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Thursday, July 22, 1999 Published at 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK


Armstrong ahead of the pack

Etxebarria wins the stage, but Armstrong is still in the lead

Lance Armstrong moved another step closer to sewing up a Tour de France victory on Wednesday, finishing the final climb with his lead intact.

Le Tour de France
ONCE's David Etxebarria won a sprint for the line to claim his second stage triumph - having also won the 12th leg last week.

Etxebarria came home in 5hr 17min 07sec edging out Carlos Contreras, Alberto Elli, Alexandre Vinikourov and Jose-Luis Arrieta in a five-man dash for the line.

Armstrong, who was up with the chasing pack throughout alongside his rivals for the overall crown, maintained his solid lead over Kelme's Fernando Escartin of Spain, who could only eat up 4sec of the deficit with Armstrong 6min 15sec clear by the end.


The BBC's Simon Brotherton reports
Banesto's Alex Zulle is still third overall, 7min 28sec off the pace.

Armstrong and Zulle were both in the second group which crossed the line 20sec behind Etxebarria and company.

Around a dozen riders were targeting the stage win over the final few kilometres after Mapei's Pavel Tonkov, Alberto Elli of Telekom and David Etxebarria of ONCE were reined in having detached themselves from the pack after 50km.

Etxebarria finally put on a spurt to force his way home by a hair's breadth.

Controversy

There was controversy earlier in the day when Armstrong's first-day doping test showed up traces of corticoids.


[ image: Lance Armstrong: Cleared over drug allegations]
Lance Armstrong: Cleared over drug allegations
Cycling's world governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) said Armstrong was in the clear as he had a medical certificate allowing him to use an ointment which contained the hormones.

In a statement the UCI said: "The rider was tested on July 3 after the prologue and the result was negative with no trace of corticosteroids.

"The rider was tested again on July 4 and then minute traces showed up."

The caravan left the Pyrenees after battling humid, overcast conditions as well as three first category and one non-categorised climbs before Pau welcomed the Tour for the 55th time.

Beltran retires

Before the stage, Banesto's Manuel Beltran of Spain, who fell in the previous stage, retired with shoulder trouble to trim the field to 142.


Lance Armstrong reacts to the drug taking allegations
His withdrawal was a blow for teammate Zulle, whom he had been assigned to help through the mountains.

Only Telekom and Lotto now have a full contingent left in the race.

Sebastian Demarbaix of Lotto launched the day's first attack after 14km and held the lead through the first sprint at Sarrancolin after 16.5km.

Telekom's Erik Zabel of Germany boosted his hopes of taking the green jersey points competition by picking up useful sprint points just ahead of Australian rival Stuart O'Grady of Credit Agricole, whom he led by 10 points at the start of the day.

With Armstrong and Escartin happy to stay with the pack, King of the Mountains leader Richard Virenque of Polti and Zulle, respectively fifth and third overall, made a move towards the front.

The first climbing points went to Mariano Piccoli of Lampre but Virenque was right behind him on the opening climb to ensure Piccoli made only the tiniest of inroads into his 69-point category lead.

Virenque can now look forward to a fifth crown in his favourite category.

After 15 stages, no French rider has managed a stage win.

The last - and only - time France drew a blank throughout the race was in 1926.

Stage result
[ image:  ]


  • 1. David Etxebarria (Spa/ONC), 192km in 5hr 17min 07sec (average: 36.327 kph)
  • 2. Carlos Contreras (Col/KEL) at 00:00.
  • 3. Alberto Elli (Ita/TEL) 00:00.
  • 4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz/CSO) 00:00.
  • 5. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spa/BAN) 00:00.
  • 6. Marcos Serrano (Spa/ONC) 00:05.
  • 7. Wladimir Belli (Ita/FES) 00:21.
  • 8. Pavel Tonkov (Rus/MAP) 00:21.
  • 9. Francisco Garcia Rodriguez (Spa/VIT) 00:21.
  • 10. Alex Zulle (Swi/BAN) 00:21.
  • 11. Lance Armstrong (USA/USP) 00:21.
  • 12. Fernando Escartin (Spa/KEL) 00:21.
  • 13. Frederic Bessy (Fra/CSO) 02:13.
  • 14. Francois Simon (Fra/C.A) 02:13.
  • 15. Mariano Piccoli (Ita/LAM) 02:13.
  • 16. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita/MAP) 02:13.
  • 17. Angel Casero (Spa/VIT) 02:13.
  • 18. Laurent Madouas (Fra/FES) 02:13.
  • 19. Massimiliano Lelli (Ita/COF) 02:13.
  • 20. Daniele Nardello (Ita/MAP) 02:13.

    General classification

  • 1. Lance Armstrong (USA/USP) 78hr 02min 53sec
  • 2. Fernando Escartin (Spa/KEL) at 06:15.
  • 3. Alex Zulle (Swi/BAN) 07:28.
  • 4. Laurent Dufaux (Swi/SAE) 10:30.
  • 5. Richard Virenque (Fra/PLT) 11:40.
  • 6. Daniele Nardello (Ita/MAP) 13:27.
  • 7. Angel Casero (Spa/VIT) 13:34.
  • 8. Abraham Olano (Spa/ONC) 14:29.
  • 9. Wladimir Belli (Ita/FES) 15:14.
  • 10. Kurt Van de Wouwer (Bel/LOT) 18:35.
  • 11. Pavel Tonkov (Rus/MAP) 19:26.
  • 12. David Etxebarria (Spa/ONC) 19:31.
  • 13. Andrea Peron (Ita/ONC) 20:17.
  • 14. Benoit Salmon (Fra/CSO) 22:55.
  • 15. Roland Meier (Swi/COF) 23:37.
  • 16. Stephane Heulot (Fra/FDJ) 24:15.
  • 17. Tyler Hamilton (USA/USP) 25:24.
  • 18. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita/MAP) 26:03.
  • 19. Carlos Contreras (Col/KEL) 26:46.
  • 20. Alberto Elli (Ita/TEL) 28:06.

    Next stage


    [ image:  ]

    Thursday provides welcome relief after the tough climbs of the past week-and-a-half, with a flat run into Bordeaux.

    This is one for the sprinters - with a win here almost as important to them as next Sunday's victory on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

    Armtrong just has to make sure he does not fall off as he conserves strength for Saturday's time trial.





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