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Stage three as it happened
Germany's Matthias Kessler produced a scintillating solo ride to win an action-packed stage three on Tuesday.

A five-man breakaway of Jose Luis Arrieta, Unai Etxebarria, Christophe Laurent, Jerome Pineau and Jens Voigt led for much of the 216.5km race.

But in the dying kilometres they were reeled in and the stage looked set for the sprinters before Kessler's break.

There was drama earlier when race favourite Alejandro Valverde retired with a broken collarbone after a crash.

LATEST UPDATES (all times BST):

By Matt Majendie

1616: Belgian world champion Tom Boonen is confirmed as the new race leader after finishing fourth.

1610: Michael Rogers comes in in second place for a T-Mobile one-two, with Daniele Bennati third. Briton Bradley Wiggins is some way off the pace when he comes in looking somewhat bedraggled.

1608: Matthias Kessler gives the T-Mobile team something to cheer about as he seals a stunning victory. It's a remarkable effort after he breaks clear late on and just holds off the sprinters. He's surrounded by people wanting to congratulate him.

1607: Kessler leads with one kilometre to go. He actually looks set to win this one, which would be an incredible solo effort.

1606: Sandy Casar gets caught up in a slight crash but manages to get back on his bike. In the interim, Matthias Kessler leaps off the front. His face is a picture of pain and concnentration as he puts everything into this.

1605: New Zealand rider Julian Dean, usually Thor Hushovd's lead-out man, breaks from the peloton but it doesn't last long as he and Arrieta are sucked up. This is set for a nail-biting finish.

1603: Jose Luis Arrieta is gritting his teeth and has his head bowed. He's got 3km to go but is only 20 seconds clear. Surely he can't keep off the hounds behind him... The crowd, though, are roaring him on.

1601: Tom Boonen looks in relaxed mood near the front of the peloton. He's swamped by Quickstep riders, who clearly are backing there man with 5km to go. Meanwhile, Stuart O'Grady suffers a crash but gets back on. He's still racing but he's some way off the pace.

1556: A host of riders are virtually frothing at the moment as the heat and exertion of a day's racing begins to take its toll. Meanwhile, Jose Luis Arrieta is doing a fine job at the head of the field. He leads by more than a minute.

1553: With the chaos involving Valverde (see 1547 and 1551), the action at the head was slightly forgotten. Laurent's having a dabble at outwitting his other breakaway riders, and he pulls out a slight gap.

1551: Valverde's Tour is over. He is first slumped in a ditch with his head in the shade and his hand on his head before being taken away on a stretchered and then driven away in an ambulance. That's a major blow for a race already missing Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich and Alexander Vinokourov.

1547: There's a host of riders caught up in a nasty crash after a touch of wheels in the peloton. The major protagonist is race favourite Alejandro Valverde. He looks in serious discomfort and grimaces as the medical team investigate his right collarbone. This could well mean the end of his Tour.

1543: Christophe Laurent pelts out from the remaining breakaway riders as they pass the 20km-to-go barrier.

1539: The lead is now down to a little under two minutes with 25km to go. Meanwhile, Iban Mayo is off his bike with a puncture at a terrible time in the race. It'll be hard for him to get back into the peloton before the finish. He glares at his mechanic like it's his fault.

1535: The penultimate climb of the day is snatched by Jerome Pineau. He's been in fine form. Meanwhile, Dutchman Michael Boogerd is jockeying for position at the front of the peloton as he prepares for a potential stage win. He must be among the favourites today.

Results of climb up Cote de Loorberg:
1. Jerome Pineau (BTL) 3 pts
2. Jose Luis Arrieta (A2R) 2 pts
3. Jens Voigt (CSC) 1 pt

1530: Valkenburg, where today's stage finishes, has hosted the World Championships on four occasions - 1938, 1948, 1979 and 1998. The area is also famous for the Valkenburg Resistance, who regularly aided Jews and American soldiers in hiding during the Second World War.

1526: The lead's down to just three minutes with 30 kilometres left. You can sense the nervousness now of the leading five riders. Meanwhile, in Valkenburg the atmosphere is buzzing.

1522: It's attack time at the front of the field as they become aware the gap is closing. Christophe Laurent first has a stab and then Jens Voigt darts off the front. Neither man manages to break clear but it at least ups their pace.

1518: There's a fair few Gallic cheers now as the roadside support builds although shouts of "allez, allez" must get tedious after four hours in the saddle. Aside from that, there's another sprint - this time Jose Luis Arrieta takes the plaudits.

