MARSEILLE (France): Denmark’s Jakob Piil made up for past disappointments yesterday when he outsprinted Italy’s Fabio Saachi to win the 219.5-km 10th stage of the Tour de France to Marseille.
While the Dane, a winner of the Paris-Tours World Cup classic, had his day, race leader Lance Armstrong was happy to sit back and relax in the peloton, finishing in 45th place, 21 minutes behind.
The American, aiming for a record-equalling fifth Tour victory, will keep a 21-second lead over Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov on the first rest day in Narbonne today.
Spain’s Iban Mayo lies third, 1:02 behind the Texan.
The favourites took no chances, anxious to avoid the fate of Spaniard Joseba Beloki, Armstrong’s most serious rival, who crashed heavily at the end of Monday’s stage in Gap.
With fractures to his right femur, elbow and wrist, Beloki was flown back home to Vitoria on Tuesday for surgery.
For Piil, victory was sweet after he narrowly missed out last year in Bourg-en-Bresse when his foot slipped off the pedals in the final sprint.
“It was a lesson for me and I had decided this was not going to happen again,” the 30-year-old Danish CSC rider, who was also second in a Tour stage in Montlucon two years ago, said.
“It’s a nice feeling.”
Nine riders, none of them serious contenders in the overall standings, broke away after the first intermediate sprint of the day and stretched out a 20-minute lead over the main bunch.
Spaniard Jose Enrique Gutierrez attacked on the outskirts of the Mediteranean port, but he was hauled in by Piil and Sacchi who powered ahead along the glistening sea front.
The two sportingly shook hands before battling it out down the 2 km stretch to the finish and Piil, a former track rider, finally took the upper hand.
It was the first time in this year’s Tour that an escape group had successfully stayed out in front.
Armstrong’s US Postal Service team mates led the main pack for most of the day, but did not chase down the breakaways as they were no threat to their leader.
Their only slight moment of concern came when a bunch of demonstrators supporting jailed farmers’ union leader Jose Bove blocked the road for two minutes.
Police moved in quickly to drag the protestors and the peloton, containing all the favourites, continued with no further alarms.
Italian Stefano Garzelli, the 2000 Giro winner and one of the pre-race favourites, pulled out before the start in Gap with acute bronchitis. – Reuters