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Nostradamus or not? Freire predicts and wins in Caen

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Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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The bunch was content

The bunch was content (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R-Prevoyance)

Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R-Prevoyance) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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The speed

The speed (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The run in to the finish

The run in to the finish (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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One of the imposing cathedrals at today's start.

One of the imposing cathedrals at today's start. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The bunch was content to take it easy getting going this morning.

The bunch was content to take it easy getting going this morning. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Today's stage was full of rolling wheat fields.

Today's stage was full of rolling wheat fields. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The bunch makes its way through the countryside.

The bunch makes its way through the countryside. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R-Prevoyance) leads the break.

Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R-Prevoyance) leads the break. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Castle ruins provide a backdrop for the bunch on a rainy afternoon.

Castle ruins provide a backdrop for the bunch on a rainy afternoon. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quickstep) brings the group closer to the finish.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep) brings the group closer to the finish. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Egoi Martinez (Discovery) before his crash heading into Caen.

Egoi Martinez (Discovery) before his crash heading into Caen. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Björn Schröder (Milram) tries to keep the pace in the break high on a small descent.

Björn Schröder (Milram) tries to keep the pace in the break high on a small descent. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The run in to the finish and it looks close.

The run in to the finish and it looks close. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) throws his bike for the win.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) throws his bike for the win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) celebrates the win.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) celebrates the win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) happy with the win but looking tired.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) happy with the win but looking tired. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) ready to roll

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) ready to roll (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The pre-stage crush

The pre-stage crush (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Jose Rujano (Quick.Step) has opted for rapid hair loss treatment™

Jose Rujano (Quick.Step) has opted for rapid hair loss treatment™ (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) stocks up

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) stocks up (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Pippo Pozzato (Quick.Step)

Pippo Pozzato (Quick.Step) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Simoni and Boonen

Simoni and Boonen (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) has a cunning plan

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) has a cunning plan (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) fronts up

George Hincapie (Discovery) fronts up (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) waits for the start

Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) waits for the start (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The back of a winner

The back of a winner (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) signs autographs

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) signs autographs (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) has been quiet up until now

Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) has been quiet up until now (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The Caspers at the Tour

The Caspers at the Tour (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The start in Beauvais

The start in Beauvais (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The start in Beauvais

The start in Beauvais (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Freire throws but he has plenty to spare

Freire throws but he has plenty to spare (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Freire, Boonen, Isasi: the top 3

Freire, Boonen, Isasi: the top 3 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) celebrates his win

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) celebrates his win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yeah! Freire does it

Yeah! Freire does it (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) was fifth

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) was fifth (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Erik Zabel (Milram) was top 10

Erik Zabel (Milram) was top 10 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Erik Zabel (Milram) can smile

Erik Zabel (Milram) can smile (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Axel Merckx (Phonak) finishes

Axel Merckx (Phonak) finishes (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) and the Saunier Duval lads

Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) and the Saunier Duval lads (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Frank Schleck (CSC) lost time after a crash

Frank Schleck (CSC) lost time after a crash (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) waves to the crowd

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) waves to the crowd (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) stage winner

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) stage winner (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) balances his trophies

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) balances his trophies (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) in the maillot jaune

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) in the maillot jaune (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) in green by just one point

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) in green by just one point (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Jose Rujano (Quick.Step) tests his prototype climbing machine

Jose Rujano (Quick.Step) tests his prototype climbing machine (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Dumoulin and Schröder ride through the wheat fields

Dumoulin and Schröder ride through the wheat fields (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Luca Paolini (Liquigas) rides in the bunch

Luca Paolini (Liquigas) rides in the bunch (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) is having a good Tour so far

Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) is having a good Tour so far (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Better than bird watching

Better than bird watching (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The break passes through one of many villages today

The break passes through one of many villages today (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The speed of Le Tour

The speed of Le Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Saunier Duval riders at the back of the bunch

Saunier Duval riders at the back of the bunch (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) in the maillot jaune

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) in the maillot jaune (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) still the race leader

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) still the race leader (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Freire (L) dives for the line ahead of Boonen

Freire (L) dives for the line ahead of Boonen (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) the winner of stage 5

