Cycling: Riders in protest after losing way

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The Independent Online

There were some badly fluffed lines at the first dress rehearsal for next year's Tour de France as a rider protest held up the fifth stage of the Tour of Britain by over an hour. Riders slowed the race after being led off-course by the police at the stage start in Rochester. It meant a delay of half an hour and, with the riders soft-pedalling, they arrived in Canterbury an hour late.

It brought to a head ill-feeling among some of the European teams, who were unhappy at the way the race had been organised - in particular the rolling road- block in which the peloton travels. "It is a sign from the teams that things have to improve," said QuickStep-Innergetic's manager, Wilfred Peeters. The peloton was not united, though. "For the British teams, this is our race," said Roger Hammond, the British team leader. "To lose a day is quite a big thing."

Amid uncertainty about where the go-slow was supposed to end, QuickStep's Tom Boonen, world champion and one of the race's senior riders, chased down an attempt by Hammond's team-mate Ben Swift to break away. Boonen's fellow QuickStep rider Francesco Chicchi then benefited from the confusion to claim the stage victory.

The 2007 Tour de France will start in London before a second stage finishing in Canterbury, and an error like this is not a good sign. More immediately, today's stage in the centre of London has to be negotiated.

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