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Winds of change in third day

Andrew Hood
Special to the Post Independent

The yellow jersey of the Tour de France is sometimes as slippery as a greased pig. A racer can have it in his hands but only watch it slip away.

French racer Jean-Patrick Nazon played the right cards in Tuesday’s short but fast third stage across the rolling hills of northern France to grab that elusive and exclusive garment, but he won’t have it for long.

After three days of fast and furious – and dangerous – stages, the Tour gets serious in Wednesday’s team time trial and Nazon will certainly see his hold on the yellow jersey melt away.



Nazon didn’t win the stage; that honor went to Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi of Fassa Bortolo, who nudged ahead of former world champion Romans Vainsteins of Vini Caldirola in a sprint finish for his second win in three days. Nazon did so by pulling out his calculator and earning time bonuses that are a part of every Tour road stage, stealing away the jersey from Fdjeux.com’s prologue winner Brad McGee in the process.

Nazon’s new team, the small Jean Delatour French team, created a furor when it was given the nod to race in this year’s Tour ahead of world champion Mario Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze squad. To add insult to injury, America’s four-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong said Nazon’s team raced like “amateurs” when one its riders attacked Armstrong when he crashed in a French race in June.



Nazon said cycling’s most prized jersey makes up for all the sufferings.

“What’s happened, happened,” Nazon said after donning the jersey. “Maybe (Armstrong) will back down on his comments, which were a little bit pathetic toward our team. We’re doing the same job as he does. We pedal, too. We might not be as strong as he is, but this can be seen as a reply to his remarks.”

Armstrong, meanwhile, finished safely in the lead bunch Tuesday at 69th and moved into 12th place overall, 19 seconds behind Nazon.

It was another messy ending, with German rider Rene Haselbacher of Gerolsteiner falling hard after bumping shoulders with Lotto-Domo’s Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke of Fdjeux.com.

“It’s chaos again, mate. You just put your halo on and hope for the best,” said Credit Agricole’s Stuart O’Grady.

Armstrong said he still has some minor pain from his spill in Sunday’s stage, when the Texan touched pavement for the first time in a Tour since 1999.

He and his U.S. Postal Service teammates are looking to Wednesday’s 69-kilometer team time trial as a chance to show the world Armstrong is in top form to make a run for a record-tying fifth Tour.

“It’s always the first key stage of the Tour,” said Dirk Demol, Postal’s assistant sport director. “It’s important because we can take time out on our rivals or you can lose time. We always go for the win in the time trial.”

The nine-man Postal team practiced the “TTT” formation Thursday and Friday before last weekend’s start, and Demol previewed the course earlier this year to make sure there are no surprises.

With injuries decimating such favorites as Rabobank and CSC, Postal, along with last year’s winner ONCE, enters the important stage as favorites.

The team time trial is one of cycling’s most dynamic events. Nine-man teams ride single-file over the course and must stay together until the finish line where the time is taken at the fifth man across the tape.

In the team time trial, Armstrong and the other favorites will only be as good as his teammates.

Editor’s note: For complete results, visit the Tour de France’s official Web site, http://www.letour.fr/2003/us/index.html.


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