The start was given at 2:49pm to 158 riders. Spain’s Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne), the 2006 Tour de France
winner, did not start because of bronchitis. His compatriot Arkaitz Duran Aroca also called it quits early in the stage.
The first break, at kilometre 15, involved three Frenchmen, Remi Pauriol (CA), Clement Lhotellerie (SKS) and Sebastien
Minard (COF). Two other Frenchmen tried their luck in turn — Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), at kilometre 29, and local rider
Thierry Hupond (Skil Shimano), a kilometre later.
Hupond’s move gained momentum and his lead reched six minutes at kilometre 46. At kilometre 51, with a lead of 7:40,
Hupond was the virtual race leader, trailing Thor Hushovd by 6:58 at the start.
The Frenchman won the first intermediate sprint in Vitry-sur-Loire ahead of Germany’s Markus Eichler (Milram) and
Briton David Millar (Slipstream).
The gap topped at 15:10 in Paray-le-Monial (km 105.5) and started decreasing as Hushovd’s Credit Agricole team-mates
launched the chase.
At the second intermediate sprint in St Christophe-in-Brionnais, in which Hushovd took second place ahead of 1st stage
winner Gert Steegmans, Hupond’s lead was down to 13:15.
Two crashes shortly before the first climb of the day split the bunch. Cadel Evans, David Millar and Davide Rebellin were
among the riders held back but they returned in the peloton in the descent. By contrast, Frank Schlek (CSC), directly involved
in the crash, and white jersey holder Andryi Grivko were trapped further back. Schleck lost about three minutes on stage winner
Steegmans. And if that wasn't enough, seven CSC riders crashed today.
"It was not our day today. There was a huge crash 60 kilometers before the finish and seven out of our eight riders were
in it. Only Karsten Kroon managed to escape and was able to continue with the remainder of the peloton. We had two smashed
up bikes and some of the riders were beaten pretty badly," explained CSC sports director Kim Andersen after the stage.
"It wasn't easy because they didn't wait up front – on the contrary. We had two and a half minutes up there once
we were back in action and since Fränk, Jens Voigt, Alex Kolobnev and Chris Anker Sørensen were all beaten up pretty bad it
was a tough job, but I gotta say that they all did really well. At the top of the final climb with 20 kilometers to go we
were only 25 seconds behind the peloton, but they rode like crazy on the descent, which was wet with rain, and Hushovd even
managed to attack so we never made it all the way," continued Kim Andersen
At the top of the cote de la Clayette (3rd cat, km 141), Hupond was first ahead of team-mate Clement Lhotellerie and another
Frenchman, Yoann Le Boulanger (FDJ).
Hupond kept a 6:30 lead at the top of the Col de Champ Juin (3rd cat, km 160), ahead of Le Boulanger and Dmitry Fofonov
On the col de Crie (3rd cat, km167.5), second-placed was Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) ahead of Le Boulanger.
Flecha broke from the bunch in the descent to chase Hupond on his own.
The Frenchman was caught shortly before the top of the Col du Fut d’Avenas (2nd category) by Benat Intxausti (Saunier
Duval) and Flecha. But Hupond earned a fine consolation prize : the best climber’s polka-dot jersey.
In the descent, Hushovd took advantage of the junction to part with his rivals.
With five kilometres to go, he was
joined by Sylvan Chavanel (Cofidis), Swiss Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Steegmans. The Belgian was, like in Nevers, the
strongest of the lot and he surged with 200 metres to go to win his second stage in succession ahead of Hushovd and Chavanel.
Gert Steegamns said: Gert Steegmans : "It was very cold and rainy in the beginning and as a result the peloton was
not very well organised in the finale. There were several attacks and in the last one, there were four of us. I realised I
could not wait for a mass sprint when Philippe Gilbert attacked. He can always be dangerous if you let him go. Then it was
Hushovd’s turn." Steegmans concluded by saying: "It’s true that I like this kind of slightly uphill finishes.
I’m probably the heaviest rider who likes hills."
Thor Hushovd defended his overall leader’s yellow jersey. Hushovd said: "It was a long and cold day with a lot
of rain. A guy attacked in the descent and I followed him and I found myself on my own... then I understood I could not go
all the way by myself. Next there were four of us, four strong riders and the best man won.
Today was tough enough, tomorrow
I’ll be happy to just make it to the finish, we’ll see."