July 7, 2005

Bernucci takes Tour win after late pile-up

By Francois Thomazeau

NANCY, France (Reuters) - Italy's Lorenzo Bernucci steered
clear of a big pile-up on the final bend to win a rain-soaked
sixth stage of the Tour de France Thursday.

The stage looked set for a mass sprint finish after the
199-km run from Troyes, only for riders to start skidding out
of contention in a treacherous final kilometer in Nancy.

Bernucci, 25, took advantage of the confusion to finish on
his own, ahead of Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov. Germany's Robert
Foerster was third, seven seconds behind with the main bunch.

Six-times Tour champion Lance Armstrong avoided the crash
and finished in the main bunch in the same time as Foerster.

The American will take his overall leader's yellow jersey
to Germany in Friday's seventh stage, which ends in Karlsruhe.

France's Christophe Mengin, who had led for more than 160
km and was bidding to win his second Tour stage in his home
town, was the first to crash into a barrier near the finish

The front of the chasing peloton then piled up in turn, a
crash which involved about 20 riders. including the Tour's best
sprinters -- Belgian Tom Boonen and Australian Robbie McEwen.

"We were all very nervous with the rain and the turns and
the crashes at the finish," said Armstrong, whose team manager
Johan Bruyneel had warned him and his team mates of the


It was Bernucci's first success since his professional
debut three years ago.

"It's my first victory, I'm very happy. I did not expect
it," said the Fassa Bortolo rider.

"When I reached the finish line, I realized there was
nobody else and the victory was mine. When I saw the others
fall, I gave it my all."

Second place shifted Vinokourov, who came third in the Tour
two years ago, into third place in the organizers' final
overall standings, moving him down from a provisional second

The Kazakh rider is 1min 2sec behind Armstrong, whose team
mate and compatriot George Hincapie is second overall, 55
seconds off the pace.

As in previous days, a small group of riders tried their
luck to avoid another mass sprint at the finish.

This time, they were Dutchman Karsten Kroon, France's
Mengin and Stephane Auge, Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu and Italian
Mauro Gerosa, who broke clear of the main bunch after 38

In heavy rain over eastern France, the five took a lead of
eight minutes and 20 seconds before the pack, led by the sprint
specialist teams and Danish outfit CSC, launched the chase.

While the main group caught four of the breakaways in the
last of three climbs on the stage, Mengin, who lives in the
Nancy region, launched his attack in the hope of finishing on
his own and repeating his stage win in Freiburg in 1997.

But just as he was about to be caught, the 37-year-old
rider slipped at the last corner.

More rain is forecast for Friday's Tour run into Germany.