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Stage 13

Troubled Virenque repays team

By Mike Price

Richard Virenque

Frenchman Richard Virenque raises his arms followed by Santiago Gil Blanco of Spain, (R) after crossing the finishing line of the 13th stage of the 82nd Giro d'Italia from Sassuolo to Rapallo May 27. Virenque won the stage while Gil Blanco was second. vp/Photo by Vincenzo Pinto REUTERS

RAPALLO, Italy, May 27  (Reuters)  - Richard Virenque, focal point of drugs scandal and innuendo for almost a year, triumphed in the Giro d'Italia on Thursday.

The Frenchman repaid Polti for signing him despite the furor surrounding him by defeating Spain's Santiago Blanco in a 34 km duel to the finish of the hazardous 243 km 13th stage from Sassuolo.

Virenque has consistently denied allegations that he was involved in the doping affair that led to the expulsion of his former team Festina from the 1998 Tour de France.

Yet at the start of the season he announced his retirement because he could not find a place in a team until Italian squad Polti offered him a contract.

"This was not a revenge. It was a victory," Virenque said. "That is better than revenge. After all I have been through I cannot smile now...perhaps tomorrow.

"For some time my heart has been empty, but now I am full of emotion. It's a big victory for me and for my sponsor Franco Polti, because he could have said that I could not go to the Giro.

"My team director Gianluigi Stanga believes in me, and he made the team believe in me.

"It's good for cycling, my family, and my fans too. Physically and morally, the conditions have not been ideal.

"I do not know about the Tour (de France) now, because each day has its problems with the judiciary. I don't know what might happen next."

Virenque and Blanco were not a threat to Giro leader Laurent Jalabert of France on the haul through the Appennines. Jalabert remained four seconds ahead of Italian Marco Pantani overall.

Virenque joined five leaders on the tricky descent from the Passo di Cento Crocci, some 70 km from the finish.

As they sped down the mountain, Italian Dario Frigo, third overall, crashed out with a fractured left collarbone.

Virenque and Blanco had Colombian Chepe Gonzales and Spain's Roberto Heras for company until the Kelme team mates ran out of road and into a ditch with 34 km remaining.

"It was very dangerous," said Jalabert. "It needed some luck to reach the valleys safely. I saw several crashes."

He said of Virenque's victory: "He has had some difficult times, but he has coped well physically and mentally.

"I was pleased with his victory and told him so after the finish."

Riders have a rest day on Friday before more mountain tests take the Giro into its third and final week.

Giro d'Italia 13th stage placings/overall standings RAPALLO, Italy, May 27  (Reuters)  - Leading placings in the 243-km 13th stage of the Giro d'Italia cycling race from Sassuolo to Rapallo on Thursday:

Stage 13

1. Richard Virenque (France) Polti 6 hours 55 minutes 34 seconds
2. Santiago Blanco (Spain) Vitalicio Seguros same time
3. Davide Rebellin (Italy) Polti 21 seconds behind
4. Roberto Sgambelluri (Italy) Cantina Tollo 22
5. Andrei Teteriouk (Kazakhstan) Liquigas 34

6. Andrei Zintchenko (Russia) Vitalicio Seguros
7. Gerrit Glomser (Austria) Navigare
8. Giuliano Figueras (Italy) Mapei
9. Enrico Zaina (Italy) Mercatone Uno
10. Oscar Camenzind (Switzerland) Lampre

11. Mauro Zanetti (Italy) Vini Caldirola
12. Stefano Garzelli (Italy) Mercatone Uno
13. Fabiano Fontanelli (Italy) Mercatone Uno
14. Marco Pantani (Italy) Mercatone Uno
15. Massimo Codol (Italy) Lampre

16. Paolo Savoldelli (Italy) Saeco
17. Laurent Jalabert (France) ONCE
18. Giuseppe di Grande (Italy) Mapei
19. Massimiliano Gentili (Italy) Cantina Tollo
20. Oscar Sevilla (Spain) Kelme all same time

Leading overall standings:

1. Jalabert 57 hours 50 minutes 4 seeconds
2. Pantani 4 seconds behind
3. Sergei Gontchar (Ukraine) Vini Caldirola 1:13
4. Ivan Gotti (Italy) Polti 1:17
5. Daniel Clavero (Spain) Vitalicio Seguros 1:22

6. Camenzind 1:28
7. Alex Zuelle (Switzerland) Banesto 2:08
8. Niklas Axelsson (Sweden) Navigare 2:09
9. Andrea Noe (Italy) Mapei 2:23
10. Jose Maria Jimenez (Spain) Banesto 2:43

11. Savoldelli 2:48
12. Gilberto Simoni (Italy) Ballan 3:16
13. Sgambelluri 3:39
14. Rebellin 3:47
15. Aleksandr Shefer (Kazakhstan) Riso Scotti same time
16. Blanco 4:13
17. Codol 4:15
18. Daniele de Paoli (Italy) Amica Chips 4:16
19. Cristian Gasperoni (Italy) Cantina Tollo 5:05
20. Zintchenko 5:11