Racing returns to normal at Tour

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stage 7

Daniele Bennati wins first stage for Lampre

stage 7

Alberto Contador pulls on yellow jersey for first time

With every twist and turn the Tour takes, you can be certain of one thing: the race will go on. Following the recent shocking revelations when Alexandre Vinokourov and Cristian Moreni both tested positive leading to their teams pulling out, and the disbelief when Rabobank fired their star rider, Michael Rasmussen, racing continued with some sense of normality on stage 17.

Just 142 riders started the 188km stage, and almost straight away an eight-man breakaway attacked from a peloton that was clearly not going to chase down the non-GC contenders. Included in this breakaway was David Millar, showing fine form in yet another long breakaway.

Finishing nearly ten minutes ahead of the peloton, Bennati scored not only the first stage win for Lampre, but also the Italian sprinter’s first Tour de France stage win. The 26-year-old easily beat the remants of the breakaway, which had been whittled down to four riders in the closing kilometres. Despite his best efforts, Jens Voigt couldn’t drop Bennati, Markus Fothen and Martin Elmiger, ending fourth when he crossed the line. No consolation prize for the strong CSC rider who has been desperate for a stage win in the Tour.

“I’m much more than satisfied,” Bennati said following his win. “The Tour began in an unlucky way for me and my team, but we all kept on working and today we received a beautiful prize. It’s my most beautiful victory, obtained thanks to my team mates, the team staff and the sponsors”.

Seemingly able to win the Tour, barring any incidents, is Discovery Channel’s young Alberto Contador, thrust into the top GC spot following the removal of Michael Rasmussen. The Spaniard didn’t wear the yellow jersey however, the organisers instead deciding to wait until the end of the stage before awarding it to the leading GC rider.

Contador seems untroubled with everything that has happened. “It’s a normal situation: when the yellow jersey quits the race, the man in second overall moves up the rankings into first. This is a bit of a surprise for me but leading the Tour de France is a consequence of what has happened. I tried my best yesterday to get the jersey in the toughest stage of the race but failed to do so because [Michael] Rasmussen was just so strong but those are the circumstances.”

Is it too soon to assume Contador is going to keep the yellow jersey to Paris? With just one flat stage and another 55km individual time trial, it’ll take something special from Cadel Evans if he hopes to overhaul the Discovery rider. Asked about the threat from Evans, Contador said: “I hope the time that I have on Cadel Evans is enough but he’s a very strong rider and he’s already managed some very good time trials. It’ll be a long 55km flat time trial and I’ll do my best just to maintain the gap.”

Sitting 1.53 behind Contador, the yellow jersey looks to be within striking distance, but is it too late for the Australian to pounce? We’ll have to wait and find out…

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