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Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Virenque completes his comeback
Virenque celebrates on the podium
Virenque: First Tour win since 1997
Richard Virenque has won the 16th stage of the Tour de France - yet another thriller in the Alps.

The Frenchman triumphed over the 196km between Courcheval to Morzine to take his first win in the race for three years.

He benefitted from a crash involving Spain's Roberto Heras in the closing stages, although the stage showcased the Frenchman's superior descending skills as well as his lively climbing.

Race leader Lance Armstrong now looks certain to win the overall classification after surviving the last of the mountain stages.

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong: Mighty relief after sensible ride
But the American was put under severe pressure on the final climb by second-placed rider Jan Ullrich.

The German took second place on the stage, and gained one minute and 37 seconds over Armstrong.

However the American's lead of more than five minutes looms secure, even taking into account Friday's time trial near Ullrich's home in southern Germany.


I was really keen. And it was great with this huge crowd, it was a great moment of my life
Richard Virenque
Virenque's win was greeted with delight by the French climber, and by thousands of his fans gathered in Morzine.

The victory completed the Frenchman's comeback from the depths of the Festina affair in 1998.

Virenque was thrown off the Tour along with the rest of the team after illegal drugs were found in a team car.

Last year the Frenchman returned to take a fifth King of the Mountains title at the Tour - without a stage win - but this triumph confirms his return to the top.

"This victory means a lot to me," said the Frenchman.

Richard Virenque crosses the line
Three years on but the victory salute is unchanged
The win came thanks to a superb performance on the day's final climb and a sensational descent into Morzine, but there was also luck involved.

As Virenque came into Morzine, Kelme rider Heras was right on his wheel.

But the Spaniard Heras smashed into a barrier on a tight left-hand turn, leaving him with a badly buckled front wheel.

"It's a pity Heras should have fallen in the last turn, but he would have struggled to beat me in the sprint," said Virenque.

Once he had changed his bike Heras came in three seconds behind Ullrich to take an unlucky third place.

Even worse for the Spaniard was his loss of third place overall due to the accident. Second place, in the same time as Virenque, would have taken him above compatriot Joseba Beloki.


That was the worst day of my cycling life
Lance Armstrong
Armstrong finished eighth, two minutes behind Virenque after being dropped by the leading group on the final ascent of the Col de Joux Plane.

It was the first time the American had been put into difficulty in this year's Tour, and he said it was the worst day of his cycling life.

"I just didn't eat enough until the final climb and I had no sugar, no energy," he explained. "I was really in trouble."

Pantani loses out

The biggest loser of the day was Marco Pantani, who made a bad tactical decision by attacking on the first of the day's five climbs.

Marco Pantani on the attack
Pantani paid dearly for early effort
The Italian, a 1997 stage winner on this road, was out in a breakaway for more than 100km, but suffered badly for the effort when he lost more than 13 minutes over the final climb.

David Millar finished the 16th stage in 65th place, 28 minutes behind Virenque.

Encouragingly for British fans, the former yellow jersey-holder rode with the lead group during the first part of the stage and should now finish his first Tour.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Brotherton
"Virenque was gifted the fourth stage win of his career."

In DepthIN DEPTH
Tour de France
Final analysis of the world's top cycle race
See also:

18 Jul 00 | Tour de France
15 Jul 00 | Tour de France
18 Jul 00 | Photo Galleries
15 Jul 00 | Tour de France
15 Jul 00 | Photo Galleries
16 Jul 00 | Tour de France
16 Jul 00 | Europe
16 Jul 00 | Tour de France
16 Jul 00 | Tour de France
16 Jul 00 | Tour de France
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