Cavendish takes eighth stage; Kirchen keeps yellow jersey
TOULOUSE, France -- One day after doping hit cycling yet again, a team that knows the perils of drug scandals all too well sped to victory Saturday as the daunting climbs of the Pyrenees awaited Tour de France riders.
Britain's Mark Cavendish captured the eighth stage in a rain-soaked finish, his second stage victory in the three-week race.
That was only part of the story for Team Columbia. Germany's Gerald Ciolek took second place and Luxembourg's Kim Kirchen held the leader's yellow jersey. The white jersey for the race's best young rider belonged to a Columbia rider, Sweden's Thomas Lovqvist.
Spaniard Carlos Sastre of the CSC team won the Tour de France in one of the closest finishes in the history of the 105-year-old race. A look at the stage-by-stage results:
|21||88.9||Gert Steegmans||Carlos Sastre|
|20||32.9 (time trial)||Stefan Schumacher||Sastre|
|16||97.6||Cyril Dessel||Frank Schleck|
|14||120.9||Oscar Freire||Cadel Evans|
|9||139.2||Riccardo Ricco||Kim Kirchen|
|4||18.3 (time trial)||Schumacher||Schumacher|
|3||129.2||Samuel Dumoulin||Romain Feillu|
|2||102.2||Thor Hushovd||Alejandro Valverde|
Kirchen was six seconds ahead of Cadel Evans of Australia in the overall standings, with Stefan Schumacher of Germany 16 seconds back and Christian Vandevelde of the United States 44 behind.
The Italian team Liquigas began the day without Spanish veteran Manuel Beltran, who tested positive for the blood-booster EPO after the first stage a week ago. Beltran was taken briefly into police custody and headed to the airport after his release.
"It still happens in 2008, first stage of the Tour de France. I could not believe it," Silence-Lotto sporting director Marc Sergeant said. "It's good that he is out. I hope he is the last. The only positive thing about it is that he has been caught."
Liquigas sporting director Roberto Amadio said Beltran denied having taken EPO, and the team was insistent there was no organized doping in its ranks.
Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour winner who last year admitted to having taken EPO during his racing career, said Beltran has let down the sport.
"He has to leave. It is good that the controls are working," said Riis, who owns the Danish-backed Team CSC. "I don't think it is a scandal for cycling and the Tour. I think he is a scandal."
For the Columbia riders who were at the Tour a year ago -- when they rode as T-Mobile -- the story was all too familiar.
During last year's Tour, it was revealed that T-Mobile rider Patrik Sinkewitz had tested positive for testosterone a month before the race. Sinkewitz acknowledged taking the drug and was fired by the team and banned.
T-Mobile withdrew from cycling at the end of last season amid a backlash in Germany. Until a few weeks ago, the team had no name sponsor. The American sportswear company then stepped in.
Saturday's success was almost more than team director Rolf Aldag wanted. With the prestige of holding the yellow jersey, the team is now clearly in the spotlight as it goes into the mountains Sunday.
"Actually we wanted to lose it [the yellow jersey] today," Aldag said. "That was the plan, but nobody wanted to have it."
Cavendish abandoned the Tour during the eighth stage last year. He said he is not afraid of the mountains and wants to make it all the way to Paris, although he doubted he could take the green jersey as the race's top sprinter.
His next attempt comes Sunday in the 139-mile ninth stage through the Pyrenees from Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre. This will most likely be the first real indication of how the favorites for the title are faring.
Evans is well positioned in second place and Kirchen cannot be discounted. A challenge is also expected from Russia's Denis Menchov (fifth place) and Spaniards Alejandro Valverde (sixth) and Carlos Sastre (12th).
Thursday's stage winner, Riccardo Ricco of Spain, completed the race with scrapes and bruises on his right side after a crash involving Jens Voigt of Germany. Both finished in the main group and lost no time.
David Millar of Britain, in seventh place, clawed his way back to the pack despite puncturing a tire near the end.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press