By VeloNews Interactive wire services, Copyright AFP2002
Defending Paris-Nice champion Dario Frigo (Tacconi) marked his return from a six-month drug ban by winning the sixth stage of the race on the climb to the summit of Eze on Saturday. Frigo, who now rides for the Tacconi team, was sacked by his Fassa Bortolo team after doping products were found in his hotel room during the drug-tainted 2001 Giro d’Italia.
However, the most significant event of the day was former three-time winner Laurent Jalabert losing almost a minute to race leader Alexandre Vinokurov.
Vinokurov, who rides for the German Telekom team of Jan Ullrich, came in safely behind the podium winners in 11th at 43secs behind Frigo. Jalabert, who sat only five seconds behind Vinokurov on Friday, struggled to come in 28th at 1:35, leaving his ambitions of winning a race he won in 1995, 1996 and 1997 severely compromised.
“I had a bad day,” lamented Jalabert who admitted to having “sore legs” even before he got on his bike. “It’s a hard race this year. For the past few days I’ve been walking the tightrope.”
The 33-year-old French veteran sits in fourth place overall behind compatriot Sandy Casar, in second, and crafty Kazakh Andrei Kivilev in third.
Vinokurov has led the race since Thursday and is unlikely to let down his guard in Sunday’s ultimate stage. “Thanks to my team, first of all,” said Vinokurov. “When I saw Jalabert struggling on the first real acceleration (of the peloton), I said to myself it was time to make a move.” Frigo, meanwhile, made a giant step towards becoming a main player in the professional peloton. It is his first stage win in a major race for his new Tacconi team since he was sacked by the Fassa Bortolo team after doping products were found in his hotel room during the drug-tainted Tour of Italy last year.
The 28-year-old Italian won last year’s Paris-Nice, but was suspended last June after he withdrew from the Giro d’Italia following the police swoop.
Frigo attacked on the Eze climb after a gruelling 175km stage timing 4:46:12 to come in some 15sec ahead of upcoming Australian Cadel Evans, with Spaniard Samuel Sanchez in third.
“It’s a very emotional win for me,” admitted Frigo. “The past is now in the past, I’ve been suspended, I’ve paid the price,” he added referring to his six-month ban. “I’ve suffered a lot, I’ve trained like a mad man and I’ve got back to the same form I had this time last year, when I won Paris-Nice. Anyone who doubts me now can come and watch me train.
“One of my training partners knows all I’ve been through – he Vinokurov) is just about to win the race.”
Results from the sixth stage of Paris to Nice cycling race: a 178.5km ride from Saint-Raphael to the summit of Eze.
1. Dario Frigo (Ita) Tacconi 4hr 46min 12sec;
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) at at 0:15;
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) at 0:22;
4. Inigo Cuesta (Spa) at 0:33;
5. Dave Bruylandts (Bel) at 0:33;
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) at 0:42;
7. Aitor Garmendia (Spa) at 0:42;
8. Sandy Casar (Fra) at 0:42;
9. Ivan Basso (Ita) at 0:42;
10. Andrei Kivilev (Kaz) at 0:42;
11. Alexandre Vinokurov (Kaz) at 0:42;
12. Fernando Escartin (Spa) at 0:42;
13. Alexandre Shefer (Kaz) at 0:42;
14. Alex Zulle (Swi) at 0:42;
15. Aitor Osa (Spa) 1:10;
16. Peter Luttenberger (Aut) 1:10;
17. Mario Aerts (Bel) 1:17;
18. Cedric Fragniere (Swi) at 1:17;
19. Christian Charriere (Swi) at 1:17;
20. Serhiy Honchar (Ukr) 1:17;
21. Jens Voigt (Ger) at 1:25;
22. David Moncoutie (Fra) at 1:25;
23. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) at 1:35.
28. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) 1:35
1. Alexandre Vinokurov (Kaz) Telekom 22:00:57;
2. Sandy Casar (Fra) at 0:55;
3. Andrei Kivilev (Kaz) at 0:59;
4. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) at 0:59;
5. Aitor Garmendia (Spa) at 1:23;
6. Jens Voigt (Ger) at 1:38;
7. Didier Rous (Fra) at 1:40;
8. Dario Frigo (Ita) at 1:44;
9. Mario Aerts (Bel) at 1:44;
10. Cadel Evans (Aus) at 2:17.