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Dessel claims yellow jersey

July 13, 2006 12:14 IST
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Frenchman Cyril Dessel claimed the yellow jersey on Wednesday at the end of the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, won by Spaniard Juan Miguel Mercado.

After 190.5 km from Cambo-les-Bains to Pau, the two men crossed the line 56 seconds ahead of third-placed Inigo Landaluze and 7:23 in front of the peloton and overnight race leader, Serhiy Honchar.

"I have the yellow jersey and the [climbers'] polka dot jersey, I can be satisfied with my day even if I didn't win the stage", said Dessel, who became the first Frenchman to don yellow since Thomas Voeckler in 2004.

"I didn't want to let Mercado win because a stage win in the Tour is something rare. If I had won the stage it would have been a perfect day."

Dessel of the AG2R team, Mercado, leader of Agritubel, and Spain's Landaluze (Euskaltel) were among a group of 15 riders who broke away around the 40-km mark, just before the first climb of the day, the third-category Col d'Osquich.

The 32-year-old Dessel started the stage in 28th position overall, 3:50 behind Ukrainian Honchar.


The Osquich pass was a warm-up before the riders faced the hors category Col du Soudet and it's long ascent on a narrow road with a 10 percent gradient over the last kilometre.

At the back of the race, specialist climber Iban Mayo, who finished sixth overall in the 2003, cracked. He was joined by Belgian world champion Tom Boonen, Frenchmen Sandy Casar and Jimmy Casper, winner of the first stage, and prologue victor Thor Hushovd of Norway.

They finished the stage in the last grupetto, 24:24 off the pace.

The lead group had to force their way through thousands of spectators, including many Spaniards, lining the slopes of the Soudet.

Dessel outsprinted Mercado at the top and the T-Mobile team led the peloton over the fog-covered summit nine minutes later.

The gap with the peloton increased to 10:50 as the lead group, now eight riders, reached the slopes of the first-category Col de Marie Blanque, regarded as one of the steepest ascents in the area with an 11 percent gradient on its last part.

As the slope became steeper, Dessel and Mercado attacked. Once again, the Frenchman was the strongest at the summit, to earn the best climber's polka-dot jersey.

Dessel has a lead of 2:34 lead over Mercado for Thursday's 11th stage, which features some of the most famous Pyrenean passes -- Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde, Portillon and the final ascent to the summit finish at Pla de Beret, in Spain,

Among the pre-race favourites, Americans Floyd Landis and George Hincapie are fifth and 19th overall, respectively 4:45 and 6:15 behind the Frenchman. Australian Cadel Evans is 11th, 5:37 adrift.


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