CANTERBURY, England -- Australia's Robbie McEwen crashed
over his handlebars with 12 miles left, got back on his bike and
mustered the grit to win the first stage of the Tour de France on
Sunday in a mad-dash sprint.
With his wrist aching and right knee cut, McEwen persevered in
the English countryside during cycling's showpiece event. It was a
tough, gallant performance and, for a day at least, showed the
better side of a sport reeling from a string of doping
investigations, admissions and scandals during the last year.
"This is definitely one of the best ever," said McEwen, a star
sprinter who rides for the Predictor-Lotto team. "After the crash
I hurt myself -- hurt my wrist -- but the boys brought me back. I
still can't believe I won this stage."
This was McEwen's 12th stage win at the Tour. He finished in 4
hours, 39 minutes, 1 second on a mostly flat 126-mile route to
Canterbury that favored sprinters.
Norway's Thor Hushovd was second and Belgium's Tom Boonen was
third among the 181 cyclists who had the same time as McEwen.
The first thing I thought was that I had broken my wrist. I couldn't feel anything. ... It's worth that pain to have a stage win in the Tour de France.
McEwen was tossed from bike during a group crash.
"The first thing I thought was that I had broken my wrist," he
said. "I couldn't feel anything. ... It's worth that pain to have
a stage win in the Tour de France."
McEwen tied Germany's Erik Zabel as record-holder for stage
victories among current riders, though far short of Eddy Merckx's
record of 34. Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong won 22
Switzerland's Fabien Cancellara kept the overall leader's yellow
jersey a day after he won the time-trial prologue in London.
Andreas Kloeden of Germany is second overall, 13 seconds back,
followed by Britain's David Millar, 21 seconds behind.
Spain's Eduardo Gonzalo Ramirez became the first cyclist to drop
out of this year's race after injuring his shoulder in a crash.
Millar, cheered by local fans, sped ahead for an early breakaway
but was caught by a group of four trailing riders and then by the
full pack with about 18 miles to go. Millar was awarded the
polka-dot jersey, given to the best overall climber in the Tour.
Cycling does not have the same hold in Britain as it does in
France. But spectators turned out en masse for the Tour's first
start in London, with up to one million people packing the city's
streets Saturday. On Sunday, tens of thousands lined the route,
waving Union Jack flags while brass bands blared jolly tunes.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone waved the flag for a ceremonial start
on Tower Bridge.
The flavor was distinctively British, with some fans sitting in
roadside armchairs with potato chips and pints of warm beer to see
a race more often associated with wine and cheese picnics in
The Tour crosses the English Channel on Monday for the second
stage, a 105-mile ride from coastal Dunkirk to Ghent, Belgium.