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Sastre gives boost to CSC

The Tour de France of Danish team CSC looked to be over before it had even begun when leader Tyler Hamilton crashed and broke his collarbone on the very first stage. But two weeks later, the brave American is still in the race, lying fifth, four minutes and 25 seconds behind overall leader Lance Armstrong, and his teammates have now won two stages. Spaniard Carlos Sastre, 10th in the Tour last year, nearly became the team's leader when it was at first thought that Hamilton would be forced out. But he resumed his team duties until Saturday, when the Spaniard asked Hamilton permission to try

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By Francois Thomazeau, Reuters

The Tour de France of Danish team CSC looked to be over before it had even begun when leader Tyler Hamilton crashed and broke his collarbone on the very first stage.

But two weeks later, the brave American is still in the race, lying fifth, four minutes and 25 seconds behind overall leader Lance Armstrong, and his teammates have now won two stages.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre, 10th in the Tour last year, nearly became the team’s leader when it was at first thought that Hamilton would be forced out. But he resumed his team duties until Saturday, when the Spaniard asked Hamilton permission to try his luck at a stage win.

Given the nod, the 28-year-old from Madrid promptly went on to be the first across the line in the Tour’s 13th stage in Ax-3 Domaines, ahead of Jan Ullrich and Armstrong.

“I came to ask Tyler if I could go for it. He nodded and I went,” said the Spaniard, who joined forces with compatriot Juan Miguel Mercado to open up a decent gap on the favorites in the first Pyrénées stage of this year’s Tour.

CSC’s second stage victory followed Tuesday’s triumph by Denmark’s Jakob Piil in Marseille.

“It’s extraordinary and I’m really glad,” said team chief Bjarne Riis, the 1996 Tour winner.

If the Dane confessed to being slightly worried about Hamilton, who appeared to struggle on Saturday, he had every reason to be content with Sastre’s solo effort.

For his part, Sastre thanked CSC for giving his career a second wind.

“I was with ONCE, but I left them because I was forced to put myself in the service of riders like Joseba Beloki or Abraham Olano,” he said. “With CSC, I was given the freedom, the confidence and motivation I needed and it’s important for any professional rider.”

A big win was all the diminutive Spaniard was missing after finishing second in La Plagne last year. This time, he made no mistake.

“In the finish, I gave it my all. I was not looking behind me. I was just looking at the finish. I stayed focused until the very end,” he said.

On crossing the line, Sastre pulled out a baby’s pacifier he keeps with him as a souvenir of his 2-year-old daughter Claudia.

“She’s the most important thing in my life,” he said.

As for beating four-time champion Armstrong on the day, Sastre had no illusions. “Armstrong has few weaknesses,” said the Spaniard. “He has just won four Tours and he’s a great rider. I beat him by a minute, but it’s irrelevant.

“The only opposition for Lance will come from Jan Ullrich, who achieved a great feat yesterday and will fight until the very end.”