What's Cool In Road Cycling

TDF06 Stg 1: Casper Ghosts To Victory!

How much more chaos can you cram into the first few days of the Tour? After the doping mayhem, how about a manic “non-sprint”, a surprise winner and a finish line accident leaving Thor Hushovd’s arm fountaining blood all over the tarmac?

After a steaming hot trip around Strasbourg, the whole field hit the finishing straight together – with no team in control, no sprint trains functioning. World Champion Tom Boonen found himself in front with 400 metres left. He started the sprint, then thought: “Oh crap, too early!” He stopped, then started again, but he’d done too much and gave up.

Cofidis sprinter Jimmy Casper came steaming up the left side, surprising everyone and hanging on in front of the rapid and frustrated Robbie McEwen and the veteran Erik Zabel. Casper was almost in tears as he realised he’d grabbed his biggest career win.

The cameras suddenly cut to Hushovd lying on the ground with his yellow tunic rapidly turning crimson, and medics trying to staunch the flow of blood. The slo-mo pictures seemed to suggest that the prologue winner had been struck by something (a green PMU hand?, a camera?, a flag?) as he somehow squeezed between Boonen and the barrier on his right-hand side in the last 50 metres.

You could see the blood straightaway, but Hushovd kept the sprint going to the line, before he seemed to realise it was bad. Eurosport commentator Stephen Roche said that he still has a scar on his chin from being whacked in the face by a camera – Thushovd seemed to have suffered a similar fate. Hopefully, he’ll be patched up for tomorrow.

One normal Tour element was present and correct – the standard early breakaway. And it came after just 3kms!

Stephane Auge (Cofidis), Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom) and Benoit Vaugrenard (Francaise des Jeux) jumped away, and were soon joined by Nicolas Portal (Caisse d’ Epargne), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel) and Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom).

The magnificent seven managed a maximum lead of 4’50” before the field got their act together. Beneteau made a dying breath move from the break with about 17kms to go and his erstwhile companions let him go – it was a futile attack.

Through the final bonus sprint, Credit Agricole sent Seb Hinault up against Hincapie and the Frenchman managed to snag the 4 bonus seconds ahead of Big George’s 2 seconds – not enough to help Hushovd keep yellow, though. Shortly afterwards, Beneteau gave up the ghost and the sprinters’ teams took over.

Nobody was prepared to gun it for the finish though, and the field was in a big lump rather than lined out. It was a bit of a kaleidoscope of team jerseys, rather than a mass of QuickStep blue or Davitamon-Lotto red, white and black.

Casper surprised everyone, especially himself. With the French national soccer team (Les Bleus) into the World Cup semi-finals after beating Brazil last night, all will be sweetness and light in the pages of L’Equipe tomorrow.

Or maybe not, when they realise that the Maillot Jaune will be on the shoulders of a former lieutenant of Lance Armstrong – George Hincapie snared the first yellow jersey of his Tour career. Chapeau, George! Enjoy it.

Keep it Pez for stage 2’s jaunt into Luxembourg!

Tour de France Stage 1: Strasbourg-Strasbourg 184.5km

1 Jimmy Casper (Fra) Cofidis 4hrs 10’ 00”
2 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
3 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
4 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Lampre
5 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
6 Isaac Galvez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
7 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) CSC
8 Bernard Eisel (Aut) Francaise Des Jeux
9 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole
10 Oscar Friere (Spa) Rabobank All same time

Tour de France Overall GC After Stage 1

1 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 4hrs 18’ 15”
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crйdit Agricole + 2”
3 David Zabriskie (USA) CSC + 6”
4 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner same
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne same
6 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) CSC same
7 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile + 8”
8 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) Discovery Channel + 10”
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak + 11”
10 Benoоt Vaugrenard (Fra) Francaise Des Jeux same

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