DAX, France -- Oscar Freire of Spain won stage nine of the
Tour de France by less than a wheel length Tuesday over Robbie
McEwen of Australia.
The win was Freire's second at this Tour and came in the last
flat stage before the race heads into the Pyrenees. The Rabobank
sprint specialist also won stage five.
Freire, a three-time former world champion, surged past current
world champion Tom Boonen in a grouped sprint finish at Dax, in
southwest France. He held off the rapidly closing McEwen at the
Race leader Serhiy Honchar and second-place Floyd Landis of the
United States did not contest the sprint, preferring to stay safely
in the trailing pack. Honchar's lead over Landis was unchanged at
exactly 1 minute.
Freire said his wife is due to give birth to their first child
in the coming days, an event "it's not easy" to miss.
But "it's better to be here winning while not being at home
than being here losing," he said. He said winning Tour sprint
finishes is particularly tough because "nobody respects anybody
The terrain on Tuesday's 105-mile trek from Bordeaux was pancake
flat. But it goes sharply uphill from here.
Two hard days of ascents Wednesday and Thursday among the
Pyrenean peaks that straddle France and Spain should give a clearer
idea of which riders are best placed to succeed Lance Armstrong,
who retired from cycling after his seventh successive Tour win last
The 30-year-old Landis is among the favorites. He announced
Monday that he has a damaged hip -- the legacy of a crash in 2003 --
that will require replacement. He is continuing the Tour, but the
planned surgery has made his long-term career prospects uncertain.
Wednesday's first mountain stage from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau has
The hardest, to the Soudet pass, ascends to 5,052 feet and is so
tough that it is rated "hors categorie," or defying
classification on the scale the Tour uses to measure the difficulty
The cyclists will ride uphill for 9.1 miles at an average
gradient of 7.3 percent -- far steeper in places -- to reach the
Soudet pass. They will approach from the west, the first time the
pass has been climbed in the Tour from that side.
Thursday brings the hardest Pyrenean stage, a 128-mile trek up
five hard ascents -- the first of them "hors categorie" -- with an
arduous if not exceptionally steep uphill finish to Pla-de-Beret in
Riders can burn 10,000 calories on hard mountain stages, about
five times the amount an average person consumes in a normal day,
said Denise Demir, doctor for Landis' Swiss team, Phonak.
Replacing those calories and the 20 pints of liquid they can
lose through sweat requires them to drink and eat in such large
quantities that it frequently gives riders stomach problems, Demir
Sunburn is also a problem, and "most of the riders get back and neck problems because of their position on the bike in climbs," she said.