Vinokourov's escape proves successful

Updated: July 17, 2010, 6:01 PM ET
Associated Press

REVEL, France -- Returning to the Tour de France after a doping ban, Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won the 13th stage Saturday while Andy Schleck of Luxembourg kept the yellow jersey.

Vinokourov made a bold solo breakaway at the end and was followed in a mass sprint by Mark Cavendish of Britain and Alessandro Petacchi of Italy. They finished 13 seconds behind Vinokourov.

"It was a beautiful victory, a beautiful reward," Vinokourov said after winning the fourth Tour stage of his career. "I heard fans shouting 'Vino' at the start ... that gave me a lot of motivation."

The 36-year-old rider won the Tour of Spain in 2006. He was kicked out of the 2007 Tour de France for blood doping in one of the biggest scandals of that year's doping-marred race.

Schleck kept pace with two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador of Spain, who trails the leader by 31 seconds.

Vinokourov looked back at the trailing pack and thrust his arms skyward at the end of the 122-mile course from Rodez to Revel over five low-level climbs. He finished in 4 hours, 26 minutes, 26 seconds and hugged Astana teammate Contador.

Seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong cruised in a late-arriving bunch. He finished 4:35 back in 100th place, the fourth straight day he's lost time to the leader. The 38-year-old American has said his victory hopes are finished. He's 36th overall, 25:38 back.

Vinokourov broke from the pack within the last 6 miles, overtaking an earlier breakaway rider, Italy's Alessandro Ballan, and then holding off the pack on a late descent. The Kazakh rider said he hadn't planned on attacking after Astana managers recommended a "calm" ride on the day -- but that he saw an opportunity and took it.

Contador tweeted: "I am happier than if I had won."

Saturday's stage victory would have been Vinokourov's sixth at the Tour, but his two stage wins in 2007 were nullified after his disqualification.

Vinokourov, who was grilled about doping after he won the Liege Bastogne Liege in Belgium in April, said riding in the Tour this year was "already a big victory for me."

After his victory in Belgium, Vinokourov had said that he knew he had to regain the trust of fans and that he wanted to prove that he could win through hard work.

With Saturday's win, "I showed I worked hard in these two years."

The top standings didn't change because the main contenders crossed in the same pack.

"It was a good day for my team," said Schleck, the Saxo Bank leader. "We didn't have to work. ... Today was calm -- tomorrow is the battle. We're going to have a nice stage tomorrow."

Samuel Sanchez of Spain was third, 2:45 back.

With his third-place finish, Petacchi took the green jersey, which is awarded to the best sprinter, from Norway's Thor Hushovd, who was eighth. The Italian won the first and fourth stages.

After the pack had finished, Armstrong was shown on TV smiling and chatting with RadioShack teammate Yaroslav Popovych while on a leisurely ride under a canopy of trees along French roads.

Before the stage, the Texan's trouble with crashes continued when he surprisingly went down before the start line during the warm-up ride.

RadioShack spokesman Philippe Maertens said Armstrong believed he simply bumped a teammate and fell, scraping his left elbow. He returned to the race quickly.

The American didn't respond to questions before or after the stage. He has been plagued by crashes at this year's Tour, going down at least three times and getting delayed at least twice.

Armstrong, in response to a Twitter posting suggesting that he might be planning "a big surprise" for Sunday, replied: "I like the sound of it."

The race enters the Pyrenees on Sunday -- the first of four days of punishing climbs in the mountains that will play a key role in who wins the three-week race at the July 25 finish in Paris.

The 115-mile ride from Revel to the ski station of Ax-3 Domaines will lead riders up two extreme climbs, first the Port de Pailheres -- one of the toughest ascents in cycling -- and an uphill finish.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press