Robbie gets it right

Aussie Champ beats Boonen in thrilling drag race; easy day for Armstrong in yellow

Riding one of the best sprints of his career to win Stage 5 of 92nd Tour De France from Chambord-Montargis, Robbie McEwen exulted after passing the finish line first, a wheel ahead of maillot vert Tom Boonen, who had beaten the tough Aussie twice already at this year's Tour. Clad in his distinctive Australian champion's jersey, the 33 year-old McEwen explained after the finish, "There were four really strong riders away today and it was hard for my (Davitamon-Lotto) team and Boonen's (Quick.Step) team to pull them back. But we brought it together and then in the sprint, Van Bon and Rodriguez worked perfectly for me. I got Boonen's wheel in the last 500m and this time, I waited for the right moment. The first (sprint), I went from too far out and in Tours, I waited too long and was boxed in. After Boonen jumped early in Tours, this was different. I'm the man!"

French TV asked the Queenslander if today's win was revenge for his DQ in Tours and McEwen responded, "A little bit it was. I was frustrated with the disqualification. And today was a good day, but I believe that the disqualification in Tours should be reversed to make the points competition more interesting."

After three stage wins at the Giro d'Italia, McEwen added his first Tour de France stage win to his already extensive palmares this year.

Lance Armstrong's day on Stage 5 started in a weird way, as he almost got sent to the Principal's office for not wearing the maillot jaune. "Yeah, there was a little confusion in the beginning", said Armstrong. "I realized last night that I wanted to try and do the right thing and make a sporting gesture. David (Zabriskie) was unlucky yesterday and probably would have kept the jersey. So it didn't feel right to take advantage of somebody's misfortune."

Armstrong started the stage without the yellow tunic and rode through the thick forest that surrounds the beautiful French chateau of Chambord clad in the same jersey as his Discovery Channel teammates, but as soon as the peloton hit kilometre zero of the official start, 187 riders stopped while Armstrong put on the maillot jaune.

Article 10 of the Tour De France rules states, "The wearing of the leader's yellow (and all others) is mandatory from the signing in before the stage until after the press conference after the stage." This kind of episode has happened in the past history of Le Tour, most notably three times in the last 35 years. In 1971, Eddy Merckx refused to wear the maillot jaune when his rival Luis Ocaña crashed out of the Tour during a torrential downpour on the Col de Mente. Nine years later, Joop Zoetemelk wouldn't don the maillot jaune for a day when he inherited it upon the abandon of Bernard Hinault in 1980. 11 years later, it was Greg LeMond's turn, as he also refused to put on his inherited maillot jaune because race leader Rolf Sorensen was forced to abandon due to a broken collarbone from a crash.

"It was very simple, really", said Armstrong. (Tour de France Race director) Jean Marie LeBlanc said 'if you don't wear the maillot jaune today, you won't start tomorrow. What are you going to do...I wanted to try and do the right thing, but I understand that (the Tour) has an obligation to sponsors. People might drive for hours to wait by the side of the road to see the maillot jaune."

As for what the next days will bring, as always in the Tour, Armstrong was somewhat cagy about the Discovery Channel team strategy going forward. "Well, we'll have to see what happens with the it was fast all day, with a lot of wind and guys are nervous so that increases the tempo."

But Armstrong is keeping his cards close to the chest and told the media that, "It's nice to have the maillot jaune, but not that critical. I can't kill the team just for me to have the maillot jaune in the first week. But you could see today that the sprinters teams helped us at same time."

Cyclingnews sources have confirmed that Armstrong had hoped to wear the maillot jaune from start to finish in his final Tour De France, but his plans were foiled by CSC's Zabriskie. Now some observers in the Tour De France press room are saying that the Tour De France is over and that Armstrong and his strongest ever supporting squad will just keep the maillot jaune until Paris. CSC's Bjarne Riis might disagree with that. Despite his teams loss in Stage 4's Team Time Trial, the phlegmatic Riis was as positive and upbeat as he usually gets when Cyclingnews spoke with him before Stage 5. "We (Team CSC) talked a lot about what happened yesterday and now we're feeling OK. Yes, it was disappointing but Ivan (Basso) is well placed."

