It was an ugly sprint won beautifully by Cofidis’ Jimmy Casper. Globs of riders bounced all across the road as Milram’s Erik Zabel (500m) and Quick.Step’s Tom Boonen (300m) found themselves unexpectedly out in the wind. The crafty German reintegrated between Davitamon’s Robbie McEwen and Liquigas’ Magnus Backsteadt, but the Flandrian tried get fancy, peeping back over his shoulder to react to riders as they came around him. Casper, perhaps realizing that Boonen’s attempt to lead himself out would doubtlessly end in failure, lunged up the right side of the field. Tornado Tom eventually tired, leaving most of the sprinters pinned in against the barriers behind him. Zabel, McEwen and Bennatti managed to slip free, but it was deck chairs on the Titanic as they could only catch the tiny Frenchman meters after the line, as he made an unorthodox hand-biting salute.
Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) caused some later nervousness by lying on the ground in a blood spattered yellow jersey, shades of Hinault in ’85. But he had apparently dismounted the bike of his own regard, and appeared to have simply been cut deeply by a PMU hand on the run in to the finish. The Norweigan placed in the Top 10, receiving the same time as the field, but it was crafty George Hincapie who donned the golden fleece at day’s end, courtesy of a cheeky little move on the last intermediate sprint of the day. Hushovd’s teammate Seb Hinault was marking and absolutely wrecked Hincapie in the sprint, but the American’s 3rd place (and the two-second bonus that came with it) was still good enough to snatch the GC lead. Other notables were Liquigas’ Danilo DiLuca getting dropped inside the final K, and Walter Beneteau of Bouygues Telecom making a senseless move out of the break at 13k to go; after the recent suspensions, I suppose the peloton is cleaner, but Walter, it’s not that clean.