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By William Fotheringham, VeloNews Correspondent
Crashes took their toll on a rainy Paris-Nice today, with Axel Merckx the principal victim of a 25-rider pile-up two-and-a-half kilometers from the line. Merckx finished the stage, but was taken to the hospital after the race.
Earlier, Joseba Beloki, third finisher in the Tour last year, was put out by a broken rib after he collided with another rider while taking nature’s call on the move.
A reduced lead group fought out the stage finish in Clermont Ferrand, where Stuart O’Grady led out from 250 meters, but was overhauled just before the line by the Belgian Fabian De Waele. He took the biggest win of his career, with Nico Mattan completing a fine day for Flanders by retaining the race lead.
O’Grady’s compensation was to move into second thanks to a time bonus.
1. Fabian De Waele (B), Lotto, 189.2km in 5:20:53.
2. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole
3. Danilo Hondo (G), Telekom
4. Ludovic Capelle (B), Big Mat
5. Stephane Heulot (F), Big Mat
6. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak
7. Nico Mattan (B), Cofidis
8. Arvis Piziks (Lat), CSC-World Online
9. Emmanuel Magnien (F), La Francaise des Jeux
10. Raphael Jeune (F), CSC-World Online
31. David Millar (GB), Cofidis
48. Bobby Julich (USA), Credit Agricole, all s.t.
90. Andreas Kloeden (G), Telekom, at 0:17.
1. Nico Mattan (B), Cofidis, 5:28:41.
2. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole, at 0:07.
3. David Millar (GB), Cofidis, at 0:08.
4. Florent Brard (F), Festina, at 0:09.
5. Peter Van Petegem (B), Mercury-Viatel, at 0:11.
6. Jorg Jaksche (G), ONCE, at 0:12.
7. Thor Hushovd (N), Credit Agricole, at 0:15.
8. Raimondas Rumsas (Lit), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:16.
9. Didier Rous (F), Bonjour, at 0:19.
10. Emmanuel Magnien (F), La Francaise des Jeux, at 0:20.
43. Andreas Kloden (G), Telekom, at 0:41.
63. Bobby Julich (USA), Credit Agricole, at 0:51.