Contador official Tour leader after 17th stage

Updated: 2007-07-27 09:03

CASTELSARRASIN, France - Spaniard Alberto Contador officially took the overall lead of the Tour de France after Thursday's 17th stage, which started without previous yellow jersey holder Michael Rasmussen and the Cofidis team.

Alberto Contador of Spain is being kissed on the podium after the 17th stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Pau and Castelsarrasin, Thursday, July 26, 2007. Contador took the overall lead. [AP]

Rasmussen was sacked by his Rabobank team, who said he had lied about his training whereabouts, and was not at the start of the stage.

In line with race regulations, no one wore the yellow jersey during the 188.5-km stage won by Italian Daniele Bennati.

Contador, the Paris-Nice winner, finished in the bunch and has a lead of one minute and 53 seconds over Australian Cadel Evans, who is unlikely to close the gap in Saturday's decisive time trial from Cognac to Angouleme.

"I am happy. I feel good, there are three days remaining. I would have preferred to take the yellow jersey in yesterday's stage but there are particular circumstances," Discovery Rider Contador said.

Asked his opinion on Rasmussen being sacked, the 24-year-old said: "I don't know exactly what happened."

Rasmussen had led the race since taking the eighth stage and had also won on Wednesday. His Rabobank team decided to continue in the Tour although Russian Denis Menchov quit halfway through the stage from Pau to Castelsarrasin.

Lampre rider Benatti outsprinted German Markus Fothen of the Gerolsteiner team to win on Thursday and Swiss Martin Elminger came home third for the AG2r team.

"We have to fight against doping. I hope the sport will see the end of the tunnel because I think there are riders who do their job honestly," Benatti told reporters.

Cofidis left the race on Wednesday after Italian Cristian Moreni failed a dope test for the male sex hormone testosterone.

It was the second positive test of this year's race following Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov's result for blood doping. His Astana team also subsequently pulled out of the Tour.

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