdair Fotheringham earlier on and had plenty to say about Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. Full interview right here.
We're now down to the last 100km here. Coming up in the next 30 mins or so will be the intermediate sprint and the first categorised climb. Good time for me to hand you over to Susan for a bit while I take a short break...
Susan taking over, with exactly 99.9km to go!
The gap has now dropped under four minutes, and is in fact now at 3:46 with 98.7km to go.
A Katusha rider has a a few metres' lead, but apparently he just waned to grab his feed bag safely. It is lunchtime for the peloton now.
The terrain will now become more and more rolling. We will have our intermediate sprint before the climbing starts. Remember, we have six ranked climbs still to come, all category 3 or 4.
The field must be enjoying the contents of those feed bags -- they have let the gap creep up again, to over 5 minutes.
We assume that Peter Sagan didn't like that five-minute gap, as Liquigas has sent Sylvester Szmyd to the head of the field again.
RadioShack is again at the head of things, spread across the road in front of the bunched up peloton.
Have we mentioned that Morkov is covered with red polka dots? Even his helmet is, too!
85km to go and frankly, we are still waiting for something -- anything -- to happen.
The break group will hit the intermediate sprint in 5km. It is not so important for them, but we expect to see some activity in the field when they get that far.
The race is passing through a very area at the moment -- fields on one side of the road, forest on the other. But there are still a handful of fans along the way.
The gap has settled in at about 4:50.
The sprint group just rolls on through the sprint, as expected, with the top points going to Minard, ahead of Bernadeau and Morkov.
Back at the ranch, er, we mean, back in the field, Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel are all unobtrusively working their way up to the front, to grab as many points as they can.
And here is Mark back again, to take you through the sprint!
Thanks Susan. For the main pack, there's 1km to go until the sprint points...
And Cavendish finishes ahead of the other chasers in the sprint. Made it look easy. Has a word with Van Hummel after crossing the line. Van Hummel was close to colliding with him. Full results to come in a moment when confirmed.
So the race is really starting to come alive now. After a flat opening 100km, we've had the intermediate sprint and are hurtling towards the first of the six categorised climbs.
INTERMEDIATE SPRINT FULL RESULTS:
1. Minard (ALM) 20 pts
2. Bernaudeau (EUC) 17pts
3. Morkov (STB) 15pts
4. Perez (EUS) 13pts
5. Grivko (AST) 11pts
6. Cavendish (SKY) 10pts - at 4'30"
7. Van Hummel (VCD) 9pts
8. Sagan (LIQ) 8pts
9. Lancaster (OGE) 7pts
10. Hutarovich (FDJ) 6pts
11. Renshaw (RAB) 5pts
12. Petacchi (LAM) 4pts
13. Goss (OGE) 3pts
14. Boeckmans (VCD) 2pts
15. Cooke (OGE) 1pt
Leaders are approaching the top of the first climb now, the Cote de L'Eperche
And Morkov takes the solitary point available, extending his lead at the top of the mountains standings.
30km now until the next categorised climb, but plenty of undulations lie in wait along the way.
Still no sign of any rain just yet, but still plenty of grey overhead...
Hearing that there's been a crash back in the peloton. Ryder Hesjedal is the biggest name involved.
Vinokourov is strugging at the back. Presumably he was also involved in the crash.
Peloton appear to be on the move. Gap coming down reasonably rapidly. Under four minutes again.
My favourites for the finish? Sagan and Gilbert. Don't rule out the Spanish duo of Sanchez and Valverde though. Plus Chavanel may also make a bid for glory and could end up taking yellow tonight...
Another crash, this one a much heavier one as the pace increases. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky) is still down clutching his ankle. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel) also involved.
Puncture for Sagan
ABANDONMENT: Siustou becomes the first man to abandon the 2012 Tour de France. He hasn't recovered from that heavy crash a few kilometres ago.
Gap coming down to almost three minutes now
Less than 10km to go until the next categorised climb. The race could well break up all over again after that point...
Grivko doing most of the work on the front here. Looking really strong as we approach the last 40km.
Peloton is now only two-and-a-half minutes back. This is mainly down to the work of Movistar's José Iván Gutiérrez, who has been dragging them along almost single-handedly for the last few minutes.
And Bernaudeau has been dropped by Morkov, Grivko, Moreno and Minard. We are now down to a leading quartet.
The leaders have reached the next climb. It's a category 3, the Cote de Mont Violette.
Loads of fans lining this climb. Minard is getting the most encouragement...
And the leaders reach the top, and Morkov takes the climb again. This time he gets three more points and, once again, extends his lead in the standings.
Morkov's hogging a few of the updates here. His boss at Saxo Bank-Tinkoff, Bjarne Riis, has also been in the news. He's been talking about his depression and near-collapse this spring, after one piece of bad news after another. Full story right here.
