Botero banishes mountain demons

Santiago Botero put recent mountain misery behind him to take victory in stage 15 of the Tour de France to Les Deux Alpes.

Santiago Botero put recent mountain misery behind him to take victory in stage 15 of the Tour de France to Les Deux Alpes.

The Colombian, who cracked on the famous Mont Ventoux climb two days ago, led an early break away then bravely held on for the win in the Alpine ski resort.

‘‘Even in the last few kilometres I was worried that I might go bang and throw it away, but it didn’t happen,’’ said the Kelme rider.

Botero’s effort, however, was not enough to threaten the yellow jersey of Lance Armstrong, who again flexed his muscles when his main rivals threatened.

The three-time defending champion came in six minutes 41 seconds behind Botero, but the Texan was quick to show Joseba Beloki, second overall, that he was unlikely to snatch back the Tour lead before Sunday’s procession down the Champs-Elysees.

Beloki tried to break free from the yellow jersey peloton in the final kilometre, but Armstrong powered down the short-lived 30-metre advantage to eventually finish on the Spaniard’s shoulder.

Armstrong remains 4:21 ahead of Beloki in the overall standings.

The day though belonged to Botero, who was rewarded with his second win of the Tour in today’s 226.5-kilometre stage, the longest in the race.

He had been one of seven riders to break away from the main peloton shortly before the 50km mark from the start in Vaison La Romaine.

With seven climbs to come, including the final one to Les Deux Alpes at 1,650m, Botero was eager to shake the demons that haunted him on the mythical climb to Mont Ventoux, where British cyclist Tom Simpson died in 1967.

The 29-year-old lost 14 minutes to stage winner Richard Virenque as he dropped from fifth to 18th in the overall standings.

But there was to be no such mishap this time, with Botero having plenty of support in the mountains today.

With about 12km to go, the South American made his break to get away from the group, which had also included Virenque.

Axel Merkx, son of Tour legend Eddy - winner of five yellow jerseys - and Mario Aerts were most able to react but they could not get close enough to put Botero under pressure.

He came in 1:51 ahead of Aerts with Merckx 39secs further back, moving Botero back into the top 10 at seventh.

Frenchman Christophe Moreau abandoned the Tour after suffering one fall too many.

The Credit Agricole team leader, fourth in the 2000 Tour, had a number of spills during the first week but decided enough was enough after going to ground at the 80km mark of today’s stage.

Moreau, 27, who also abandoned the Tour last year, was 41st in the overall standings at the start of the day.

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