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Wednesday, 19 July, 2000, 20:37 GMT 21:37 UK
Dekker grabs hat-trick
Erik Dekker
Dekker celebrates his third stage win of the Tour
Erik Dekker of Holland won a furious sprint finish to take the 17th stage of the Tour de France.

The Rabobank rider's third stage win of the Tour did nothing, however, to dent Lance Armstrong's commanding hold on the overall lead.

The US Postal team leader's position was never threatened during the 155km race, as he remained within the pack together with his closest challengers.

Jan Ullrich of Germany's Deutsche Telekom retained second place, still 5 minutes 37 seconds behind the American.

Dekker edged out Erik Zabel of Telekom and little-known Fred Rodriguez, an American riding for the Italian Mapei team.

Afterwards, the Dutchman said: "Once I broke clear I didn't even look back to see what was going on behind me."

Frantic

Beneath blazing sunny skies, the riders went from the French southern shore of Lake Geneva into the nearby foothills of the Alps before a frantic race downhill to Lausanne.

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong: 5mins 37secs ahead
Missing from the pack was Marco Pantani, the diminutive, bald Italian who won the Tour in 1998 but withdrew from this year's race overnight while in 14th place.

Pantani blamed mysterious intestinal pains for his decision. Other riders suggested it might have more to do with his fading performance during Tuesday's final mountainous stage.

Armstrong, who exchanged harsh words with Pantani last week after allowing the Italian to win a mountain stage, said of his withdrawal: "It's his problem - he's not my brother."

Pointedly referring to Pantani as "the elephant" - a reference to his prominent ears - he added: "Elefantino is different. I don't think anybody fully understands his motivations."

Blood tests

Earlier in the day, Armstrong and the race's eight other top riders passed a surprise blood test taken in their hotel rooms.

It marked the latest step taken by International Cycling Union to restore public confidence in the integrity of the competition following a scandal-plagued Tour in 1998.

Marco Pantani
Pantani is out of the Tour
Massimiliano Lelli of Italy led the pack during Wednesday's toughest challenge, a steep climb to the top of the 1,445m Col de Mosses east of Lake Geneva.

But a gaggle of pursuers eventually swallowed up Lelli on the downhill side.

The Col de Mosses also claimed one of the competition's home favourites, Alex Zulle of Switzerland, who quit shortly before reaching the summit.

The 32-year-old rider finished second behind Armstrong in 1999 but this year had struggled, starting Wednesday's stage in 47th place and 86 minutes behind the leader.

Lelli's teammate on Cofidis, Chris Peers of Belgium, also quit the race before reaching Lausanne.

In all, just 130 riders of the 180 who started the race remained at Wednesday's finish. US Postal, the lone American-sponsored outfit, is the only team with all nine members still competing.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Brotherton
"Dekker has been the most attacking rider in the race"
Erik Dekker
"I can't believe it"
See also:

19 Jul 00 | Tour de France
19 Jul 00 | Photo Galleries
19 Jul 00 | Tour de France
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