ST DIZIER (France): Jean-Patrick Nazon (pic) brought an end to his nightmares about watching the Tour de France on television after becoming the first French rider since Jerome Simon in 2001 to pull on the race's yellow jersey following yesterday's 167.5km third stage from Charleville to here.
The 26-year-old, who was on the verge of falling into a depression while watching the 2002 renewal on television, replaced Australian Bradley McGee – who rides for the fdjeux.com team that let Nazon go last year – in the overall lead ahead of today's fourth stage team time trial.
McGee, whose team failed to counter Nazon's bid to collect the intermediate sprint points which effectively assured his taking the yellow jersey, now has an eight-second deficit.
The stage was won by 29-year-old Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, the Fassa Bortolo rider bagging his second victory in the race following his great campaign in the Giro where he claimed six victories.
In second place was Latvia's 2000 world road race champion Romans Vainsteins, with Spain's two-time world champion (1999/2001) Oscar Freire sneaking up past Germany's Erik Zabel to claim third place.
Nazon, who rides for the Jean Delatour team, was almost left high and dry last year after he left fdjeux.com and couldn't get a ride with a professional team.
And Nazon, the younger brother of professional rider Damien, repaid the faith placed in him by his new team – who won their Tour place thanks to a last-minute wildcard.
“I went through a lot of pain this past year. I can tell you, it wasn't much fun watching the race on television last year. If you're a French rider and you can't take part in the Tour, it's depressing.
“When Jean Delatour took me on and gave me my chance they believed in me straight away. All sports people at one time or another go through tough periods of doubt – and that happened to me.
“If you would have told me last year that I would pull the yellow jersey on during the race I wouldn't have believed you. It's like a gift from God.”
Despite his surprise, yesterday the Frenchman's ambitions seemed clear from the outset.
Starting the stage with only a six-second deficit to make up on McGee following his second place behind Baden Cooke on Monday, Nazon always had a chance of stealing the race leader's jersey from the Aussie if he attacked at the three intermediate sprint points.
After a blistering start to the stage, Nazon came second behind Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu in the first intermediate sprint after 30km, winning the second at 74km ahead of Australian Robbie McEwen and coming second again in the third behind compatriot Anthony Geslin.
Petacchi meanwhile is shaping up to be a worthy heir to his compatriot Mario Cippollini, the 36-year-old reigning world road race champion.
And with three potential sprint days before the race heads upwards into the Alps, Petacchi says he's beginning to feel better about his form.
McEwen, one of the Italian's main rivals, retained the green points jersey and holds a 12-point lead over Zabel.
Cooke, who managed to survive almost being pushed into the barriers in the sprint, retained the white jersey for the race's top under-25 rider.
Another team-mate of Cooke's and McGee's, Christophe Mengin, retained the polka dot jersey for the race's best climber.
Four-time winner Lance Armstrong sits in 12th place overall, 19secs behind Nazon. – AFP