SAINT-QUENTIN, France (AFP) –
Germany’s Andre Greipel claimed his second win in as many days Thursday as the Tour de France was rocked by the doping controversy swirling around seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.
Lotto rider Greipel had claimed his first win of this year’s race on Wednesday when he dominated a small bunch sprint devoid of rival Mark Cavendish after the Briton suffered a crash inside the final 3km.
This time, Cavendish was in the mix but after a tough, slightly uphill finish that was arguably more suited to his rivals the Team Sky fast man could only finish fifth.
Greipel, taking his third win of the race after his maiden win ahead of Cavendish last year, beat Australia’s Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) at the end of the 196km ride with Argentina’s Juan Jose Haedo of Saxo Bank in third.
“I’m very happy with this second win and I want to say thank you to my teammates for all their hard work,” said Greipel, who was quick to affirm his status as one of Cavendish’s main threats this year.
“I don’t know why everyone believes I can’t beat him. I already beat him last year and I have the best team around me.
“Yesterday he crashed, but today he was there. I’m very happy to win my second stage in the Tour de France.”
Before the peloton set off from Rouen an explosive report appeared in a Dutch newspaper claiming four former teammates of Armstrong had testified against the Texan and were facing six-month bans.
Armstrong, who has consistently denied using performance-enhancing drugs, was notified recently that he has been charged with doping by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
De Telegraaf alleged the quartet competing in this year’s race – Americans George Hincapie (BMC), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma), Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie (both Garmin) – have confessed to doping and had given evidence against him.
Hincapie, a teammate of Australian Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, refused to directly comment on the allegation.
“I’m just disappointed this is being brought up once again,” said Hincapie, the only rider to accompany Armstrong in all seven of his triumphant Tour campaigns.
Swiss Fabian Cancellera held onto the leader’s yellow jersey by seven seconds from Briton Bradley Wiggins with Australia’s defending champion Cadel Evans in seventh, at 17sec.
But he refused to be drawn on the controversy which threatens to overshadow the remainder of the race for the teams with rider implicated in the Armstrong probe.
“It’s something I don’t want to discuss too much because I want to look forwards and not back,” said the RadioShack rider, whose team boss Johan Bruyneel has also been charged along with Armstrong for the same offences.
Cancellara will spend his 27th day in the yellow jersey Friday, a record for a rider who has never won the race. The previous record owner was Frenchman Rene Vietto.
“That’s something I’m very proud of,” said Cancellara, who first pulled on the fabled jersey in 2004 when he won the prologue in Liege.
Well before the slightly uphill race finish came into view the sprinters’ teams were riding hard to chase down an earlier four-man breakaway.
The last man, Spaniard Pablo Urtasun of Euskaltel, was agonisingly caught with just 250 metres to go as Greipel and a number of his rivals powered uphill towards the finish.
Goss gave it his best shot yet, but the Australian admitted he was simply outclassed.
“With the lead-out he’s got and the acceleration he has, he’s super hard to come around. The way I’ve got to try and beat him is do what we did today — get the jump on him and go,” Goss told AFP.
“Unfortunately the jump was just a little bit too far for me to make it uphill.”