/ Cycling

Steegmans wins second stage

Updated: Monday, 09 Jul 2007 16:56

Steegmans wins second stage

Belgian rider Geert Steegmans won the second stage of the Tour de France, a 168.5km run between Dunkirk in France and Ghent, Belgium on Monday.

The Quick Step cyclist prevailed in a bunch sprint marred by a mass pile-up which stopped a sizeable portion of the peloton in its tracks three kilometres from the finish.

The 26-year-old captured his first Tour de France stage win at the main expense of his teammate Tom Boonen.

Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara (CSC) held on to the leader's yellow jersey after spending a wet day in the saddle as the peloton rode over the southern Belgian coast towards Ghent.

The rain could be a prominent factor this week as the race heads back into France for Wednesday's third stage from Waregem to Compiegne, and the threat of more crashes and race-ending injuries will prove a major factor.

After a sunny start to the race in Dunkirk, the rain clouds which had been hovering all morning let loose shortly after the peloton had crossed the nearby border into Belgium.

The arm-warmers had already been on before German Marcel Sieberg of the Milram team pulled off the front of the bunch and attacked, but soon the rain jackets came on as well.

With 150km of the 168.5km stage still to ride, he was never going to get far on his own. A few kilometres later, he was joined by Spaniard Ruben Perez of Euskaltel and Frenchman Cedric Herve, of Agritubel.

Together the trio worked to increase their advantage. When their lead hit the 1min 35sec point, Perez became the virtual race leader, however that failed to scare Cancellara's CSC team as they continued coasting at the front of the bunch.

After 59km, the leading trio's lead had ballooned to over four minutes, but with a tailwind at their backs the peloton seemed hardly concerned about giving chase.

It was a different story 40km further on, and CSC began driving  hard at the front bringing the gap down do 3:40.

Their predicament was favourable to the sprinters' teams of Tom Boonen, Robbie McEwen, Erik Zabel and Thor Hushovd - and soon CSC were asking for them to do their share of the work.

The sprinters' teams held off for as long as possible, in a bid to save their energy for the crucial closing kilometres of the race.

But soon they took over, and with 20km to race the leading trio seemed in danger of being overhauled as their lead dropped to 1:41.

In the closing stages, their fate was sealed and they were soon overhauled as the teams of Boonen, Zabel and McEwen drove the pace at the front setting up the final dash for the line.