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Last Updated: Friday, 9 July, 2004, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Boonen claims stage victory
Tom Boonen
Belgium's Tom Boonen, riding for Quick Step, won a sprint finish to claim the sixth stage of the Tour de France.

Stuart O'Grady was second and Erik Zabel came home third, with Thomas Voeckler retaining the yellow jersey.

The stage was marred by a number of crashes, one of which brought a string of riders, among them Robbie McEwen, tumbling to earth 1km from the finish.

Lance Armstrong, who crashed early on in the stage, remains more than nine minutes adrift of leader Voeckler.

According to Tour rules, riders crashing in the last kilometre are awarded the same time as the winner, meaning the later incident had no influence at the top of the standings.

Austria's Rene Haselbacher was later forced to withdraw from the Tour after suffering a broken nose and three broken ribs in the pile-up.

"The crash happened literally 10 metres inside the kilometre otherwise we would have been docked half a minute," said Armstrong.

I had a big fright
Thomas Voeckler
The American also suffered a fall in a massive crash after 13km involving 30 riders.

"It's nothing serious," said his U.S. Postal team chief Johan Bruyneel.

"He actually fell on the tarmac. There is not much you can do when a crash takes place just in front of you.

"In the first week of the Tour, riders are very nervous and you must be especially careful."

By the end of the 196km run from Bonneval to Angers, Juan Antonio Flecha looked as though he would steal victory with a solo bid for glory.

But the Spaniard, who was one of six riders to launch an early breakaway, was caught with around 1km to go.

Just before the finish - at the 'flamme rouge' which signals the start of the final kilometre - there was a huge pile-up which further disrupted the race.

Voeckler was among those held up, but the Frenchman was given the same time as winner Boonen - as were all of the riders caught up in the crash.

"I had a big fright as I was among the first riders to stop behind the crash," said Voeckler.

Boonen, who has won 14 races this season including the Ghent-Wevelgem classic, said: "I love hard sprints like this.

"They're for strong men. I'm strong and I love it."



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