Results of third intermediate sprint:
1. Jose Luis Arrieta (A2R) 6 pts (6 bonus seconds)
2. Jens Voigt (CSC) 4 pts (4 bonus seconds)
3. Christophe Laurent (AGR) 2 pts (2 bonus seconds)

1514: There's just 40km left of this stage and the breakaway is less than four minutes clear. To my mind, it's unlikely they'll hold off the chasing pack by the time they turn into Valkenburg.

1509: Jerome Pineau seals the climbing honours once more.

Results of climb up Cote de Petit-Rechain:
1. Jerome Pineau (BTL) 3 pts
2. Jens Voigt (CSC) 2 pts
3. Jose Luis Arrieta (A2R) 1 pt

1504: Now the race is in Holland, the Rabobank riders will be hoping to make their mark. The Dutch outfit move their riders to the front of the peloton. This could be a good one for their man Oscar Freire.

1458: Fred Rodriquez and Erik Dekker are out of the Tour de France. Both men are taken away in an ambulance for checks after their crash (see 1455). The race is down to 173 riders now.

1455: There's a horrid crash as Fred Rodriguez and Erik Dekker get entangled and smack on to the pavement. Both receive medical treatment and look in considerable pain. It remains to be seen whether they will carry on in this Tour...

1452: The roads are not exactly flooded with spectators at the moment. One French woman walking her dog does not even lift up her head as the race leaders come past.

1544: Jermone Pineau leads the battle up climb two of the day. He pulls it off, closely followed by Unai Etxbearria.

Results of the climb up Cote de Oneux:
1. Jerome Pineau (BTL) 4 pts
2. Unai Etxebarria (EUS) 2 pts
3. Christophe Laurent (AGR) 2 pts

1434: The two Brits in the race were in complete contrast to each other at the end of the race on Monday. Bradley Wiggins was a dehydrated, sweaty mess after struggling late in the day and finishing almost seven minutes off the pace. David Millar, meanwhile, looked coolness personified and remains in the top 20 overall.

1430: Jens Voigt steals the sprint honours in the second and penultimate sprint of the day.

Results of second intermediate sprint:
1. Jens Voigt (CSC) 6 pts (6 bonus seconds)
2. Jose Luis Arrieta (A2R) 4 pts (4 bonus seconds)
3. Christophe Laurent (AGR) 2 pts (2 bonus seconds

1425: An ambulance flies past the stage leaders with its sirens blaring, causing the quintet to briefly look over their shoulders and move aside. It doesn't affect their pace, which has slowed in the last few kilometres - they're only four-and-a-half minutes ahead now.

1419: The leaders battle it out for the honours on the first climb of the day, which Jerome Pineau clambers over first.

Results of the climb up Cote de la Haute-Levee:
1. Jerome Pineau (BTL) 4 pts
2. Unai Etxebarria (EUS) 3 pts
3. Christophe Laurent (AGR) 2pts

1413: The stage finish town of Valkenburg put itself in the cycling history books when Lance Armstrong finished fourth in the World Championships there on his return from cancer. As a complete aside, the Texan is reportedly in daily contact with his old Discovery Channel team at the race. His old team boss Johan Bruyneel revealed: "He is still close to the team, we are in contact every day. Of course he called George to congratulate him (when he picked up the leader's yellow jersey)."

1409: Victor Hugo Pena, a former team-mate of Lance Armstrong and a one-time yellow jersey wearer in the Tour, has to have a wheel change when he punctures. It's a snappy little change and he's away in an instant.

1404: Sorry to drone on about lunch (see last two entries) but the peloton is now tucking in. As a result, they slow right down while the five leaders pick up their tempo.

1400: Christophe Laurent is all smiles as he lets his hands off his handlebars, rips open a packet of food and waves to the crowd before chomping away on his grub. One spectator scrabbles for a spot of Tour memorabilia when he discards his rubbish. Either that, or said spectator's not a fan of litter bugs.

1353: The quintet up front grab their lunch at the feeding station and sit up on their bikes to wolf down their food. It's not clear whether pork pies and scotch eggs are the order of the day.

1346: The race leaders are now six minutes clear. The temperatures are soaring but there's a spot of respite on the road as they glide under an awning of trees for a few kilometres. They're all taking on plenty of fluids while flanked by an array of cameramen in the motorcycle cavalcade.

