It was Norway’s Thor Hushovd (CA) who won Sunday’s 168km stage from Lamballe to Quimper after an uphill sprint in which he fought off Kim Kirchen (FASS) and T-mobile’s Erik Zabel. Coming in just a few seconds behind Hushovd French champion Thomas Voeckler secured the yellow jersey for the third day running.
In yet another day of slanting rain, the peloton again showed its ability to wind in breakaways, catching up with Jacob Piil (CSC), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) and Mateo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo) (who’d broken away after 20km) with 10km to go.
The escapees had managed to put over five minutes between themselves and the peloton at one point, but with Piil a potential danger the main bunch weren’t about to let them keep away. This time it was teams Credit Agricole and Quick Step who put in most of the work for the chase and Credit Agricole’s Thor Hushovd who reaped the reward.
The group sprint saw various attacks in the closing kilometres and with 1km to go McEwen and Bettini made a push away but neither was prepared to take up the lead and gave up the advantage. Kirchen then attacked just before turning into the finishing straight and went into it with a 20-metre lead, but it wasn’t enough to keep off Hushovd who dug deep and ground past Kirchen only ten metres off the finish.
McEwen’s attack might have failed, but he still positioned himself well and his fourth place position meant helped him recover the green jersey from his fellow countryman Stuart O’Grady.
Going into today’s rest day in Limoges, Armstrong is nine minutes and 35 seconds behind yellow jersey Voeckler, Hamilton ten minutes eleven seconds and Ullrich ten minutes thirty. Restarting on Tuesday the Tour will move into the hills of the Massif Central – quite literally another level.