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Virenque storms to Bastille glory

Richard Vireqnue delights the French supporters with a win on Bastille Day

ST FLOUR, France -- An inspired Richard Virenque snatched his annual Tour de France win on the longest stage of this year's race from Limoges to St Flour.

The most popular and controversial rider in France won the 237km 10th leg on Bastille Day to claim back the King of the Mountains jersey he has already won six times.

It was a dominating performance by Virenque, who came across the line to wild applause more than five minutes ahead of the peloton, led by Germans Andreas Kloden and Erik Zabel.

The Frenchman, also a winner of a prestigious mountain stage in 2002 and last year, finished on his own to become the 14th Frenchman in Tour history to win on Bastille Day.

The national day celebrations were perfect for local fans as young Frenchman Thomas Voeckler stayed with the Tour favourites to retain his leader's yellow jersey.

Five times Tour champion Lance Armstrong had warned he would ride conservatively in the first really tough stage in this Tour and he kept to his word to remain well-placed in sixth.

Virenque, 34, took advantage of the first really sunny day of the Tour to attack with Belgian Axel Merckx, the son of five times Tour champion Eddy, after 20km.

Virenque was first over the top of all nine climbs on the day's menu, dropping his Belgian companion in the Puy Mary, the first category one climb of this year's race.

The Quick Step team leader, kicked out of the Tour in 1998 because of the Festina doping scandal, has now won seven mountain stages in seven different Tours and is ideally placed to win a record seventh polka dot jersey.

"Last year, I had the yellow jersey on Bastille Day, now I have won this stage, it's great," said Virenque before bursting into tears.

"I'd like to dedicate this victory to (former Festina mechanic) Joel Chabiron and to my grandmother, who both died in recent days.

"Two close persons departed and they both kept me going towards the end," added an emotional Virenque.

Meanwhile, France's Sebastien Hinault and Germany's Matthias Kessler suffered fractures after crashing heavily during the stage.

Hinault, who rides for French team Credit Agricole, crashed into a ditch during a descent and momentarily lost consciousness. He could not finish the stage and was diagnosed with a fractured vertebra after being taken to hospital in St Flour.

Kessler, who missed a curve and crashed on his back, has a broken rib and his lungs have been affected.

The T-Mobile rider was able to finish the stage but looks almost certain not to be at the start of Thursday's 11th stage to Figeac.

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