By Shane Stokes
Kazakh hardman Alexandre Vinokourov bounced back from a disappointing ride yesterday with a stomping performance on today's 11th stage of the Tour de France. Showing great determination plus a complete recovery from his problems 24 hours earlier, the T-Mobile rider reached the line 1 minute 15 seconds clear of the Lance Armstrong group, outsprinting Phonak's Santi Botero for his second-ever stage win in the race.
Armstrong's Discovery Channel teammates drove hard in the closing kilometres, trying to reduce the time gap and to also set the Discovery leader up for the time bonus. However his efforts to take third on the stage were frustrated when Frenchman Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) burst from the group to grab the eight seconds. Bobby Julich (CSC) continued his good Tour by taking fourth, with Eddy Mazzoleni (Lampre) fifth and Armstrong sixth.
Vinokourov and Botero were part of a small breakaway which went clear on the first climb of the day, the Hors Categorie Col de la Madeleine. The group had attacked in pursuit of two early leaders, green jersey contender Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and Samuel Dumoulin of Ag2R-Prévoyance. Vino, Botero and Phonak teammate Oscar Pereiro were the strongest in the group, pressing on ahead over the summit, with the first two staying clear until the end.
Lance Armstrong retains his comfortable lead over the other contenders, although Christophe Moreau's third place moves him up into the same position overall. Botero is up to sixth while Vinokourov is now twelfth.
"Once we were clear, today was about getting as much time as possible," the Kazakh national champion said, "although we did concentrate on the stage result at the end.
"I had a bit of cramp near the finish. But I know Santi, he is not really a rider for the sprint. I realised I had a good chance for the victory. As regards the rest of the race, the Tour is not finished. There are some important stages left. My morale is good after this stage win."
One who will not be continuing is former race leader Jens Voigt, who was eliminated today. His CSC team said this evening that he has been ill for the past few days.