AUTUN, France -- Team Astana missed last year's Tour de
France over a doping probe. Now, its star riders have another
problem: crashes on the course.
Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Kloeden, the Swiss squad's top
two title contenders, were injured in separate nasty spills
Thursday in a bumpy sixth stage through the Burgundy winemaking
It wasn't clear whether either would start Friday.
Kloeden had a hairline fracture in his tailbone after tumbling
into a ditch, and Vinokourov, who fell with 15 miles to go, had
deep cuts in his knees.
Vinokourov dropped from 12th overall to 81st place, 2:10 off the
pace of race leader Fabian Cancellara of Team CSC, who retained the
yellow jersey for a sixth day.
Italy's Filippo Pozzato took the stage, with a sprint at the end
of the 113-mile trek from Chablis to Autun.
Even if Vinokourov and Kloeden join the pack for Friday's mostly
flat 124-mile ride from Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse, the
injuries could make them vulnerable to attacks and shake up the
cast of race favorites.
Their woes could give an opening to contenders such as American
Levi Leipheimer, Australia's Cadel Evans, Spaniards Alejandro
Valverde and Oscar Pereiro, and Russia's Denis Menchov.
Vinokourov, seen by many as the cyclist to beat, tumbled off his
bike with 15 miles to go and finished the stage 1:20 behind
"He's warrior in the tough moments," said Astana sporting
director Marc Biver of the 33-year-old, who finished third in the
2003 Tour and fifth in 2005. "He becomes dangerous when he has a
Kloeden, too, is dangerous.
After landing in the ditch with 45 miles to go, he got up,
stayed with the pack and held second place overall -- just 33
seconds behind Cancellara.
Stage winner Pozzato moved to third overall, winning a sprint
ahead of Oscar Freire of Spain in second and Daniele Bennati of
Italy in third. They and the main pack finished in 4:39:01.
The Tour is trying to get past a string of doping allegations,
investigations and admissions and focus instead on the sporting
drama of its showcase event.
Last year, Astana was disqualified on the eve of the Tour after
five of its riders -- not including Vinokourov -- were linked to
Operation Puerto, a Spanish doping investigation. This year, team
CSC sporting director Bjarne Riis is skipping the race after
admitting he used EPO on way to winning the Tour in 1996.
With so many familiar names, including last year's champion
Floyd Landis, missing, much has changed on the Tour.
On Thursday, Pozzato said he toyed with the idea of urging his
team, Liquigas, to wait for Vinokourov, as riders might have done
during the era of seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong.
"When I knew that Vinokourov had fallen, I was tempted to ask
my team to slow down and wait for him," Pozzato said. "Maybe
there is less respect for the big riders than there once was."
"When I started in cycling there was a very clear hierarchy,
and I was afraid to get too close to Armstrong. ... I always stayed
3 meters back and never got too close."
American cyclist Christian Vandevelde, who was pushing the pace
along with the Liquigas riders, took issue with Pozzato. Vandevelde
said was not informed of Vinokourov's woes, and besides, the Kazakh
star was not in the lead.
"If the yellow jersey had crashed and we knew about it, it
would have been a different story," Vandevelde said. "Lance would
have been in the yellow jersey."
That coveted shirt might soon have a new owner in this edition
of the Tour.
Cancellara, a time-trial specialist who won the prologue and
Tuesday's third stage, has said he expects to lose the yellow
jersey once the race moves into the Alps on Saturday.
"I'm really tired now, that's for sure," he said, after six
days of clinging to the lead.