STRASBOURG, France While Jimmy Casper (Cofidis) of France out-sprinted the field to win his first career Tour de France stage, George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) of Greenville, South Carolina, opportunistically rode his way into the race lead on Sunday. Casper, who twice has finished last in the Tour, used a clear, middle-of-the-road sprint to edge Australia's Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Erik Zabel (Milram) of Germany in the 114.6-mile Strasbourg to Strasbourg stage in four hours and ten minutes. The average speed was 27.51 mph.
Tour de France
Stage 1 of the 2006 Tour de France gets underway through the streets of Strasbourg, France.
Hincapie, who began the day in second position 0.73 seconds behind prologue winner Thor Hushovd, placed 23rd in the same time as the winner and the rest of the peloton.
Hushovd placed ninth but did not contest the sprint after he cut and bloodied his right elbow when a spectator's cardboard publicity "hand" was thrust into his way as he crossed the line. Hushovd was taken from the scene via ambulance.
Hincapie, who became the fourth American to lead the Tour de France, gained two bonus seconds for third place in the final intermediate sprint and became the "virtual leader" of the race with about four miles left in the stage.
Hincapie, 32, now leads Hushovd by two seconds in the general classification. David Zabriskie (CSC) of Salt Lake City, third in the prologue, remains third overall, trailing by six seconds.
"I didn't plan to contest the sprint but when we caught the break, I saw an opportunity I couldn't pass up," said Hincapie, who joined former teammate Lance Armstrong, three-time race winner Greg LeMond, and Zabriskie, the prologue winner last year, as Americans to lead the Tour de France. "I think I made a great decision." Hincapie, 32, seeking his tenth Tour finishwhich would be the most by an Americanclaimed the 15th stage of the race last year and finished a career-best 13th overall. He was the only teammate of Armstrong's in each of the retired rider's seven consecutive titles.
Disappointed by his runner-up prologue finish, Hincapie said he was pleased to rebound quickly.
"I wasn't thinking about getting the seconds; I thought it would be impossible," he said. "But like I said, when I saw the opportunity, I had to go for it." Seven riders broke from the field and built as much as a five-minute lead with about 35 miles left in the stage. The lead group's advantage steadily decreased until Frenchman Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom) attacked with just under ten miles left.
Beneteau increased his advantage to about 30 seconds, but his effort was absorbed within a few miles of the finish when the main group's speed rapidly increased.
For more of Outside Online Tour de France Correspondent James Raia's coverage of the 2006 Tour de France, including his daily e-newsletter, go to www.byjamesraia.com.