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Friday, July 14, 2006
Discovery rider Popovych wins stage; Landis in yellow

ESPN.com news services

CARCASSONNE, France -- Yaroslav Popovych won stage 12 of the Tour de France on Friday, while American Floyd Landis retained the yellow jersey of the overall leader.

Popovych's win was a solo effort, and it came on a day when two of his Discovery Channel teammates -- Paolo Savoldelli and Benjamin Noval -- dropped out of the race. Following a long breakaway with two other riders, the Ukranian took the stage with a solo effort to the line, finishing far ahead of Landis.

Popovych's win, his first in two Tours, came the day after he and other Discovery Channel riders performed poorly in the hardest stage of the Pyrenees.

Discovery has struggled in its first Tour de France without former leader Lance Armstrong.

Popovych finished 27 seconds ahead of second-place Alessandro Ballan and 29 seconds in front of Oscar Freire of Spain.

The three had ridden together into the outskirts of the medieval city of Carcassonne. Popovych used repeated bursts of speed to pull away from Ballan and Freire and then raced alone to the finish line.

Popovych started the stage in 23rd place, 9 minutes behind Landis. He moved up to 10th, 4:15 behind Landis, reviving his hopes of a high finish when the Tour concludes in Paris on July 23.

"I'm not worried. I don't think Popovych is a threat after what he showed in the Pyrenees," said Phonak team manager John Lelangue.

Discovery was considered one of the favorites to win the team title when the race started July 1. Following the team's struggles, however, Popovych said Discovery is now focusing on winning stages.

His said team race manager Johan Bruyneel was "more sad that angry" after the Discovery riders struggled in the Pyrenees on Thursday, when Landis took the race leader's yellow jersey.

"But life is like that, you can't always win and now we can start the second half of the Tour," Popovych said through a translator on French television.

Popovych, who last year won the white jersey awarded to the Tour's best young rider, said he hopes to win the race in a few years.

"I'll prepare better for the years to come," the 26-year-old said.

Despite his relatively young age and inexperience at the Tour, Popovych pulled away from Ballan and Freire a little over a mile from the line -- sparing the need for a sprint contest. Freire is an accomplished sprinter and has already won two stages at this Tour.

"I knew that I couldn't arrive in a sprint with Freire, or with Ballan either because he was very strong," Popovych said.

The stage got off to a nervous start with American George Hincapie trying to make amends for his failure on Thursday and he broke away after 15 miles along with German Jens Voigt, Italian Giuseppe Guerini and Spaniard Oscar Pereiro.

The quartet opened a one-minute gap after being joined by 11 other riders, only for them to be caught by the main pack some 74½ miles from the line.

Saturday's 13th stage will take the peloton over 142.9 miles from Beziers to Montelimar.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.