SAINT-QUENTIN, France: Germany’s Andre Greipel claimed his second win in as many days Thursday as the Tour de France was rocked by the doping controversy swirling around seven-time winner Lance Armstrong.
Lotto rider Greipel had claimed his first win of this year’s race Wednesday when he dominated a small bunch sprint devoid of rival Mark Cavendish after the Briton suffered a crash inside the final three kilometers.
This time, Cavendish was in the mix, but after a slightly uphill finish, arguably more suited to his rivals, the Team Sky rider could only finish fifth.
Greipel, taking his third win of the race after his maiden win ahead of Cavendish last year, beat Australia’s Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) at the end of the 196 km ride with Argentina’s Juan Jose Haedo of Saxo Bank in third.
“I’m very happy with this second win and I want to say thank you to my teammates for all their hard work,” he said, quickly affirming his status as one of Cavendish’s main threats this year.
“I don’t know why everyone believes I can’t beat him. I already beat him last year and I have the best team around me.
“Yesterday he crashed, but today he was there. I’m very happy to win my second stage in the Tour de France.”
Before the peloton set off from Rouen an explosive report appeared in a Dutch newspaper claiming four former teammates of Armstrong had testified against the Texan and were facing six-month bans.
Armstrong, who has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, was notified recently that he has been charged with doping by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
De Telegraaf alleged the quartet competing in this year’s race – Americans George Hincapie (BMC), Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma), Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie (both Garmin) – have confessed to doping and had given evidence against him.
Hincapie, a teammate of Australian Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, refused to directly comment on the allegation ahead of Thursday’s stage.
“I’m just disappointed this is being brought up once again,” said Hincapie, the only rider to accompany Armstrong in all seven of his Tour campaigns.
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellera held onto the leader’s yellow jersey by seven seconds from Briton Bradley Wiggins with Australia’s defending champion Cadel Evans in seventh, at 17 sec.
The RadioShack rider will spend his 27th day in the yellow jersey Friday, meaning he will overtake Rene Vietto’s record for owning the biggest collection of Tour leader’s jerseys for someone who hasn’t won the overall title.
“That’s something I’m very proud of,” said Cancellara, who first pulled on the fabled jersey in 2004 when he won the prologue in Liege.
The Swiss, however, refused to be drawn on the controversy which threatens to overshadow the remainder of the race for the teams with rider implicated in the Armstrong probe.
“There was no talk of that today [Thursday] in the race,” added Cancellara when asked if it had been a topic of discussion in the peloton.
“On the other hand, it’s something I don’t want to discuss too much because I want to look forward and not back.”