Originally created 07/06/06

Belgian leads; Hincapie in third



SAINT-QUENTIN, France - Tom Boonen kept his overall lead at the Tour de France on Wednesday - wearing the yellow jersey as he entered his native Belgium - but was upset with his showing on a day when Australia's Robbie McEwen won a stage for the second time in this race.

Boonen, the world champion, faded in the final sprint of the 129-mile fourth stage and dropped back to fifth place. He slammed his right hand on his handlebars in apparent anger as he crossed the line.

The top of the overall standings remained unchanged. Boonen is one second ahead of world time trial champion Michael Rogers of Australia, with George Hincapie of the United States third.

McEwen overpowered his rivals and dedicated his 10th stage victory in nine Tours to American teammate Fred Rodriguez, who rode into a pothole and crashed out of the race in an accident-strewn stage Tuesday.

Rodriguez's accident deprived McEwen of the rider assigned to lead him into the final stretches of sprint finishes, the Australian's strong point.

Another Davitamon-Lotto teammate, Gert Steegmans, more than filled that gap Wednesday. McEwen covered the final 200 yards alone, easily outdistancing the field as he sped ahead.

McEwen, still one of the most explosive Tour riders at 34, compared Steegmans to a "locomotive."

"He did it just perfectly," McEwen said. "Even if I had written a script, it could not have gone any better."

McEwen said the slight uphill finish at Saint-Quentin in northern France "ideally suited" his style of riding. Isaac Galvez of the Illes Balears team was second, with another Spaniard, Oscar Freire of the Rabobank squad, third.

Bonus points earned for the win enabled McEwen to take the sprinters' green jersey from Boonen, who slipped back into second in that category.

McEwen said his priority was winning more stages, although he is also hoping to secure the green jersey title he won in 2002 and 2004.

The next two stages take the race across northern France.