Popovych saves face for Discovery

STAGE WIN: After a disastrous collapse on the second day in the Pyrenees, the Discovery Team salvaged some pride when Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych claimed the 12th stage


Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 22

The race for the 2006 Tour de France yellow jersey could come down to a duel between an American and a Russian.

But before Floyd Landis begins his battle in the Alps to defend the race's yellow jersey against Denis Menchov, Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych made sure that Lance Armstrong's former team is not completely forgotten.

Discovery Channel began Friday's 12th stage still smarting from their almost wholesale collapse on the second of two days in the Pyrenees, which virtually ended their yellow jersey hopes.

Popovych, one of the riders who suffered in the absence of the now-retired Armstrong, didn't wait to start the healing process.

The 26-year-old was given a hint of what he had to do by team manager Johan Bruyneel, and he ended up claiming his first Tour stage win after outfoxing Oscar Freire and Alessandro Ballan 2km from the finish line.

"It was a hard stage because I'm still suffering from yesterday's ride," said Popovych, who becomes Discovery's best placed rider moving up to 10th in the general classification 4:15 behind Landis.

"I'm far off in the general classification, so after yesterday we've switched to going for stages wins," he said.

Landis, who left Armstrong's former team, US Postal, because of disagreements with the Texan, retained his eight-second lead over Frenchman Cyril Dessel of AG2R.

Menchov is third at 1:01 while Australian Cadel Evans is fourth at 1:17 ahead of an anticipated three-day battle in the Alps beginning on Tuesday.

Bruyneel said before the race on Friday that only stage wins would help them get over their performance in the Pyrenees, where their main hope George Hincapie finished over 21 minutes in arrears.

"We've got 10 days to show that our race is not finished. We'll at least be trying to win a stage," said the Belgian.

Less than five hours later, Popovych gave Bruyneel a reason to believe their race is not over.

"We had a team meeting this morning. We talked about things and how we were going to ride the rest of the Tour," said Popovych. "I was really disappointed yesterday. Leaving the team bus this morning, Johan [Bruyneel] told me that it was time for me to go out and win a stage."

The Ukrainian, a former world under-23 champion, was recruited to Discovery as a possible replacement for Armstrong.

Having failed to live up to the potential which many observers believe he has, Popovych said himself that going for the yellow jersey will have to wait.

"Everybody says I have great potential, but it's true I haven't had great results in the past few years," added Popovych, who showed early professional promise by finishing fifth overall on the 2004 Giro d'Italia.

"But in the next few years I'll be looking to improve and focus a bit more on the Tour. Maybe then I can start to look for the yellow jersey," he said.