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Robbie McEwen: The Running Man

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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) (Image credit: AFP)
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Boonen and Hinault

Boonen and Hinault (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Perfect combo

Perfect combo (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The bunch rolls through

The bunch rolls through (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step)

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

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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An FDJ rider gets his morning rub down.

An FDJ rider gets his morning rub down. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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David Zabriskie (CSC) is riding this new Cervelo SLC-SL.

David Zabriskie (CSC) is riding this new Cervelo SLC-SL. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Time for a radio adjustment on the road.

Time for a radio adjustment on the road. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The bunch rolls through the wheat fields of Normandy.

The bunch rolls through the wheat fields of Normandy. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Welcoming le Tour.

Welcoming le Tour. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The sprint for the line.

The sprint for the line. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) adds another stage win to this year's list.

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) adds another stage win to this year's list. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quickstep) rides the TT tomorrow in yellow.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep) rides the TT tomorrow in yellow. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Big crowds at the finish.

Big crowds at the finish. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quickstep) did not look happy to not have today's stage win.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep) did not look happy to not have today's stage win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) rode today's race a bit like a Belgian classic: aggressively!

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) rode today's race a bit like a Belgian classic: aggressively! (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) in the earlier break that got caught

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) in the earlier break that got caught (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas) suffers in the break

Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas) suffers in the break (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas) grabs a feed bag

Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas) grabs a feed bag (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) is one of the better sprinters on Tour

Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) is one of the better sprinters on Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) leads Backstedt and Geslin

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) leads Backstedt and Geslin (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) on Tour

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) on Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Italian tifosi watch the breakaway go by

Italian tifosi watch the breakaway go by (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The peloton rides past endless fields

The peloton rides past endless fields (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Le Tour rolls on

Le Tour rolls on (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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A bike disguised as a feather boa

A bike disguised as a feather boa (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins, while Tom Boonen doesn’t

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins, while Tom Boonen doesn’t (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Way hey! That's how you do a sprint

Way hey! That's how you do a sprint (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The bunch thunders up the finishing straight

The bunch thunders up the finishing straight (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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McEwen well in front in the dash to the line

McEwen well in front in the dash to the line (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Semaphore? No, just a Tour bunch sprint

Semaphore? No, just a Tour bunch sprint (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie's got it and Steegmans is already celebrating

Robbie's got it and Steegmans is already celebrating (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates after a great Steegmans lead out

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates after a great Steegmans lead out (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) crosses the line to win

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) crosses the line to win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins the sprint

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) wins the sprint (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) in post-race triumph mode

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) in post-race triumph mode (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oh yeah! Robbie does it again

Oh yeah! Robbie does it again (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bits of the bunch

Bits of the bunch (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) crosses the line

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) crosses the line (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step) did his job

Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step) did his job (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) post-stage

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) post-stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) now has three

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) now has three (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) atop the podium

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) atop the podium (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates another win

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates another win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Hmm, is the yellow jersey really that heavy?

Hmm, is the yellow jersey really that heavy? (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) smiles wanly

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) smiles wanly (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) really wanted the stage win, but he's still in yellow

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) really wanted the stage win, but he's still in yellow (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Bernard Hinault gives Boonen some sprinting tips

Bernard Hinault gives Boonen some sprinting tips (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) strengthened his lead in the green jersey comp

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) strengthened his lead in the green jersey comp (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ) back in the white jersey

Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ) back in the white jersey (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) drives the break through the French countryside

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) drives the break through the French countryside (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) was aggressive during stage 6

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) was aggressive during stage 6 (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) does it for the third time

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) does it for the third time (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates his third stage win

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) celebrates his third stage win (Image credit: AFP Photo)

Maillot jaune does little for Boonen's confidence

With a smile from eye to eye and swinging his arms as if he were running across the line, Davitamon-Lotto's super-sprinter Robbie McEwen continued his winning ways in Vitré, scoring his eleventh Tour stage victory.

"I don't think I'm in the form of my life, I'm just sprinting very well," McEwen said. "I've had times where I actually felt stronger out on the road. But here, the timing and the speed in the sprint forms a funny sort of thing.

"Sometimes you feel very strong, but you can't win. Sometimes you feel average, but you sprint very fast and can't lose. I don't know about the form of my life... but it's pretty good," he grinned.

Some may have thought the loss of his normal Tour de France lead-out man Fred Rodriguez would have posed a few problems, but Gert Steegmans - a winner of five stages himself this season - is proving the perfect replacement.

"He [Steegmans] just starts his engine and takes off; nobody who's doing a lead-out for a sprinter, nor any sprinter, has got an answer to his power," praised McEwen, who described the 25 year-old youngster as his very own TGV.

"We decided on the tactics. I told him not to start not one metre before the 400 metre mark. That's exactly what he did; he was really relaxed and stayed in the wheels. We made sure which side of him would stay open. When he started, I really had to jump to get into his wheel, and when I have to jump to get into a wheel, that means that probably nobody else can follow.

"We backed off again and I just went on the inside of him. I felt like I started to slow down but I was so wound up... number three, here we go! This is incredible, three in the first week, it doesn't get any better," he said.

"It's really nice [people who] acknowledge that there some magic between the two of us," Steegmans told Cyclingnews. "He trusts that I can do it, and it's working out.

