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Sprinter Alessandro Petacchi won a frenetic bunch sprint in the 101st Paris-Tours. Behind the Milram rider, Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) was second, while Rabobank?s Oscar Freire was third. Freire lost ground when he bounced off Robbie McEwen, who had pulled his foot out of his pedal and swerved across the Spanish rider.

The Italian?s victory came after a late escape by Philippe Gilbert (FDJ), Karsten Kroon (CSC) and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) was closed down with 800 metres to go on the finishing straight of the Avenue de Grammont. Petacchi took advantage of a perfect lead-out from team mate Erik Zabel, crossing the line a length in front of Chicchi.

While France slept off the misery of having exited the rugby World Cup last night, the ProTour peloton wound its way from the start in St Arnoult-en-Yvelines, through sleepy villages in the Loire valley. Attacks came and went, but none was allowed to stick until past the halfway point, when Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet) and Serge Pauwels (Chocolade Jacques) went away.

The leading trio gained an advantage of eight minutes, but the sprinters? teams were in no mood to repeat their mistake of last year, when winner Frédéric Guesdon and Kurt-Asle Arvesen were allowed to stay away. With 80 kilometres to go, the gap started to erode, and with 40 kilometres to go, Quinziato decided to go it alone.

He put in a major effort with 30 kilometres to go, with the peloton three minutes behind. But behind Quinziato, Quick Step, Predictor-Lotto and Bouygues Telecom worked hard to close him down. Quinziato managed to delay the inevitable until eight kilometres to go, and as the junction was made, Gilbert flew off the front, taking Kroon and Pozzato with him.

Juan Antonio Flecha, José Gutierrez and Kroon?s team mate Fabian Cancellara made a desperate attempt to bridge the gap, but were brought to heel by a raging peloton. Gilbert, Kroon and Pozzato led by 15 seconds as they turned onto the two-kilometre long finishing straight, but with the sprinters scenting the chance of victory, the leading trio?s advantage was cut to nothing.


1 Alessandro Petacchi (Milram)

2 Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas)

3 Oscar Freire (Rabobank)

4 Steven De Jongh (Quick Step)

5 Allan Davis (Discovery Channel)

6 Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto)

7 Alexandre Usov (Ag2r)

8 Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)

9 Aurélien Clerc (Bouygues Telecom)

10 Romain Feillu (Agritubel)

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