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Daily stages of the Tour de France.  Click on any day for a complete report.  Other Tour links will also be added as they become available.  Other Racing News

Stage 4

Italy's Cipollini wins stage 4 

Associated Press 

Super Mario BLOIS, France -- In a stage featuring a Tour de France speed record, Italy's Mario Cipollini surged past Germany's Erik Zabel in a photo finish today to win the fourth leg of cycling's showcase race. 

Helped by a tail wind, cool weather and wide, flat roads, the record speed was an average 31.47 mph. The previous record was 30.885 mph. 

In third place was Australia's Stuart O'Grady. Fourth was Tom Steels of Belgium, the winner of the last two stages. 

Still holding the overall leader's yellow jersey was Estonia's Jaan Kirsipuu, who came in fifth today. 

The Tour de France is still unable to shake itself of the drug scandal that overshadowed last summer's race. 

Young fans along the route during Tuesday's third stage were well aware of the scandal but most didn't think drugs would ever be fully eradicated from the sport. 

Spanish student Jose Luiz Catala was enjoying a folk concert in Nantes, in Brittany, before the riders came through. 

"I think all the players are doped," said the 17-year-old Catala. "You know why? Because you can't win on a plate of spaghetti. You need more." 

His friend, Joan Albert Lairon, sporting red-and-yellow paint on his cheeks, agreed. 

"Doping is fair if they all do it," he said. "The problem comes when only some do. That's why it's wrong. 

"It's only a bit dangerous - no more than smoking cigarettes," he added. 

Meanwhile, the race goes on. On Monday, there was a dramatic crash during an ocean crossing. But the next day the third stage unfolded on dry ground and in classic style. 

Rolling into the countryside of Brittany, with black-and-white Breton flags fluttering along the route, the stage began with an early breakaway and ended in a furious, shoulder-to-shoulder sprint. 

For the second straight day, Steels won the stage, timing his attack perfectly and surging through his rivals across the finish line, arms outstretched. 

Jaan Kirsipuu of Estonia kept the leader's yellow jersey and Steels moved into second place overall, followed by Spain's Abraham Olano and American Lance Armstrong. 

Armstrong's teammate on a strong U.S. Postal Service team, George Hincapie, is in sixth. 

Armstrong, making a stunning comeback after fighting testicular cancer, is waiting for Sunday's time trial and then the mountain stages to mount his challenge. 

But this week, in the early, flat stages, it is the sprinters who excel. 

Tuesday's 122-mile route stretched through picturesque northern countryside from the city of Nantes, which straddles the Loire River, to the town of Laval. 

Two riders, Frederic Guesdon and Massimo Giunti, broke away early and maintained their lead for 76 miles, but were caught by the pack late in the race, making way for the sprinting specialists. 

The pack maintained a swift pace - an average of 27 mph for the day - and the final sprint came at a blistering 42 mph. 

Steels, with a winning time of 4 hours, 29 minutes, 27 seconds, was followed by Germany's Erik Zabel, Stuart O'Grady of Australia, Nicola Minali of Italy and, in fifth place, Hincapie. Armstrong finished 24th. 

Cycling's governing body announced Tuesday that 16 cyclists have been certified to race with a hematocrit level that exceeds the 50 percent limit. 

The hematocrit level measures the proportion of red blood cells in a blood sample - one sign of drug use since the substances increase red blood cells. 

The International Cycling Union noted that 3 percent of the global population has a hematocrit level higher than 50 percent. 

It wasn't clear how many, if any, of the riders issued those certificates are racing in this year's tour. U.S. racer Jonathan Vaughters has one, but he was injured in Monday's crash and forced to abandon the race. 

Cycling-Tour de France fourth stage placings/overall standings

BLOIS, France, July 7 (Reuters) - Leading placings in the fourth stage of the Tour de France over 194.5 kms from Laval on Wednesday: 

1. Mario Cipollini (Italy) Saeco 3 hours 51 minutes 45 seconds 
2. Erik Zabel (Germany) Telekom 
3. Stuart O'Grady (Australia) Credit Agricole 
4. Tom Steels (Belgium) Mapei 
5. Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia) Casino 

6. Nicola Minali (Italy) Cantina Tollo 
7. Christophe Capelle (France) Big Mat 
8. Damien Nazon (France) La Francaise de Jeux 
9. George Hincapie (U.S.) U.S. Postal 
10. Jay Sweet (Australia) Big Mat 

11. Robbie McEwen (Australia) Rabobank 
12. Jimmy Casper (France) La Francaise de Jeux 
13. Francois Simon (France) Credit Agricole 
14. Jan Svorada (Slovakia) Lampre 
15. Sebastien Hinault (France) Credit Agricole 

16. Carlos da Cruz (France) Big Mat 
17. Christophe Moreau (France) Festina 
18. Silvio Martinello (Italy) Polti 
19. Lars Michaelsen (Denmark) La Francaise de Jeux 
20. Elio Aggiano (Italy) Vitalicio Seguros all same time as winner

Leading overall standings: 

1. Kirsipuu 17 hours 10 minutes 40 seconds
2. O'Grady 16 seconds behind
3. Steels 21
4. Lance Armstrong (U.S.) U.S. Postal 24
5. Zabel 32

6. Abraham Olano (Spain) ONCE 35
7. Hincapie 38
8. Moreau 39
9. Cipollini 44
10. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Casino 45 

11. Santos Gonzalez (Spain) ONCE same time
12. Andrea Peron (Italy) ONCE 47
13. Christian Vandevelde (U.S.) U.S. Postal 
14. Laurent Dufaux (Switzerland) Saeco both same time
15. Angel Casero (Spain) Vitalicio Seguros 50 

16. Pavel Tonkov (Russia) Mapei 52
17. Simon 
18. Bobby Julich (U.S.) Cofidis both same time
19. Alvaro Gonzalez (Spain) Vitalicio Seguros 53 
20. Erik Dekker (Netherlands) Rabobank same time