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Tour de France Thursday, 30 July, 1998, 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK
Steels snatches sprint victory
steels
Tom Steels (right) sprints past Germany's Erik Zabel
Tom Steels of Belgium won a massed sprint to the line to take Thursday's 18th stage of the Tour de France, a 218.5km ride from Aix-Les-Bains to Neuchatel.

Steels, who races for Mapei-Bricobi, edged out Erik Zabel of Germany in a sprint finish to notch up his third stage victory of the Tour. Stuart O'Grady of Australia was third.

Overall, the result meant that Italy's Marco Pantani retains the yellow jersey. Bobby Julich, of the United States, holds second place, and Germany's Jan Ullrich is third.

pantani
Marco Pantani retains the overall lead
Before the race, the drugs scandal surrounding the Tour continued, with police questioning four people, including Italy's Rodolfo Massi, who failed to start the stage.

Police later confirmed that drugs had been found in Massi's hotel room on Wednesday evening.

Commenting on his win, Steels said: "Things were a little dangerous in front of me [but] I was able to follow in Erik's slipstream who was travelling very fast.

"Now I am dreaming of winning the last stage up the Champs Elysees," he said. "For me it's the most beautiful finish in the world."

After a series of early attacks, four riders pulled clear of the peloton after 48km of the stage - Laurent Desbiens (Cofidis), Cedric Vasseur (GAN), Christophe Mengin (FDJ) and Massimo Donati (Saeco).

They set a superb pace and had opened up a lead of more than six minutes around the halfway stage, but the peloton gradually reduced their advantage and reeled them in on the ride into Neuchatel.

Pantani is aiming to emulate Felice Grimondi, the last Italian to win the race back in 1965, by completing a remarkable double after winning the Tour of Italy earlier this year.

Pantani has twice finished third in the Tour in 1995 and 1997.

Stage 18 result:

  • Tom Steels (Belgium) Mapei 4 hours 53 minutes 27 seconds
  • 2. Erik Zabel (Germany) Telekom
  • 3. Stuart O'Grady (Australia) GAN
  • 4. Robbie McEwen (Australia) Rabobank
  • 5. Jacky Durand (France) Casino
  • 6. Leon van Bon (Netherlands) Rabobank
  • 7. Francois Simon (France) GAN
  • 8. Nicolas Jalabert (France) Cofidis
  • 9. Aart Vierhouten (Netherlands) Rabobank
  • 10. Vyatcheslav Djavanian (Russia)


Friday's 19th stage is a 242km haul from La Chaux-De-Fond to Autun.

It is the second-longest stage of the Tour but the terrain is mostly flat.

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BBC correspondent Kevin Connolly reviews the 18th stage
See also:

30 Jul 98 | Tour de France
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