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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 July, 2004, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Kirsipuu wins opening stage
AG2R Prevoyance's Jaan Kirsipuu
Estonia's Jaan Kirsipuu took the opening stage of the Tour de France by the narrowest of margins in a sprint finish at Charleroi.

Australia's Robbie McEwen and Norway's Thor Hushovd took second and third respectively after a photo finish.

The 202.5km stage, starting in Liege, witnessed several crashes including Mario Cipollini and Bernhard Eisel.

Fabian Cancellara retained the yellow jersey after finishing as part of a crowded peloton.

Race favourite Lance Armstrong of the US Postal team, finished safely in 48th position to record the same time as Kirsipuu, dropping back to third place overall.

"I don't like the first couple of stages in the Tour because everybody is very nervous and it can be dangerous," said Armstrong, in pursuit of a sixth title.

"Two US Postal guys - Manuel Beltran and Benjamin Noval - fell but they're OK and by and large, it was not a bad day."

I've already achieved what I wanted from this Tour
Jaan Kirsipuu
Hushovd moved to second overall, four seconds behind Cancellara.

"The sprint was incredible for me," said Kirsipuu after his fourth stage win on the Tour de France.

"I am really, really happy.

"I really did not expect to win a sprint - I rode a bad prologue and I was not in great shape at the start but I felt better and better as the stage went on.

"I've already achieved what I wanted from this Tour."

Australia's Bradley McGee finished more than six minutes behind the leaders after suffering with back pain and may be forced to quit the race.

In addition to Cipollini and Eisel, there were accidents for Spain's Oscar Sevilla and France's Guillaume Auger and Nicolas Jalabert as a steady drizzle made conditions treacherous.

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