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Blazing speeds

53.7 km/h was the speed of chronoman Fabian Cancellara in the prologue in London. In a Tour, the fastest ever stage, excluding the prologues and time trials, was accomplished in 1999 when the étape from Laval to Blois in the flat Loire valley was ridden at an average speed of 50.355 km/h. That day, it was Super-Mario Cipollini who got the honours.

The Italian is still in the record books and riders were not in a hurry yesterday to try to wipe out his name. At 35.81 km/h the stage was one of the slowest one in modern cycling. However, it still is a lot faster than the early versions of the Tour, with their long 300- or 400-kilometre stages. The slowest ever average for a whole Tour was set in 1919, when Belgian Firmin Lambot clocked in at 24.056 km/h.

Yesterday's average speed also beat out the hour record stats of Henri Desgrange, the sports journalist credited for founding 'Le Tour de France'. On May 11, 1893 he went 35.325 km in one hour.

The slow speeds meant the peloton arrived after six o'clock in the evening for the first time since 1998. Of course back then they were on strike and sat on the roadway for an extended period of time on two occasions before riding a non-competitive stage as a protest to the police raids that were initiated due to the Festina affair.

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