Yates bows out as Uchakov flourishes

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The Independent Online
SERGEI UCHAKOV gave Ukraine their first stage win in the Tour de France yesterday, completing in the process a hat-trick of victories in major tours.

He entered professional cycling in 1993 with a win in the Tour of Spain, then in May won a stage in the Tour of Italy. Yesterday in the 13th stage's broiling heat he beat off the American former world champion, Lance Armstrong, at Revel, 30 miles south-east of Toulouse.

Ukrainian cycling emerged with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Viktor Rjaksinski won the world amateur title in Stuttgart, and, with fighting in the streets of Moscow, insisted that it was a victory for Ukraine.

It was disappointment for Armstrong after a breakaway lasting all but 38 of the 245km from Mende, and just as depressing for his lieutenant, Britain's Sean Yates.

Yates ended his Tour de France career after 2,190 kilometres of his 12th outing in the world's greatest race. He equalled the record of Barry Hoban who rode 12 between 1967 and 1975 and scored eight stage wins, the most by a Briton.

Yates, 35, won the Wasquehal stage in 1988, the same year he took a stage in the Tour of Spain, but his greatest contribution was his unstinting work for the ambitions of others.

Last year he earned a day in the yellow jersey of Tour leader, but this Tour he injured his back in a crash. Then one evening he was found in a hotel bar, ordering ice cubes to ease a painful knee.

Yesterday 21 kilometres into the second longest of the Tour's 21 stages he pulled out as the big move was taking shape. What put him out, though, was neither his knee nor his back, but tendinitis of the ankle. "It started on Friday," he said, "and on the first hill today it came on again."

Riders of Yates' sacrificial qualities are crucial to all teams. Even Miguel Indurain cannot manage alone. His room-mate, Vicente Aparicio, is never far from him in the tougher moments, and Laurent Jalabert, the best French prospect since Bernard Hinault, has great faith in team-mates such as Spain's Melchor Mauri and the Australian Neil Stephens.

Yesterday, however, was a day off for Indurain and his rivals. The escape of Uchakov, Armstrong, the Italian Bruno Cenghialta and Colombian Hernan Buenahora hardly ruffled his calm.

As they passed through the picture-postcard terrain of the Aveyron and the Tarn, Jalabert's home region, even the closest threat, Buenahora, was still 13 minutes away from being a danger to Indurain.

Uchakov, an hour and 52 minutes behind Indurain overnight, was the least menacing of the foursome, but in the end Armstrong had to admit: "I was surprised. He was fast."

More than 19 minutes after Uchakov had shaken Armstrong, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov outsprinted Jalabert, trimming the Frenchman's lead in the fight for the green points jersey.

With the Pyrenees to come, Indurain is still in command. Six days separate him from a record fifth straight Tour triumph.