REIMS, France - Happy belated birthday, Erik Zabel.
Two days late for the big day and one day late to celebrate in his native Germany, Zabel finally won the Tour de France's yellow jersey today. He did it by scooping up two bonus seconds in each of two intermediate sprints and then 12 more by finishing second in a mass sprint at the finish.
That was more than enough to vault him over Rubens Bertogliati, the Swiss who earned the symbol of overall leadership on Sunday. Bertogliati, who rides for Lampre-Daikin, led Zabel of Telekom by two seconds at the start of the 174.5-kilometer (108.19-mile) third Tour stage from Metz to this city in eastern France.
Robbie McEwen, an Australian with Lotto, won the stage decisively after a second-place finish Monday. He was timed in 4 hours, 13 minutes, 37 seconds, an average of 41.2 kilometers an hour (25.6 mph), on an overcast day.
The stage was animated by a 161-kilometer (100-mile) breakaway by Franck Renier of the Bonjour team and (who else?) Jacky Durand of Fdjeux.com, the king of long, often solo breakaways. Despite a lead that topped out at 11 minutes, Renier and Durand were caught 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from the finish.
This was McEwen's second Tour stage victory; the first was on the Champs-Elysees on the last day of the 2000 Tour. Never a dominant sprinter, he changed teams over the winter, shed a few pounds and has now won more than a dozen races this season, including the Australian championship and two stages in the Giro d'Italia ahead of the formidable Mario Cipollini.
Zabel is in yellow by eight seconds over McEwen and 14 over Bertogliati. Lance Armstrong, the defending champion, is tied for fourth with Laurent Jalabert, 17 seconds back. This order is subject to immense reversal after the team time trial today.
NOTE: Cipollini, the Italian cycling great, is retiring from the sport, citing bitterness at not being invited to the Tour de France as one of his reasons.
The 35-year-old cyclist was enjoying one of his most successful seasons, winning six stages of the Giro d'Italia, the Milan-San Remo classic and the Gand-Wevelgem race.
In a statement released late yesterday on his Web site, Cipollini said "the bitterness of not being able to compete for victory" and frustration with his team sponsors are what "leads me to take this drastic decision to say enough with cycling."
He plans a news conference in the next few days to explain his decision.
It was not clear if Cipollini, nicknamed "Super Mario" by his fans, planned to retire immediately or after the racing season. The title of the Web statement was, "I stop here."
As Italy's best sprinter, Cipollini had been expected to be his country's top rider at the world championships in Portugal this autumn.
In 1999, he became the first rider since 1948 to capture three consecutive stages of the Tour de France. In this year's Giro, he fell one short of the record of 41 stage wins long held by Alfredo Binda.
Cipollini had said he wanted to break the record at Giro next year.
The Associated Press contributed to this article