Casper takes first Tour stage

George Hincapie of the US takes overall lead, Thor Hushovd has bad fall.

By
July 3, 2006 10:25
2 minute read.

 
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Jimmy Casper of France won a sprint finish to take the first stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, while George Hincapie of the US took the overall lead. Thor Hushovd, who won the opening prologue on Saturday, had to have a bloody gash on his right arm stitched at a local hospital after colliding with a sponsor's freebie that a fan dangled over the course in the sprint. Tour organizers responded by announcing new security measures. Hushovd had been the leader going into the first stage after capturing Saturday's time trial, but Hincapie picked up bonus time on a sprint section of Sunday's course. The New York native will wear the coveted race leader's yellow jersey for the first time Monday in the second stage of the three-week race. Hincapie rode with Lance Armstrong on all of his record seven Tour victories, but Hincapie can make his own mark in the race with the Texan now retired. "I'm in very good shape," said Hincapie, adding that he'd been "very disappointed" to lose to Hushovd by a split second on Saturday. Hincapie is the fourth American to earn the yellow jersey after Armstrong, threetime Tour champion Greg LeMond and time-trial specialist David Zabriskie. "I really wanted the yellow jersey," Hincapie said. It was "a big accomplishment for me. If I could hold it for another day or two that would be great." Hincapie, 33, is among the new favorites after the Tour was blown wide open by the withdrawal of top contenders Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich on Friday because of doping allegations. Hincapie showed last year he can be a force in the mountains that come later by winning a brutal stage in the Pyrenees. On Sunday, he showed race savvy. He seemed to surprise Hushovd by racing ahead of the main pack heading into the last of three intermediate sprint stages along the 184.5-kilometer route. Those sprints offer bonus seconds to the first three riders that go through. Hincapie was third, picking up two seconds, more than enough to make up the milliseconds he lost to Hushovd on Saturday. "I saw an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. I took it and I think I made a great decision," he said. Hushovd's main goal is the best sprinter's green jersey, which he won last year. He's not seen as a threat for overall victory because he tends to struggle in the mountains. Casper beat out Australia's Robbie McEwen and German veteran Erik Zabel in the finishing sprint into Strasbourg in northeast France. All three riders were given the same time. The Frenchman will ride Monday in the green jersey. Belgium's Tom Boonen, considered a sprinting expert, was poorly positioned for the final dash and ended up 13th. Hushovd was injured when he grazed a giant green cardboard hand that a Tour sponsor gives free to fans. Many spectators held out the cardboard hands as they cheer on the riders. Tour organizers said Hushovd, who finished ninth, was likely to be able to race Monday. They also said giveaways of the hands will now be prohibited in the arrival zone. Security teams will patrol the barriers that line the area and make regular announcements of safety measures. Casper said it was not the first time a rider had been hurt like that. "It would be good to get rid of those hands," he said.

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