Wed, Jun 08, 2005 - Page 19 News List

Thor Hushovd wins first stage at Dauphine Libere

AP , GIVORS, FRANCE

The US' Georges Hincapie, center, and Norway's Thor Hushovd, right, listen to an accordion player before the first stage of the 57th Dauphine Libere cycling race, between Aix-Les-Bains and Givors on Monday. Hushovd won the stage ahead of South Africa's Robert Hunter, although Hincapie retained the leader's jersey.

PHOTO: AFP

Thor Hushovd won the first stage at the Dauphine Libere on Monday, while six-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong finished in the chasing pack.

George Hincapie, who won the prologue on Sunday, retained the overall lead after the 224km route from Aix-les-Bains to Givors, which featured three small climbs totaling 10km.

"That's three years in a row I have won a stage here," Hushovd said. "I feel even more confident than last year."

Hushovd, who races for the Credit Agricole team, edged out Robert Hunter in a dash to the line. He clocked a winning time of 5 hours, 10 minutes, 55 seconds.

Juan Antonio Flecha was third, followed by Luke Roberts in fourth and Manuel Quinziato in fifth, all in the same time.

Hincapie finished 26th and Armstrong was 79th. Both were in a huge chasing group of around 90 riders, who were all accorded the same time -- three seconds back -- when they crossed the line.

Armstrong, who said he was "very happy that George [Hincapie] stayed in the yellow jersey," also praised the efforts of his teammates.

Hushovd, a sprinter with underrated climbing ability, said that teammate Damien Nazon helped him win the stage in the final sprint.

"It was a bit long to go for a sprint 250 meters from the line," Hushovd said.

"There was a lot of movement toward the end. It was a bit hard, but Damien was brilliant," he said.

Hincapie praised Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates for working to help him keep the leader's yellow jersey. Normally, Hincapie has only one goal: to help Armstrong to win -- so he appreciated the favor being returned this time.

"They rode hard as a present for me, to keep me in the yellow jersey," Hincapie said. "This is a really big deal for me and my family. Especially as Lance also has his own preparations for the Tour. For them to do that for me ... I say a big thanks to them."

Although Armstrong finished in 79th place, the Texan showed flashes of his greatness, notably in helping the peloton chase down a group of six breakaway riders -- led by Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel.

The breakaway group opened up a lead of six minutes over the peloton, as Credit Agricole and Discovery Channel riders worked in tandem to reel them in and help Hushovd and Hincapie get nearer to the front.

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