Tour De France: Mercado hits top gear as surprise duel fuels leader

Juan Miguel Mercado may have claimed his maiden stage victory in the Tour de France yesterday, but Lance Armstrong hogged the headlines.

Juan Miguel Mercado may have claimed his maiden stage victory in the Tour de France yesterday, but Lance Armstrong hogged the headlines.

The Texan, set to win a record sixth overall title tomorrow, reignited his personal feud with Filippo Simeoni in an incident which sparked a furious reaction from the Italian and his team. Simeoni is suing Armstrong, who called him "a liar" after the Italian testified in a court case against Dr Michele Ferrari, an adviser of Armstrong who is facing doping-related charges.

The incident occurred when Simeoni attempted to join six others, including Mercado, on a breakaway which posed no threat to Armstrong's overall lead. Armstrong shadowed Simeoni and told him and the other six escapees that he and the rest of the peloton would not permit the breakaway unless Simeoni agreed to rejoin the main pack and abandon his hopes of a stage win.

Simeoni, who served a three-month ban for doping offences but has been ostracised by many in the peloton since turning whistle-blower, was forced to relent, and Armstrong then allowed the other six to get away.

Simeoni said: "Armstrong showed everyone what sort of a person he is. I have suffered a grave injustice at his hands. It's not normal for a great champion to deny space to a little rider like me in a race as important as the Tour de France."

It looked as if the the only aim of Armstrong's action was to prevent Simeoni winning the stage but the American would only say: "I was defending the interests of the peloton."

Tour De France 18th stage (166.5km, Annemasse to Lons-le-Saunier) Leading results: 1 J M Mercado (Sp) Quick Step-Davitamon 4hr 04min 03sec; 2 J V G Acosta (Sp) Illes Balears same time; 3 D Fofonov (Kaz) Cofidis +11sec; 4 S Joly (Fr) Crédit Agricole; 5 M Lotz (Neth) Rabobank; 6 J A Flecha Giannoni (Sp) Fassa Bortolo all s/t; 7 T Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole +11.29; 8 R McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo; 9 D Hondo (Ger) Gerolsteiner; 10 S O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis; 11 C Dacruz (Fr) Fdjeux.com; 12 E Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile; 13 S Ivanov (Rus) T-Mobile; 14 K Kroon (Neth) Rabobank; 15 L Brochard (Fr) AG2R all s/t. Overall: 1 L Armstrong (US) US Postal 78hr 20min 28sec; 2 I Basso (It) CSC +4min 09sec; 3 A Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile +5:11; 4 J Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile +8:08; 5 J Azevedo (Por) US Postal +10:41. Points: 1 McEwen 238pts; 2 Hushovd 227; 3 Zabel 221. King of the mountains: 1 R Virenque (Fr) Quick Step 226pts; 2 Armstrong 172; 3 Basso 119. Teams: 1 T-Mobile 233hr 03min 45sec; 2 US Postal +5min 12sec; 3 Team CSC +10:49. Young rider: 1 T Voeckler (Fr) Brioches La Boulangère 78hr 41min 40sec; 2 V Karpets (Rus) Illes Balears +45sec; 3 S Casar (Fr) Fdjeux.com +1:56.

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