CASTELSARRASIN, France (Reuters) -- Spaniard Alberto Contador officially took the overall lead of the Tour de France after Thursday's 17th stage, which started without previous yellow jersey holder Michael Rasmussen and the Cofidis team.
Alberto Contador tries the yellow jersey on for size after the end of the 17th stage of the Tour de France.
Rasmussen was sacked by his Rabobank team, who said he had lied about his training whereabouts, and the Dane was not at the start of the stage.
In line with race regulations, no one wore the yellow jersey during the 188.5km stage won by Italian Daniele Bennati.
Contador, the Paris-Nice winner, finished in the bunch and has a lead of one minute and 53 seconds over Australian Cadel Evans, who is unlikely to close the gap in Saturday's decisive time trial from Cognac to Angouleme.
"It is strange to take yellow in such circumstances," Contador told reporters. "But it can happen, sometimes it is because the leader has crashed."
Asked if he thought Rasmussen's exclusion was fair, the 24-year-old said: "I am not here to judge him. It is the decision made by his team and I am not aware enough of the situation to judge what happened."
Contador believes he is now favorite to win the Tour, although he admits he is likely to lose time to Evans on the final time trial. "Of course, it depends on the day. It is over 55km, it's a long way to go and the jersey will be hard to keep.
"But if you look at the results of the last time trial, I have my chance and I will do anything I can to keep it." Contador finished last Saturday's time trial in Albi 1:04 behind Predictor Lotto rider Evans.
Rasmussen had led the race since taking the eighth stage and had also won on Wednesday. His Rabobank team decided to continue in the Tour although Russian Denis Menchov quit halfway through the stage from Pau to Castelsarrasin.
Lampre rider Benatti outsprinted German Markus Fothen of the Gerolsteiner team to win on Thursday and Swiss Martin Elminger came home third for the AG2r team.
"We have to fight against doping. I hope the sport will see the end of the tunnel because I think there are riders who do their job honestly," Benatti told reporters.
Cofidis left the race on Wednesday after Italian Cristian Moreni failed a dope test for the male sex hormone testosterone. It was the second positive test of this year's race following Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov's result for blood doping. His Astana team also subsequently pulled out of the Tour. E-mail to a friend
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