McEwen does the double

Wegmann's solo flight pays off with maillot à pois

Tim Maloney-European Editor in Karlsruhe

Three faces told the story of Stage 7 today in Karlsruhe, Germany. Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) crossed the finish line with a huge grin of satisfaction, while just behind him, a fast closing Magnus Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi) just ran out of road. The huge Swede speedster might have gotten past any other man, but the experience and smarts of Robbie McEwen snagged the Queenslander his seventh career Tour de France stage win.

"It was a great win for me and also for my Davitamon-Lotto team today," exulted Robbie after the stage, with a win that brought him within striking distance of the maillot vert he wants in Paris. Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi), who powered past McEwen just after the line was pleased at his second place. Once Maggie got his 90+ kilos going, he is hard to stop and explained post-stage, "Yeah, I'm happy how the stage turned out today. I was the sprinter today for our team and if I had another 20 meters..."

The freckled face of Fabian Wegmann beamed as he stood on the Tour de France podium to don his maillot à pois of Best Climber as the German crowds cheered for the day's hero. Author of a 160km solo break, was also voted most aggressive rider and the rider from Munster told the media, "This is a dream come true for me. Yesterday I told my teammates that the best thing in the world would be to stand on that podium and hear that music in Germany."

In front of huge crowds on a Friday afternoon in Karlsruhe, birthplace of Baron of Drais de von Sauerbronn, inventor of the precursor to the bicycle, radsport fans saw a tumultuous, wide open sprinters' show with thrills and chills and spills.

Robbie explained post-stage, "My (Davitamon-Lotto) team worked so well for me all day today. We brought the break back and in the last 10km, I had Van Bon and Rodriguez who brought me to the finish. Today the whole team was just fantastic. I took Rodriguez's wheel in the last kilometre and he led out the sprint perfectly for me..." When asked about his now 2-2 Tour de France match-up with Tom Boonen, Robbie laughed and said, "this isn't football...with Tom, I have a sporting rivalry. After being DQ'ed in Tours, I thought I didn't have a chance to get the (maillot vert) but I still think I have a chance at it."

After crashing hard at km 23, Boonen had bloody abrasions to his left butt cheek and ankle, a deep cut in his left elbow, as well as pain in his lower back. Boonen did a test in the second intermediate sprint to see how he felt and all was OK, as he beat Hushovd for second. In the final kilometre, he lost his leadout man Trenti when Jaan Kirsipuu took out Trenti's front wheel. After changing out of his ripped, bloody shorts, big boy Boonen explained, "Yeah, I crashed today and that was hurting me a little bit in the sprint, but not much. As the sprint started, I was on the left and Robbie was on the right and the peloton was filling up the middle of the road. It opened up on his side in the last 100m. and he got through. But it's good for the race to have a match like this between Robbie and me."

So far, Lance Armstrong isn't feeling the pressure in the 92nd Tour de France, despite his the third day in the maillot jaune. "Nothing compared to last year, so I'm a little relieved that I don't have that pressure of trying to win the sixth Tour that nobody thought could be done. (This Tour) is different in that regard. And also, the race is about to start. We've made it through the first week, there's not been any major crises; in fact, I think it's been a pretty good week. Of course, these stages are always scary; you have to stay out of trouble. I'm glad to be one week down and two to . We've lucked into the (maillot jaune) so far. There are two or three teams that are interested in keeping the group together. And when that happens, (Discovery Channel) ride a tempo, a medium tempo during the race and then when they take over to bring the entire race back together for a field sprint, it works out well for us. So we might be defending (maillot jaune), but we're getting a lot of help."

As for the upcoming stages in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France this weekend, which hold the first real climbing of the 92nd Tour de France, Armstrong was asked whether he feared an attack by Kazakh champion Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile). The sextuple Tour champ affirmed that Vino was one of the danger men to watch. "He's always aggressive, always ready to attack. He's a great rider who's especially motivated for this Tour. I have to confess that I don't know (Saturday's) climb, only what I read on paper. (2nd cat. Col de la Schlucht/16.8km climb 4.4% avg. gradient, which begins with 29km to go). But I feel certain that my condition is good enough to follow some attacks. In fact, some attacks would be nice so we don't have a field sprint again."

How it unfolded

Today's Stage 7 from Lunéville, France to Karlsruhe, Germany over 228.5km, started with 187 riders, as Claudio Corioni abandoned after Stage 6. The day commenced with a 4.1 km neutral section and the flag fell at 12:08 for the official start. As is usual in this year's Tour de France, Rabobank was active from the start, but the first real break escaped after 12 km, with Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto), Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) Quinziato (Saunier Duval), Vicioso (Liberty), Bäckstedt (Liquigas) and Rich (Gerolsteiner). It was brought back quickly, and after 23km, maillot vert Tom Boonen crashed hard, sustaining abrasions on his left side and hurting his back. Van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto) and Dekker (Rabobank) attacked before the sprint in Rambervillers (km 32.5) and JP Nazon (Ag2r) and Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) tried to bridge, but Van Bon and Dekker took the points with Hushovd (Credit Agricole) third. Boonen didn't contest sprint after his crash.

