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Bettini takes his chance

Stage 9: Agen – Dax

Mapei’s Paolo Bettini, winner already this year of Liege-Bastogne –Liege, took his team’s third stage win in this year’s Tour de France after a four man breakaway just held off the speeding peloton in Dax.

In the final flat stage for 12 days, Bettini brought his team more Tour glory, holding off Bonjour’s Didier Rous, Lotto’s Geert Verheyen and Kelme’s Jose Angel Vidal, to take his first Tour success.

Bettini’s victory came after he broke clear with his three companions following the only climb of the day, the fourth category cote de Saint-Sever, after 132 kilometres.

Hot on the 26 year old Italian’s heels, Erik Zabel of Telekom led home the bunch to reclaim the green points jersey from the shoulders of Marcel Wust, Festina’s star fast-man.

But the 181 kilometre stage gave rise to concerns for Tour champion Lance Armstrong after his valued team mates, Tyler Hamilton and Vjatcheslav Ekimov, crashed 14 kilometres from the finish in Dax.

Luckily for US Postal, on the eve of the long-awaited first mountain stage, both riders, very vital to the Texan’s cause, re-mounted to finish with the main field.

Bettini, team mate to sprint star Tom Steels, was overjoyed with his success, on the last stage to truly offer such opportunities before the Tour’s final weekend.

“This was just the kind of breakaway move that I was waiting for,” said Bettini. “I went with it just to see what happened, but we held on to make it to the finish.”

Meanwhile, Zabel’s Telekom team mate Alberto Elli, untroubled by the day’s opportunistic attacks, held on for one more day to the Tour leader’s ‘maillot jaune.’

But the Italian, race leader almost by accident, following an instinctive attack earlier in the week, is happy to admit that he doesn’t have the climbing strength to hang onto the ‘maillot jaune’ through the Pyrenees and Alps.

“It’s great for me to have worn the yellow jersey for a while,” Elli said afterwards, “but tomorrow, the real race begins and I’ll be working for Ullrich. It’s not every day you see the yellow jersey working for another rider, but you’ll see that tomorrow. That’s what I’m here for.”

Results & overall standings:

1. Paolo Bettini (Ita/MAP), 181 km in 4 h 29:06.
(average speed: 40.36 km/h)
2. Geert Verheyen (Bel/LOT) at 00:00.
3. José Angel Vidal (Spa/KEL) 00:00.
4. Didier Rous (Fra/BJT) 00:00.
5. Erik Zabel (Ger/TEL) 00:00.
6. Romans Vainsteins (Lit/VIN) 00:00.
7. Enrico Cassani (Ita/PLT) 00:00.
8. Arvis Piziks (Lit/MCJ) 00:00.
9. Stefano Zanini (Ita/MAP) 00:00.
10. Zoran Klemencic (Slo/VIN) 00:00.

General Classification:

1. Alberto Elli (Ita/TEL) 33 h 08:34.
2. Fabrice Gougot (Fra/C.A) at 00:12.
3. Marc Wauters (Bel/RAB) 01:15.
4. Pascal Chanteur (Fra/AG2) 02:56.
5. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spa/BAN) 03:08.
6. Jacky Durand (Fra/LOT) 03:17.
7. Jens Voigt (Ger/C.A) 03:17.
8. Salvatore Commesso (Ita/SAE) 03:52.
9. Servais Knaven (Hol/FAR) 04:31.
10. Arvis Piziks (Lit/MCJ) 04:38.

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