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Flat Landes for Freire

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Freire and McEwen

Freire and McEwen (Image credit: AFP)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile)

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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One of the sights

One of the sights (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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The bunch comes through

The bunch comes through (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom)

Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Freire has his wheel in front

Freire has his wheel in front (Image credit: Sirotti)
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One of the sights at the start in Bordeaux today.

One of the sights at the start in Bordeaux today. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom) leads the trio earlier in the day.

Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom) leads the trio earlier in the day. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The bunch comes through not going too hard.

The bunch comes through not going too hard. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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T-Mobile leads as the break goes up the road.

T-Mobile leads as the break goes up the road. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Patrick Sinkewitz (T-Mobile) leading the T-mobile train.

Patrick Sinkewitz (T-Mobile) leading the T-mobile train. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) comes through in the group.

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) comes through in the group. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The bunch gets strung out along the mostly baron course today.

The bunch gets strung out along the mostly baron course today. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Just before the line it was anybody's win.

Just before the line it was anybody's win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) come together just past the line.

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) come together just past the line. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quickstep) tells reporters what happened in the sprint.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep) tells reporters what happened in the sprint. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) still very excited to be in yellow.

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) still very excited to be in yellow. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) signs an autograph before stage 9

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) signs an autograph before stage 9 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gonchar and Guerini are popular with the press

Gonchar and Guerini are popular with the press (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Rogers and Gonchar

Rogers and Gonchar (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Gonchar and Guerini

Gonchar and Guerini (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Mazzoleni and Gonchar

Mazzoleni and Gonchar (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) asks Michael Boogerd for guidance

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) asks Michael Boogerd for guidance (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Phonak buddies Floyd Landis and Axel Merckx

Phonak buddies Floyd Landis and Axel Merckx (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) exits sign on

Floyd Landis (Phonak) exits sign on (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) waits

George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) waits (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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It's not easy being green

It's not easy being green (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Fabian Wegmann and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner)

Fabian Wegmann and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen and the Quick.Step gang live on stage

Tom Boonen and the Quick.Step gang live on stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Mario Cipollini is back at the Tour de France

Mario Cipollini is back at the Tour de France (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) has plenty of fans

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) has plenty of fans (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Freire has his wheel in front

Freire has his wheel in front (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Boonen, Zabel, Freire and McEwen throw their bikes, but it's Freire who gets it

Boonen, Zabel, Freire and McEwen throw their bikes, but it's Freire who gets it (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The finish

The finish (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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It was pretty close on the line

It was pretty close on the line (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Freire and McEwen in the post-finish bumping

Freire and McEwen in the post-finish bumping (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) congratulates Freire on his win

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) congratulates Freire on his win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) comes in for fourth

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) comes in for fourth (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) crosses the line

Floyd Landis (Phonak) crosses the line (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) salutes after his second win

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) salutes after his second win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) on stage

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) on stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Here you go Serguei, this one's for you

Here you go Serguei, this one's for you (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yeah, why not? Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile)

Yeah, why not? Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) in the maillot jaune for another day

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) in the maillot jaune for another day (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) with the spoils of the maillot jaune wearer

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) with the spoils of the maillot jaune wearer (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) celebrates another maillot jaune

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) celebrates another maillot jaune (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Italians still celebrating their team's world cup victory on Sunday

Italians still celebrating their team's world cup victory on Sunday (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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It's not hard to find an Italian supporter at Le Tour

It's not hard to find an Italian supporter at Le Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) chats with Discovery's Yaroslav Popovych

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) chats with Discovery's Yaroslav Popovych (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The peloton rolls along between Bordeaux and Dax

The peloton rolls along between Bordeaux and Dax (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Mario Cipollini enjoys the Tour

Mario Cipollini enjoys the Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Mario Cipollini in the Liquigas car

Mario Cipollini in the Liquigas car (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) enjoying the Tour so far

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) enjoying the Tour so far (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Freire and McEwen throw for the line

Freire and McEwen throw for the line (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Stephane Auge (Cofidis) leads Walter Beneteau (Bouygues)

Stephane Auge (Cofidis) leads Walter Beneteau (Bouygues) (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Serguei Gonchar well protected by his teammates

Serguei Gonchar well protected by his teammates (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The throw sees Freire get the win ahead of McEwen

The throw sees Freire get the win ahead of McEwen (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Freire and McEwen bump against each other after crossing the line

Freire and McEwen bump against each other after crossing the line (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Robbie McEwen congratulates Freire on his win

Robbie McEwen congratulates Freire on his win (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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The finish photo shows Freire ahead of McEwen, Zabel and Boonen

The finish photo shows Freire ahead of McEwen, Zabel and Boonen (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Sylvain Calzati, winner of Stage 8, has increased his popularity severalfold since his stage win two days ago.

Sylvain Calzati, winner of Stage 8, has increased his popularity severalfold since his stage win two days ago. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Bordeaux provided a historic backdrop for today's start.

Bordeaux provided a historic backdrop for today's start. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Gilberto Simoni gets a trim while being interviewed by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Gilberto Simoni gets a trim while being interviewed by Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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A little more icing on that waffle, sil vous plaît.

