Yesterday’s stage three of the Tour de France from Waterloo, Belgium, to Wasquehal, France, saw the shape of the race change. One of the favourite title contenders, Spanish climber Iban Mayo (EUS), got caught up in a crash that ended up costing him the best part of four minutes and left his Tour chances now looking remote.
Mayo’s performances in last year’s Tour and so far this season have marked him out as one of the three names most frequently mentioned as Armstrong challengers along with Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Tyler Hamilton (Phonak). But in the approach to the pave sections on Tuesday, team USPS set a blistering and unsettling pace. Then at the 144km gone mark a crash in the bunch brought down Mayo and several others, including Cipollini (DOMVAC) and Marco Velo (FASS), who came off worst physically with a fractured collarbone.
Aware of Mayo’s fall, the main group, led by US Postal, pushed on to catch leaders Voigt and De Groot. Euskatel were left struggling to catch up and by the second pave section, forty kilometres later, Mayo and four team-mates were two mintues down.
After a sprint finish Jean-Patrick Nazon (Ag2R), Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) and yesterday’s stage winner and now yellow jersey wearer, Robbie McEwen (LOT), took first to third places in the stage with Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) finishing in the main group with Armstrong. Despite efforts by Mayo’s team mates to get back in contention, his group came in 3.50 down and after the race the Spaniard acknowledged that his Tour victory chances were next to nothing, although a podium finish is still not impossible. That leaves one less title challenger for Armstrong who’s so far managed to keep himself out of trouble.
Today’s stage is the team Time Trial from Cambrai to Arras in which USPS plans to dominate and Armstrong to make his bid for the yellow jersey.