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Laurent Rebours, Associated Press
Thor Hushovd of Norway, center, grimaces as he crosses the finish line to win the second stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Auray and Saint-Brieuc, western France, today.

SAINT-BRIEUC, France — Sprint specialist Thor Hushovd won the second stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, with Alejandro Valverde keeping the overall lead after a windy, rain-soaked ride through the Brittany countryside.

Valverde, a Spaniard regarded as a threat to win the title, finished in the trailing pack and retained the yellow jersey after the mostly flat 102-mile route from Auray to Saint-Brieuc.

Hushovd, who rides for the Credit Agricole team, won a Tour stage for the sixth time. The Norwegian bolted from the pack with about 50 yards to go and finished in 3 hours, 45 minutes, 13 seconds.

"I knew this was a sprint that played to my strengths, but it was difficult with the wind and a little hill at the end," said Hushovd, who earned the green jersey in 2005 as the Tour's best sprinter.

Team Columbia riders Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg and Gerald Ciolek of Germany were second and third.

Valverde, the Caisse d'Epargne team leader, is one second in front of Kirchen and Spanish sprint star Oscar Freire. Valverde, who was 12th Sunday, won the first stage of a race that will end in Paris on July 27

"It was an incredible thing to spend today with the yellow jersey on my shoulders," Valverde said. "Every time that we passed through a village, people recognized me and shouted my name."

Valverde faces a big test as the leader with Tuesday's first time trial, a discipline he admits is not his strength.

The other main contenders kept Valverde in their sights Sunday. Australia's Cadel Evans also trails the Spaniard by a second and Denis Menchov of Russia is seven seconds back.

The stage ended with four French riders who escaped in a breakaway fighting to hold off the pack. They were caught with less than 1.2 miles to go.

Many of the best riders want to save their energy for the tougher stages — two time trials, and five big mountain stages in the Pyrenees and Alps in the second and third weeks.

Caisse d'Epargne rider Oscar Pereiro said it's possible that his squad won't try to keep Valverde in the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.

"At the moment, this team is very, very strong, but the Tour is three weeks long and it's very hard. Take it day by day," said Pereiro, who became the winner of the 2006 Tour after Floyd Landis was stripped of that title for doping.

This is the 95th edition of cycling's showcase event, and organizers hope it marks a turning point from the doping scandals that have battered the sport.

Four teams took blood tests before the stage, and all 36 riders were cleared to race. Riders from Lampre, Team CSC, Columbia and Saunier Duval were tested by the French Anti-Doping Agency.

The International Cycling Union, the governing body, is not involved in testing at this year's race because of its long-standing dispute with the Tour.

Monday's third stage takes cyclists on another flat ride in Brittany, a 129-mile course from the walled coastal town of Saint-Malo to Nantes on the Atlantic coast.