SUPER-BESSE, France - Kim Kirchen pulled on the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Thursday, the first Luxembourg rider in 50 years to lead cycling's showcase race.
He finished fifth in the sixth stage, which was won by Italy's Riccardo Ricco. Kirchen was seventh in the Tour last year and is simply happy to have the jersey for now.
'I've been a bit surprised by my shape,' he said. 'Now I want to take the race day by day. I want to see what happens in the Pyrenees. And if it goes well in the Pyrenees, we'll see in the Alps, and in Paris. Everything is possible.'
The last Luxembourg rider to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour was Charly Gaul. He went on to win the 1958 race.
Ricco finished ahead of two top riders - Spain's Alejandro Valverde, who was heavily bandaged after a fall Wednesday, and Australia's Cadel Evans.
It was a bad day for the day's previous leader, Stefan Schumacher. The German touched Kirchen's back wheel yards from the line and crashed. He lost 28 seconds on Kirchen, the yellow jersey and a bit of skin from his elbow and knee.
'It wasn't deliberate, of course,' Schumacher said. 'It's a pity. I was feeling strong today. My team hard worked hard.'
Kirchen said he did not see Schumacher before the crash.
'Everybody moved to the right side,' he said. 'The guy in front of me braked so I braked, too.'
Ricco captured a 122-mile stage through the peaks of the Massif Central from Aigurande to the ski resort of Super-Besse. Ricco, the Giro d'Italia runner-u, said he had come to this Tour to gain experience in hopes of a good finish next year.
'I felt good already in the first stage,' he said. 'Today the finish matched my strengths. I showed that I could manage a great sprint; I took off with 30 meters to go and I held on.'
Kirchen is six seconds ahead of Evans and 16 ahead of Schumacher. Christian Vandevelde of the United States is fourth, 44 seconds behind Kirchen. Valverde is eighth at 1:12.
This was a second major boost for U.S.-based Team Columbia, which Kirchen leads. Sprinter Mark Cavendish won Wednesday's stage for the team.
The team competed as T-Mobile last year and had to deal with the imminent loss of its sponsor and the doping case of Patrik Sinkewitz, which was announced during the Tour. The team got a new name shortly before this year's race.
'There are a lot of new riders,' Kirchen said. 'I think everyone on the team is 100 percent (committed) and now we want to see what we can achieve.'
Sylvain Chavanel of France joined two compatriots in a breakaway that lasted most of the day and allowed Chavanel to take the polka-dot jersey for the best climber. All three were caught before the start of the final climb.
Kirchen is not the only cyclist from Luxembourg who is riding well. Brothers Frank and Andy Schleck are 17th and 18th, with just two seconds between them. Andy was the runner-up in last year's Giro d'Italia. His older brother took a Tour stage on the famed Alpe d'Huez in 2006.
Today's stage is similar to Thursday's, a 99-mile ride from Brioude to Aurillac, with eight climbs.