1335: Jerome Pineau, one of the five leaders on stage three, is among the many French riders billed as the next Bernard Hinault. He's shown promise and is clearly in good form today but such comparisons are a tad far-fetched.

1330: Voigt, who is leading the way now with four other riders by more than five minutes, has an interesting list of likes and dislikes. He's a big beer fan and doesn't "trust guys who want to sit down for a glass of wine". And, if he were in a band, he'd pick Metallica.

1322: Jens Voigt, who is the fulcrum of the five-man breakaway, is one of the Tour's quirkier characters. One of the bigger men in the pro ranks, his nickname is Boeing and he used to be a soldier in the German army.

1316: The Tour exits Luxembourg and enters Belgium with barely a glimmer of recognition by most of the riders. The terrain is still, unsurprisingly, flat.

1305: Hushovd's Credit Agricole boys remain in charge at the front of the chasers, but the brute force of breakaway rider Jens Voigt in particular is keeping the five-man break a good five minutes clear. That said, Hushovd won't be particularly worried even with some mini-climbs to contend with. On Monday, the race leader said: "If the climbers attack us, there will be lot of work for our team but we'll do everything we can to keep the yellow jersey."

1256: There was a piece of history at the opening of the day's action with a ceremony at the start in Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, in memory of Charly Gaul. He is undeniably the greatest rider in Luxembourg's history having won the race in 1958. He sadly passed away at the end of last year.

1248: Aside from its international appeal (see 1240), there's plenty of history on the road for stage three. The course passes along some of the route used by both the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Amstel Gold race.

1240: It's a quirky stage today - the Tour de France bizarrely taking in a total of three countries throughout the day: Luxembourg, Belgium and France.

1230: Thor Hushovd's Credit Agricole team-mates are once again ordered to the front of the peloton by the Norwegian. He's clearly feeling in good shape for the stage win, or at least holding on to his yellow jersey.

1220: The riders are pedalling at pace along the tarmac today. The average speed for the early part of the stage is 45km/h, pretty impressive considering the first few kilometres were a fairly steady affair.

1203: The five-man breakaway remain clear - by four minutes now - at the first sprint of the day, which Voigt clinches.

Results of first intermediate sprint:
1. Jens Voigt (CSC) 6 pts (6 bonus seconds)
2. Jose Luis Arrieta (A2R) 4pts (4 bonus seconds)
3. Christophe Laurent (AGR) 2 pts (2 bonus seconds)

1155: Unsurprisingly race leader Thor Hushovd's team have moved to the front of the peloton in order to maintain his advantage and ensure the break doesn't get too far in front. As it stands, the gap is two minutes 25 seconds.

1142: The first real escape of the day has pulled clear - one minute 45 seconds to be precise. It's a five-man breakaway, containing Jens Voigt, Unai Etxebarria, Jose Luis Arrieta, Christophe Laurent and Jerome Pineau. Voigt is the real class act in the field having worn the yellow jersey in 2001 and again last year.

1133: The CSC team, devoid of team leader Ivan Basso amid the controversy ahead of the race, are setting the tempo at the front of the peloton. Sebastian Joly, Peter Weening, Christophe Laurent and Isaac Galvez all have a dabble at breaking clear. None of their forays last long.

1123: It's a fairly sedate start to the stage with no early breaks as in the previous two days. It seems the riders are just happy to soak up some rays for the moment.

1113: And they're racing as the flags are waved to officially notify the beginning of stage three.

1110: With the sun beating down on the lycra-clad backs of the Tour riders, the stage is just moments away from officially getting under way in Esch-sur-Alzette.

1105: The riders are already in the neutral zone - nonchalantly pedalling along before the action proper begins. A total of 175 riders have signed in for the day meaning there have been no overnight withdrawals.

1100: Stage three of the Tour from Esch to Valkenburg is just 10 minutes away from starting. Once again, the sprinters are expected to shine at the stage finish.

SEE ALSO
Tour de France stage three photos
04 Jul 06 |  Photo Galleries
Casper sneaks surprise stage win
02 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Hushovd snatches Tour prologue
01 Jul 06 |  Cycling
Ullrich and Basso out of Le Tour
30 Jun 06 |  Cycling
Tour de France stage guide
26 Jun 06 |  Cycling
Tour de France riders' guide
26 Jun 06 |  Cycling
Tour de France team guide
26 Jun 06 |  Cycling


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