Thor Hushovd's roller-coaster run of luck continued full-tilt yesterday as he lost the bunch sprint to Robbie McEwen when his shoe slipped from his pedal during stage 2, into Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg. However, the Norwegian still moved back into yellow, none the less.
The day before, Hushovd, who won Saturday's prologue time-trial, had badly slashed his arm against a giant publicity "hand" close to the finish and then all but fainted as the blood pumped forth. A trip to the hospital and three stitches later, the next day Hushovd was back in the action for the longest stage of this year's Tour.
With temperatures soaring into the mid-30Cs during the 228 kilometre grind north from Strasbourg, Hushovd said: "I had been thinking of abandoning at one point with a sore stomach and the heat didn't help." The burly Norwegian's morale slowly improved as he began battling for intermediate sprints, snaffling two third places which propelled him - on paper - back into the leader's yellow jersey.
After a day-long breakaway David De La Fuente was reeled in on one of a vicious succession of short but steep climbs near the finale, the Credit Agricole rider then managed to dodge a dangerous pile-up in the last two kilometres.
What Hushovd could not avoid, however, was his front wheel making contact with stage winner McEwen in the last 100 metres. "I bounced off, my shoe came out and I finished with one foot all but scraping along the ground," Hushovd said.
Such un-nerving accidents at 70kph are very much part of the trade for sprinters and while Hushovd crossed the line bellowing with rage, he quickly calmed down and shook hands with McEwen.
The Australian was equally phlegmatic: "We touched wheels and it was a bit dodgy, but Thor's OK. He got the yellow jersey back - he's had a good day."
The same can not be said for one of the two Britons taking part in the Tour, Bradley Wiggins, who was forced to wait for a team-mate who suffered badly on a late climb and lost nearly seven minutes in the process. David Millar, on the other hand, made it through for his second top 20 place in two days.
"I even stuck my head up in the middle of the sprint to see what was going on ahead and who was winning," admitted Millar, who is back in the Tour after a two-year ban for doping ended in late June.
As the race took a brief incursion into Luxembourg, there was room for nostalgia about climbing genius Charly Gaul, the 1958 Tour winner from the Duchy who died recently, but there was also a grim sense that the doping affairs that plagued the race build-up may yet come back.
In Bordeaux, meanwhile, 23 people were sentenced to up to four years in prison for being involved in a drugs ring that supplied a cocktail of amphetamines known as "Belgian pot" to cyclists.
The Belgian physiotherapist Freddy Sergant, who supplied the drug, was sentenced to four years, while the French former professional Laurent Roux, who admitted during the trial to taking banned substances throughout his career, was sentenced to 30 months, 20 of them suspended.Reuse content