LATEST ACTION AS IT HAPPENS (ALL TIMES BST)
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1640: Mark Cavendish is near the front but gets squeezed out as Thor Hushovd powers to the stage win, narrowly ahead of a very angry Robbie Hunter.
1640: Liquigas, Barloworld and Quickstep are jockeying for position inside 2km.
1635: The break's over and the peloton is starting to stretch out as it reaches full speed.
It's a bit scrappy at the front as the teams try to gauge the right moment to pounce and lead their sprinter out.
1630: Under the 10km banner and the peloton gets sight of the five breakaway riders who, in turn, can see the pack bearing down on them.
Chavanel and Verdugo have given up and the other three are looking over their shoulders. They know it's only a matter of time now.
1625: Into the Vallee de l'Yonne alongside the river, the gap's down to 40 seconds.
1620: With a long, straight finish, will it be Tom Boonen, Robbie McEwen or Thor Hushovd who grabs the glory?
Once again though, T-Mobile are moving to the front of the bunch - maybe Mark Cavendish will finally get a chance to make his name.
1610: Christian Knees has seen the writing on the wall and shot off the front of the break but they've caught him up.
They're right at the tipping point; do they dig in now in a vain - and tiring - attempt to stay away or give up the ghost and wait to be swallowed up?
1605: They're inside the final 30km and the peloton is nibbling away at the break, eating into the gap, second by second.
It won't be long before the team cars pull away from the five riders, at which point they'll know the game is up.
1555: The sprinters' teams are beginning to make their way to the front of the peloton in anticipation of a bunch sprint at the end, while Flecha, Chavanel and Verdugo cross the final sprint.
Even if the break is swept up, Chavanel will have worked his way into the top 10 overall after his performance in the sprints.
1545: Knees is first over the final climb, Sprick second and Chavanel in third, so the Frenchman is now second in the king of the mountains competition on seven points, two behind leader Stephane Auge.
1535: As Chavanel takes the third climb of the day, there's a crash at the back of the peloton as Matteo Tosatto and Staf Scheirlinckx hit the deck.
Gorka Verdugo in the break has punctured but manages to make it back to the other four.
1530: Not far now to the last two climbs of the day at Cote de Galbaux and Cote de Bel-Air.
The breakaway group know their lead is now down below two minutes as they hit the outskirts of the Othe Forest and enter the final 50km.
1520: The peloton seems to be getting its act together now, reeling in the break at a rate of 10 seconds per kilometre.
There are now 56km left and a gap of 2'15", meaning, by my rough maths, that the break will be swept up in the next 14km, give or take.
1505: 'Norman Stanley' Flecha takes first place (6pts/6") in the second intermediate sprint of the day, ahead of Chavanel (4pts/4") and Knees (2pts/2").
1500: It's a little like watching paint dry right now, even if the colours are very easy on the eye. You can get a sense of where the Impressionist art movement got its inspiration from as the yellow fields roll on. And on. Zzzzz.
Seriously, though, the teams are clearly keeping their powder dry for the Alps at the weekend hence are not putting any effort in until the last few kilometres of these early stages.
1450: Through the feed station at Nogent-sur-Seine, the watching crowd have to dodge the spray of flying water bottles as the riders pick up their musettes to refuel for the last 80km.
1435: It's a sports photographer's dream as the vivid kaleidoscope of the peloton slices through the broad, yellow corn fields east of Paris.
Meanwhile the flying five at the tete de la course have stretched the gap to 3'45" with 85km to go.
If it stays like it is, Chavanel will take the yellow jersey with a lead of up to three minutes.
But that's about as likely as the UK getting a summer this year.
1420: Xavier Zandio has retired with a fractured collarbone, reducing the Caisse d'Epargne team, led by Alejandro Valverde, to eight men.
Zandio is the third to drop out, leaving 186 riders in the race.
1410: CSC are still at the front of the peloton but aren't making any impression on the gap, which is now around 3'15".
The escapees are working well together, practising their 'through and offs' across the wide, open farmlands in the south of the Marne region.
1400: Well, it looks like CSC have had enough of working - the gap is now back up to 2'35".
