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Points leader Boonen quits before 12th stage

7/14/2005

DIGNE-LES-BAINS, France -- Lance Armstrong lost a key
teammate when Spanish rider Manuel Beltran crashed during the 12th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.

Beltran fell on the Col des Demoiselles Coiffees climb early in the 116.2-mile route from Briancon to Digne-les-Bains, hitting his head. He got back on his bike but quit after receiving treatment from a Tour doctor.

"We forced him to stop, he got in the ambulance and went to the hospital," Discovery Team director Johan Bruyneel said. "They took a scan, and the first reports are pretty good. It's tough to lose a rider but the good news is that he doesn't have anything serious."

Beltran was taken to the hospital but tests revealed no broken
bones or fractures. He will be kept overnight as a precaution and
is expected to be released Friday.

Beltran has been a key member of Armstrong's team since joining in 2003, and has helped the American win the last two Tours with some strong performances in the mountains.

Armstrong said losing Beltran was a blow, but he has faith in
his other teammates.

"It could be very critical with the days that we have coming up," Armstrong said. "Three tough days in the Pyrenees. We don't want to lose any climbers. I feel very confident that with those
seven guys we can manage."

Boonen Withdraws
Belgian Tom Boonen, the green jersey holder, bid farewell to the Tour de France with an injured knee before the start of the 187-kilometer 12th
stage from Briancon to Digne les Bains on Thursday.

The Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders winner, who also won
two stages on this Tour, suffered several crashes, the latest in
Wednesday's 11th stage to Briancon when he hit a small wall.

The 24-year-old Quickstep rider had made the Tour de France
points classification one of his goals this season but said he
could not complain after bringing his stage win tally in the
race to four.

"I won two stages and it's not too hard not finishing the
Tour. What matters most of all now is the condition of my knee,"
he said before the start of the 12th stage.

The Belgian rider will undergo medical checks to determine
how serious the injury is and decide on the program for the
rest of his season accordingly.

Boonen is expected to take part in the Spanish Vuelta before
gearing up for the world championship in September in Madrid.

The Tour points classification is now headed by Norwegian
Thor Hushovd.

Boonen had worn the sprinter's green jersey since winning
the second and third stages early last week.

He then fell three times, most notably crashing at the last
turn in the sprint to the line in the seventh stage from
Luneville to Karlsruhe in Germany last Friday. Boonen finished
seventh while his chief rival, Australia's Robbie McEwen,
notched up a second stage win.

Other sprinters, exhausted after the Alps, called it quits
in the 12th stage. South African Robert Hunter and Italy's
Angelo Furlan, dropped from the start, both gave up.

Customs Checks For Drugs
French customs checked team vehicles on the Tour de France on Thursday, a day after Italian Dario Frigo was arrested for an alleged drugs offense.

Customs ran checks on vehicles from several teams driving in
the caravan, which had set off for Digne-les-Bains, the finish of
the day's 12th stage from Briancon, reporters covering the race
said.

A French customs official confirmed the checks had taken
place and said nothing suspicious had been found.

The caravan set off before the peloton, and the checks
occurred shortly before the riders started the stage.

Vehicles from the Phonak, Liberty Seguros, Bouygues Telecom,
AG2R and Davitamon Lotto teams were stopped and searched before being allowed to resume their journey.

Fassa Bortolo rider Frigo was placed under investigation on
Wednesday after performance-enhancing drugs were found by French customs in a car driven by his wife.

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.