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  Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
McEwen storms to victory
Robbie McEwen celebrates his stage victory
McEwen shook off the tag of the nearly man
Robbie McEwen powered his way to only the second victory of his Tour de France career as he held off the threat of Erik Zabel in another sprint finish.

McEwen, whose only other stage victory came on the Champs Elysees in 1999, pulled out of the slipstream of his leading contenders in the final metres in Reims.

Exclusive: McEwen's fans complaint

Closely followed by Zabel, he sprinted to the line to successfully stave off the German in second place and countryman Baden Cooke back in third.

It ended McEwen's recent run as the nearly man in the 2002 Tour. On stage one he finished third and had to make do with second place behind Oscar Freire on Monday.

But he insisted it would still take second place behind his 1999 victory.

Durand made the break after six kilometres
Durand made the break after six kilometres

"The greatest day in my career was on the Champs-Elysees in 1999, but this is my best win this season," he said shortly after crossing the finishing line.

The result also catapulted the Australian national champion to second place in the overall standings.

It proved enough to move Zabel into the yellow jersey, having taken a series of time bonuses throughout the stage, and ended the two-day reign of little-known Swiss rider Rubens Bertogliati at the head of the field.

A surprise victory had looked likely at one stage following a breakaway on one of the Tour's flattest stages.

The French duo of Jacky Durand and Franck Renier made their initial break just six kilometres into the first stage of the 2002 race to enter France.

At one point, the duo stretched their advantage past the 11-minute mark as the peloton nonchalantly meandered through the French countryside.

Eventually, though, the US Postal, Telekom and Lotto-Adecco riders finally decided to work together to cut an ever-increasing deficit.

And, with 168 of the 174.5km stage gone, the pair were finally caught and sucked up by the chasing pack.

Sprinting misery

Stage three provided another troubled day for two of the peloton's leading sprinters.

Belgium's Tom Steels twice found himself off the back of the pack as he did throughout the second stage before finally recovering to finish in the pack.

Stuart O'Grady, meanwhile, one of the favourites for the green jersey, twice had to call for medical attention due to a high heart-rate.

The Australian complained of being breathless and was dragged back the rear of the peloton by his team-mates.

He recovered in remarkable fashion to finish 10th overall in the sprint.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Simon Brotherton
"Zabel is the new race leader"
Stage winner Robbie McEwan
"I am really pleased"
Race leader Erik Zabel
"The headwind is really hard"
All the actiion from the world's greatest bike race

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See also:

09 Jul 02 | Cycling
09 Jul 02 | Cycling
09 Jul 02 | Cycling
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