1355: "From the amount of work CSC has to do the first week, I have a feeling that this is their moment in the sun during this Tour."
Nuvolari1 on 606
1350: The first sprint was won by Flecha (6pts/6") followed by Chavanel (4pts/4") and Sprick (2pts/2").
The CSC team have now taken control of the peloton, reducing the gap to just 1'25".
1345: The Liquigas team are driving the peloton forward and have already eaten a minute into the breakaways' lead.
Apropos of nothing, Christian Knees' surname is not pronounced how it looks - apparently it's 'k-nays'. Not that such details will prevent us using excruciating puns, should we kneed to.
1340: The winner of the king of the mountains in this year's Dauphine Libere, Remy di Gregorio, has crashed at the back of the peloton.
Meanwhile the famous five at the head of the race, approaching the first intermediate sprint, are four minutes clear.
1335: The breakaway riders are over the top of the second climb of the day, the 170m Cote de Doucy, where Sylvain Chavanel sprinted off to claim the first-placed points.
The results were: Chavanel (3), Flecha (2) and Verdugo (1).
1315: Chavanel, Flecha and company are now 3'20" ahead of the peloton after 52km. Only one of them, Flecha, who is something of an escape specialist, has won a stage of the Tour, in 2003.
1310: A number of riders in the peloton have pulled over for a comfort break, allowing the breakaway to extend the gap to 1'25".
It's probably as well they're not in the UK as some local plod would surely feel their collars for such behaviour.
1305: Five men broke away at the 30km mark and have opened up a 40-second gap. The riders are Juan Antonio Flecha, Gorka Verdugo, Matthieu Sprick, Sylvain Chavanel and Christian Knees.
Chavanel is the best placed rider in the general classification - he began today in 23rd place, 56 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara.
1250: They're over the top of the first climb at Veuilly-la-Poterie, and the king of the mountains points went to Aleksandre Kuschynski (3), David Millar (2) and Stephane Auge (1).
That means Millar has closed the gap on Auge to two points in the climbing competition.
1245: They're on the first climb but still nobody's pulling away.
At the finish line, it's overcast but bright and windy. The stage ends with a long straight, which will suit the sprinters, though there's a slight bottleneck around 300m from the end.
1240: "I really hope that Cancellara holds the jersey for as long as possible, he seems a really good lad both as a rider and the way he conducts himself."
FrankAshton on 606
1220: There have been no early attacks as the bunch head past the 9km mark. Perhaps something will happen at the first climb - the Cote de Veuilly-la-Poterie - around 14km away.
1205: "I can't get over how interesting and surprising this Tour has been so far, it's nice not knowing (or being proved wrong) who will win each stage.
"I was also very glad to see Cavendish up in the top ten, I suspect his nerves must be severely rattled by now but then it is his first Tour anyway and considering the crashes he's doing a great job!"
morganmuffle on 606
Let's hope so morgan; with a flat stage today T-Mobile have another chance to give Cav a decent lead-out at the end.
1150: It's a grey day in northern France as the peloton streams out into the neutral zone, big crowds cheering them off.
Villers-Cotteręts is the birthplace of Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers. I wonder who'll be duelling it out for the stage win. Oh dear.
1140: The riders will continue south on another flat stage from Villers-Cotterets in the Retz Forest across the Champagne heartland of the Marne valley east of Paris to Joigny, on the edge of the Othe Forest.
The 193km route features four category four climbs, with the penultimate - the Cote de Galbaux - the highest at just 173m.
There should again be plenty of opportunities for break-aways before another expected sprint finish.
Belgian Tom Boonen will hope to extend his narrow six-point lead in the sprinters' green jersey, though Australian Robbie McEwen will doubtless have other ideas.
Fabian Cancellara popped out of nowhere to take the stage three win, extending his general classification lead to 33 seconds ahead of German Andreas Kloden, and will be confident of retaining the yellow jersey.
Britain's David Millar (41 secs) remains in third, though he lost the king of the mountains jersey to Stephane Auge yesterday, with Bradley Wiggins just two seconds behind in fifth.