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Friday, July 20, 2007
Rasmussen retains yellow jersey at Tour de France

Associated Press

CASTRES, France -- Tom Boonen of Belgium sprinted to his second stage victory in this year's Tour de France in the 12th leg Friday, when Michael Rasmussen retained his overall lead despite being kicked off the Danish national team for violating drug-testing rules.

Standings after Stage 12

Michael Rasmussen (Denmark)
Alejandro Valverde (Spain)
Iban Mayo (Spain)
Cadel Evans (Australia)
Alberto Contador (Spain)
Carlos Sastre (Spain)
Andreas Kloeden (Germany)
Levi Leipheimer (U.S.)
Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg)
Mikel Astarloza (Spain)

Boonen, who wears the green jersey as the best sprinter, clenched his fists in the air after taking the 110.9-mile run from Montpellier to Castres.

The final dash was classic sprinting. Heading the pack for the last half mile, Boonen's Quick Step Innergetic support riders peeled away one by one, leaving him to burst ahead with 150 yards left and finish in 4 hours, 25 minutes, 32 seconds.

Boonen said the demanding mountain stages and time trials coming up will make it hard for him to retain the green jersey.

"The Tour's a horrible race," he said. "You have to be masochistic to ride in a race like this."

Erik Zabel of Germany was second. Robert Hunter, who on Thursday became the first South African to win a stage, took third.

Rasmussen finished safely in the trailing pack, as did his biggest challengers for the yellow jersey. The Dane is 2:35 ahead of second-place Alejandro Valverde and 2:39 ahead of Iban Mayo in third.

Friday's stage was overshadowed by the Danish cycling federation's announcement late Thursday that Rasmussen had been kicked off the national team.

International rules require riders to keep officials informed of their whereabouts during training, for possible surprise doping tests. The decision means that Rasmussen will miss the World Championships in Germany in September, and possibly the Olympics in Beijing next year.

When asked at a news conference how much the expulsion had mattered to him Friday, Rasmussen held his thumb and forefinger barely apart and said: "How about this much?"

The Tour continues Saturday with a 33.6-mile time trial that will give Rasmussen his first serious test since he took the overall lead by winning the eighth stage Sunday. The Dane is a climbing specialist who has struggled in the races against the clock.

After the 13th stage, the race moves into the Pyrenees for three stages that will likely determine the winner.

Rasmussen's expected challengers include Cadel Evans of Australia, who is fourth, 2:41 back; Andreas Kloeden of Germany, 3:50 back in seventh place; and Levi Leipheimer of the United States, 3:53 behind and in eighth overall.

"Rasmussen is still out ahead, but there are 10 or 11 riders still close together," said Dirk Demol, a sporting director for Leipheimer's Discovery Channel team. "The difficult stages start tomorrow, with the time trial."