<
>

Rasmussen retains yellow jersey at Tour de France

7/20/2007

CASTRES, France -- Tom Boonen of Belgium sprinted to his
second stage victory in this year's Tour de France in the 12th leg
Friday, when Michael Rasmussen retained his overall lead despite
being kicked off the Danish national team for violating
drug-testing rules.

Boonen, who wears the green jersey as the best sprinter,
clenched his fists in the air after taking the 110.9-mile run from
Montpellier to Castres.

The final dash was classic sprinting. Heading the pack for the
last half mile, Boonen's Quick Step Innergetic support riders
peeled away one by one, leaving him to burst ahead with 150 yards
left and finish in 4 hours, 25 minutes, 32 seconds.

Boonen said the demanding mountain stages and time trials coming
up will make it hard for him to retain the green jersey.

"The Tour's a horrible race," he said. "You have to be
masochistic to ride in a race like this."

Erik Zabel of Germany was second. Robert Hunter, who on Thursday
became the first South African to win a stage, took third.

Rasmussen finished safely in the trailing pack, as did his
biggest challengers for the yellow jersey. The Dane is 2:35 ahead
of second-place Alejandro Valverde and 2:39 ahead of Iban Mayo in
third.

Friday's stage was overshadowed by the Danish cycling
federation's announcement late Thursday that Rasmussen had been
kicked off the national team.

International rules require riders to keep officials informed of
their whereabouts during training, for possible surprise doping
tests. The decision means that Rasmussen will miss the World
Championships in Germany in September, and possibly the Olympics in
Beijing next year.

When asked at a news conference how much the expulsion had
mattered to him Friday, Rasmussen held his thumb and forefinger
barely apart and said: "How about this much?"

The Tour continues Saturday with a 33.6-mile time trial that
will give Rasmussen his first serious test since he took the
overall lead by winning the eighth stage Sunday. The Dane is a
climbing specialist who has struggled in the races against the
clock.

After the 13th stage, the race moves into the Pyrenees for three
stages that will likely determine the winner.

Rasmussen's expected challengers include Cadel Evans of
Australia, who is fourth, 2:41 back; Andreas Kloeden of Germany,
3:50 back in seventh place; and Levi Leipheimer of the United
States, 3:53 behind and in eighth overall.

"Rasmussen is still out ahead, but there are 10 or 11 riders
still close together," said Dirk Demol, a sporting director for
Leipheimer's Discovery Channel team. "The difficult stages start
tomorrow, with the time trial."