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Reversal of fortune for Kessler

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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile)

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile)

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Jerome Pineau (Bouygues)

Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Credit Agricole works at the front to control the break.

Credit Agricole works at the front to control the break. (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R)

Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile)

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Johan Bruyneel (Discovery) explains his plans for the day.

Johan Bruyneel (Discovery) explains his plans for the day. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) with bandage still in place, rolls to sign in.

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) with bandage still in place, rolls to sign in. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) signing autographs at sign in.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) signing autographs at sign in. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) one of today's hopefuls, gives a pre-race interview.

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) one of today's hopefuls, gives a pre-race interview. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) leads the break earlier in the day.

Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) leads the break earlier in the day. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) going strong on an early climb.

David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) going strong on an early climb. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) powers the break with over a 5 minute lead.

Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) powers the break with over a 5 minute lead. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Credit Agricole works at the front to control the break.

Credit Agricole works at the front to control the break. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) spending another day in yellow.

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) spending another day in yellow. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The bunch rolls through the town of Salmchateau.

The bunch rolls through the town of Salmchateau. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) trying to get teammate Oscar Freire to the front.

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) trying to get teammate Oscar Freire to the front. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) solos in for the win.

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) solos in for the win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) more than happy with his win.

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) more than happy with his win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) makes it a 1,2 stage for T-Mobile.

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) makes it a 1,2 stage for T-Mobile. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quickstep) takes over the yellow jersey.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep) takes over the yellow jersey. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quickstep) also took over as the sprint leader with today's win.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep) also took over as the sprint leader with today's win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) crashed out and broke his collarbone. Philippe Gilbert also crashed, but was able to make it back to the peloton

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) crashed out and broke his collarbone. Philippe Gilbert also crashed, but was able to make it back to the peloton (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The Cauberg was the main feature of today's stage

The Cauberg was the main feature of today's stage (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Boogerd leads the bunch up the Cauberg

Boogerd leads the bunch up the Cauberg (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) is quite happy with his stage win

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) is quite happy with his stage win (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) celebrates a 1-2 for T-Mobile

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) celebrates a 1-2 for T-Mobile (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step) after a tough day

Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step) after a tough day (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) is the new maillot jaune

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) is the new maillot jaune (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Freddy Maertens congratulations Boonen on his yellow jersey

Freddy Maertens congratulations Boonen on his yellow jersey (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) attacks on the Cauberg

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) attacks on the Cauberg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) gives it gas with Gilbert on his wheel

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) gives it gas with Gilbert on his wheel (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) on the front

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) on the front (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) tries to keep Freire in contention

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) tries to keep Freire in contention (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Despite a deflating front tyre Tom Boonen looked good on the Cauberg

Despite a deflating front tyre Tom Boonen looked good on the Cauberg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Popovych and Ballan

Popovych and Ballan (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Luca Paolini (Liquigas) keeps himself in contention

Luca Paolini (Liquigas) keeps himself in contention (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck lead George Hincapie

Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck lead George Hincapie (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) keeps it going

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) keeps it going (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) struggles on the Cauberg

Floyd Landis (Phonak) struggles on the Cauberg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Christophe Moreau (AG2R) fights for survival

Christophe Moreau (AG2R) fights for survival (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A small group on the Cauberg

A small group on the Cauberg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos da Cruz (FDJ) on his own

Carlos da Cruz (FDJ) on his own (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) on the Cauberg

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) on the Cauberg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Pozzato and Backstedt were the last riders

Pozzato and Backstedt were the last riders (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Dammit, this used to be easy

Dammit, this used to be easy (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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You're about 30 years behind the peloton

You're about 30 years behind the peloton (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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A large crowd greeted the Tour in Valkenburg

A large crowd greeted the Tour in Valkenburg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Dropped riders ascend the Cauberg

Dropped riders ascend the Cauberg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Sandy Casar (FDJ) comes up the Cauberg

Sandy Casar (FDJ) comes up the Cauberg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) heads for home

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) heads for home (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) wins the stage in Valkenburg

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) wins the stage in Valkenburg (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Mick Rogers wins the sprint for second

Mick Rogers wins the sprint for second (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) comes home

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) comes home (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Iker Camano (Euskaltel) meets a group of finishers

Iker Camano (Euskaltel) meets a group of finishers (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) winner of stage 3

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) winner of stage 3 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) with his winner's bouquet

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) with his winner's bouquet (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) gets up on the podium

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) gets up on the podium (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) salutes from the podium

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) salutes from the podium (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) the man in yellow

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) the man in yellow (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) smiles with his lion

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) smiles with his lion (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) salutes in the yellow jersey

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) salutes in the yellow jersey (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The World Champ salutes the crowd

