Pantani exits after hinting at return to peak

Tour de France: Italian's mountain magic evaporates as dysentery attack adds him to list of abandonments that includes Zulle

The tour de France is a hard school where the learning never ends. Even the mighty can slip up.

The tour de France is a hard school where the learning never ends. Even the mighty can slip up.

Lance Armstrong paid for not eating enough on Tuesday's final Alpine venture. Marco Pantani's turn came overnight, and with one mountain left to climb yesterday, his mountain magic vanished from the race.

Whereas Armstrong denied himself on Tuesday, and suffered for it, Pantani went the other way. He drank too much cold water, which brought on an attack of dysentery. Before midnight the team doctor told him it would be better for him to quit because of the stomach trouble.

Before leaving for home yesterday, Pantani said the Tour had been satisfactory for him, because his motivation was back. After a year's lay-off following his abrupt exit from the 1999 Giro d'Italia because of an over-the-limit blood test, Pantani found his old touch, winning two mountain stages.

"I would have liked to have paid homage to Armstrong by finishing in Paris, but now it is time for medical checks and to improve my condition," the Italian said. "My next goal is to go to the Olympics. The road race circuit may be flat, but the Olympics is the Olympics."

Before yesterday's stage moved out of Evian-les-Bains to race around Lac Leman, Armstrong - who had engaged in an ongoing verbal battle with Pantani since he allowed the Italian to take the stage win - said, "Marco is a different man. I don't think anyone understands his motivation."

The Texan added that he had learned an important lesson from the attack of hunger pangs that cost him two minutes from his overall advantage. "I will never forget it," he said. "It will not happen again. The objective is to win the Tour. However it may not be possible to win a stage."

Armstrong ruled himself out of a victory in tomorrow's 36-mile time trial between the German town of Fribourg-en-Brisgau and the Alsace town of Mulhouse, and made Ullrich his favourite to win.

Yesterday, Erik Dekker showed that he, too, had grown wiser on the Tour. The Dutchman flew home for his third stage victory as the main pack, headed by another Erik - Germany's Zabel, came within centimetres of swallowing him up.

Two weeks ago he and German Jens Voigt spent 150 kilometres building a lead, but 450 metres from the finish they were swamped by the sprinting field at Vitre.

Dekker built on that experience, and snatched victory at Villeneuve-sur-Lot and three days in Revel. Yesterday he and Belgian Mario Aerts raced away over the last three kilometres of a finishing circuit in the Olympic capital.

As the pack bore down, Dekker recalled later: "I was gambling with Aerts. I saw the bunch coming so I had to start sprinting 200 metres from the finish. Three wins is incredible. I can hardly believe it." Aerts finished sixth as more than 50 riders poured into the lakeside finish on a day that did not affect the leading overall standings.

The British rookie, David Millar, who is still recovering from his week-old crash injuries, finished some four minutes behind, and is still a respectable 64th in the general classification.

With Italy's supreme climber on his way home,another Italian, Massimiliano Lelli, stepped in to be first to conquer the Tour's last major climb, the 1,445-metre high Colde Mosses. Millar's team-mate manfully battled to keep his pursuers at bay, but eventually, with eight men closing in,he waited for them. The nine stayed together until the last18 miles, when flurries of attacks ended their resistance, as well as Lelli's dreams of a stage victory.

Alex Zülle is another Tour specialist learning the hard way. Last year he stood next to Armstrong on the podium in Paris, one of the top three finishers. Yesterday the Swiss rider made it as far as his home country then promptly abandoned, with the Champs- Elysées still five days away.

Unable to strike form, and plagued by colds, Zülle had a high temperature overnight,although before the start of the stage, he said, "It is a short stage so it should not be a problem to finish in Lausanne."

Some 30 miles into the race, he stopped pedalling on the Mosses mountain, and his team manager, Francis Lafarge, said later, announcing that he too would now look towards Sydney as his next target: "He should review the way he prepares for the Tour."

Yesterday, the Union Cycliste Internationale medical team announced that they had carried out 13 blood tests on the leading riders, and all were within the legal limit of 50 per cent of red blood cells.

This is the third time that there has been an all-clear on this Tour after testing which was introduced for the sake of riders' health. After the scandals of the 1998 Tour, and revelations about blood-enhancing drugs, it seems that lessons have been learned elsewhere.

TOUR DE FRANCE STAGE 17 DETAILS

TOUR DE FRANCE 17th stage (Evian-les-Bains to Lausanne, 155km, 96 miles):

1 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank 3hr 24min 53sec 2 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom 3 F Rodriguez (US) Mapei 4 F Simon (Fr) Bonjour 5 R McEwen (Aus) Farm Frites 6 M Aerts (Bel) Lotto 7 M Mori (It) Saeco 8 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola 9 N Mattan (Bel) Cofidis 10 C Moreau (Fr) Festina 11 M Zberg (Swit) Rabobank; 12 E Magnien (Fr) Française des Jeux; 13 M Apollonio (It) Vini Caldirola; 14 A Kivilev (Kaz) AG2R; 15 M Beltran (Sp) Mapei; 16 F Mancebo (Sp) Banesto; 17 D Nardello (It) Mapei; 18 K Moerenhout (Neth) Farm Frites; 19 J Odriozola (Sp) Banesto; 20 D Canada (Sp) ONCE all same time. Selected: 29 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom; 35 L Armstrong (US) US Postal both s/t; 105 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE +4:19; 109 D Millar (GB) Cofidis s/t. Abandoned: A Zülle (Swit) Banesto.

Leading overall standings: 1 L Armstrong (US) US Postal 75hr 37min 23sec 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 Moreau +8:22 7 S Botero (Col) Kelme +10:19 8 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +11:35 9 Mancebo +13:07 10 Beltran +13:08 11 P Herve (Fr) Polti +13:50; 12 Nardello +14:28; 13 J Otxoa (Sp) Kelme +15:47; 14 F G Casas (Sp) Festina +25:48; 15 K van de Wouwer (Bel) Lotto +26:30; 16 R Conti (It) Vini Caldirola +29:22; 17 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank +30:22; 18 G Trentin (It) Vini Caldirola +31:41; 19 J M Jimenez (Sp) Banesto +34:06; 20 G Verheyen (Bel) Lotto +37:17. Selected: 58 Jalabert +1:52:17; 64 Millar +2:09:0. Points (green jersey): 1 Zabel 242 points; 2 Dekker 130; 3 Vainsteins 123; 4 McEwen 122; 5 Magnien 101; 6 Simon 96; 7 Botero 90; 8 Armstrong 85; 9 S Zanini (It) Mapei 81; 10 Mattan 76. Mountains (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. Teams: 1 Kelme 227:08:40; 2 Banesto +15:06; 3 Festina +16:40; 4 Deutsche Telekom +55:36; 5 Rabobank +1:14:06.

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