France's Voeckler wins fifth stage
PERPIGNAN, France -- Five years to the day after he put on the yellow jersey, Thomas Voeckler of France claimed his first stage victory in the Tour de France.
Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland retained the overall lead, with seven-time champion Lance Armstrong a fraction of a second behind after the fifth stage, a 122-mile ride along the windy Mediterranean Sea from Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan.
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Voeckler, who wore the coveted leader's jersey for nine days in 2004, made his move 3.1 miles from the finish Wednesday to escape a small breakaway. The Frenchman arrived at the line with tears in his eyes.
"I dedicate this victory to myself, my son and my wife, who actually didn't see me win as she was returning home in a plane," the 30-year-old Voeckler said.
Voeckler clocked 4 hours, 29 minutes, 35 seconds, seven seconds faster than the peloton that was barreling down on him. Mikhail Ignatiev of Russia was second ahead of Britain's Mark Cavendish, who won the peloton's sprint.
Armstrong finished in the main pack and retained second place overall, 19 seconds ahead of his rival and Astana teammate Alberto Contador. Former Tour runner-up Andreas Kloeden is fourth, 23 seconds back, and Levi Leipheimer of the United States is fifth, 31 seconds behind.
"It was an interesting day, because everyone anticipated the wind and knew that part of France is very windy, and they knew what happened two days ago, so everyone was more switched on," Armstrong said, referring to the breakaway that allowed him to overtake Contador in the standings on Monday. "I just stayed out of trouble and the guys looked good."
Voeckler is 138th overall, 6:48 behind Cancellara, and has almost no chance of winning.
"I don't think he is a fluke," Cancellara said. "It has been difficult for him because when he wore the jersey in 2004, a lot of people thought he was the new Bernard Hinault."
A five-time Tour de France winner, Hinault is the last Frenchman to win in 1985.
"I'm not one of the best riders in the world," Voeckler said. "I don't have the possibility to win a big Tour. But I'm still ambitious and I'm happy with my career so far."
With defending champion Carlos Sastre 2:44 back, two-time runner-up Cadel Evans lagging 2:59 behind and Denis Menchov 3:52 back, the Tour could come down to Armstrong and Contador.
"I told Alberto that today was going to be complicated, so maybe he sees that I know what is going on in the Tour de France," Armstrong said.
With the Pyrenees looming ahead on Friday, Armstrong didn't take any risk but had to ride in front of the peloton with his teammates on roads opened to strong winds. The American will face a tough test at the first hilltop finish Friday in Arcalis. There, he will have to answer a simple question: Does the cancer survivor still have the legs to climb?
"That's my question mark, that's your question mark, that's everybody's question mark," Armstrong said. "But we don't have to wait long until we'll find out, that's the good thing. I think I'll be good."
Voeckler, who broke his collarbone earlier this season, and five other riders -- Ignatiev, Anthony Geslin, Yauheni Hutarovich, Marcin Sapa and Albert Timmer -- were involved in the breakaway after 7½ miles.
With the wind blowing sideways along the Mediterranean Sea, the peloton pumped up the speed about 35 miles from the line behind the push of Saxo Bank and Columbia riders. The peloton ended up breaking into three pieces and riders were scattered, but none of the favorites were trapped except Giro d'Italia winner Menchov.
As the pace eased momentarily, the second peloton caught up with the first.
Cavendish and his Columbia teammates, following their disappointing fifth place in the team time trial, moved up to the front of the peloton, trying in vain to reduce the gap with the six breakaway riders.
Less than four miles from the finish, the leading group was reduced to four riders following an attack from Ignatiev, a track specialist making his Tour debut. Voeckler then bolted from a roundabout and went all out to the line.
Rising star Robert Gesink of the Netherlands, who was supposed to help Menchov in the mountains, withdrew after breaking his wrist in a crash, Tour doctors said.
The next stage Thursday is a 112-mile ride in Spain between Gerona and Barcelona. The stage features five small climbs and could favor one-day specialists.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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