Norway’s Hagen wins slippery 6th stage of Tour de France

Posted July 07, 2011, at 5:37 p.m.
Last modified July 07, 2011, at 10:12 p.m.

LISIEUX, France — Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway led a sprint to win the rain-splattered sixth stage of the Tour de France, while his countryman Thor Hushovd retained the yellow jersey on Thursday.

The pack battled slippery roads and brisk winds over the hilly, 141-mile ride across northwest France from Dinan to Lisieux in Normandy — the longest stage in the race this year.

Hagen, a sprint specialist with Team Sky, broke out of the barreling pack near the finish line and held on, jutting his arms in the air as he crossed for his first Tour stage victory.

“I really surprised myself,” Hagen said. “Lots of people say that I’m a talented guy, so it’s nice to show it by winning a stage.”

Matt Goss of Australia was second, and Hushovd third.

Overall, Hushovd retained a one-second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia, while Frank Schleck of Luxembourg was third, four seconds back. Three-time champion Alberto Contador, who lost time in a Stage 1 crash, was 34th overall, 1:42 behind.

Hushovd and his team appeared to be wearying of the hard work of protecting the yellow jersey, which involves riding in the front to keep the race leader out of potential trouble.

“The yellow jersey’s on my shoulders and I used up a lot of energy, so I’m a little bit tired,” Hushovd said. “That’s why I missed that little something today. I’m feeling good, but it’s been a hard and stressful week.”

Hushovd has twice taken home the Tour’s green jersey awarded to the best sprinter.

Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, who won the opening stage Saturday, said “everyone was a bit out of breath” and that Hagen “devoured the last 150 meters; he’s impossible to catch when he’s like that.”

Hushovd reveled in the Nordic country’s success.

“Not bad, after all — it’s a good day for Norway,” said the Garmin-Cervelo veteran, who retained the yellow jersey for a fifth consecutive day. As for Hagen, he said: “Clearly he’s got a big future.”

A string of breakaway riders sought to get a leg up but the pack eventually reeled them all in — the last ones getting caught within the last mile.

Despite the rain and slippery conditions, the stage was marked by fewer crashes than a day earlier, when many riders including Contador and Britain’s Bradley Wiggins went down. Still, it was yet another bad day for the U.S. RadioShack team because American veteran Levi Leipheimer crashed with about 3 miles left and lost time in the title hunt.

A day earlier, RadioShack star Janez Brajkovic of Slovenia withdrew after a nasty spill left him with a concussion and broken collarbone.

“In seven Tours, it’s the most amount of wet weather I’ve had in one day at the Tour, and then to happen on the longest day … it makes for a hard day,” Evans said in comments relayed by his BMC team spokesman.

Top title contenders Contador, Evans and two-time Tour runner-up Andy Schleck were sussing out each other’s climbing skill. At one point, said Evans, Contador showed “a pretty good little attack.”

“But with these climbs, it’s so short and sharp that it doesn’t give a good indication of who’s really climbing the best — so we’ll see when we get there” to the mountain stages in the Pyrenees and Alps, Evans said.

The pack shrank by another rider, leaving 194 men in the race when Ivan Velasco of Spain didn’t start Thursday after breaking his collarbone in a crash the day before.

The stage Friday offers more long-distance punishment: Riders are to cover 135 miles of a mostly flat ride from auto racing mecca Le Mans to Chateauroux, near the center of France.

The three-week race ends July 24 in Paris.

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