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  Another Team Pulls Out; Swede Wins 19th Stage

By Jean-Luc Courthial
Associated Press
Friday, July 31, 1998; 11:23 a.m. EDT

 Magnus Backstedt won the 19th stage of the Tour on Friday and became the first Swede to win a stage in the fabled cycling race. (Jacky Naegelen/Reuters)
AUTUN, France – The scandal-rocked Tour de France lost another team before today's racing, then returned to home territory with Magnus Backstedt of Sweden winning the 19th stage of the cycling showcase.

With two days to go before the finish in Paris, TVM pulled out of the race. That reduced the field to just 14 teams compared to 21 at the start.

The race, reeling from a drug investigation and protests by the riders, featured just 96 cyclists for the start of today's 151-mile leg that began in Switzerland and ended in Autun.

"I'm just trying to get to Paris in one piece,'' said Frankie Andreu of the U.S. Postal Service team. "It's been kind of hard, mentally.''

Thirteen riders broke away early and built a big lead. Less than two hours into the stage, the margin was up to more than 11 minutes. At the end, the pack was 16 minutes behind.

In the final miles, Backstedt took a few riders away and won in the final sprint. Maarten Den Bakker of the Netherlands was second, Eddy Mazzolini of Italy third and Pascal Derame of France was fourth.

Marco Pantani of Italy retained the leader's yellow jersey despite finishing behind the main pack. He was not concerned with the leaders, all far behind in the overall standings.

Pantani still has lead of 5 minutes, 42 second lead over Bobby Julich of the United States. Defending champion Jan Ullrich is 5:56 behind.

There is a final time trial on Saturday in Le Creusot. In the last time trial of the Tour, Ullrich beat Pantani by 4:21. Ullrich also beat Julich by 1:18.

Jean-Francois Pescheux, the Tour's sporting director, said the TVM team, which is at the center of the drug scandal, had informed him of its withdrawal. Staff at the hotel where the team had been staying said TVM left early Friday for the Netherlands.

The TVM cyclists are supposed to report for questioning in the Reims on Monday.

"The cyclists say they are tired and don't want to continue,'' Pescheux said. "They're within their rights. We're a little disappointed.''

The treatment of the TVM team on Tuesday night was the focal point of the riders' protest the following day that led to the 17th stage being wiped out.

The team's riders, suspected of drug use, were taken to the hospital by police for examinations, including blood, urine and hair tests.

After the pack stopped twice during the next stage, the rest of the leg proceeded slowly, allowing the TVM riders to cross the line first, raising their arms in symbolic victory.

Police said TVM masseur Jann Moors, who is in custody, would be questioned Friday by a judge in Lille.

Two Spanish teams, Kelme and Vitalcio, on Thursday quit the field, joining two other Spanish teams and an Italian team that quit Wednesday. A sixth team, Festina, was thrown out on July 17 after police found drugs in a team official's car.

Investigators also prevented a cyclist from competing after finding drugs in his possession. Rodolfo Massi of Italy was still in custody Friday after drugs were found in his room during a search.

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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