After 40km, seven riders attacked before the Cat. 4 Col de la Chipotte; Flecha (Fassa), Contador (Liberty), Rodriguez (Davitamon), Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Chavanel (Cofidis), Carlstrom (Liquigas), and Petrov (Lampre) but they were caught before the top. Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) won the climb ahead of Voeckler and Augé. Like a battery bunny, Wegmann continued on his own, with McEwen bridging just over the top. The average speed in the first hour of racing was again blazing fast at 48.8 km/h. It was hard to figure why McEwen (who was fourth over the climb) went with Wegmann: perhaps to talk him out of breaking away in the first place.

After 50km, Lampre-Cafitta's Spezialetti crashed hard on his face and cut his lip deeply and decided to abandon, while six kilometres later, Zampieri (Phonak) abandoned, leaving 185 riders left in Le Tour. After 62km, McEwen realised that he didn't want to be there and sat up, leaving Wegmann all alone up front, 1'20 lead ahead of the Discovery Channel led peloton. But McEwen didn't rejoin the peloton in the conventional manner - instead he hid in the bushes and waited for it to go past before slipping on from the back. Why? Because he could.

After 72.5km, Wegmann began the Cat. 3 Col du Hantz, a 3.5 km ascent and continued his lonely path from Lunéville to Karlsruhe. Behind the peloton, yesterday's crash victim Mengin (FDJ) was already 1'50 off the back. At the summit of the Col du Hantz, Wegmann is maillot jaune virtuel, with only 110 km to go to the German border. 7'05 behind, Wegmann's Gerolsteiner teammates Ronny Scholz and Beat Zberg were second and third, meaning that Wegmann secured the mountains jersey for the day.

After a 100km of racing, Wegmann had 6'50 a lead and at the feed zone in Urmatt, his average speed was 47.3 km/h after two hours. Discovery Channel was still up front riding tempo and as the Tour approached the outskirts of Molsheim, home of historic French automobile Bugatti, the on and off rain showers were on again. By the center of Molsheim, the determined Wegmann increased his lead to 8'30 as he got a bidon from his Gerolsteiner team car.

30 kilometres later under on and off rain, Wegmann was in Quatzenheim, with just under 100km to race, while Discovery Channel were just letting Wegmann dangle 8'00 in front until the sprinters took over. With 80km to go, Wegmann hit the second intermediate sprint in Brumath just under 8'00 ahead. Tongue extended, his mouth like a mad dog, Moreau (Crédit Agricole) hit the front to set up the second intermediate sprint for Hushovd, but Trenti (Quick.Step) moved up with Boonen on his wheel to take second from Hushovd.

With 75km to race after the second intermediate sprint, Wegmann's lead began to drop fast, as Davitamon-Lotto send three riders up front to increase the tempo, but the freckle faced Gerolsteiner rider continued riding his heart out, knowing his dream of donning the maillot à pois would come true in a few hours. Across the Rhine River valley Wegmann rode, crossing the Franco-German border near Wintersdorf with 39.5km to race with a 2'40 lead. Quick.Step, Davitamon-Lotto and Credit Agricole were all chasing hard now, and just outside of the tiny burg of Neumalsch, Wegmann was absorbed after a gutsy, rewarding 160km solo breakaway.

On the long, straight run-in and then through the city streets of Karlsruhe, the sprinters' trains battled and under the flamme rouge with 1km to race, it was Francaise de Jeux trying to get Cooke and Eisel home first. With 400m to go, Kirsipuu clipped Trenti's front wheel and took maillot vert Boonen's leadout man out of the action. As the riders charged to the line, McEwen went right with Bäckstedt trying to wind it up enough to get past him. Boonen was all alone in the middle with only the left open to him. Behind the front row, Davis switched lines and took out Galvez (Illes Balears) and Furlan (Domina Vacanze), who got up at after the crash and blamed the Spanish sprinter. McEwen held off Bäckstedt for the win and moved within 37 points of maillot vert Boonen.

Stage 8 - Saturday, July 9: Pforzheim-Gérardmer, 231.5km

One week down in the 92nd Tour de France and Stage 8 starts in the German city of Pforzheim in the Black Forest, renowned for its jewelry production. The Tour now heads due west into France and a finish in new stage town Gérardmer, a quaint French summer resort in the Vosges Mountains. With 29km to go on stage 8, the major difficulty of the day is the 2nd cat. Col de la Schlucht, a 16.8km climb with a 4.4% avg. gradient, then a sinuous 15km descent to the finish in Gérardmer.

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