For Nicole Cooke, the Grande Boucle Feminine starts in earnest today.

The Welsh rider has won the event for the past two years and currently lies third, 29 seconds behind leader Diana Zilute ? herself a past winner of this race, in 1999.

Today?s stage is a 40-kilometre individual time trial on lumpy, sticky roads in eastern France. Tomorrow?s stage finishes at Villard-de-Lans with the race culminating at the top of Sestrieres on Sunday.

Cooke finished safely in the bunch (44th) on yesterday?s fourth stage, a 108-kilometre leg from Montdidier to Drancy.

Zilute took the stage, her third so far, and the time bonuses that her and runner-up Loes Makerink got meant Cooke slipped back a touch overall.

But all that could change today in what is a long time trial by women?s racing standards when you consider the world championship time trials tend to be around 25 kilometres. The time gaps could be huge.

Britain?s other riders in the race, Helen Wyman (Swift Racing) is 31st overall at 1-12, with Emma Silversides (Lotto-Belisol) 38th at 1-46.

Stages so far
1 Diana Zilute
2 Loes Markerink
3 Diana Zilute
4 Diana Zilute

Slipstream?s Dan Martin is enjoying a rich run of form. The 21-year-old Irish rider, who was British national junior champion in 2004 before opting to ride for Ireland, made the big 17-man break that took 36 minutes from the rest of the field on the opening day of the Route du Sud.

The race split up on the run-in of the 206-kilometre stage as Simon Gerrans of Crédit Agricole attacked to win just ahead of Hubert Dupont of Ag2r La Mondiale. Martin was an excellent fifth, at 20 seconds.

Jeremy Hunt (Crédit Agricole) finished at the back of the peloton, in 105th place.

The Route du Sud is a tough stage race in the south of France, in the Pyrenees.

Today?s stage is a difficult 16.9-kilometre uphill time trial to Cauterets, before Saturday?s stage, which goes over the Col du Peyresourde and finishes at Super Bagnères.

Those stages will test the young climber, but he?s clearly in superb form after finishing in the top ten of the GP Internacional in Portugal last week.

Mark Cavendish (High Road) was 70th in the third stage of the Ster Elektrotoer in Holland. He was 2-07 behind stage winner Enrico Gasparotto, the Italian who rides for Barloworld.

Roger Hammond (High Road) was 83rd at 3-09 with Geraint Thomas 120th at 13-14.

Cavendish has a good chance in today?s penultimate stage as it concludes with a finishing circuit but his best opportunity will come tomorrow, a pan-flat 150-kilometre stage.

Britain?s three riders were off the pace in the junior men?s cross-country race at Val di Sole in Italy. Hamish Creber finished 39th, 15 minutes down on the winner Peter Sagan of Slovakia, but still on the same lap as the leaders. Alex Paton (47th) and Sebastian Batchelor (50th) were one lap down.

Nikki Harris of De Sprinters Malderen, was 23rd in the seven-kilometre prologue time trial of the Ster Zeeuwsche Eilanden in Holland. She was 41 seconds behind winner Kirsten Wild of Holland. Swift Racing?s Emma Davies-Jones was 34th at 55 seconds with Gabriella Day 124th at 1-54. The three-day race finishes on Saturday.

The stars will be out in force at the Abergavenny criterium tonight, with Malcolm Elliott looking to repeat his win at the Stone crit earlier this week.

The criterium is a warm-up for the big event of the weekend, the Robert Price Grand Prix of Wales. Read our full race preview and tips for the podium here.

Britain?s climbing sensation (she?ll thank us for bigging her up again!) writes for

She had a torrid time at the Tour de l?Aude last month and tries to put her finger on what went on here. It isn?t not often professional athletes want to talk about the days when things don?t go according to plan, and certainly not with the insight and humour of Pooley?s writing. A must read. Emma Pooley?s blog

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