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5 things to know about Tour de France

Saturday - 7/13/2013, 4:45pm  ET

Andrew Talansky of the U.S., right, Jens Voigt of Germany, center, and Michael Albasini of Switzerland, second left, ride in the breakaway group during the fourteenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 191 kilometers (119.4 miles) with start in in Saint-Pourcain-sur-Sioule and finish in Lyon, central France, Saturday July 13 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

JAMEY KEATEN
Associated Press

LYON, France (AP) -- Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its 15th stage on Sunday:

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1. LAGGING LEGS -- At cycling's greatest race, sometimes the mind desperately seeks victory, but the legs just don't cooperate. At 41, Jens Voigt of Germany knows that more than most: The RadioShack Leopard Trek veteran was one of 18 riders -- some nearly half his age -- who jumped out in an early breakaway in the mostly flat Stage 14, into the southeastern city of Lyon. He's the oldest competitor this year, riding in his 16th Tour; he has two Tour stage victories in his career and wore the yellow jersey in 2001 and 2005. When asked on Saturday why he couldn't hold up through to the end, Voigt cited "five years too many," adding: "Sometimes the legs just don't do as you like." Whose legs did perform as he liked on Saturday? Stage winner Matteo Trentin of Italy -- 18 years Voigt's junior.

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2. DOPING GHOSTS ... -- Cycling has some of the most rigorous anti-doping measures in sport. While no doping cases have been announced at this Tour, the ghosts of cycling's doping-marred past can be seen at nearly every turn. This is the first Tour after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles for doping -- the biggest blemish ever at the 110-year-old race, and the most egregious case from the era of widespread use of performance enhancers from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s. Armstrong is persona non grata this year, but other past and present riders who were caught or admitted to doping have been or are here. A few have become crusaders against doping. Others refuse to talk about their doping past or still deny cheating despite sanctions against them. Among those who still deny: Current riders Alberto Contador, a two-time Tour winner, and fellow Spaniard Alejandro Valverde -- both served bans, and Contador lost a Tour title over a failed doping test. Christian Vande Velde, who crashed out in Stage 7, testified in the Armstrong case, admitted to doping in his career, and got a six-month ban. Andrey Kashechkin, who crashed out in Stage 3, was ousted from the 2007 Tour for doping and received a two-year ban. David Millar, who is 96th overall, served a two-year ban but came back to become one of the most vocal foes of doping in the peloton.

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3. AND THEN SOME -- There's more. Some riders of yesteryear who were caught or admitted to doping still hover at the Tour. Bjarne Riis, who more than a decade after his 1996 victory admitted to using blood-booster EPO, is manager of Contador's Saxo Bank team -- he's been here on and off. Matt White, an ex-Armstrong teammate and manager of the Orica GreenEdge team, admitted to doping in his career. A glaring symbol that life and livelihood in cycling exists after doping? France's Richard Virenque. He was at the center of the 1998 Festina team affair -- the first major doping scandal to shake the sport. Virenque later made a tearful confession in court, and has since become a popular commentator and pitchman: A picture of him adorns a radio station's car in the Tour caravan; another features him in the official race guidebook in an ad for... Festina. Memories of cycling's most tragic doping case will loom in Sunday's 15th Stage, when competitors scale the famed Mont Ventoux: British cyclist Tom Simpson died there in the 1967 Tour -- exactly 43 years ago on Saturday -- after using a lethal cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol.

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4. VAULTING VENTOUX -- Southeast France's lonesome, bald-face mountain of white cretaceous rock -- and a home to rare plants also found in tundra landscapes of Greenland or Norway -- will host its ninth Tour stage finish. At 242.5 kilometers (151 miles), Sunday's is the longest ride of the 100th Tour, and will challenge the pack to save up the juice over long flats before a 21-kilometer (13-mile) ascent that's one of cycling's hardest. With more than 220 kilometers before the foot of that climb, "it's going to be horrible for everybody," quipped Voigt on French TV.

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5. CONTADOR'S COMEBACK? -- After a dazzling show of race savvy on Friday to erase over a minute of his deficit to race leader Chris Froome, Saxo Bank leader Alberto Contador was feeling better about his Tour aspirations, according to teammate Michael Rogers. The Australian said Contador got a "big morale boost yesterday. It was kind of a turn-the-page moment for the team ..." For his part, the Spaniard said the early part of the Ventoux is "very, very tough" and recalled "how my heart almost came out of my mouth" the first time he climbed it -- but found it easier as his ability improved.

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AP Sports Writer Joseph Wilson in Barcelona, Spain, contributed to this report.


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