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Sunday, 9 July, 2000, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Bettini's last gasp win
Paolo Bettini on the podium
Bettini savours his big victory
Paolo Bettini has won stage nine of the Tour de France, a flat run from Agen to Dax on the edge of the Pyrenees.

The Mapei rider became the first Italian stage winner in this year's Tour, after he and three others broke away on the final small climb of the day, 38km from the end of the 181km stage.

The peloton almost caught the quartet on the line - and the main pack of riders closed the gap to the extent that they were actually given the same time as the four escapees.

Telekom's Italian rider Alberto Elli retained the yellow jersey as the race prepares for Monday's first big mountain stage.

Erik Zabel kisses the green jersey
Zabel: Delighted to be back in the green
Bettini, winner of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic race earlier this season, beat Lotto's Belgian rider Gert Verheyen to the stage win.

The pair's breakaway companions, Spaniard Jose Vidal of Kelme and Frenchman Didier Rous of Bonjour finished third and fourth.

German Erik Zabel of the Telekom squad led home the main bunch ahead of Latvian Romans Vainsteins, who rides for Vini Caldirola.

The result, combined with a lowly 22nd place for compatriot Marcel Wust, meant that Zabel took over the green jersey for the first time in this year's race.

Zabel has won the green jersey outright for the past four Tours, and is aiming for a record fifth success in Paris.

The two Germans had battled all day for points in the competition for the Tour's most consistent sprinter, including both attempting to get away in a 19-man group early in the day.

That break - and another 18-rider attempt containing yellow jersey Elli - were both caught after failing to get more than 30 seconds ahead of the peloton.

Until this season Bettini was best known as the main domestique - or support rider - to Italian champion and former World Cup winner Michele Bartoli.

Bettin wins, ahead of Zabel and co
Zabel (bottom right) is close as Bettini crosses the line
But in April he landed the biggest win of his career in Liege, and he has now added to that with another top class win.

"I had a lot of problems to get going at the start today but I have dreamt of winning here since I was a child, he said.

"In the morning I thought about it. I needed to try my luck before the mountains. I joined the breakaway to see how it went and it went all the way.

"From tomorrow, our leaders in the mountains will be Manuel Beltran and Daniele Nardello, but we must also play the Bartoli card. If he does well tomorrow, he could improve day after day."

Asked which victory was the most important in his career, he said :"Liege-Bastogne-Liege was the race I used to dream about as a kid and winning it was a fantastic emotion.

"But the Tour is the Tour..."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Brotherton
"Things are about to change dramatically"
New green jersey holder Erik Zabel
"It's just happiness for me"
See also:

09 Jul 00 | Tour de France
07 Jul 00 | Tour de France
06 Jul 00 | Tour de France
05 Jul 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
28 Jun 00 | Tour de France
09 Jul 00 | Tour de France
Links to more Tour de France stories are at the foot of the page.


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