McEwen wins Tour de France second stage

Australian Robbie McEwen won a thrilling bunch sprint to claim the second stage of the Tour de France here Monday over 228,5km of racing between Obernai and Esch-sur-Alzette.

Norway’s Thor Hushovd, who came in third on the stage behind world champion Tom Boonen of Belgium, regained the leader’s yellow jersey from American George Hincapie, who drops to fourth overall.

Davitamon’s McEwen moved up to second in the yellow-jersey standings, five seconds behind Hushovd, with Boonen in third.

Basque race debutant Aitor Hernandez, of the Euskaltel team, was the early protagonist in the mainly flat stage, attacking after just 1km of racing before being joined by Spaniard David de la Fuente of Saunier Duval.

Both riders built a maximum lead of just over 10 minutes on the peloton, which only began trying to close the gap after the stage’s halfway point.

With a coveted stage victory to look forward to, the sprinters’ teams were not going to allow the Spanish duo to spoil their chances of another frantic rush for the finish line.

The Credit Agricole team of Hushovd, the Quick Step team of Boonen and the Davitamon team of McEwen moved to the front to step up the pace and close the gap significantly in the final 80km.

Hushovd, who lost the race leader’s yellow jersey on Sunday after a finish line incident left him with five stitches in a deep cut in his arm, still appeared to be suffering.

But that didn’t prevent the big Norwegian showing some Viking resilience in his bid to take the jersey back.

After Hernandez and De la Fuente had taken the first points and bonus seconds on offer at the first intermediate sprint, Hushovd sprinted to try and grab the remaining two for the third placed rider.

But seven minutes after the Spanish duo had passed the 107km mark, Hushovd was beaten by Boonen.

Hushovd was left suffering from his exertions, and had to drop back to consult the race doctor.

Less than an hour later the 28-year-old took his revenge by outfoxing Boonen to claim the two bonus seconds and points on offer at the second intermediate sprint.

That allowed Hushovd to provisionally claim back the yellow jersey, which would be his if Hincapie failed to beat him in the third and final sprint, or at the finish line.

At the front, the Spaniards’ lead, six minutes with 80km to ride, had been cut in half 30km further on.

Their fate appeared to be sealed when De la Fuente raced ahead to win the third intermediate sprint, and Hernandez was left trailing on his own.

De La Fuente raced on in determined fashion with a lead of less than a minute and a half with 30km to race.

Behind him, Hushovd boosted his provisional yellow jersey bid by claiming third place, again finishing behind Boonen, at the final intermediate sprint.

De la Fuente, however, was battling fatigue, heat and a potential hunger flat as he raced desperately to the finish line, and he was soon caught by a four-man counterattack, which included Fabian Wegmann in the best-climber’s polka dot jersey.

Wegmann continued on his own in the final 10km, but he in turn was caught before Mattais Kessler made a final lone bid in the dying kilometres.

He was caught agonisingly in the last few hundred yards as McEwen claimed the bunch sprint.—AFP

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