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) the winner of stage 5 (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) celebrates his stage win over Tom Boonen

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) celebrates his stage win over Tom Boonen (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Freire throws his arms up while Flecha celebrates behind

Freire throws his arms up while Flecha celebrates behind (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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A sweaty Boonen post-stage

A sweaty Boonen post-stage (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) staying out of trouble

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) staying out of trouble (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Dumoulin helps to drive the eight man break that became two

Dumoulin helps to drive the eight man break that became two (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Björn Schröder leads Samuel Dumoulin in pursuit of a possible victory

Björn Schröder leads Samuel Dumoulin in pursuit of a possible victory (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Egoi Martinez (Discovery) lies on the ground after a crash

Egoi Martinez (Discovery) lies on the ground after a crash (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) pulls on his third maillot jaune

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) pulls on his third maillot jaune (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) appears to have his eyes focused on an escape in the coming days.

Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) appears to have his eyes focused on an escape in the coming days. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) is keeping a low profile in the opening week of Le Tour. And that's a good thing.

Paolo Savoldelli (Discovery Channel) is keeping a low profile in the opening week of Le Tour. And that's a good thing. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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You won't win the Tour on this bike.

You won't win the Tour on this bike. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Maillot jaune Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic) rarely denies an interview request.

Maillot jaune Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic) rarely denies an interview request. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Beauvais locals came out in force to wish the Tour de France peloton farewell just before midday today.

The Beauvais locals came out in force to wish the Tour de France peloton farewell just before midday today. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé gets in amongst the peloton at the Tour start in Beauvais.

Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé gets in amongst the peloton at the Tour start in Beauvais. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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A few minutes before the départ fictif.

A few minutes before the départ fictif. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Darling of the French, Thomas Voeckler (Bougyues Telecom), signs a autograph.

Darling of the French, Thomas Voeckler (Bougyues Telecom), signs a autograph. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Sweden's Thomas Lövkvist (Française des Jeux) is quite a popular figure himself.

Sweden's Thomas Lövkvist (Française des Jeux) is quite a popular figure himself. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Prodigal Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) was the last rider to hold onto Matthias Kessler's wheel up the Cauberg two days ago.

Prodigal Belgian Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) was the last rider to hold onto Matthias Kessler's wheel up the Cauberg two days ago. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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There were plenty of good vantage points at the start in Beauvais this morning - so long as you were from Beauvais!

There were plenty of good vantage points at the start in Beauvais this morning - so long as you were from Beauvais! (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Groovin' to the music.

Groovin' to the music. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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A bike for giants.

A bike for giants. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Folklore at the start in Beauvais.

Folklore at the start in Beauvais. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Flecha will need to bring Freire in position today.

Flecha will need to bring Freire in position today. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Ekimov was focused.

Ekimov was focused. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Horner is still suffering from his fall earlier on in the race.

Horner is still suffering from his fall earlier on in the race. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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No Spanish champion this year, Garate was the champ last year.

No Spanish champion this year, Garate was the champ last year. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Gilbert riding to the start.

Gilbert riding to the start. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Robbie coming up.

Robbie coming up. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Gerolsteiner lining up.

Gerolsteiner lining up. (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Two big French names, Moreau and Brard; perhaps talking about the football game of last night?

Two big French names, Moreau and Brard; perhaps talking about the football game of last night? (Image credit: maillot jaune)
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Lots of people this morning in Beauvais.

Lots of people this morning in Beauvais. (Image credit: maillot jaune)

Another night in yellow for Tommeke

Today's finish in Caen has thrown a dark horse into the list of favourites for the maillot vert: Oscar Freire.

Once again, a late regrouping created chaos with crashes before and after Samuel Dumoulin and Björn Schröder's capture, the two riders that tried to defy the inevitable today. Somewhat miraculously, all the best sprinters managed to stay upright, as Tom Boonen's two-best lead-out men, Matteo Tosatto and Steven De Jongh, led the peloton under the flamme rouge.