A little more icing on that waffle, sil vous plaît. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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One of the podium girls - en route to another podium in Dax.

One of the podium girls - en route to another podium in Dax. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Could today be Robbie McEwen's fourth stage win at the 2006 Tour de France?

Could today be Robbie McEwen's fourth stage win at the 2006 Tour de France? (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Big Maggie Backstedt plants his bum on top of his Bianchi.

Big Maggie Backstedt plants his bum on top of his Bianchi. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Backstedt's Bianchi is a little different from the rest - note the massive downtube.

Backstedt's Bianchi is a little different from the rest - note the massive downtube. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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The Davitamon boys looking very relaxed after a successful Tour so far.

The Davitamon boys looking very relaxed after a successful Tour so far. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Gilberto Simoni getting a new haircut

Gilberto Simoni getting a new haircut (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Brad Wiggins getting comfy

Brad Wiggins getting comfy (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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David Millar reading French paper

David Millar reading French paper (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Robbie McEwen relaxing before the start

Robbie McEwen relaxing before the start (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Axel Merckx in the village de départ

Axel Merckx in the village de départ (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Davitamon-Lotto were relaxed

Davitamon-Lotto were relaxed (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Fothen in his white jersey

Fothen in his white jersey (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Gustav Erik-Larsson having a laugh

Gustav Erik-Larsson having a laugh (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Simon Gerrans before the start

Simon Gerrans before the start (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Vasseur and Gilbert had a chat

Vasseur and Gilbert had a chat (Image credit: La Gazzetta dello Sport)
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Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) in the polka dot jersey

Jerome Pineau (Bouygues) in the polka dot jersey (Image credit: sil vous plaît)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) rolls up

Carlos Sastre (CSC) rolls up (Image credit: sil vous plaît)

Today's ninth stage to Dax was maybe the one stage most designed for a bunch sprint of all stages, as the Landes region South of Bordeaux is probably as flat as the calm Atlantic ocean on its coastline. Also driven by that last fast men's chance before Le Tour hits the mountains, the race did not fail to unfold as predicted, with three-times World champion Oscar Freire taking his second victory in France this summer. Green jersey Robbie McEwen finished second; the former champion of the sprinter's classification, experienced Erik Zabel got third and the current World champion, Tom Boonen, again failed to find the right moment to start his move and placed fourth.

"I didn't know that I had won the race, as McEwen was closing in very fast," a happy Freire said at the finish, explaining why he hadn't raised his arms on the line. "Due to the way the sprints are unfolding, it’s not always the strongest rider who wins the race. For example today, I might not have been the strongest in the race," he added, probably thinking about McEwen, who almost got him on the line as the photo finish showed.

But Freire also had understanding words for the struggling Tom Boonen. "Everything’s going wrong for him: sometimes he starts the sprint too early, then he gets boxed in," the Spanish triple World champ said. "But it’s really not that bad, as he wore the yellow jersey for a few days; I think that’s very nice as well. He’s also struggling with the high expectations of the Belgian press, which of course he can't always satisfy."

Freire, whose wife is due to give birth to the couple's first child this week, passed Boonen as well as Zabel on the last 200 metres, whereas McEwen ignited his typically explosive move from behind. It was only the width of the Spaniard's front wheel tyre that prevented the Australian from winning yet another stage in this year's Tour de France, where he has largely dominated his rivals.

"I was just starting to really accelerate when we hit the line, I hadn't even got into top gear yet," said McEwen. "That’s what happens on the Tour. Sometimes you need a bit of luck to get out and I didn't think I was going to get out at all, so in the last 40m I rescued a few points. It would have been nice to win another one but... that’s how the Tour goes you don't win 'em every day and maybe if I won it would get a bit boring - Hey not for me, but for everybody else!"

German Erik Zabel moved off Boonen's wheel to score third for the second time in this Tour - his best result yet. "It was almost as in the old days - I showed that I can still hold on," he said, recalling that it was in Dax where he took the first Tour de France stage win of his career in 1995. "Once I passed Tom, I hoped for the win for a brief moment, but it was too good to be true. Still, it was very tight, so that gives me lots of morale."

The stage was marked by a three-man breakaway including Christian Knees (Milram) - who was later elected most combative rider as it was the German who initiated the early move at km 7 - as well as Walter Bénéteau (Bouygues Telecom) and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis). The German was happy to have made it to the podium to receive his honours, even though it hadn't been the stage win for him.

"Towards the end, I tried to attack as I would have stood a greater chance to succeed, but it wasn't to be," Knees said. "I knew that it was over as I couldn't get away in the final 10k." The break was caught under the 4 km-mark. "Still it's a great feeling to be on that podium!," a happy but exhausted Knees added.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian Serguei Gonchar of course still leads the general classification, and T-Mobile will head into tomorrow's first mountain stage from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau with four riders in top six.

"The other teams will attack us, as we have the jersey," said team director Olaf Ludwig on Monday. "Our handicap is that we only have seven riders left, so we cannot - and will not - play the part that Discovery Channel has played in the last years in the race. There will be many tactical games and variations. But we do have a lot of different possibilities."