The World Champ salutes the crowd (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) pulls on the maillot vert

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) pulls on the maillot vert (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) smiles in the green jersey

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) smiles in the green jersey (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) is congratulated by Freddy Maertens after winning the green

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) is congratulated by Freddy Maertens after winning the green (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) now in dots

Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) now in dots (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Markus Fothen is best young rider

Markus Fothen is best young rider (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The bunch rides through trees in stage 3

The bunch rides through trees in stage 3 (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) in the breakaway

Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) in the breakaway (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) starts to croak on the Cauberg

Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) starts to croak on the Cauberg (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) is a happy chappy

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) is a happy chappy (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) celebrates with the yellow jersey

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) celebrates with the yellow jersey (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Valkenburg Mayor Dr. Constant Nuytens is looking forward to his town hosting the third stage of the Tour de France on July 4 in Holland.

Valkenburg Mayor Dr. Constant Nuytens is looking forward to his town hosting the third stage of the Tour de France on July 4 in Holland. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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How to sell the Tour de France to men.

How to sell the Tour de France to men. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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One time, at band camp...

One time, at band camp... (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Le Départ, sans coureurs, one hour before the start in Esch-sur-Alzette.

Le Départ, sans coureurs, one hour before the start in Esch-sur-Alzette. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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The perennial voice of the Tour de France, Daniel Mangeas.

The perennial voice of the Tour de France, Daniel Mangeas. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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If looks could kill... don't mess with the Tour de France.

If looks could kill... don't mess with the Tour de France. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Mario Aerts had a strip running down his lower leg to help his knee track correctly when pedalling.

Mario Aerts had a strip running down his lower leg to help his knee track correctly when pedalling. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Green jersey leader Robbie McEwen will be looking to extend his lead in the points competition.

Green jersey leader Robbie McEwen will be looking to extend his lead in the points competition. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Gerolsteiner's great American hope, Levi Leipheimer.

Gerolsteiner's great American hope, Levi Leipheimer. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Will Carlos Sastre be CSC's new leader? Time will tell.

Will Carlos Sastre be CSC's new leader? Time will tell. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Tom Boonen needs to score a stage victory to boost his confidence in the battle for the maillot vert.

Tom Boonen needs to score a stage victory to boost his confidence in the battle for the maillot vert. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Cedric Vasseur likes the Tour de France. The Tour de France likes Cedric Vasseur.

Cedric Vasseur likes the Tour de France. The Tour de France likes Cedric Vasseur. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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It's important to keep hydrated on days like this and make plenty of trips to the Aquarel tent. This mademoiselle had nothing to do with it.

It's important to keep hydrated on days like this and make plenty of trips to the Aquarel tent. This mademoiselle had nothing to do with it. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Anglo TT talk session - Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé (far L) gets the low-down from three men in the know - (L to R) David Millar, Bradley Wiggins and Michael Rogers.

Anglo TT talk session - Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé (far L) gets the low-down from three men in the know - (L to R) David Millar, Bradley Wiggins and Michael Rogers. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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The podium girls pack their bags for the finish in Valkenburg.

The podium girls pack their bags for the finish in Valkenburg. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) on the attack

Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) on the attack (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) with Iban Mayo (Euskaltel)

Floyd Landis (Phonak) with Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) keeps himself in touch

Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) keeps himself in touch (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) fights his way up the Cauberg

Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) fights his way up the Cauberg (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) has run outta gas

Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) has run outta gas (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Jens Voigt (CSC) comes up the climb after a long day out

Jens Voigt (CSC) comes up the climb after a long day out (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) leads a group home

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) leads a group home (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) rides up the Cauberg steadily

Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) rides up the Cauberg steadily (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Cretskens and De Jongh suffer up the climb

Cretskens and De Jongh suffer up the climb (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) tired

Joost Posthuma (Rabobank) tired (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Alex Moos (Phonak)

Alex Moos (Phonak) (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Daniele Righi (Lampre-Fondital) looks a bit tired

Daniele Righi (Lampre-Fondital) looks a bit tired (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Gerolsteiner's Seb Lang cruises up

Gerolsteiner's Seb Lang cruises up (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) was well off the pace

David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) was well off the pace (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Charteau and Engoulvent at the end of the day

Charteau and Engoulvent at the end of the day (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Arnaud Coyot (Cofidis) with Aitor Hernandez in tow

Arnaud Coyot (Cofidis) with Aitor Hernandez in tow (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Stuart O'Grady (CSC) comes to the finsih after a crash

Stuart O'Grady (CSC) comes to the finsih after a crash (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Pozzato and Backstedt near the end

Pozzato and Backstedt near the end (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Reliving old times

Reliving old times (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Watching the action on the Cauberg

Watching the action on the Cauberg (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Much people

Much people (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)
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Time to head off

Time to head off (Image credit: Le Départ, sans coureurs,)

Hot, Holland, Hot! Boonen takes the daily double

Like yesterday's stage to Esch-sur-Alzette, just one rider separated breakaway from bunch with five kilometres to go. Unfortunately for AG2R's José Luis Arrieta, he was caught at the base of the Cauberg three kilometres from home, but yesterday's sole escapee Matthias Kessler turned around his disappointment on the climb's 8.3 percent slopes, the T-Mobile man leaving the entire field in his wake and coming home a winner in Holland.

