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Edvald Boasson Hagen wins rain-soaked 6th stage of Tour de France, Thor Hushovd keeps yellow
LISIEUX, France (AP) ' Tour de France riders might have reservations about the way organizers have shaken up the format of the early stages. For fans, the start has been one of the most exciting in recent memory.
The decision to jettison the often formulaic first week of flat, mass sprint finishes in favor of courses featuring narrow, twisting lanes and the kind of short, steep finales more common in the Spring classics has drawn the ire of some riders because of safety concerns
Stage finishes on the Mont des Alouettes, the Mur de Bretagne and the uphill run-in Thursday to Lisieux were just steep enough to derail sprint specialists Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar, and open the door to wins by powerful but less speedy riders Philippe Gilbert, Cadel Evans and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Belgian rider Maxime Monfort said stage finishes such as the sixth leg Thursday, won by Boasson Hagen, have made the rush to the line more crowded and dangerous.
"When they put finishes like today, you have the pure sprinters on one hand, who say 'OK, it's a little hard but I can get over it,'" Monfort said. "And on the other hand, you have the favorites. That makes two breeds of rider fighting for position, when usually there is just one. There's not room for everybody."
The 24-year-old Boasson Hagen, from Norway, led a sprint to win the rain-splattered stage and countryman Thor Hushovd retained the yellow jersey Thursday.
Race favorites Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck were just happy to stay out of trouble.
The pack battled both slippery roads and brisk wind over the hilly 141-mile ride across northwest France from Dinan to Lisieux in Normandy ' the longest stage in the race this year.
Team Sky's Boasson Hagen whizzed out of the barreling pack with about 200 yards left and held on, jutting his arms in the air as he crossed the line for his first Tour stage victory.
"I really surprised myself," Hagen said. "Lots of people say that I'm a talented guy, so it's nice to show it by winning a stage."
Australia's Matt Goss was second, and Hushovd third.
Philippe Gilbert, the Belgian rider who won the opening stage Saturday, said "everyone was a bit out of breath" and that Hagen "devoured the last 150 meters."
Hushovd reveled in his country's success Thursday.
"Not bad, after all ' it's a good day for Norway," said the Garmin-Cervelo veteran who retained the yellow jersey for the fifth consecutive day.
As for Hagen, Hushovd said: "Clearly, he's got a big future."
Overall, Hushovd retained a one-second lead over Australia's Cadel Evans, while Luxembourg's Frank Schleck was third, 4 seconds back. Three-time champion Contador, who lost time in a Stage 1 crash, was 34th overall, 1:42 behind.
Blustery conditions increased the danger, and Contador was relieved to avoid crashing after he fell Wednesday.
"In the last few kilometers I was thinking only about not falling because it was a dangerous course," Contador said. "At the end of the stage I got to the front of the peloton not to lose time (but) to avoid problems."
Hushovd and his team appeared to be wearying of the hard work of protecting the yellow jersey, which involves riding in the front to keep the race leader out of potential trouble.
"The yellow jersey's on my shoulders and I used up a lot of energy, so I'm a little bit tired. That's why I missed that little something today," Hushovd said. "I'm feeling good but it's been a hard and stressful week."
"In seven Tours, it's the most amount of wet weather I've had in one day at the Tour, and then to happen on the longest day ... it makes for a hard day," Evans said, in comments relayed by his BMC team spokesman.
Top title contenders Contador, Evans and two-time Tour runner-up Andy Schleck talked about their climbing skills. At one point, said Evans, Contador showed "a pretty good little attack."
"But with these climbs, it's so short and sharp that it doesn't give a good indication of who's really climbing the best ' so we'll see when we get there," Evans said about the mountain stages in the Pyrenees and Alps. The three-week race ends July 24 in Paris.
It was yet another bad day for the U.S. RadioShack team because American veteran Levi Leipheimer crashed late 'his second spill in two days ' and lost more than a minute on the leaders.
The 37-year-old Leipheimer finished the stage in 75th place, 1:05 behind Hagen, and dropped to 31st overall ' 1:23 behind Hushovd.
On Wednesday, RadioShack lost young star Janez Brajkovic of Slovenia from the race in a nasty spill that left him unconscious, bloodied on his head. He had a concussion and broken collarbone.
Friday's stage offered more long-distance punishment: Riders were set to cover 135.5 kilometers in a mostly flat ride from auto racing mecca Le Mans to Chateauroux, near mainland France's geographic center.
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire and Greg Keller contributed to this report.