Our reporter Pete Cossins has caught up with Sky's Rod Ellingworth ahead of what promises to be an exciting last few kilometres. He's not ruling out Cavendish:
"It’s going to be a tricky finale, that’s for sure, especially if it rains. With the race as nervous as it is, it’s certainly going to be difficult to control and that’s going to add to the stress for everyone. We’ve done recon of the stage and two of the team staff live in Boulogne so we’ve got some local knowledge as well. Our guys know what they are up against.
"Is it too hard for Cav? We’ll see. He showed what he’s all about yesterday and he’s in good shape. His confidence is up and although it is a hard finish I wouldn’t count him out after yesterday."
Another crash. Farrar involved once again. Simon Gerrans is also on the deck. Gutierrez immediately looks to take advantage of the disarray again.
ABANDONMENT: Rojas (Movistar) also involved in that crash. Looks like he has hurt his collarbone. He's out of the race.
How worried are Sky about Bradley Wiggins being isolated this afternoon as the finale approaches. Here's what DS Sean Yates told us a few minutes ago:
"It’s the Tour de France and it’s not happened for a lack of trying. We’ve not got a lead-out train as such or guys who are really handy in the finals. There’s not a whole lot we can do about it, the boys are doing their best. Yes, it’s true it was a little bit isolated on stage one, but he remained cool and it worked out and there wasn’t any emergency. If there had been Edvald was there and he would have helped him out. We need to be aware, especially on days like today when it might rain at the finish. It’s Mick Rogers’ job to look after him in the final after Christian Knees has done his work in the opening 150k.
"Servais Knaven’s done recon of the final and it’s hard but it’s not too hard for Cav I don’t think. But all in all it’s just another typical day at the Tour. Any stage can be a little bit dodgy. Staying safe is what we’re trying to do until we get down to the time trial. Until then we know it’s going to be a bit nerve-wracking."
We're getting closer and closer to this frantic finale, which will see four categorised climbs in the last 16km. How ios this going to play out?
The leading quartet are almost at the foot of the first of these closing climbs. They're just over a minute ahead of a group that includes Sagan and Cancellara. A second group has fallen behind.
Gilbert, Cavendish and Voeckler are all in that second chase group. All three are stuggling.
Morkov first over the next climb, ahead of Grivko. More points for him.
They have dropped Moreno and Minard, whjo have been swallowed up by the first chase group...
Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins are well positioned in the first chase group. The second chase group are fighting hard to close the gap.
Morkov takes the next climb - the Cote de Quehen. Two more climbs to go, including the one that ends on the finish line. Punishing final few kilometres ahead.
And with 10km to go, the rain starts...
This leading duo have been out there in front for almost 180km. Morkov has been "out there" since Sunday, actually. The word "strong" doesn't seem to do him justice.
There are now two further groups behind the main chasers. Field getting well strung out.
Morkov has cracked, at last. Grivko on his own in front now.
Plenty of big names in contention in this main chase group: Cancellara, Sagan, Evans, Wiggins, Chavanel, Hesjedal, Nibali and Rolland. Ivan Basso is setting the pace at the head of this group.
And they catch Grivko...
Chavanel attacks with 5km left. Opened up a slim advantage...
He now has a lead of 15 seconds with 3km left. BMC in hot pursuit. RadioShack too.
Chavanel needs to finish seven seconds clear of Cancellara to take yellow...
RadioShack charge to the front of chasing pack. Sagan and Boasson Hagen are almost touching eack other
1km to go - surely he doesn't have enough of a gap? Charging downhill now
Massive crash with 500m to go. Dozens of riders down
PETER SAGAN WINS
Sagan has time for some showboating as he crosses the line ahead of Boasson Hagen and Peter Velits
1 Peter Sagan (Liquigas)
2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)
3 Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep)
More on the crash when we get some news
TOP TEN FINISHERS - STAGE 3:
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan
5 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
So Sagan wins his second stage in three days and strengthens his grip on the points classification.
He looked as fresh as a daisy at the finish line despite a taxing final 35 kilometres that featured several short and steep climbs and technical descents.
While much of the chasing pack floundered in a last-gasp crash behind, Sagan swept imperiously around the outside of Michael Albasini, leaving his rivals for dead. Sky had predicted that it might be a stage that suited Edvald Boasson Hagen and they were proved right by his second place. They will have been less happy at the poor fortune suffered by Siutsou, who was forced to abandon after a heavy crash. He wasn't the only one involved in such incidents. Challenges from Gilbert and Valverde, for whom the course seemed set up, never materialised.
In the GC, Cancellara's 4th place ensured that he hangs on to the yellow jersey, though the standings were largely unchained. There'll be a full report, results, photos and video right here as we get them.
Join me tomorrow for more live coverage as the Tour clings to the north east coast before turning south for a finish in Rouen. It should be a day suited to the sprinters.
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 3:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 14:45:30
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 0:00:11
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:17
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
8 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Sharp
9 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:19
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:21