"Yesterday, I already had very good feelings, I felt really good. Today was exactly the same, so I thought I'd try again," said Kessler on his motivation to try, try again.

"The race was different [yesterday compared to today] though, for three reasons," added the 27 year-old.

"The heat, the distance and the fatigue of some riders - it all contributed to a hectic stage and loss of concentration in the peloton. Everybody must watch out if they don't want to be involved in a crash.

"And the parcours was completely different; yesterday, the final climb was five kilometres from the finish so that allowed the peloton to reorganise - they were much faster than me, of course. Today, there were only two kilometres left after the [top of the] Cauberg, so I knew it would be harder for them to come back."

Five seconds later, his Australian team-mate Michael Rogers led home a group of 47 riders, with Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital), Tom Boonen (Quick-Step-Innergetic) and Erik Zabel (Milram) third to fifth respectively. On 'Le Cauberg', the rainbow-striped Belgian was a cut above the rest of the pure sprinters, with Hushovd and McEwen finishing two or three groups behind.

Consequently, Boonen elevated himself into the maillots jaune and vert - and without a doubt, fuelling his confidence no end in what is turning into a very fiery war for green.

"I was trying to win the stage - the [yellow] jersey would follow," the world champion began by saying.

"But I had to deal with a slow leak in my tyre in the last five kilometres. It was very dangerous to stand on the pedals, so I stayed in the saddle and rode defensively. I hoped that everything would be brought back together, but that didn't happen.

"Tomorrow, I will be able to ride in the yellow jersey through Belgium!" Boonen exclaimed happily. "I guess that's something which maybe happens one every ten years, so I think it's very special. I will try to make the most of those moments."

Speaking about the maillot jaune, with 17 seconds separating first to tenth and no more than half a minute between 11th to 20th, it's still very much a wide-open affair. Unfortunately for Alejandro Valverde, the door was slammed shut for the Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears leader, who came off worst in a high-speed pile-up and fractured his right collarbone.

"I'm sorry to hear Valverde crashed and is out of the race," said stage winner Kessler, "because I knew how difficult it is for a team to continue riding without a leader." As for his own team, he said: "Now there's only with seven of us and Klöden is our new leader. We came here very well prepared, and for myself, I was 100 percent ready for the Tour. We're all motivated for this Tour de France."

Pushed a little further on this, the T-Mobile 'Pit-bull' as he's sometimes nicknamed refused to budge. "The first day we affected by the removal of Ullrich and Sevilla, but we are pro riders, so we needed to get focused and show what we're capable of. Yes, I'm in contact with Jan and his wife [after what happened], but that it a private matter between them and myself, so I won't be telling you [the press] about it."

Perhaps spurred by Kessler's victory today, the next person to wear the coveted golden fleece could be world time trial champion Rogers, just one second behind Boonen. Maybe George Hincapie or Thor Hushovd would like another go - or maybe 'Tommeke' will hold onto it a little longer.

"Maybe I'll keep it until Paris!" joked Boonen.

"I don't know really; I should take a look in the road book to see what's possible. Rogers is very close but I guess he will stay away from the intermediate sprints to be fresh enough for the individual time trial.

"To know what's possible, I'll have to see how far the other sprinters are behind me. Of course, I need to make sure that fighting for yellow doesn't see that I miss out on the green jersey in Paris."

Whatever happens, it's been a real case of maillot jaune musical chairs in the opening week of Le Tour.

How it unfolded

175 riders took the start today in Esch-sur-Alzette at 12:10 on a hot, sunny midday, with six climbs on the 216.5 km stage. It was a parcours that was like a cross between the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Amstel Gold classics, as it wound north through the Belgian Ardennes and into the hilly southeast corner of the Netherlands to finish just after the Cauberg climb like in the Amstel Gold Race.

After a fast start and few early attacks, it was Jensy Voigt (CSC) who made a strong move at km 15 near Strassen, and he was quickly joined by Arrieta (AG2R), Pineau (Bouygues), Laurent (AG2R) and Etxebarria (Euskaltel). This was the right combination and the quintet cruised away as the peloton was in no mood to try and bring them back on the hot, hard and hilly stage. By Bridel, 5 km later, the break already had 1'30 and Voigt was virtual malliot jaune as the big German rouleur was in 47th, 0'36 behind leader Thor Hushovd.

