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NELISSEN LEADS, BUT DANISH RIDER USES BREAKAWAY TO WIN 5TH STAGE

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Less than four months ago, Jesper Skibby took a hard fall in the Tirreneo-Adriatico race in Italy that threatened his career.

Now the Danish rider jokingly talks about stopping after winning a stage in the Tour de France.Skibby made a final-mile breakaway work and narrowly won the fifth stage Thursday over a fast-closing pack that included Wilfried Nelissen of Belgium, who regained the leader's yellow jersey.

"I have always dreamed of winning a stage in the greatest of all races," Skibby said. "Now I can stop my career."

Skibby was hospitalized for four weeks after the fall in March, which fractured a bone above an eye.

"I have come back a long way," he said. "Over the last few kilometers of the race I was thinking of my father.

"After my accident he did everything to let me return to my best level. He got on a motorcycle for me to follow in all my trainings."

Nelissen moved into a two-second lead over Mario Cipollini as the sprinters waged a back-and-forth battle over the flat terrain.

Nelissen finished second behind Skibby to gain 12 bonus seconds.

Along the route, Nelissen gained six more by coming in third and second in two of the three intermediate sprints. That offset the gain of 10 seconds by Cipollini who had a first and a second during the 140-mile stage from Avranches to Evreux.

"Today I went for the sprints, but each time Cipollini finished in front of me," Nelissen said, "On the flat he is quicker, but I knew the finish ended up a hill, as my stage victory."

Nelissen had the lead for two days earlier this week before giving it up by six seconds to Cipollini after Wednesday's team time trial.

"For now, the start for the race is made for the sprinter," Nelissen said.

Nelissen has been in the top three in all four of the individual stages run so far. He was second in the opening stage then won Monday's second stage before a pair of second-place finishes.

Cipollini has a victory and two thirds.

Although sprinters have dominated the Tour so far, they are expected to fade quickly when the event reaches the mountains.

Miguel Indurain, the favorite for the overall title, is in 23rd place, 1 minute 38 seconds behind. He finished in 12th on the day.

He will have his chance to excel in the individual time trial on Monday in Lac de Madine in eastern France, a 37-mile solo effort for each cyclist.

The tour ends July 25 in Paris after covering after covering 2,312 miles around France.