French President Sarkozy praises Armstrong

Jul 22, 2009 - 7:09 PM By JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer

PARIS(AP) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Lance Armstrong's new lease on life after watching Wednesday's 17th stage in the race's director car.

"Armstrong has won seven Tours and he is coming back at 37 with the state of mind of a young man," Sarkozy told French TV after the stage. "He is coming back to make a good result, to enjoy it - and to fight for his foundation. And God knows how much we need to fight against cancer. It's giving hope to all the ill people."

A longtime admirer of Armstrong, Sarkozy repeated his commitment to the fight against doping and defended the Tour's efforts to eradicate it, such as the biological passport based on a riders' body parameters and enhanced testing.

"I think that the Tour is a victim of doping and not guilty of it. Authorities are doing their best to make sure that this Tour will be clean. We have to support them," Sarkozy said.

"We have to acknowledge that your sport has made a phenomenal effort with the biological passport and the doping tests."


FINE WINING: While Tour de France riders will be bracing themselves for a tortuous climb up the daunting Mont Ventoux on Saturday's penultimate stage, Garmin-Slipstream manager Jonathan Vaughters will be sipping fine wines and easing himself through a gourmet meal.

Vaughters, an American former climbing specialist on Lance Armstrong's U.S. Postal team in the late 1990s, will be inducted into the brotherhood of Chateauneuf-du-Pape - one of France's most famous wine regions - on Friday night.

"My favorite wines have always been from the southern Rhone, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the king of the southern Rhone wines," Vaughters told The Associated Press.

While riders load up on bland-tasting pasta, rice and eggs before hitting their beds for an early night, Vaughters' evening will unfold something like this: He is welcomed into the brotherhood at the Domaine de Marcoux, has an aperitif, tastes the wine of some of the region's top vintners, and finally tucks into a gourmet dinner at The Verger des Papes restaurant perched right on the top of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape village.


"I'm sure it's going to be a great party," Vaughters said. "I certainly won't be eating any rice or pasta."

Vaughters once had the record for the fastest climb up Ventoux. He won the stage there on the pre-Tour Dauphine Libere race in 1999 and 2000, and held the record for the fastest ascent until Iban Mayo of Spain broke it in 2004.

The Tour's grueling last week finishes with Saturday's huge climb up Ventoux, so tough it is known as "hors categorie," or beyond classification.

"The reason Ventoux has such a huge reputation is that its one of the few climbs that doesn't have one little spot to rest on," Vaughters said. "It's long and very steep, of course, but what makes it different is that there isn't a single flat meter. If you push a bit too hard and need to recover and catch your breath, the only way to do it is to stop.

"The key to riding well up the Ventoux is just being steady. Never too little, never too much. And by the top being totally and completely empty."


HUSHOVD GOING GREEN: Thor Hushovd of Norway is set to win a second green jersey.

The Cervelo rider, who won the shirt in 2005, joined a group of breakaway riders early in the 17th stage before racing into the lead and holding it for a long time.

Hushovd was in front at the two intermediate sprints and collected 12 points to raise his tally to 230 points overall in the best sprinter's classification.

Arguably the fastest sprinter in the bunch, Britain's Mark Cavendish lost precious points after being stripped of a 13th-place finish in last Saturday's stage. He is in second place, with 200 points - but there is only one stage left in the Tour that suits sprinters.

"My lead is sufficient if something (bad) happens in the coming days," Hushovd said. "If I win the green jersey with a 10-point lead, one could say that I built my lead at Le Grand-Bornand."


AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Le Grand-Bornand contributed to this report.

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