At the first sprint in Mersch after 35 km, the break had extended its lead to 3'55, where Voigt beat Arrieta and Laurent for the points and time bonus. The first hour was run at 45 km/h average as Credit Agricole was riding tempo all alone at the front of the peloton. The break had 5'20 after 50 km as they began a long, gradual climb out of the Sure River valley up to Hosingen.

Credit Agricole upped the chase pace behind as the lead reached 5'00 and the status quo remained as the afternoon heat went over 30 degrees. In the second hour of racing, 42.2 km were covered and the average for over two hours was 43.6 km/h. As the break passed into Belgium after 92 km, the lead was 5'25 over the peloton, with the tough climbs of the Belgian Ardennes looming ahead. In the feed zone in Trois-Ponts, the break increased its advantage to 6'00 on the bunch, and it didn't get much over this.

The first climb was Cat 3 Cote de la Haute Levee, where Pineau beat Etxebarria for the GPM points. Next was the second intermediate sprint in Spa with 72.5 km to race, where Voigt took the points ahead of Arrieta. On the Cat 3 Cote de Oneux after 155 km, a 5.1%, 3.2 km ascent, Pineau took the GPM points again and the peloton was 5'05 back.

Amid the verdant green Ardennes climbs, thousands of Belgian fans were lining the narrow roads to cheer the Tour De France peloton. After a crash on the outskirts of Verviers with 60 km to go, Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto) and Eric Dekker (Rabobank) tangled and hit the deck. Both riders had to abandon, Rodriguez with a suspected broken collarbone (which turned out not to be one) and heavy concussion, and Dekker with concussion and facial injuries.

Past Verviers, Rabobank and Quick.Step hit the front to give Credit Agricole to help bring back the fugitives, who were now 4'30 ahead. The third climb of Stage 3, the Cat 4 Cote de Petit-Rechain came with 51 km to go where Pineau took the points again and was looking good to take over the maillot á pois after Stage 3.

Atop the Cat. 4 Cote de Loorberg with 27 km to go, it was Pineau first again, and he would take over the maillot á pois, but the chase had brought the gap down to 1'40. Suddenly, with 22 km to go near Mechelen, ProTour leader Valverde crashed out with a broken right collarbone and the Tour De France had yet another big contender out of action. On the Cat 4 Cote de Tintelen after 201.0 km, Arrieta attacked with 16 km to go and went solo, while Commesso (Lampre-Fondital) was on the attack in the peloton 1'25 behind and got away. Toto was pulled back as Liquigas-Bianchi and Milram cranked up the pace for Garzelli and Celestino, who were looking to attack on the the Cauberg. With 7 km, the last elements of the break, Voigt and Laurent, were absorbed by the peloton, while AG2R's Arrieta was still 1'02 ahead and hanging tough.

With 4 km to go in Valkenburg, Discovery Channel joined the chase as Arrieta still had a 0'40 lead. The tension mounted as Arrieta still had to climb the tough cat 3 Cauberg climb, then hang on for another 2 km to the finish. But as the courageous AG2R man hit the base of the 1.5 km Cauberg, he had cracked and the peloton had him in its sights.

Boogerd was going all out for Freire, and Boonen was right there with Hincapie Kessler and Gilbert as Casar had a mechanical. But Matthias Kessler's superb attack on the Cauberg was perfectly timed and he dumped Gilbert over the top and was alone as last kilometre, just like yesterday's Stage 2. With the last 800m all slightly downhill to the finish, Kessler wound it up and the chasers couldn't close the gap as they did in Esch-sur-Alzette yesterday. The T-Mobile man took a much needed win for the magenta team, while his teammate Mick Rogers won the group sprint for 2nd and a 0'12 time bonus, ahead of Bennati and Boonen.

Hushovd was gapped up the Cauberg and lost 0'17 to Boonen, so World Champ Tom Boonen took over the maillot jaune from the Credit Agricole rider.

Wednesday, July 5: Stage 4 Huy (B)-Saint-Quentin / 215 km

Time for Tom - Boonen that is - and Boonen-Mania will ring through the Kingdom of Belgium. The World Champ trades his rainbow stripes for the solid yellow of the maillot jaune, so Stage 4 from Huy to the northern French bourg of St.Quentin will be a perfect place for Quick.Step to flex their muscles all day. Can Tom Terrific be the first maillot jaune to win a stage in a sprint since Cipo did it in 1997? Not if Robbie McEwen has anything to say about it, but with his leadout man Freddy Rodriguez out of the race, Boonen may prevail in Saint-Quentin.

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