Tom Boonen of Belgium won Friday’s 12th stage of the Tour de France, his second stage victory this year, while Michael Rasmussen of Denmark retained the overall lead.

Boonen, who already holds the green jersey for the best sprinter, clenched his fists in the air after winning a sprint finish in the 178.5 km (110.9 mile) trek from Montpellier to Castres. The final dash was classic sprinting. Heading the pack for the last kilometre, Boonen’s support riders on his Quick Step Innergetic team gradually peeled away one by one, leaving him to burst ahead with 150 metres left, to finish in 4 hours, 25 minutes, 32 seconds.

Upcoming mountain stages and time trials will make it hard for him to retain the green jersey. ‘‘The Tour’s a horrible race,’’ he said. ‘‘You have to be masochistic to ride in a race like this.’’

Erik Zabel of Germany was second. Robert Hunter, who became the first South African to win a stage on Thursday, took third. Rasmussen finished safely in the trailing pack along with his biggest challengers for the yellow jersey. The Dane is 2:35 ahead of second-place Alejandro Valverde and 2:39 ahead of Iban Mayo in third.


Newmarket selection:
2.35 Turbo Linn (win)

Market Rasen:
2:05 Capitana (each way)
3.40 Hoo La Baloo (win)

FORMULA ONE McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton showed no signs of being slowed by a bout of flu when he set the pace in Friday’s free practice for the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The 22-year-old championship leader, 12 points clear of double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso after nine races, led the first session with a lap of one minute 32.515 seconds.

Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was 0.236 seconds slower. The positions were reversed in the afternoon, with Raikkonen lapping in 1:33.339 ahead of Hamilton in 1:33.478. Alonso was third in the morning and fourth in the afternoon, when Ferrari’s Brazilian Felipe Massa went faster than the Spaniard on a drying track after midday rain. McLaren lead Ferrari by 25 points in the constructors’ standings.

The times left no doubt that Sunday’s race, a home grand prix for McLaren’s engine partners Mercedes, would be between the two teams that have won everything this season.

TENNIS Top-seeded Rafael Nadal reached the semi-finals of the Mercedes Cup on Friday with a 6-1, 6-3 win against Argentina’s Juan Monaco.

Nadal, breaking Monaco’s serve early in both sets, coasted to his 91st win in 92 matches on clay and moved closer to winning the tournament for the second time.

The Spaniard played with his right knee taped but didn’t seem bothered by an injury that flared up in his second-round match on Thursday after first surfacing in the Wimbledon final against Roger Federer.

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