By Andrew Dampf
AP Sports Writer
FINHAUT-EMOSSON, Switzerland — Ilnur Zakarin hardly had enough energy to zip up his jersey and celebrate upon winning one of the most grueling stages of the Tour de France.
The Russian rider settled for a half-zip and a half left-fist pump instead, leaving the earpiece of his radio dangling from his bare chest, before two helpers pushed him toward the podium ceremony.
“We did a plan for the Tour de France, which was riding with no goals for two weeks, just to stay away from troubles. Then the goal was to peak during the third week to win a stage,” Zakarin said after carrying out the plan to perfection.
Zakarin’s daughter Kristina was born on the first day of the Tour and the most he’s seen of her has come on Skype.
Part of an early breakaway in the 17th stage on Wednesday — the first of four legs in the Alps — Zakarin caught up to Rafal Majka and Jarlinson Pantano at the beginning of the day’s final climb and then launched a furious attack with 6.5 kilometers to go.
Zakarin rode the 184.5 kilometer (114.6-mile) route at an average speed of 40 kph (25 mph) — 2 kph faster than organizers’ fastest estimate for the stage.
It was his first career stage win on the Tour, having also won a stage in last year’s Giro d’Italia.
In this year’s Giro, Zakarin was in fifth place with two stages to go when he crashed on a high-speed descent and fractured his left collarbone.
“I was aiming for the final podium and to lose all of that in the last few days was very hard. So I began to think of the Tour, so perhaps I could win a stage here,” Zakarin said through a translator.
Zakarin was suspended in 2009 for two years after testing positive for the forbidden anabolic steroid methandienone.
He had little to say about the possibility that the entire Russian team will be banned from next month’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro over allegations of state-sponsored doping.
“I’m not following the news. I’m reading. I’m watching movies to be away from all the stress that does not concern me,” Zakarin said.
There are reports that several positive cases involving Russian cyclists have been covered up.
“We are talking about scandals, the samples which probably belong to cycling, but nobody knows where the samples come from. Men’s cycling? Mountain bike? Women’s cycling? We don’t know. It’s just speculation,” said Katusha team general manager Viacheslav Ekimov, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong on the U.S. Postal team.
“Since November last year, Zakarin has been tested 12 times out of competition,” Ekimov added. “All these tests have been conducted in European labs, in Paris, Lausanne. … At Katusha, we perform additional testing, and follow all protocols.”
Tour leader Chris Froome was also unaware that the International Olympic Committee is examining the legal options of a blanket ban following a report by World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren that accused Russia’s sports ministry of overseeing doping of the country’s Olympic athletes.
“I haven’t seen that,” Froome said, before complimenting Zakarin on his performance. “That was a really tough stage, though … That was a good ride.”
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.