Kroon spoils Bastille Day celebrations

 

There was no storming victory by a French rider on Bastille Day in the Tour de France, just a guerilla attack by a Dutch master.

At 31, Dekker's best sprints are behind him but he used all of his experience to wear out the leading group, providing his younger companion Kroon with the opportunity for victory.

A French trio of Franck Renier of Bonjour, Credit Agricole's Sebastien Hinault and Stephane Auge of Jean Delatour each had their eye on winning on Bastille Day.

But a series of attacks and feints by Dekker left them exhausted and punchless, allowing Kroon to deliver the knock-out blow.

Servais Knaven of Domo-Farm Frites took second and Dekker finished third to complete a Dutch clean sweep of the top three places.

Robbie McEwen led the peloton home after another impressive ride which saw him close the gap on Erik Zabel in the green points jersey to just two points.

The Lotto man is one of three Australians, along with Baden Cooke and Stuart O'Grady, bidding to halt Zabel in his pursuit of a seventh successive points title.

After falling in yesterday's stage, defending champion Lance Armstrong managed to avoid the tarmac today to remain a catchable 34 seconds behind race leader Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano.

The Texan, winner of the prologue time-trial, will not only start tomorrow's time trial in Lanester as favourite to win the stage but will be a good bet to overhaul the ONCE man and reclaim the yellow jersey.

De Galdeano's team-mate Isidro Nozal still heads the under-25s standings but will also be vulnerable in the time-trial, in this instance to the lone Briton David Millar of Cofidis.

It being Bastille Day and it being the Tour de France, Jacky Durand attacked around 10km into the stage.

But the Francaise des Jeux rider, renowned for his recklessly aggressive approach, was soon reeled in.

With today's stage covering broad, smooth roads over relatively gentle terrain the opportunity was there for an early attack to succeed.

And there was a great deal of shadow boxing over the first 100km with riders breezing away before being blown back into the peloton.

Jean-Cyril Robin and Raivis Belohvosciks, who would later join the Dekker attack, briefly threatened before they were swallowed up by the pack.

The first serious break came at around the 80km mark when a group of 12, including three riders from the French Bonjour team, pushed away.

They carved out what might have been a winning position if it had not been for the efforts of CSC-Tiscali, who led the chase to catch them.

The rapid pace set by the peloton made effective attacking increasingly difficult until Dekker's seven made their bid around the 108km mark.

Millar attempted an unsuccessful counter-attack and ONCE, believing De Galdeano's lead to be under threat, set about pursuing the seven.

But they received little help from the rest of the pack, allowing the group to build a significant lead.

That left Dekker free to take control. First he attacked then he dropped off the back of the group before attacking once more.

The Dutchman repeated the trick a number of times, rendering any co-operation between the French threesome impossible and gifting the stage to Kroon.