How it unfolded

After a morning setup at the beautiful Loire Valley chateau of Chambord, 189 riders started the 183km Stage 5 of the 92nd Tour De France from Chambord-Montargis at 13:21, six minutes later than planned. The delay was so Lance Armstrong could don his maillot jaune at kilometre 0, as he wore his Discovery Channel jersey in the neutral zone. The skies were overcast, with puffy grey rain clouds blowing up the Loire Valley from the Atlantic Ocean 200km away.

Stage 5's first attack came from Löwik (Rabobank), Righi (Lampre), and Casar (FDJ) but that came back. Next it was the turn of Righi's teammate "Toto" Commesso to try and go after 13km. That was a no go, then Dekker (Rabobank), Geslin (Bouygues) and Bodrogi (Crédit Agricole) tried to get away, but to no avail. At the 1st Intermediate Sprint in Villeny after 20km, big Boonen beat Viking Hushovd, with speedy Stuey O'Grady third.

After 28km, Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa) made a solo move and stayed out in front of the peloton for a dozen kilometres until Finnish rider Kjell Carlstrom (Liquigas-Bianchi) made a move to get across. At the back of the peloton, Tino Zaballa (Saunier) became the 92nd Tour's first abandon after 40km, while up front, Carlstrom was joined by Bodrogi (Crédit Agricole) and Commesso (Lampre-Caffita) in pursuit of Flecha. By the second intermediate sprint in Aubigny-sur-Nere after 80.5km, Flecha was still up the road. At the 87km mark, the three chasers caught Flecha, with the Discovery Channel led peloton 4'10 behind.

After the feedzone in Vailly-Sur-Sauldre in the heart of Sologne wild boar hunting country, the peloton decided to hunt down the four men up front and Discovery Channel turned over the tempo riding to Quick.Step and Davitamon-Lotto, who were looking to bring the break back for their respective sprinters Boonen and McEwen. The tailwind-powered pace was very high, 49.2 km/h. average, making it hard to close down the gap. On the day's one GPM, the Cat. 4 Côte de Bellevue after 109.5km, Bodrogi took the climbing points ahead of Carlstrom, while Flecha and Toto dropped of the pace to jaw at each other, but soon got back to the rest of the break. At the final intermediate sprint in the ceramics city of Gien with 46km to go, Commesso took the points from Bodrogi and Carlström, with the peloton 1'40 behind and gradually upping the tempo.

With 25 km to go in Lorris, Ag2r was pounding on the front trying to stake a claim for its sprinter JP Nazon, with the break still 0'50 up the road. Finally with 10km to go, the break came back under the impulsion of the sprinters teams Davitamon-Lotto, Cofidis and Quick.Step most active.

As the 188 riders entered Montargis, they were all in one long line as the pace had cranked up to over 50 km/h. Under the flamme rouge, FDJ was leading for their sprint duo of Cooke and Eisel, but as the peloton dove through the final sharp right hand turn onto rue Coquillet and the finish, Davitamon-Lotto's Dutch champ Van Bon and then former US champ Fred Rodriguez wound it up for Robbie McEwen. Baden Cooke (FDJ) tried to lead out teammate Bernhard Eisel with 500m to go, but when Cooke pulled off, Eisel didn't have any legs left, and instead it was Quick.Step's Guido Trenti who gave his man Boonen a quick lead out before Boonen himself took the front. But Robbie was perfectly positioned on Tom's wheel and burst past the big Belgian in the last 100 meters for a decisive win in Montargis.

Stage 6 - Thursday, July 7: Troyes-Nancy, 199km

Home of the famous French cycling family Simon (remember former maillot jaunes Francois, Pascal, and Jerome?), Troyes hosts the start of Stage 6. Still heading due east to Nancy, capital of Meurthe-et-Moselle in the heart of the Lorraine region. Like Stage 6, the up and down terrain and incessant tailwind will be perfect for an opportunistic breakaway that will try to come home ahead of the sprinters' trains.

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