REVEL, FRANCE // Alexandre Vinokourov found redemption in his return to the Tour de France after a doping ban, winning the 13th stage yesterday with a solo breakaway at the end. Mark Cavendish, of Britain, was second and Italy's Alessandro Petacchi was third, leading a mass sprint in the pack. They crossed the line 13 seconds behind the Kazakh star. Andy Schleck, of Luxembourg, retained the yellow jersey by keeping pace with his closest challenger, the two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador, who trails the leader by 31 seconds in second place.
Vinokourov looked backwards at the trailing pack and thrust his arms skyward at the end of the 196km course from Rodez to Revel over five low-level climbs in 4hrs 26 mins 26 secs. He hugged his Astana teammate Contador after the finish. Vinokourov got out of the pack within the last 10km, overtaking an earlier breakaway rider, Italy's Alessandro Ballan, and then held off the pack on a late descent.
"It was a beautiful victory, a beautiful reward," Vinokourov said after the fourth Tour stage victory in his career. Vinokourov, 36, is back after serving a doping ban. He won the 2006 Tour of Spain but was kicked out of the 2007 Tour de France for blood doping in one of the biggest scandals of the doping-marred race that year. The top standings did not change because the main contenders crossed in the same pack.
"It was a good day for my team," said Schleck, the Saxo Bank leader. Samuel Sanchez, of Spain, is third, 2mins 45secs back. Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour champion, cruised in a late-arriving bunch, and finished in 100th place. It was the fourth consecutive day he has lost time to the leader. Armstrong, 38, who said last weekend that his victory hopes were over, is 36th, 25mins 38secs back.
The race enters the Pyrenees today, the first of four days of punishing climbs in the mountains that will play a key role in who wins the three-week race at the July 25 finish in Paris. The 184.5km ride from Revel to the ski station of Ax-3 Domaines will lead riders up two extreme climbs, first the Port de Pailheres - one of the toughest ascents in cycling - and an uphill finish. Hampered for a week by an elbow fracture, world champion Cadel Evans is soldiering on, still convinced he can produce a good performance. "Of course, our goal of a podium placing in Paris is out of reach but the team is still working for Cadel, hoping to achieve the best possible result in Paris," the Australian's BMC team manager John Lelangue told Reuters yesterday. Evans crashed after seven kilometres into Stage 8 to Morzine on the very day he took the race leader's yellow jersey. * AP
1. A Vinokourov Astana 4' 26' 26' 2. M Cavendish HTC 13' behind 3. A Petacchi Lampre-Farnese = 4. EB Hagen SkyPro = 5. JJ Rojas Caisse d'Epargne = 6. J Dean Garmin = 7. A Geslin Francaise de Jeux = 8. T Hushovd Cervelo = 9. G Bole Lampre-Farnese = 10. L Mondory AG2R =
1. A Schleck Saxo 63' 08' 40' 2. A Contador Astana 31' behind 3. S Sanchez Euskaltel 2' 45' 4. D Menchov Rabobank 2' 58' 5. J v d Broeck Omega 3' 31' 6. L Leipheimer RadioShack 4' 06' 7. R Gesink Rabobank 4' 27' 8. J Rodriguez Katusha 4' 58' 9. L L Sanchez Caisse d'Epargne 5' 02' 10. R Kreuziger Liquigas 5' 16'