According to Ludwig, these also included "letting the jersey go in a controlled way", if the race situation allowed it. So tomorrow's Col du Marie-Blanque, the last climb before the finish about 45 kilometres away, will reveal their tactics for the days to come.

How it unfolded

Phase Two of the 93rd Tour began today as the peloton headed south through the piney woods of Les Landes on this dead flat stage to Dax, hometown of renowned French road sprinter Andre' Darrigade. Stage 9 offered three intermediate sprints in Le Barp (25.5km), Parentis-en-Born (72.0km) and Saint-Girons (128.0km), with no categorized climbs on the billiard table flat stage through the piney woods that stretch south of Bordeaux all the way to the foothills of the Pyrenees.

170 riders started stage 9 in Bordeaux at 1:15, with the temps at 27 degrees on a bright, sunny day. After a 9.7km neutral zone, there were a flurry of attacks, and after 16km on the southwest outskirts of Bordeaux near Cestas, three riders finally formed the right combination to stay away, long, tall German Chris Knees (Milram) was away first and was then joined by two French breakaway specialists, Walter Bénéteau (Bouygues Telecom) and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis). The trio quickly gained ground and by the first intermediate sprint in Le Barf after 25.5km, they had gained 4'00 after 10km where the opportunistic Bénéteau took the points.

The front trio continued to cruise away from the T-Mobile peloton as the northwest wind gave them a hand as they break cruised past the various salt water lakes filled with tasty oysters. But no one was eating the bivalves on the hot July afternoon as the peloton was stretched into one long line through the piney woods. Credit Agricole, Quickstep and Lampre were helping maillot jaune Gonchar's T-Mobile men with the chase.

At the day's second intermediate sprint in Parentis-en-Born, it was Bouygues' Bénéteau who boogied across the sprint line first, while the peloton was closing down slightly, with the lead at 7'15.

Mario Cipollini was a special guest in the Liquigas-Bianchi team car with his good friend Mario Scirea driving and Cipo was celebrating gli Azzurri's World Cup win by hanging out of the team car with an Italian tricolore flag, but restrained himself from taunting the French riders.

At the third and final intermediate sprint in Saint-Girons after 128.0km, Bénéteau took the points again and with 40km to go on the long, straight roads to Dax, the peloton was at 4'00 and chasing hard. The afternoon sun beat down through a slight overcast on the humid afternoon as the temps were over 30 degrees and the racing was hot too. Augé was soft pedaling in the break as was Beneteau, while the big German was doing more than 40% of the work in the escape.

With 17km to go, Chris Knees took off to try and dump the soft pedaling French riders and after a tough chase, they managed to catch the strong German. Bénéteau chastised Knees, who didn't like the idea of pulling the two French riders to the finish. The peloton was going all out 1'40 behind, with Quick.Step, Davitamon-Lotto, Lampre, Credit Agricole, Rabobank and Française de Jeux all riding hard to bring the break back.

At 10km to go approaching Dax, the gap was down to 1'00 and falling fast as Bram 'The Tank' Tankink was taking huge turns on the front for Quick.Step. Knees tried to dump the French again with 6km to go, but this time, only Beneteau could bring him back as Augé dropped off, but then got back with 5km to go. With 4.5km to go, Bénéteau made a move but he was going nowhere fast as they break was caught with 4km to race after 149km of liberty. Albasini of Liquigas-Bianchi was on the front in the twisty streets of Dax for Paolini, with CSC behind, who launched O'Grady for an early attack with 1500m to go.

Pozzato upped the pace to keep to keep O'Grady to heel, while behind were Tosatto, DeJongh and Boonen at the 1 km kite. Liquigas-Bianchi, inspired by the presence of Mario Cipollini in their team car had Quinziato and Big Boy Bäckstedt humping hard with 750m. It was the most anarchic, wide open sprint yet at this Tour and at 500m to go, next to hit the front was Credit Agricole, but as Seb Hinault peeled off, Julian Dean hesitated as he knew it was too early to start the sprint for Hushovd.

The sprint was totally uncertain as the rush to the line became a drag race. Boonen got nervous with 250m to go and went long on the right side, with Zabel following him. Biding his time in seventh position like a patient pussycat was Rabobank's Oscar Freire, while maillot vert Robbie McEwen had chosen to follow the wheels and not make full use of his teammate Steegmans for a lead out. Boonen looked good for a while along the right-hand barriers, but with 100m to go, Freire made another one of his catlike jumps and accelerated past Zabel and Boonen, hitting the front with 50m to go. Robbie Mac was on Freire's wheel until he jumped and then lost it. McEwen zoomed left, took the long way around into the wind and almost got the swift Spaniard with a bike throw, but the three time World Champ is almost impossible to come around and Macman had to be content with being second.

Stage 10 - Wednesday, July 12: Cambo-les-Bains-Pau, 190.5km

Let the games begin! The first real climbing starts today at Le Tour and with the long Col du Soudet and the steep Col de Marie Blanque on le menu, there should be the first real selection at this years Tour, but with the summit of Marie Blanque 45km from Pau, there ought to be a 40 rider group together for the sprint on the Rue du Maquis de Bearn.

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