Cavendish strikes again in Tour de France, but doping dominates


Nimes (France) : British sprint sensation Mark Cavendish recorded his fourth stage win of the 2008 Tour de France as doping continued to dominate the race.

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Cavendish scored an overwhelming victory in the 13th stage of the Tour Friday, dominating veteran Robbie McEwen of Australia and France’s Romain Feillu by several bike lengths in the mass sprint to the finish in the southern city of Nimes.

Cavendish is the first man since Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi in 2003 to win four stages at one Tour.

But the stunning achievements of the 22-year-old rider for the American Team Columbia continued to be overshadowed by news about doping.

The stage ended just minutes after the public prosecutor of Foix announced that Italian star cyclist Riccardo Ricco had been placed under investigation in connection with a positive doping test for a variant of the blood booster EPO.

The Italian Ricco, 24, faces criminal charges over use of toxic substances. Doping is a criminal offence in France.

Ricco was also kicked out of the Saunier-Duval team over the incident Friday, along with team-mate Leonardo Piepoli.

Cavendish’s time for the 182-km course from Narbonne to Nimes was 4 hours 25 minutes 42 seconds, an average speed of 41.10 kph in temperatures of over 30 degrees celsius and strong headwinds.

The two-time world track cycling champion said he had been surprised by the wind as he started his winning sprint.

“There was a lot of wind. I thought I started too early. I couldn’t really accelerate, but it was enough to beat the others,” he said.

Asked how he trained to develop his explosive speed, Cavendish replied, “It’s really simple – I ride my bike. If you want to be a great cyclist, ride a lot.”

All of the leaders finished in the main pack just behind the winner. As a result, Australian Cadel Evans retained a 1-second lead over Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, with American Christian Vandevelde 38 seconds behind in third place.

Evans said that he expected Schleck’s Team CSC to begin attacking him Saturday, when the Tour approaches the Alps.

The leader of the Silence-Lotto team said his main rivals for the title were Russian Denis Menchov, whom he described as being the “most consistent,” and Spanish veteran Carlos Sastre, “who is always at his best in the third week”.

Menchov currently stands fifth, 57 seconds behind Evans, while Sastre is in sixth place, 1 minute 28 seconds adrift.

The Tour de France ends July 27 in Paris.