It was a wild and whacky last thousand metres with order nonexistent. Although Davitamon-Lotto's Gert Steegmans was there for Robbie McEwen, both Freire and Boonen gave their final acceleration 200 metres from the line, the former down the right and the latter up the middle...

... but it was Oscarito's power-punch that proved superior, winning the drag race on the boulevard Guillou - just as he predicted. Iñaki Isasi from Euskaltel-Euskadi, a newcomer to the big boys' sprint game, found himself third, while David Kopp and maillot vert McEwen were fourth and fifth respectively.

"My wife also predicted that I would win, so maybe I really have such powers," smiled Freire about his Nostradamus-like powers, forecasting his second Tour de France stage win before it even happened. "But seriously, we all know it doesn't work like that!"

"Every day, I tried to win but didn't succeed, so I needed to change tactics. Normally, I'm sitting on wheels and I wait until an opportunity arises; I lacked the initiative to grab the win.

"Today, I planned to take some more risks and take the initiative, something I usually wouldn't do - it delivered immediately. I started the sprint too early, but in the end it didn't matter," said the 30 year-old from Torrelavega, Cantabria.

"Today I made a mistake at 200 metres of the finish; I think I'm a little bit too nervous," Boonen said.

Given he was winning stages back in March at Paris-Nice, he was asked if his lack of a stage win may be due to an already long season so far.

"First of all, this is not Paris-Nice; over there, I could stay in the wheel of Steven De Jongh until 200 metres till the finish. I just needed to overtake him, and that resulted in a win.

"In the Tour de France, it's not like that. The riders are the same but they are all very nervous and they do dangerous things in an effort to win the race, also today. But for me, I'm also more stressed and nervous and that doesn't work. We all know that if you're relaxed, you can win; on the other hand, if you are nervous you can't win. But... ça c'est le Tour!," laughed Boonen.

The battle for green was already fierce. Now, with the addition of Freire to the sprint equation, this competition is tipped to become one of the closest in years. At present, just 41 points separate the first five riders.

Said Freire: "I'll try to continue like I'm doing right now, as it delivered straight away. On the other hand, taking the [yellow] jersey isn't really an objective, because there are many riders close together on general classification. So it's not an objective; I mainly want to win stages."

With the top ten GC riders bar Daniele Bennati all finishing on equal time, the leaderboard stays largely unchanged, apart from Freire shooting himself upwards from 20th to 3rd. As a consequence, the current world champion will spend another day in yellow, although one can't help feel a growing sense of frustration at his lack of a stage win so far, even though he might not say it.

"All is going well, as I have the yellow jersey for three days now, so I'm happy for myself and for the team," said Boonen. "We're still not that far into this Tour de France, so there will be more chances for me to win a stage."

How it unfolded

On a temperate midsummer's Thursday in Beauvais, the Tour peloton of 172 riders started Stage 5 at 11:40 with sunny skies and temps in the low 20s. However, the real start was at 11:54 after a roll through a 5.6 km neutral zone.

Agritubel opened the hostilities as the day's first GPM approached on the Cat 4 Mont des Fourches after 10.5 km and Bouygues Telecom was in control, with maillot á pois Jerome Pineau and his team-mates Fedrigo and Geslin first over the top.

Geslin tried to get away but sat up after 18 km as he realized the peloton wasn't letting him go. Another attack quickly went after 20 km near Jamericourt. Eight riders were on the move, Ag2r's mini-me Sammy Dumoulin, German TT champ Seppel Lang (GST), Bram De Groot (RAB), Danny Righi (LAM), Bram Tankink (QSI), Auge (COF), Quinziato (LIQ) and Schröder (MRM). But the chase was on behind as Davitamon-Lotto, Bouygues Telecom and Credit Agricole were all in front.

After 20 km of chasing, the break was about to be caught near Vesly when Dumoulin and Schröder attacked off the front of the break, and once the chasers realized what happened, they let the duo go.

After one hour of racing, 45.5 km were covered and the break suddenly had a 3'00 lead. At the day's first intermediate sprint after 66.5 km in Les Andelys, (66.5 km), Dumoulin took the points ahead of his break-mate Schröder, while over 8 minutes later, it was long, tall Johan Vansummeren (Davitamon-Lotto) who jumped ahead of the peloton across the sprint line to take the 2" bonus and points. 39.9 km were covered in hour two of racing, with the average speed for the first two hours is 42.9 km/h and the peloton had very little interest in chasing the front duo.

