- cycling - sport - Tour de France
Russian Denis Menchov's hopes of winning the Tour de France suffered a blow when he lost ground in the 16th stage, a 157-km mountain ride won by Frenchman Cyril Dessel on Tuesday.
Rabobank's Menchov was dropped by the other favourites on the descent of the Cime de la Bonette-Restefond, the roof of the Tour at 2,802 metres, and lost 35 seconds to his rivals. He dropped down to fifth place overall, 73 seconds behind the leader.
Frank Schleck of Luxembourg retained the overall leader's yellow jersey and leads Austrian Bernhard Kohl by seven seconds and Australian Cadel Evans by eight.
Menchov, however, is not yet out of contention as he is expected to gain ground on Schleck in Saturday's decisive 53-km time trial.
The CSC team, who set a devilish pace in the previous mountain stages, could not attack on Tuesday and lost their penultimate opportunity to eliminate Menchov and Evans.
They will have a last chance in Wednesday's 17th stage, a 210.5-km trek from Embrun ending with the 21 hairpins of l'Alpe d'Huez.
AG2r-La Mondiale rider Dessel beat compatriot Sandy Casar of the Francaise des Jeux on Tuesday with Spain's David Arroyo of the Caisse d'Epargne team in third.
"Little by little, in the ascent to La Bonette, I started to believe in victory," said Dessel after his first Tour stage win.
"At the beginning I was working for my leader, Tadej Valjavec, because we wanted to catch (Stefan) Schumacher. But then I took my chance in the downhill."
American Christian Vande Velde, who started the stage fifth overall, lost all hope when he tired badly and trailed home with a 4:03 deficit.
France's Samuel Dumoulin, Thomas Voeckler and Christophe Le Mevel, with Belgian Sebastien Rosseler and German Schumacher, broke away after 40 km.
Schumacher upped the pace in the out-of-category ascent to the Col de la Lombarde, dropping his fellow breakaways one by one to open up a 12-minute lead over the peloton.
A chasing group led by Italy's Damiano Cunego and Dessel were some six minutes behind at the summit.
The 30-rider strong chasing band were less than three minutes behind Schumacher at the foot of the Cime de Bonette-Restefond, with the main pack 11:45 behind.
Dessel and Ukraine's Yaroslav Popovych, along with six other riders, caught Schumacher with 27 km remaining.
South African John-Lee Augustyn hit the top first but crashed on the descent and as his bike went down the mountain, the Barloworld rider was helped back up by a spectator.
In front, Casar, Dessel, Arroyo and Popovych broke away and Dessel outsprinted the others to claim his first victory on the Tour.