In a day for the sprinters, Davitamon-Lotto's Robbie McEwen edged out his green jersey rival Tom Boonen by half a wheel in a dramatic dash to the finish line to capture stage 5 of the Tour de France Wednesday.
The win was a vindication for the Australian firebrand, who had been penalized for head-butting during a sprint to the line in Stage 3.
"This is a nice way to get the monkey off my back," McEwen told the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) after the race.
American Lance Armstrong finished 45th for the day and made no attempt to win the mostly flat, 114-mile stage, which culminated in dangerous, high-speed maneuvering through the narrow and tightly curving streets of Montargis. Armstrong spent most of the day tucked safely near the front of the peloton and kept his yellow jersey lead.
Most of the leading was done by a breakaway group of four ridersFassa Bortolo's Juan Antonio Flecha, Salvatore Commesso of Lampre-Caffita, Laszlo Bodrogi of Credit Agricole, and Kjell Carlstrom of Liquigas-Bianchiwho gobbled up points for two intermediate sprints and a category-four hill, before being overtaken by the peloton with about seven miles to go in the stage.
There were a number of crashes and mishaps, including a pileup involving most of Team CSC at the feeding station and one on a snaking turn on the outskirts of Montargis. Jose Angel Gomez, a rider with Saunier Duval, slammed into a motorcycle parked on a turn of the course. A half-hour later, he had rejoined the peloton.
With Armstrong still riding with an overall lead of 55 seconds over the next rider, Discovery Channel teammate George Hincapie, he retains the yellow jersey for tomorrow's 123-mile ride from Troyes to Nancy, marked by four category-four climbs.
In the overall standings, Team CSC's Jens Voigt (1:04) and Bobby Julich (1:07) are third and fourth, respectively. The Discovery Channel's Jose Luis Rubiera is in fifth place, one minute, 14 seconds behind his captain.
Before the race, Armstrong caused a stir after saying he would not wear the yellow jersey, in deference to Team CSC's David Zabriskie, who lost it after a sudden crash just a mile to go in yesterday's team time trial.
"I think David was unlucky and probably would have kept the jersey," Armstrong told OLN after the race.
However, race officials informed Armstrong that if he didn't wear the yellow jersey, he would be disqualified from the Tour. The entire peloton stopped its three-mile warm-up ride to the starting line to allow Armstrong to put on the jersey.
The Tour also lost its first rider Wednesday when Saunier Duval's Constantino Zaballa retired from the event, reportedly due to illness.