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Australia’s McEwen Wins Another Stage

From the Associated Press

Tour de France favorites, it’s time to step up.

The race to become Lance Armstrong’s successor begins in earnest today with the first long time trial on a Tour marked by crashes and a doping investigation that has stripped the event of elite riders.

After an opening week when top riders took few risks and the glory belonged to sprinters such as Robbie McEwen, the time trial should help reveal the true contenders in a depleted field.

McEwen’s win in Friday’s sixth stage was his third this year and 11th in nine Tours.

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The Australian won in characteristic fashion, muscling past other sprinters. Among them was Tom Boonen, the overall race leader who clung to the prized yellow jersey but is frustrated not to have another stage victory to go with the four he has from previous Tours.

McEwen was effusive in thanking teammate Gert Steegmans, likening his sprint lead-in man to a French high-speed train. The Belgian acts like a booster rocket for McEwen in sprint finishes, pulling him along and positioning him for the final solo dash to the line.

“When he started, I really had to jump to go with him, and if I really have to jump to go with somebody in the wheel, it means that nobody can probably follow,” McEwen said.

Boonen’s fourth consecutive day in the race leader’s yellow shirt today could be his last. The Belgian is not among those expected to shine in the time trial, which favors racers able to ride quickly and steadily over long distances.

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Of the four riders who defeated Armstrong in long time trials during his seven-year reign as Tour champion, only two are racing this year: American David Zabriskie of Team CSC and Saunier Duval’s David Millar, a Briton back from a two-year doping ban.

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STAGE 6 AT A GLANCE

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* Friday: The sixth stage took riders on a 117-mile ride from Lisieux across Normandy into the small town of Vitre, on the edge of Brittany in northwest France.

* Winner: Australia’s Robbie McEwen of Davitamon-Lotto in 4 hours 10 minutes 17 seconds. Lampre’s Daniele Bennati of Italy was second, and Belgium’s Tom Boonen of Quick Step-Innergetic was third -- joining 144 other riders in a pack with the same time as McEwen.

* Yellow jersey: Boonen retained the leader’s shirt for a fourth straight day.

* Quote of the day: “We haven’t seen the leaders yet. Aside from the sprinters, they have all been playing hide-and-seek.” -- Phonak team manager Jacques Michaud.

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*--* STAGE 6 RESULTS OVERALL LEADERS 1. Robbie 4:10:17 Boonen, Belgium 29:21:00 McEwen, Australia 2. Daniele same time McEwen, 12 seconds behind Bennati, Italy Australia 3. Tom Boonen, same time Michael 21 seconds behind Belgium Rogers, Australia 4. Bernhard same time Oscar Freire, 25 seconds behind Eisel, Austria Spain 5. Thor Hushovd, same time George same time Norway Hincapie, U.S.

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Source: Associated Press

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