Sprinters rule again in Stage 9

GUERET, FRANCE — GUERET, France - It was an all-out, elbow-flinging, heads down dash to the finish line yesterday in Stage 9 of the Tour de France.

With 60 meters left in the 99-mile race from Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat, the threesome of Robbie McEwen, a garrulous Australian; Thor Hushovd, the Norwegian who had already won two sprint stages, and Stewart O'Grady, another Australian, burst out of the peloton and past two startled riders - Spain's Inigo Landaluze and Italy's Filippo Simeoni - who had led for most of the day.


McEwen, Hushovd and O'Grady crossed the finish line with less than half a bike wheel separating them.

It took a photo to tell the story - McEwen was the happy winner, finishing the stage in 3 hours 32 minutes, 55 seconds. The finish line was in the unscenic, industrial outskirts of the town, prompting a TV commentator to say, "This town must have paid a lot of money to win this stage."


Yesterday, as the Tour resumed after its first rest day, it was status quo among the favorites.

Lance Armstrong, the Texan bidding for an unprecedented sixth straight title, pronounced himself satisfied again after an easy trip in the shortest of this year's 20 stages. He remains in sixth place, 9:35 behind leader Thomas Voeckler of France.

Tyler Hamilton of Marblehead, Mass., is still 36 seconds behind Armstrong, and five-time runner-up Jan Ullrich is 55 seconds behind Armstrong. Others in the chase for the podium, such as climber Roberto Heras of Spain and Ivan Basso of Italy also stuck to the program, hanging in the peloton and letting the sprinters do their thing.

Armstrong figures today's leg will be difficult. "It will be hard, especially if the race starts aggressively, like it did today," he said.

Chris Carmichael, his trainer, said it was unlikely any of the favorites would make a big move today or tomorrow, in another hilly stage.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Tour at a glance

Yesterday: A 99.73-mile leg from Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat to Gueret.


Winner: Robbie McEwen, Australia, Lotto-Domo, in 3 hours, 32 minutes, 55 seconds.

How others fared: Lance Armstrong, United States, U.S. Postal-Berry Floor, finished 44th, same time. Jan Ullrich, Germany, T-Mobile Team, finished 25th, same time.

Yellow jersey: Frenchman Thomas Voeckler of Brioches la Boulangere retained the leader's shirt.

Today: Stage 10, Limoges to Saint-Flour, 147.27 miles - the longest stage of the Tour.