"Everybody knows that they need to be in front in the sprint and they probably hope that he [McEwen] has sore legs or something. We really try to show up as late as possible and it's proved successful twice now. Yesterday, I misinterpreted the signals, but now it's alright!" exclaimed the young Belgian, who's quickly becoming one of the hottest prospects in world cycling.

The apparent ease with which the 34 year-old Gold Coaster is winning stages in the world's biggest bike race almost defies belief. Without a doubt, it's playing on the minds of his arch-rivals and particularly Tom Boonen, who is yet to notch a sprint win so far.

Today just made things worse for the world champion maillot jaune, who went searching for a good wheel to follow but came up empty. The one-point gap between he and McEwen, and the seven between McEwen and Oscar Freire, is now 10 and 22 points respectively.

In fact, it's Lampre-Fondital's Daniele Bennati who's so far proving to be best of the rest in the battle for green, his second place today moving him 41 points behind the Aussie sprint king.

And if things weren't already going well enough for Rocket Robbie, he now finds himself second overall on the Classement Générale, just 12 seconds behind Boonen. At the post-race press conference, he didn't say one thing about it - but if McEwen keeps going the way he's going, he'll end up talking about it!

"One last thing," McEwen said before leaving today's press conference.

"I had a bet with Levi Leipheimer... we've been talking about it since March in Tirreno-Adriatico. He told me to do a victory salute, but a special one: the Dumb and Dumber move, from the movie. When you saw it, you know that it looks like you're running really fast," he said, swinging his arms.

"Levi will be happy with that and now he owes me!"

How it unfolded

On the day before a big time trial, the GC contenders often want to downshift and chill, so Friday was a wide open stage through the backwoods of western France to Vitré. 171 riders started under partly cloudy skies and moderate 21 degree temps, with Milram's Fabio Sacchi was a non-starter due to worsening bronchitis.

Stage 5 had one categorized climb, the Cat 3 Cote de la Huniere (after 27.5 km) and three intermediate sprints in Villedieu-les-Bailleul (46.0 km), Chantrigne (116.5 km) and Juvigne (162.5 km).

Cofidis rider Stephane Augé was on the attack after 9 km on the climb out of the Normandy town of Liseux and was joined by Cente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne), Lopez Garcia (Euskaltel), Beppe "Turbo" Guerini (T-Mobile) and big-boy Maggie Bäckstedt (Liquigas). This quintet got a 30" gap but Bouygues Telecom had missed the break and was chasing hard to defend the lead of their maillot á pois Pineau. The pursuit worked well enough as climber Beppe Turbo and Cente Garcia took points just ahead of Pineau and it was peloton groupé after 32 km.

Two French riders, Augé and Vaugrenard (FDJ), attacked just before the first intermediate sprint in Villedieu-les-Bailleul (46.0 km), where Vaugrenard won and used the time bonus to go back into the lead of the maillot blanc of best young rider. The first hour was run at the rapid average of 46.9 km/h and after Argentan at the 49 km mark, Brard (Caisse d'Epargne), Knees (Milram) and Camano (Euskaltel) bridged across. 10 km later in Fontenai-sur-Orna, 13 riders came across to swell the break to 18. The new arrivals included Padrnos (Discovery), Sinkewitz (T-Mobile), Calzati (A2GR), Wrolich (Gerolsteiner), Flecha (Rabobank), Merckx (Phonak), Boonen (Quick.Step), Hushovd (C.A), Gilbert (FDJ), Bäckstedt and Quinziato (Liquigas), Geslin and Lefèvre (Bouygues).

With the maillot jaune on the move and the gap up to 1'10 after 15 km of freedom, CSC hit the front to quash the break with a hard chase, and Lampre-Fondital joined them to pull the big escape back. When big Maggie realised that the break was doomed, he attacked after 70 km in Saint Brice Sous Ranes and was joined by local lad Geslin and French champ Brard.

The rest of the break was brought back 10 km later, while Maggie's move had 35" after 80 km. At the feed zone in Bagnoles-de-lOrne after 92 km, the front trio had 3'55", with the average speed for hour two 44.7 km/h. Quick.Step, Rabobank and Davitamon-Lotto were riding tempo on the front of the peloton and Geslin won the second intermediate sprint in Chantrigne after 116.5 km, with the peloton 4'10"behind and closing.

The lead began to drop as the chasers upped the pace. Brard claimed won the third intermediate sprint in Juvigne after 162.5 km, with the peloton just 1'15" behind. With 10 km to race on the outskirts of Vitre, the gap was just 25" and the break was finally caught with 4.5 km to go. Today, Robbie McEwen's new lead-out man, big Geert Steegmans, got his timing just right as the Aussie from Davitamon-Lotto took his 11th career Tour de France stage win.

Stage 7 - Saturday, July 8: Saint-Grégoire-Rennes ITT, 52 km

The first moment of truth at the 2006 Tour is a 52 km time test from Saint-Grégoire to Rennes across the countryside of northeast Brittany. Mostly rolling with a flat finish, the TT should show the first signs of who can win the Tour this year.

T-Mobile's World TT champ Mick Rogers is looking for a stage win and the maillot jaune, but Phonak's Floyd Landis may have something to say about that. Leipheimer, Hincapie and other GC hopefuls are also looking for a good ride tomorrow, while CSC's Dave Zabriskie is another rider to watch for a stage win.

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