TROYES, France -- German Erik Zabel broke
a three-year drought on Saturday when he won the 20th and
penultimate stage of the Tour de France.
The points standings leader, almost certain to win a record
fifth successive green jersey as most consistent finisher in
Paris on Sunday, surged in the last 50 metres to upstage
Australian Robbie McEwen and Dutchman Jeroen Blijlevens.
Zabel, perfectly assisted by his Telekom teammates, repaid
them with his first stage win since 1997 in Pau.
It was the German's eighth stage win in the world's premier
cycling event and his success at last will make him the hot
favourite to win the final sprint on the Champs-Elysees on
It was a fine reward for one of the most gifted and likeable
sprinters in the bunch, who has often sacrificed his chances for
his leader Jan Ullrich.
On Sunday, he will beat Ireland's Sean Kelly as the rider
with most victories in the Tour points classification.
But the real star of this Tour will be American Lance
Armstrong, who finished the longest stage of this year's race,
over 254.5 kms from Belfort to Troyes, calmly among the main
Armstrong must wait one more day and cycle 138 more
kilometres finally to win his prize.
The Texan will take a lead of six minutes and two seconds
over Ullrich around the Parisian streets of the last stage.
"After three years with the green jersey and a dozen second
places, it's a great private moment for me," Zabel said after
his win in just over six hours.
"I must thank my team who did a great job. Tomorrow, the
Champs-Elysees will be a great parade and if I'm a little bit
lucky, I might win again," added Zabel, who has become famous
for lifting his young son on to his shoulders each year on the
Zabel's relief contrasted with the frustration of another
cyclist, former French champion Francois Simon.
The Bonjour team rider, who lives near Troyes, decided to
try his luck in his home region, attacking after 136 kilometres
with compatriot Sebastien Hinault and Poland's Gregor
The three, who had a maximum lead of three minutes and 40
seconds over the main bunch, led for more than 100 kilometres
before Gwiazdowski and Hinault gave up. But Simon held on,
keeping the peloton at bay until two kilometres before the line,
when he was tamed at last.
The loss was especially disappointing for the Frenchman as
he has finished second three times and because his three
brothers, Pascal, Regis and Jerome, have all won Tour stages.
Dutchman Michael Boogerd, fifth overall two years ago, was
involved in a serious crash after 63 kilometres and was forced
to give up one day before the finish with a chin injury.
Erik Zabel is the favorite to win Sunday's final stage.
Erik Zabel sprints to the Stage 20 victory.
avi: 1353 k
RealVideo: 56.6 | ISDN | T1
Stage 20 course map