Sprinter Jean-Patrick Nazon (A2R) won the third stage of the 2004 Tour de France Tuesday on the 131-mile course from Waterloo, Belgium to Wasquehal, France. This was the longest stage to date in this year's Tour, and the last stage to take place in Belgium. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) took the second spot while Lotto-Domo sprint specialist Robbie McEwen, who won Stage 2 Monday, placed third. With his third place finish, McEwen took the yellow jersey and became the fourth Australian in Tour history to do so.
McEwen Takes the Overall Lead
McEwen Takes Overall Lead After Stage 3
During Stage 3, riders wove through the Belgian and French countryside, incorporating portions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix courses. Two sections of cobblestone road made for narrow and dangerous racing.
The most significant crash of the day took place just before the first section of cobblestones, with Euskaltel-Euskadi team leader Iban Mayo going down along with U.S. Postal team-member Benjamin Noval. It was an early blow to Mayo who was considered a dark horse challenger for the Tour title. He couldn't recover from the deficit and ultimately fell to the back of the peloton finishing 151st for the day and 101st in the general standings. At about four minutes behind the main contenders, getting back into the top rank with the likes of Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton, could prove difficult for the Spaniard.
Armstrong placed 54th in today's stage, while rivals Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros), and Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) finished 18th, 24th and 63rd respectively, all coming in with the main group. Currently, Armstrong stands in fifth place in the general standings while the closest of the main contenders, Ullrich, is in 18th overall.
At about the 1.5-mile mark, CSC's Jens Voigt and Rabobank's Bram De Groot broke from the peloton and were able to secure a lead of more than six and a half minutes. But, after the first section of cobblestones and with about 25 miles to go, a chase group lead by U.S. Postal's George Hincapie caught the leaders. With leadout efforts by teams T-Mobile and Fassa Bortolo, a split between the two pelotons occurred, keeping Armstrong, Hamilton, and Ullrich in the bunch. Mayo was stuck in the second of the two pelotons.
When the lead group was about 2.5 miles from the finish line, the time gap between the two main groups hovered at around three minutesenough of a lag to secure the separation of the two groups for the rest of the stage and set up the final sprint win for Nazon.
Tomorrow's Stage 4 team time trial will provide an exciting departure from the sprint action of the past two stages.