Thursday, July 13
Britian's Millar races to lead
 
 Reuters

FUTUROSCOPE, France -- Britain's David Millar made a sensational Tour de France debut on Saturday when he won the first stage of the world's most famous cycle race to take the coveted yellow jersey of overall leadership.

 
  O.N.C.E.'s David Extebarria was bloodied after a fall during the first stage.

"I can hardly speak," said the 23-year-old Scot before bursting into tears. "I can't believe it. I'm going to sleep with that jersey on and not take it off for years."

Widely regarded as one of the brightest hopes in the sport, Millar outshone defending champion Lance Armstrong in the 16.5 kilometer individual time trial, beating the American by two seconds with 19 minutes three seconds.

The Tour began under a cloud when three riders, Russian Sergei Ivanov, Slovenian Andrej Hauptman and Italian Rossano Brasi, were sent home after blood tests showed them with illegal levels of hematocrite.

Hematocrite levels above 50 percent could indicate that an athlete may be using erythropoietin (EPO), a stamina-boosting drug which stimulates the production of oxygen-rich red blood cells.

But the three disqualifications failed to overshadow Millar's flying start.

The Briton was so impressive on this flat course that he left established riders like former winner Jan Ullrich of Germany and Swiss time trial specialist Alex Zuelle trailing.

Third-placed Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, a former time trial world champion, was 13 seconds adrift, while Ullrich, 1997 Tour winner, was another second adrift.

Italian Marco Pantani, 1998 Tour winner, was a lackluster 136th, 2:16 down.

The Scot added: "In Britain, we only ride 10-mile (16 km) time trials so when I saw this, I told myself it was one for me.

"But I did not want to have too high expectations in case I was disappointed."

In a way his victory in a way made up for British disappointment over the absence of fellow Briton Chris Boardman -- winner of three prologues on the Tour -- who withdrew this year's because of illness.

But Millar, born in Malta and now lives in Biarritz, in the French Basque country, does not consider himself a real Briton.

"I don't know what to say about my nationality. I was born in Malta, I've lived in Scotland and Hong Kong, where my father still lives and which I still consider my true home," he said.

The Cofidis rider admitted he had come on the Tour more for the experience and to try and win the white jersey for the best under-25 rider.

His surprise victory helped lift some of the gloom following the drugs furore earlier in the day.

"This shows that our set-up against doping works fine," said Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc.

It was the first time riders had failed blood tests on the Tour.
 



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