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Sunday, July 2, 2006
Updated: July 3, 11:34 AM ET
Casper wins first stage; Hincapie takes yellow jersey news services

STRASBOURG, France -- George Hincapie took the overall lead Sunday in a Tour de France blown wide open with the loss of top riders in a doping scandal, while Frenchman Jimmy Casper won a sprint finish to capture the first stage.
Casper (right) outdueled Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel to win Stage 1 in a sprint.

Hincapie rode with Lance Armstrong on all of his record seven Tour victories. Now, with Armstrong retired, the American is looking to make his own mark.

"I'm in very good shape," Hincapie said.

Norway's Thor Hushovd, winner of the opening prologue, needed stitches at a hospital for a bloody gash on his right arm. He rode into a cardboard promotional item that a fan dangled over the course in the sprint, prompting new security measures. Hushovd finished ninth and organizers expect him to race Monday.

"We managed to stop the bleeding. It's a deep wound but not a serious one," said doctor Gerard Porte, head of the Tour medical team.

The Norwegian had been the leader after capturing Saturday's time trial, but Hincapie picked up bonus time on a sprint section of Sunday's course. The New York-born rider will wear the yellow jersey for the first time Monday in the second stage of the three-week race.

Hincapie is among the new favorites following the withdrawal of Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich on Friday because of doping allegations. He said he had been "very disappointed" to lose to Hushovd by a split second Saturday.

He bounced back by becoming the fourth American to earn the yellow jersey after Armstrong, three-time Tour champion Greg LeMond and time-trial specialist David Zabriskie.

"I really wanted the yellow jersey," he said. It was "a big accomplishment for me. If I could hold it for another day or two that would be great."

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 115-mile 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," he said. "I took it and I think I made a great decision."

Hushovd's main goal is to retain the green jersey he won last year as best sprinter. He's not seen as a threat for overall title because he struggles in the mountains.

Casper beat out Australia's Robbie McEwen and German veteran Erik Zabel in the finishing sprint into Strasbourg in eastern France. All three riders were given the same time.

"It's the most beautiful day in my life," said Casper, whose victory gave him the green jersey.

"The door opened at the right time for me in this sprint. I hope I can repeat this feat."

Hushovd was injured when he grazed a giant green cardboard hand that a Tour sponsor gives to fans. Many spectators held out the cardboard hands as they cheered the riders.

Organizers said 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.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.