Commesso caps long escape

It was A big day for Salvatore Commesso, the smallest racer on the Tour de France, after he figured in the longest breakaway this year. The Italian's sprinting ability had the beating of Alexandre Vinokourov after they had sparred over the final mile and a half, almost stopping dead at one point as eachattempted to outwit the other.

It was A big day for Salvatore Commesso, the smallest racer on the Tour de France, after he figured in the longest breakaway this year. The Italian's sprinting ability had the beating of Alexandre Vinokourov after they had sparred over the final mile and a half, almost stopping dead at one point as eachattempted to outwit the other.

Deutsche Telekom held high hopes that Vinokourov, their man from Kazakhstan, would give them a home win as the race crossed into Germany. He raised them higher by escaping with Commesso over the final 25 miles, shaking off their tiring co-leaders, with whom they had shared the lead for 150 miles of the stage from Lausanne.

"That's what I like about the Tour," Comesso said after six hours in the saddle. "Sometimes the bunch take it easy,because it is so hard."

Then the Tour leader, Lance Armstrong, one of those taking it gently in the final week,arrived more than 15 minutes later to put his point of view.

"No one is going to see a really dramatic bike race in these conditions," the Texan said. "Why we have 250km [155-mile] stages in the last few days, I do not know. No one wants stages like these before the finish. I don't want to be critical. It's my responsibility to ride what has been set out."

It was a long stretch with more than 1,800 miles already in their legs, but Jacky Durand, one of the "who dares wins" school and a habitual winner of the award for fighting spirit, was feeling lively. Two and a half miles from the start inthe Swiss city, he shot away on what is now a customary escape. He was joined by Commesso and Vinokourov, as well as the Frenchman, Jean-Cyril Robin, and the German, Jens Voigt. Durand and Voigt have been together before in such attacks, but with nothing to show for it this year. That is the way it was again, but Durand did escape alone to take third, his best placing this Tour.

Commesso spent an edgy time with Vinokourov as crowds 10 deep lined each side of the final kilometres. "He was more cunning, but I was confident because I knew I was fast. Yet after 250 kilometres you never can tell," he said. "It was a great emotion when I won a Tour stage last year at Albi because I was wearing my Italian champion's jersey. Winning a Tour stage is one of the greatest moments in cycling."

None of the five escapees worried Armstrong. Vinokourov was closest to the yellow jersey but more than 40 minutes adrift of being a peril.

With a 58km time trial to come today, the top 10 were not in an aggressive mood. Neither was Britain's David Millar. "I want to be in the top five in the time trial," said the Scot, who startled the Tour with a yellow jersey debut almost three weeks ago. "I feel fine, because I did the minimum in the mountains compared with the leaders, so I am not so tired as they will be. However the time trial distance is a bit too long for me."

Jan Ullrich, who is second overall - 5min 37sec behind Armstrong, is favourite even with the American. The time trial covers roads Ullrich knows well as it takes the Tour riders from Friburg-en-Brisgau over the German border to finish in the Alsace town of Mulhouse. It is the German's last chance of success on this Tour.

TOUR DE FRANCE Stage 18 (Lausanne to Friburg-en-Brisgau, 252km, 157 miles): 1 S Commesso (It) Saeco 6hr 8min 15sec; 2 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Deutsche Telekom same time; 3 J Durand (Fr) Lotto +1min 5sec; 4 J Voigt (Ger) Crédit Agricole +1:16; 5 J-C Robin (Fr) Bonjour s/t; 6 N-B Larsen (Den) Memory Card +15:35; 7 S Knaven (Neth) Farm Frites; 8 T Marichal (Bel) Lotto; 9 O Perradeau (Fr) Bonjour all s/t; 10 B Hamburger (Den) Memory Card +15:37; 11 R McEwen (Aus) Farm Frites +15:40; 12 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom; 13 S Zanini (It) Mapei; 14 E Magnien (Fr) Française des Jeux; 15 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola; 16 G Magnusson (Swe) Farm Frites; 17 P Chanteur (Fr) AG2R; 18 N Mattan (Bel) Cofidis; 19 F Rodriguez (US) Mapei; 20 S Hinault (Fr) Crédit Agricole all s/t. Selected: 34 L Armstrong (US) US Postal +15:40; 42 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom s/t; 117 D Millar (GB) Cofidis +15:40.

Overall standings:1 Armstrong (US) 82hr 1min 18sec; 2 Ullrich +5min 37sec; 3 J Beloki (Sp) Festina +6:38; 4 R Heras (Sp) Kelme +6:43; 5 R Virenque (Fr) Polti +7:36; 6 C Moreau (Fr) Festina +8:22; 7 S Botero (Col) Kelme +10:19; 8 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +11:35; 9 F Mancebo (Sp) Banesto +13:07; 10 M Beltran (Sp) Mapei +13:08; 11 P Hervé (Fr) Polti +13:50; 12 D Nardello (It) Mapei +14:28; 13 J Otxoa (Sp) Kelme +15:47; 14 Vinokourov +24:18; 15 F G Casas (Sp) Festina +25:48; 16 K van de Wouwer (Bel) Lotto +26:30; 17 R Conti (It) Vini Caldirola +29:22; 18 M Boogerd (Netherlands) Rabobank +30:22; 19 G Trentin (It) Vini Caldirola +31:41; 20 J M Jimenez (Sp) Banesto +34:06; Selected: 57 L Jalabert +1:52:17; 64 Millar +2:09:07.

Points classification (green jersey): 1 Zabel 256; 2 McEwen 137; 3 Vainsteins 134; 4 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank 130; 5 Magnien 113; 6 Durand 105; 7 Commesso 101; 8 F Simon (Fr) Bonjour 99; 9 Zanini 94; 10 Botero 90.

Mountains classification (red polka dot jersey): 1 Botero 347; 2 Otxoa 283; 3 Virenque 262; 4 Herve 233; 5 Armstrong 162; 6 Mattan 161; 7 Escartin 149; 8 Heras 113; 9 Beloki 112; 10 Jimenez 110.

Team classification: 1 Kelme 246:20:25; 2 Banesto 15:06; 3 Festina 16:40; 4Deutsche Telekom 39:56; 5 Lotto 1:05:04.

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