By Ross Stapleton

While Australia’s Robbie McEwen
almost pulled off a stage victory on the second day of the Tour de
France earlier this morning, it was real heart in the mouth stuff as
you wondered if we might get any commentary at all to go with the
pictures on the final bunch sprint to the line, as SBS went audio dead
for a couple of critical minutes. We had to put with some pedestrian
”fill-in” commentary before we finally got to hear the “voice of
cycling” Phil Liggett and his co-commentator Paul Sherwen. The
difference was chalk and cheese.

McEwen, normally a clinical
finisher who times his surge to the finish line with perfection, got it
wrong at the end of today’s 181.5km leg between Challans and Les
Essarts, as he came through on the inside to take the lead 200m out,
but then found himself a sitting duck as Belgium’s Tom Boonen came
right over the top of him in the final 100m to win the stage. A fast
finishing Thor Hushovd of Norway just got past the Gold Coaster for
second spot, while Stuart O’Grady snuck home for a clever fourth place.

McEwen showed he will again be a major challenger for the
sprint champion’s green jersey and with Australia’s other top sprint
hopes finishing in the top ten – Baden Cooke (9th) and Allan Davis
(10th) – we have a lot to look forward to over the rest of the race. It
also helps make up for the failure of the record ten-strong Australian
contingent to make any major impact on the opening stage despite big
expectations.

Peter Fray

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