Petacchi wins another stage, contenders stay safe
Armstrong, Contador in large pack looking forward to climbs
REIMS, France — Resurgent Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi gave fans a two-finger salute at the finish line here Wednesday, each finger representing a Tour de France stage victory this week.
If he were to make it a threefinger salute today, that probably would be just fine for Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and the rest of a yellow-jersey bunch that is looking ahead to the weekend climbs into the Jura mountains near Switzerland.
Wednesday’s event, which was
‘I wanted to do better, but I missed the power in the sprint today. It’s the fatigue of the efforts from the past three days catching up with me, especially from yesterday.’
roughly equivalent to riding from Austin to Waco, was snappy and uneventful; 189 riders started, 189 finished, the weather was pleasant, riders had a light tail wind, there were no accidents, and the group was so compact, 163 riders got the same time as the winner.
“It was nice,” said Armstrong. “Everybody stayed up.”
Armstrong remained 18th overall, 2 minutes, 30 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. Australia’s Cadel Evans, in third overall, is the best-placed yellow-jersey contender coming into today’s stage.
And today could be a repeat. The 116.5-mile Stage 5 begins in nearby Epernay, a champagne center, and pushes south to Montargis, a city in northcentral France known for its canals and bridges. This broad zig-zag route starts with two category four hills favoring the climbers, then flashes out over flat country favoring the sprinters.
Although dry, the temperatures could climb into the low 90s by the finish today.
As he has been for most of this first week, Cancellara will race in yellow today. Since winning Saturday’s Prologue in Rotterdam, Cancellara has been riding in support of his teammate Andy Schleck, the leader of Saxo Bank team.
Norway’s Thor Hushovd, who wore the leading sprinter’s green jersey Wednesday, did not challenge Petacchi. He said the crashes and tough roads of the first stages had taken a toll.
“I wanted to do better, but I missed the power in the sprint today,” Hushovd said. “It’s the fatigue of the efforts from the past three days catching up with me, especially from yesterday.”
Hushovd won Tuesday’s stage on the cobblestones to give him a cushion in the green jersey standings. Armstrong lost two minutes after suffering a punctured tire on the sixth of seven stretches of cobbles.
The time loss was a blow to Armstrong’s desire for an eighth yellow jersey. But he said Wednesday he still is going for the win in Paris. Chances are, the race will be decided in two stages in the Alps and four in the Pyrenees, with the key action coming in the Tour’s final week.
But today and Friday will be acceleration time for the sprinters such as the 36-yearold Petacchi, who hasn’t raced in the Tour since 2004.
His victory Wednesday was his sixth career Tour stage win.
He also won Sunday’s Stage 1 to Brussels, benefiting from three sets of crashes that grounded his top challengers in the final 1.5 miles.
There was no crash benefit in Reims. The HTC-Columbia squad tried to set up a lead-out for sprinter Mark Cavendish. But Cavendish couldn’t keep up with Petacchi.
Alessandro Petacchi, second from right, pushes to the finish line in Stage 4. The Italian also won Stage 1 and has six career stage victories.
Lance Armstrong, right, gestures in the fourth stage. He finished with a group of 163 riders who got the same time as the winner.