Staying out of trouble
Armstrong defends Tour lead; Knaven wins stagePosted: Thursday July 24, 2003 10:51 AM
Updated: Thursday July 24, 2003 12:35 PM
BORDEAUX, France (Reuters) -- Former Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven seized his chance to shine in Bordeaux to take the 181-km 17th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.
As the Tour made it back to flat lands after five days in the Pyrenees, Knaven became the 13th rider from the Netherlands to win in France's wine capital. (Dutchman at home in Bordeaux)
Four-times champion Lance Armstrong and German rival Jan Ullrich, saving some strength for Saturday's decisive individual time trial to Nantes, finished in the main bunch, some eight minutes behind Knaven.
The American, who spent most of the stage near the front of the main group behind his U.S. Postal "blue train," kept his 67-second lead over Ullrich.
Dutch victories in Bordeaux are frequent but for once the winner was not a sprinter, as Knaven belonged to a group of 10 riders who broke clear after one kilometer in the flattest stage in the Tour so far.
Winner of the Paris-Roubaix World Cup classic two years ago, the Quick Step rider made his move 18 km from the line to part company with his nine companions and finish on his own.
"It's unbelievable, it's my seventh Tour and I often finished second, third or fourth and today I win a stage. I can't believe it," said Knaven.
"My team director told me I should attack, but not too late, so I went 18 km from the finish and gave it my all," he said.
The 32-year-old rider has scored his best career wins in France, winning the Queen of classics in Roubaix in 2001.
"I don't win a lot but when I do, it's always great races and that's what counts," he said.
To avoid any surprises, Armstrong sent his U.S. Postal blue train to the front of the main bunch in the last kilometers before letting the points classification contenders battle it out on the line.
Australian Robbie McEwen, the points winner last year, was 11th ahead of six-times green jersey holder Erik Zabel of Germany and points leader Baden Cooke, some eight minutes behind Knaven. (Battle for green jersey rages)
"It was not great today," said Australian Cooke.
"I lost some points to Robbie but I believe that the man who wins the Paris stage on the Champs-Elysees will win the green jersey," he added.
The three will have another chance to test each other in Friday's 203.5-km 18th stage to St Maixent-L'Ecole, which should favor sprinters.
Knaven and his breakaway companions had attacked almost from the start in Dax and held a maximum lead of 22 minutes over the main bunch, who did not chase as the break comprised of no serious overall contenders.
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