Stage Three Of Tour De France A Rocky Road

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It was a bumpy, even painful ride Tuesday at the Tour de France. Riders tried to keep their balance as they sped over cobblestones in Stage 3 of the race. Melissa Block talks to Phil Liggett, sports commentator for Versus TV, about who managed to come out on top, and who wasn't so lucky.


After two days full of crashes on the Tour de France, it was yet another day of bumps, bruises and broken bones today. Cyclists raced over miles of cobblestones today. The third stage of the race was 132 miles between Belgium and France, about eight of those miles on ancient cobblestone roads that can upend even the most skilled cyclists.

Here's Phil Liggett calling the race on the Versus Network.

Mr. PHIL LIGGETT (Commentator, Versus Network): But with these tires pumped up like this, there's no easy way over the cobbles, you simply pedal as hard as you can and as fast as you can. But there's always the risk of a compression puncture, as the cobbles bite out at those small tires. And they're going to have to live with that fear now to the finish. There's no help for them here.

BLOCK: You know, it's quite something to watch these racers speeding, bumping over these stones. How unusual is it for the Tour de France to have these sections of cobblestone roads?

Mr. LIGGETT: It's pretty unusual. They dont include them every year. These are Napoleonic roads, which were built for the armies of Napoleon a long time ago and now they're all protected by law. They can't resurface them with normal hard surfaces. Theyve to leave the cobbles and we call the region The Hell of the North and thats what they are. They're very painful, but theyve only been in the Tour de France on occasion. And this is the first time in number, since 2003. So it's the seven year itch.

BLOCK: Hmm. Well, how do they tweak the bikes to deal with these stones?

Mr. LIGGETT: They actually put a gel underneath the handlebar tape, which they wrap around the handlebars for normal grips so that you dont arrive with blisters all over the palms of your hand, or bleeding from the inside of your thumbs where youve gripped the brake hoods on the handlebars.

They put special compression on the forks sometimes. They should, in fact, leave the tires just a little bit softer than they would normally blow them up. Now, normally the pressure in a racing bicycle tire is four times that you would put into a car tire. So they're not quite as hard as that.

The biggest danger is they bounce so hard on the cobbles that the inside of tire fractures and down they go. And, in fact, that happened to Lance Armstrong today, and it turned out to be a bad day for Lance because he lost time. And although he certainly hasnt lost the Tour de France, it was on a day when he should have gained some time. And he's 18th in the tour now when he started day in fourth place. So, not a good day for Lance.

BLOCK: The yellow jersey for the overall leader is now being worn by Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. But the winner today was a Norwegian. Tell us about him.

Mr. LIGGETT: It was. We call him the god of thunder with a name like Thor. Thos Hushovd(ph), hes just won the championship of Norway the week before the Tour started. This is only his second win of the season. Today, he got maximum points and he's defending the green jersey championship. So he's off to a great start and he'd love to try and win it for a third time.

BLOCK: And if he's defending the green jersey that would explain why he was so angry yesterday. He was furious with Fabian Cancellara for staging whats been described as a mini protest in the race. What happened?

Mr. LIGGETT: Yep, that is absolutely correct. He was one rider that didnt subscribe to the protest. I think we all felt sorry for the riders because the weather turned ugly, very dangerous slippery descent off this little hill out in the Ardennes in Belgium. And many riders did fall down, so it was treacherous. And Cancellara decided, as he was the leader of race in the yellow jersey, hed take control, slow the race down for those that didnt fall and wait for those behind who did.

I think that was sportsmanship but they continued their little silent protest all the way to the finish in the Belgian town of Spa. And they didnt sprint for the line. The judges said, right, then therell be no points for the green jersey competition.

And, of course, Hushovd was in the lead in group all day. He would have probably have cleaned up from the bunch. So when he finished yesterday, he was pretty annoyed.

BLOCK: Well, Phil, whats coming up tomorrow in the tour?

Mr. LIGGETT: I can tell you it's going to be a normal day in the Tour de France. And if it is, it'll be the first one since we left Rotterdam because we've had something controversial everyday. The terrain is fairly rolling but it's nothing (unintelligible) to challenge these riders, and so it should be day for the sprinters. And the poor boys who are nursing a lot of bandages on the legs, arms, elbows, shoulders, et cetera, will have a chance to recover a little bit.

BLOCK: Phil Liggett is calling the Tour de France for the Versus Network. Phil, thanks so much.

Mr. LIGGETT: A pleasure, thank you.

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