Dekker finally wins a stage after a long, winding road

Cyclist feels redemption after doping allegation

Tour De France

July 09, 2000|By COX NEWS SERVICE

VILLENEUVE-SUR-LOT, France - Erik Dekker had tried so desperately to win his first career stage in the Tour de France over the past week.

He and France's Jacky Durand rode together for much of stage two last Sunday, but with about one-third of the race to go, Dekker's leg cramped so severely he was the last rider to cross the finish line.

Going from Vannes to Vitre on Tuesday for stage five, Dekker again had a chance to win. He led until the final 500 yards but was caught by a group of sprinters.

But yesterday, with the terrain changing from flat to rugged as the peloton approached southern France and the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, Dekker had his moment to shine.

He started his break from the group almost as soon as the race started. Late in the day, the 29-year-old from the Netherlands basically stopped pumping the pedals about 100 yards from the finish line in Villeneuve-Sur-Lot to bask in the moment. He coasted across the finish line, then covered his face with his hands.

"This is the most beautiful day in my career," said Dekker, who won a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics.

But like all the stages of this first week of the Tour, the outcome likely had little effect on who will wear the yellow jersey in Paris on July 23.

The contenders - including Austin's Lance Armstrong, the defending Tour champion - stayed safely back in the peloton and out of harm's way. That has been Armstrong's strategy since Wednesday. He and so many others have said the real race starts Monday, when the riders go from Dax to the summit of Hautacam. The stage will feature three steep climbs over its 127-mile route.

Yesterday's stage tweaked the leader board a bit, though Italy's Alberto Elli remained in the yellow jersey with an overall time of 28 hours, 39.28 minutes.

Armstrong, 6:37 out of the lead, said he was tired after yesterday's stage because the speeds were faster than he expected.

Fred Rodriguez, the defending U.S. Pro champion from Emeryville, Calif., was 11th overall, 4:46 out of first, with a fourth-place finish yesterday.

Meanwhile, Dekker believed his stage win gave him some redemption after being cleared of blood doping charges in last year's world championships.

"I wanted to make a fresh start," Dekker said. "Now everybody will remember me as a cyclist and not as a doper."

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