Contador wins 14th stage

Plateau de Beille, July 22:

Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen reinforced his grip on the Tour de France yellow jersey after finishing second in a drama-filled 14th stage won by Spaniard Alberto Contador on Sunday.

Contador, of the Discovery Channel team, claimed his first ever win on the race after countering an attack by Rasmussen in the final 300 metres of the 197km race from Mazamet to here.

Rabobank rider Rasmussen now holds a 2min 23sec lead on Contador. Cadel Evans, who began the day in second overall at 1:00, dropped to third at 3:04 after failing to stay with Rasmussen and Contador in the final kilometres of what turned out to be a race of attrition on the Beille slopes.

In fourth place overall is American Levi Leipheimer, at 4:29, while Germany’s Andreas Kloden is fifth a 4:38 ahead of CSC rider Carlos Sastre, at 5:50. Alexandre Vinokourov, the pre-race favourite who relaunched his stricken bid for overall victory on Saturday, suffered a dramatic collapse on the first of the stage’s two major climbs.

Vinokourov Astana teammate Kloden proved a stronger rider on the day, staying with all the favourites until the start of the day’s final climb. However the German, who began the day at fourth overall at 2:34 behind Ramussen, was left trailing nine kilometres from the summit as the pace of Discovery Channel’s Yaroslav Popovych continued taking a costly toll.