AX-3 DOMAINES, FRANCE // Christophe Riblon took the first Pyrenees stage of the Tour de France yesterday, leading the field from the first few kilometres to a solo victory high in the mountains. Andy Schleck held on to the leader's yellow jersey in a stage that failed to separate the contenders.
It was the first Tour de France victory for the 29-year-old Frenchman and the biggest of his career. "I've been a professional for five and a half years and I've been waiting for this for five and a half years," Riblon said. He broke away in a small group in the first 30km of the race, but slipped away from the last of that group on the major climb of the day, the Port de Pailheres. He held his lead over the top and down the long descent before the climb up to the ski resort of Ax-3 Domaines. "My aim was to arrive at the bottom with as much time as possible without losing all my strength," Riblon said. "Then I did a good climb."
He finished in 4hrs 52mins, 42sec - 54 seconds ahead of Denis Menchov of Russia and Samuel Sanchez of Spain. It was the fourth French win of the Tour de France this year - after two by Sylvain Chavanel and one from Sandy Casar - and it delighted the crowd, who in past years have struggled to find home success to celebrate. Schleck finished fourth, 68 seconds behind, in a group that also included his closest rival, defending champion Alberto Contador of Spain. The pair stuck together throughout the 184.5km 14th stage from Revel.
Schleck said he had not dared overtake Contador for fear that the Spaniard would launch a late attack and go past him. "I feel really good, and if he wants to get me tomorrow, he has to be really good," Schleck said. Schleck holds the yellow jersey of overall leader by 31 seconds over Contador, with Sanchez now 2mins 31secs. Menchov is fourth, 13 seconds behind Sanchez. Today's 15th stage is the second in the Pyrenees and takes the riders 187.5km from Pamiers to Bagneres-de-Luchon, over the major climb of Port de Bales before descending to finish on the flat.
Bradley Wiggins, meanwhile, issued a scathing assessment yesterday of his Tour de France to date as he again fell down the overall rankings. The 30-year-old struggled once again, and he now lies 18th overall, 11mins 30secs Schleck. "Do you want me to be honest with you? I've got nothing," he said. "I just haven't got the form. It's as simple as that. I'm just trying my hardest, battling on, rather than give up. I just haven't got it as I did last year. I don't know why. I just feel consistently mediocre."
Lance Armstrong is brushing off as "nonsense" a reported claim by Greg LeMond, the three-time Tour de France champion, that Armstrong sought to pay someone U$300,000 (Dh1.1m) to claim that LeMond used EPO, a banned performance enhancer. LeMond told the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung's weekend issue that Armstrong tried to implicate him "by all means" in an erythropoietin, or EPO, scandal. * AP