After 86 km of racing in Louviers, the gap was had skyrocketed to 12'50, which finally got the attention of the peloton and was their maximum lead. The pace behind increased, and on the day's second GPM, the Cat 4 Cote du Buquet after 109.0 km, the gap had dropped to 10'50 and Schröder took the points ahead of his break-mate, while Wegmann took the last points.

Suddenly, the skies opened up as the break approached the feed zone in Bourgetheroulde after 117 km. Hour three was raced at 38.7 km/h average speed, while the overall average was 41.5 km/h. The break and the peloton got soaked as a thunderstorm had come up the Seine River from the English Channel, while Quick.Step was riding the tempo on the front about 8'00 behind.

As the break and peloton moved west into the heart of Normandy and the storm east towards Paris, the sun came out dried the riders off quickly. Atop Stage 5's third categorized climb, the Cat 4 Cote de Saint-Gregoire-du-Vievre after 134.5 km, Dumoulin took the GPM, with Pineau taking the third place points 7'30 behind the break.

As the next intermediate sprint approached in Saint-Gregoire-du-Vievre 6 km later, Dumoulin was first, while once again the lanky figure of Vansummeren emerged from the peloton 7'00 behind and got out front to deny anyone else the points toward the maillot vert. Quick.Step was now joined by Davitamon-Lotto on the front to help in the chase of the two fugitives.

19 km later on the final GPM of Stage 5, the Cat 4 Cote du Boulay after 159.0 km, Schröder and Dumoulin were first and second, while maillot á pois leader Pineau was third, 6'00 behind. Freckle-face Christophe Brandt of Davitamon-Lotto was riding hard tempo on the front, trying to bring the leaders' gap down with 66 km still left to race. Next up was the Pont-L'Eveque sprint with 50 km to go, where Dumoulin won and once again Vansummeren jumped the gun in the peloton 4'40 behind.

After the sprint, a crash delayed maillot jaune Boonen, but his team including a rejuvenated Pippo Pozzato quickly brought him back. The parcours headed due west towards the English Channel on the D118 road, then swung left and headed close to water on the D27 road into Caen with 37 km to go.

It was now or never for the chasers as they couldn't afford to dawdle and Credit Agricole and Lampre had now joined the chase. The break began to lose time more quickly now and with 10 km to go on the outskirts of Caen, they still had 1'20, but it wouldn't be enough. After 202 km of liberty, the break was finally reeled in Caen.

In the last 5 km, Liquigas-Bianchi was in charge until Milram's Sacchi wound it up, but Quick.Step covered the move and as the peloton entered the last kilometre, Quick.Step's mini-train with Pozzato and DeJongh were pulling hard for Boonen. Velo then wound it up for Zabel at 600m, and next up was big Geert Steegmans (Davitamon-Lotto) went all out on the front for Robbie McEwen until 250m, then peeled off and suddenly there was a general hesitation. Boonen didn't want to go too early again and came off DeJongh's wheel on the left side, with 200m to go. then moved towards the middle as McEwen was swarmed by the maillot jaune's charge.

But as Boonen was preparing to make his move and Steegmans peeled off right, three-time world champion Oscar Freire made a brilliant catlike move from 10th position, jumping right past Steegmans and accelerating all the way to the line. Freire easily held off Boonen's charge to earn his second career Tour de France stage win, while third place went to Euskaltel-Euskadi's Isasi. Boonen kept the maillot jaune, with T-Mobile's world TT champ Mick Rogers 17 behind. Rogers is poised to possibly take over the maillot jaune Saturday at Stage 7 ITT.

Friday, July 7 - Stage 6: Lisieux-Vitré, 184 km

On the day before a big time trial, the GC contenders often want to downshift and chill before the big time test, so look for a wide open stage through the bocage (backwoods) of western France on the road to Vitré, where a break of non-contenders just might succeed on this shortish stage.

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