O'Grady wins fifth stage of Tour,Voeckler takes yellow jersey

8th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

CHARTRES, France, July 8 (AFP) - Australian sprinter Stuart O'Grady used years of top level experience to bag a first Tour de France stage for his embattled Cofidis team after the fifth stage ride over 200.5km between Amiens and here on Thursday.

CHARTRES, France, July 8 (AFP) - Australian sprinter Stuart O'Grady used years of top level experience to bag a first Tour de France stage for his embattled Cofidis team after the fifth stage ride over 200.5km between Amiens and here on Thursday.   

The 30-year-old O'Grady held off Dane Jakob Piil of the CSC team in a two-man sprint for the finish after an intriguing game of cat-and-mouse between the five stage leaders in the final kilometres.  

O'Grady, whose only other stage win was for Credit Agricole in 1998, was part of the five-man group which had attacked at the 16km mark.  

The went on to build a 17-minute lead on the peloton, being led by Lance Armstrong's US Postal team, before O'Grady brought the race home ahead of Piil in a time of 5hr 5min 58sec.   

Frenchman Sandy Casar, of the Fdjeux.com team, came third to pull on the white jersey for the race's best under-25 rider - which should have been won by French sensation Thomas Voeckler.  

Voeckler, the recently-crowned French champion who rides for La Boulangere, came fourth and instead pulled on a more prestigious tunic in the yellow jersey.  

The 24-year-old from the French Caribbean island of Martinique started the day's stage only three minutes behind overnight leader Lance Armstrong, who crossed the line with the rest of the rain-soaked peloton about 12 and a half minutes back.   

"I'm not really taking this in," said Voeckler, who said he hopes to keep the race lead for a few more days yet.  

"I've dreamed about the yellow jersey before, but I didn't actually think I would pull it on.  

"It's a lot of responsibility but I think I can handle it and I hope to keep it a few more days yet," added Voeckler who now has a 9min 35sec lead over Armstrong in the general classification.  

The 32-year-old American five-time winner had taken the race lead following US Postal's domination of Wednesday's team time trial, after which he said they would not be defending the race lead in the coming days.  

That remark did not escape any of the peloton, including O'Grady, who started the day determined to win a stage to help soothe the pain that Cofidis have been feeling from the doping affairs which have blighted their season.  

After nearly 190 km of cooperation on the breakaway and with five kilometres to the finish, the five front men began an intriguing game of attack and counter-attack, at the start of which Vockler, then Piil tried their luck.  

O'Grady, who has rode eight Tours, used his experience wisely, sitting behind wheels almost all the way to the finish before surging ahead of Piil in the final 50 metres.   "I'm absolutely delighted," said O'Grady, who in winning the stage and all three intermediate sprints boosted his hopes for the green jersey.  

"At the team meeting this morning I said there was likely to be a long breakaway, and that if I was part of it I would win the stage.  

"It was a really hard day, with the rain and the cold. At the end I saw that Voeckler was very motivated, and Piil is hard to beat but I pulled through.  

"It's been a really tough season, and sometimes I've sat in my bed at night wondering when the page is going to turn," added O'Grady who made a special mention for teammates David Millar and Matt White.  

Millar was barred from the Tour after admitting use of the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin), while White did not even start the race after crashing during the warm-up for the opening prologue.  

And O'Grady added: "This victory takes a whole lot of weight off my shoulders, and that of everyone in the team."  

A number of crashes occurred during the mainly flat stage, claiming Liberty climber Roberto Heras, Dutchman Michael Boogerd and up to three US Postal riders, including Manuel Beltran near the halfway mark - although all finished the race.  

Near the end of the stage, another mass crash split the peloton open and brought down Australian Robbie McEwen, in the green jersey, before the Lotto rider got back to win the sprint finish for sixth place.  

The biggest victim of the race however was Bradley McGee, the leader of the Fdjeux.com team who won last year's prologue.   

The 28-year-old started the race carrying a back niggle and had struggled ever since.   

McGee pulled out shortly after the peloton had picked up the pace in a bid to lessen the increasing gap being imposed by the five-man escape group.   

The Australian's retirement means that reigning green jersey champion Baden Cooke, also of Australia, will lose one of his lead-out men for the finish line sprints.


Subject: French news

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