Freire Claims Stage 9; Honchar Holds on to Yellow

DAX, France — Oscar Freire (Rabobank) of Spain launched a late sprint and held off Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) of Australia to claim his second stage win Tuesday in the 105.3-mile (169.5-kilometer) ninth stage of the Tour de France.

Robbie McEwen pats Oscar Freire on the shoulder after Freire's Stage 9 win.


Freire, three-time world road champion, claimed his third career Tour stage in the shortest road stage of the race to date in three hours, 35 minutes, and 24 seconds.

McEwen, winner of three stages, was second in a photo finish with Erik Zabel (Milram) of Germany in third. The first 84 finishers were all credited with the same finishing time.

"I didn't know I'd won," said Freire, who also claimed the fifth stage to Caen. "I wasn't even sure the break had been caught."

As expected with the race's first mountain stage looming Wednesday, the flat day's journey from Dax often paralleling the Atlantic Ocean developed into a sprinters' battle. And with the sprint finish, there was little change in the overall standings.

Serhiy Honchar (T-Mobile), the first Ukrainian cyclist ever to lead the Tour de France, maintained his 1:00 margin over Floyd Landis (Phonak) of Murrieta, California. T-Mobile teammate Michael Rogers of Australia is third, trailing by 1:08.

David Zabriskie (CSC), of Salt Lake City, is eighth overall as the next highest of six Americans. George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) is in 17th position as the only other U.S. rider in the top 20.

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) of Santa Rosa, California, crashed on a railroad crossing with less than three kilometers left, and was given the same time as the riders who finished 26 seconds behind.

When a few brief breaks proved unsuccessful, a trio of lower-ranked riders—Christian Knees (Milram) of Germany, Walter Beneteau (Bouygues-Telecom) of France, and Stephane Auge (Cofidis) of France—went to the front after about ten miles.

As in every stage to date, the peloton was content to let the break build its lead, this time to nearly eight minutes. The group then brought the trio back and the main field was together with less than two miles remaining.

Freire and McEwen both lunged at the finish and then briefly bumped. McEwen put his hand on Freire's back in a sportsmanlike gesture. But neither rider knew at the line who had won.

Stage ten, a 118.3-mile (190.5-kilometer) journey from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau, includes the first beyond-category climb of the race, a 8.5-mile ascent to Col de Soudet that's just slightly more than halfway through the stage.

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