Cycling: Hushovd wins after dramatic Tour stage

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The Independent Online

The Tour de France peloton endured another bumpy ride as Thor Hushovd emerged victorious on stage three today.

Seven cobbled sections - some of which feature in the Paris-Roubaix spring classic - totalling 13.2-kilometres featured on the 213km third road stage from Wanze in Belgium to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.

And Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) emerged victorious as the 97th Tour entered France for the first time, with Team Sky's Geraint Thomas second in the sprint finish on another dramatic day.

The day unfolded at a frenetic pace and was full of incident.

Frank Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) and Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) were unseated on the first section of pave in France.

Luxembourg rider Frank Schleck was seen in a foetal position in the middle of the road and after crashing yesterday, there were fears his Tour might be over before reaching the mountains.

His brother Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank), Thomas (Team Sky) and world champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) enhanced their positions in the general classification standings, while overall favourite Alberto Contador (Astana) claimed bragging rights over fierce rival and seven-time winner Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack).

Team Sky leader Bradley Wiggins finished in a small group ahead of Contador, pulling back some time lost in the opening prologue as he seeks Britain's first podium position in Paris on July 25.

Fabian Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank) reclaimed the yellow jersey, while Thomas took the white jersey for best young rider aged 25 and under and moved up to second overall.

Evans climbed to third, Ryder Hesjedal (Team Garmin-Transitions) fourth, Andy Schleck sixth and Contador ninth.

Yellow jersey incumbent Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep) slipped to fifth, while Armstrong fell to 18th.

Wiggins improved his position to 14th, one place ahead of fellow Briton David Millar (Team Garmin-Transitions).

After the crash-strewn opening two road stages, further strife was expected to befall a number of the peloton on the third road stage, a day on which Armstrong last week predicted there would be "carnage".

The route used the same pave which features in the Paris-Roubaix classic, an annual event known as 'The Hell of the North' due to its passage through the First World War battlefields.

A seven-man escape began after 13km, with Hesjedal (Team Garmin-Transitions) the catalyst.

The Canadian was joined by Tour debutant Steve Cummings (Team Sky) and five others - Pavel Brutt (Katusha), Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Roger Kluge (Milram), Stephane Auge (Cofidis) and Imanol Erviti (Caisse d'Epargne).

Three cobbled sections were ridden over in Belgium, with four of the seven pave passes taking place in the final 30km of racing in France.

Teams placed staff members along the cobbled route, holding spare wheels and bikes, with the worn, dust-covered stones often troublesome.

The peloton was split, with the main bunch led by Team Saxo Bank and Cervelo Test Team narrowing the gap to the escapees as the race crossed the border into France.

Frank Schleck crashed on the fourth section of pave, with Martin and a number of other riders caught up in the ensuing melee.

In the meantime, Hesjedal managed to go out alone, while Cummings was joined in pursuit by Hushovd, Cancellara, Andy Schleck, Thomas (Team Sky) and Evans.

Nine riders were in a second group, with Armstrong among them until he punctured 15km from the finish.

Chavanel punctured too and encountered further trouble inside the final 10km, but he was further back.

Hesjedal was caught in the final 7km and Hushovd won the ensuing seven-man dash for the line.