VITRE, France Australian Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) continued his dominating sprint finishes Friday, winning his third stage of the Tour de France and equaling his stage win total in last month's Tour of Italy.
Robbie McEwen, Tour de France 2006
Robbie McEwen snags his third stage win of the 2006 Tour de France.
Like he did in stages 2 and 4, McEwen claimed his 11th career Tour de France stage win with ease, winning the 117.4-mile route from Lisieux by more than a bike length in four hours, ten minutes, and 17 seconds.
With the peloton riding through periodic rain, Daniele Bennati (Lampre) of Italy was second in the mass sprint, while race leader Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) of Belgium finished in third.
Boonen, who opted not to speak with the media before or after stage, has not won a stage. But he retained his race lead for the fourth day.
The reigning world road titlist, Boonen holds a 12-second general classification margin over McEwen and a 21-second lead over Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) of Australia.
George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) of Greenville, South Carolina, remains the leading American, trailing by 25 seconds in fifth position. Floyd Landis (Phonak) of Murrieta, California, is the other U.S. rider in the top-ten overall, trailing by 36 seconds in eighth place.
"I'm not in the best form of my life, but I'm sprinting very well," said McEwen, who stressed that he also won the second, fourth, and sixth stage of the Tour of Italy. "I've been better on the open road, but I had a good feeling today at the start."
McEwen was expected to utilize the lead-out skills of Fred Rodriguez of Emeryville, California, en route to his stage-win pursuits. But Rodriguez crashed out of the race in Stage 3. Instead, Belgian Gert Steegman has provided McEwen's key late-race assistance.
"It's like I have my only personal TGV [the local French train system]," said McEwen. "I have the only ticket, and I just have to get off at the right stop."
The stage began with 171 riders after Fabio Sacchi (Milram) of Italy did not start. Several breaks developed throughout the stage, with the largest lead of 5:15 established after 63 miles.
As in previous road stages, the peloton came together for the finish and McEwen worked his way toward the front.
After riding 781 miles in seven days, the riders competing for the overall title will get their first true test Saturday in the 32.3-mile individual time trial from St. Grégoire to Rennes.