Colombia’s Soler wins 9th stage

James Keaten
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Juan Mauricio Soler Hernandez of Colombia reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the 9th stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Val d'Isere and Briancon, French Alps, Tuesday, July 17, 2007. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

BRIANCON, France ” Juan Mauricio Soler of Colombia won Tuesday’s ninth stage of the Tour de France, and Michael Rasmussen of Denmark retained the yellow jersey after the final Alpine stage.

The expected race contenders didn’t gain any ground on Rasmussen during the 99.1-mile course from the Val d’Isere ski station to Briancon. But pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov, who is nursing knee injuries from a crash, lost more time against the Dane and suffered another big blow to his title hopes.

The 24-year-old Soler, competing in his first Tour for the newcomer Barloworld team, clocked 4 hours, 14 minutes, 24 seconds for the ride featuring three tough climbs, including the fabled Galiber and Iseran passes.

“I’m really happy … Winning a stage is a dream,” Soler said.

Alejandro Valverde of Spain was second and Cadel Evans of Australia was third, each 38 seconds back.

The last of three Alpine stages meant more trouble for Astana team leader Vinokourov. The Kazakh rider lost another 2:42 to Rasmussen and now trails by 8:05 overall ” in 21st place.

“I did what I could. The team worked well again … and tried to reduce the gap,” Vinokourov told France television.

“It was another horrible day for me,” he said before breaking into tears.

During the stage, Vinokourov briefly dropped back to the doctor’s car to get an anti-inflammatory pill, the Tour doctor said.

Overall, Rasmussen leads Valverde in second by 2:35. Fellow Spaniard Iban Mayo is third, 2:39 back.

Rasmussen’s Rabobank team was one of three ” along with Italy’s Lampre-Fondital and Dutch squad Rabobank ” subjected to surprise blood tests by cycling’s governing body early Tuesday before the stage. All of the 25 riders tested were negative, the UCI said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy supported the competitors Tuesday, riding in a car along with Tour director Christian Prudhomme. Sarkozy expressed support for Frenchman Christophe Moreau.

“We need to have a new (French) champion,” Sarkozy said while standing up through the car’s sunroof. “If we don’t hope for it, there’s little chance that it will happen.”

There were more spills Tuesday. Marcus Burghardt of the T-Mobile team plowed into a spectator’s dog that ambled into the road. The front wheel of his bike buckled and he was thrown to the tarmac. He got up and did not appear seriously hurt. The dog also seemed OK.

The Iseran and Galibier ascents are so tough they do not have a rating, and known simply as “Hors Categorie,” or beyond classification. The stage finished with a long, speedy descent to Briancon.

The three-week race returns to a flat course for Stage 10 on Wednesday, a 142.6-mile trek from Tallard to the Mediterranean city of Marseille. It is the second-longest stage this year.


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