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'Clean' team winning Tour de France by nearly 12 minutes

Garmin-Cervélo, a US squad seeking to transform cycling with a zero-tolerance policy on doping, defied skeptics with an impressive performance in the Alps – including today's Alpe d'Huez climb.

By Jon BrandCorrespondent / July 22, 2011

Garmin-Cervelo rider Thor Hushovd (c.) cycles to victory over Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen (L) in the 16th stage of this year's Tour de France as his teammate Ryder Hesjedal celebrates in the background. The stage went from Saint-Paul Trois Chateaux to Gap, France, on July 19.

Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

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Updated at 12:34 p.m. with today's results.

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When the American cycling team Garmin-Cervélo went pro four years ago, its aim wasn't necessarily to win big at the Tour de France. Rather, founder Jonathan Vaughters said he wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to be competitive without taking performance-enhancing drugs – and thus transform the culture of a sport marred by systemic doping at the highest levels.

It seemed a lofty goal, particularly in the grueling Tour de France, which runs for three weeks with only a handful of rest days. So even when Garmin won its first-ever Tour stage on July 4 this year and was leading the team standings, some doubted it would still be in the lead as the race churned through the Pyrénées and climbed the highest Alpine finish in Tour history.

Garmin has a zero-tolerance antidoping policy backed up by supplemental drug tests for its riders – a model since adopted by other teams as well. Now, the self-proclaimed “clean team" has a real shot at winning the overall team classification at this year's Tour.

Garmin riders retook the lead this week and hung tough yesterday as the race ascended a trio of dramatic climbs, including the 9,000-foot Col Agnel.

Thanks to the 9th and 10th place stage finishes by American Tom Danielson and Canadian Ryder Hesjdal, and a crucial 12th from US veteran Christian Vande Velde, the team not only kept its five-and-a-half minute lead but extended it to more than 10 minutes. Today, the trio built on that lead, putting the squad nearly 12 minutes ahead of the next team as the Tour heads for the finale in Paris on Sunday.

While not as prestigious as the yellow jersey that top riders Andy Schleck, Thomas Voeckler, and Cadel Evans were vying for today up the iconic Alpe D’Huez climb, the team trophy is a real prize – one that comes with a €50,000 ($72,000) award.

Evolution of team racing in the Tour

The Tour de France’s initial editions forbade riders to form teams, encouraging solo feats of strength. These days, individual champions would be nowhere without the support of a strong team that works tirelessly to deliver its leader to success.

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