Vinokourov wins stage with long breakaway
BRIANCON, France -- Alexandre Vinokourov won Wednesday's second Alpine stage of the Tour de France with a solo ascent over the race's highest climb, and Lance Armstrong's overall lead remained unchanged.
The win in the 11th stage was Vinokourov's second in five Tours. His first was in 2003.
The T-Mobile rider rebounded from a disastrous ride Tuesday on the first Alpine stage, when Armstrong surged ahead of the Kazakh rider and other main rivals to retake the overall lead.
"If you don't try you will never win the Tour," said Vinokourov, who still trails Armstrong by nearly five minutes. "You have to take risks."
Vinokourov took the lead on the famed Col du Galibier, the last of three ascents on the 107.5-mile route from the ski station of Courchevel. The Galibier is the highest climb on this year's Tour at 8,677 feet.
Santiago Botero of Colombia was second over the pass, 40 seconds slower than Vinokourov. But the Phonak rider caught Vinokourov on the descent toward Briancon, and they raced to the finish, where Vinokourov beat Botero in a sprint.
Armstrong scaled the Galibier more than two minutes behind Vinokourov in a group of about 20 riders. But he reeled in some of the deficit with a speedy descent, finishing 1:15 behind Vinokourov in sixth place.
Armstrong's overall lead over second-place Mickael Rasmussen of Denmark stays at 38 seconds. French rider Christophe Moreau moved to third overall, 2:34 behind the six-time champion.
Rasmussen is the runaway leader of the Tour's mountain-climbing competition, where points are awarded on climbs, conferring a polka-dot jersey to the winner. He was not touted as a rival to Armstrong going into the Tour, but is now warranting the champion's attention.
"He is riding strong, climbing very well," Armstrong said. "He is now a threat in the race."
Vinokourov was considered one of Armstrong's main challengers when the three-week Tour started July 2. But he slipped to 16th overall, a whopping 6:32 behind Armstrong, with his poor climbing Tuesday.
Vinokourov picked up a time bonus for winning Wednesday's stage, and cut his deficit to Armstrong to 4:47. That places him 12th overall.
"We can't chase down everybody that is at five, six, seven minutes," Armstrong said. "We have to prioritize and he was not on our list of priorities, so we left him out there.
"An all-day effort is never easy and clearly he was motivated. It was impressive," Armstrong added.
Vinokourov said he was determined to make his mark after his disappointment Tuesday.
"I kept my spirits. I said to myself 'I am still going to attack,' " Vinokourov said. "I said 'I have nothing to lose.' "
He said Monday's rest day may have contributed to his difficulties the next day on the first Alpine stage.
"I think the rest day broke my rhythm a little bit," he said.
The last Alpine stage Thursday, a 116.2-mile run from Briancon to Digne-les-Bains, takes the riders over five easier ascents. The Tour then races across southern France before entering the Pyrenees on Saturday.
Armstrong's aim is to keep the overall race leader's yellow jersey all the way to Paris and retire with his seventh consecutive win.
"We are in a good position," Armstrong's team manager Johan Bruyneel said. "It is up to us now to defend it."
Jens Voigt, a German rider with CSC who led after the ninth stage, was forced out of the race after failing to finish within the authorized time limit. He finished 46 minutes and 43 seconds behind Vinokourov.
Also, doping came back to haunt the Tour on Wednesday as Italian rider Dario Frigo was arrested before the stage after doping products were found in his wife's car, police said.