I Hate to Say It but I'm So Glad Lance Isn't in the Tour; It's So Much More Interesting...

In the absence of his friend and longtime Tour de France team leader Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie proved on Sunday that he has no problems taking things into his own hands. In the first road stage of the 2006 Tour, the Discovery Channel rider made a crafty move at an intermediate sprint spot to grab a small time bonus and launch himself into the race lead to become just the fourth American to wear the yellow jersey in Tour history.

photo: Graham Watson

Stage 1, a mostly flat 184.5km loop that started and finished in the city of Strasbourg, was billed as a sprinters’ affair and that’s how it turned out as the 28-year-old French rider Jimmy Casper of Cofidis scored the first Tour de France stage win of his erratic eight-year career.

Hincapie, who lost Saturday’s prologue by less than one second to Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), and started Sunday’s stage 1 with the same GC time as Hushovd, made a surprise move to take third place in the last intermediate sprint 9km from the finish and pick up a two-second bonus. That proved to be the difference, but Hincapie’s shining moment was somewhat overshadowed by an unfortunate accident in the dash to the line that left Hushovd injured by a cardboard sponsor sign being waved by a spectator leaning over the crowd barriers in 40 meters from the finish.

In the chaotic bunch sprint, Hushovd was riding close to the barriers on the right side of the road when his right arm was slashed by the green, oversized hand. Hushovd didn’t crash, but his wound was bleeding profusely. He collapsed in pain after crossing the finish line in ninth place.

Casper prevails in an insane sprint

(Hushovd’s arm is already bleeding in this photo)

photo: AFP

Boonen, too, was hit by an object, and the world champ had to stop his sprint with about 300 meters to go. Boonen thought the projectile was a camera, but McEwen later said it was a small plastic bag filled with water that was thrown by a spectator, injuring Boonen and grazing McEwen.

Though a top-three finish would have given Hushovd the necessary time bonus to keep the yellow jersey, he was unable to contest the sprint. Australian Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) was second, and German Erik Zabel (Milram) was third.

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