“Age and treachery
will overcome youth and skill.”
Fausto Coppi, Italian
"Champion of Champions"

  _July 2005



Tour Diary - First Impressions


Mobile technology and fantastic skill combine to bring us incredible TV images




Stage 10: Grenoble – Courchevel (192.5km)

Sign language

To the uninitiated Discovery Channel team's crushing performance today may seem uncanny. What we really saw was an organization, prepared to perfection, roll out yet another facet of their strategy. Everyone in the Discovery organization would have been delegated the task of observing certain riders on the road. Signs of strength and weakness would be reported back to Johann Bruyneel in his mobile command center. Based on this intelligence he would then radio his instructions to Lance and the boys.

It has been this way for six Tours and today we again saw Lance's team riding with well drilled perfection. A long list of favorites were expected to finally deal with Lance today. Instead the Discovery team took complete control of the race at the front. As they powered up the first Cat 1 climb of the day, Bruyneel and his team would have been closely observing the competition. They would have seen obvious signs of stress, underlined when Jens Voight, resplendent in his new Yellow Jersey, slipped out of the back.

The 22km climb up to the Courchevel finish presented us with the sight of Discovery's torrid pace dispatching riders out of the back every few seconds. When the likes of Mayo, Heras, Vinokourov, Ullrich and Basso lost contact it was a clear sign that something special was on. As each of these riders started to show signs of weakness Bruyneel would have calmly asked the boys to up the tempo even more. At the end the young Spanish hope Alejandro Valverde outsprinted Lance for the stage win with Rasmussen and Mancebo just behind them. The tattered remains of the peloton was spread out all over the mountain. Many hopes died on that cruel climb.

We now have a clear sign of life after Lance. It does not belong to all of those champions that were humbled today. The new young generation is moving in and Valverde and Rasmussen are leading the vanguard. But first Lance has some business to finish off.



The legendary Col du Galibier


Stage 11: Courchevel – Briancon (173km)

Coeur de lion

Throughout his career Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile) has demonstrated his courage and insatiable desire to win. He is a true lion heart (Coeur de lion) as befits an elite athlete of his standing. Yesterday he was vanquished, as were most of the favorites, on the stage up to Courchevel. Today, while most of the bunch seemed to be cowering behind the Discovery team in the manner of the lion in the Wizard of Oz, Vinokourov roared into action.

On the ‘hors categorie (HC)' climb of the Col de la Madeleine Vino slipped out of the bunch with a group of other notables. In particular Mancebo, Heras, Pereiro, Botero and Horner. This was a surprising sight but as they rode away from the peloton we could at last see what much vaunted riders like Heras had been hiding. It turned out nothing, as he and everyone except Vino, Pereiro and Botero forged ahead.

The three of them got to the Cat 1 Col du Telegraphe alone and then continued on to this year's highest ascent, the legendary HC Col du Galibier. As they gained nearly 4 minutes, the Discovery boys were implementing a program of containment. They still have a long way to go to Paris and it is smart strategy to harbor their strength and focus on limiting time gains made by others.

On the Telegraphe Pereiro was dropped and on the Galibier Botero lost Vino's wheel twice. However Botero was the better descender and on the long road down to Briancon the two reconnected. Lion heart Vino however made the decisive pounce for the line to complete a memorable ride.

The winning margin was 1min 15secs over the Yellow Jersey group but on GC Botero is still 3mins 48secs back with Vino nearly 5mins back. Sadly former race leader Jens Voight (who himself is a true Coeur de lion) was eliminated today no doubt exhausted from his exploits of a few stages ago.



Spectacular scenery is wasted on the peloton!


Stage 12: Briancon – Digne-les-Bains (187km)

Vive la France

July 14 th is the most important holiday on the French calendar as the nation celebrates the storming of the Bastille. Any French rider winning the Tour stage on this day becomes a national hero. The happy man this year was David Moncoutie (Cofidis) who rode away from a 13 man break that had been away for most of the day. This was the 31 st Bastille Day win at the Tour by a Frenchman. 1903 Tour winner Maurice Garin was the first and Richard Virenque accomplished it in his final Tour last year.

Although certainly not a flat stage with one Cat 4, one Cat 3 and two Cat 2 climbs, it was a stage suited more to the liking of the rouleurs. All 13 riders in the break had spent most of their time traversing the Alps in the autobus. Consequently the break was of little interest to the GC players with the rider's ahead way back in the GC standings.

As Moncoutie set about earning himself the adoration of his French public, two of his former break companions were engaged in their own none too friendly battle. Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) became top candidates for the Green Jersey when Tom Boonen failed to start today suffering from a series of hard crashes. Hushovd just beat O'Grady to the line to gain a psychological edge and to secure the Green Jersey.

Ten and one half minutes after the break the third serious candidate for the Green Jersey, Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) took out the bunch sprint. This evening he will not be popular with his teammates as he had them chasing flat out for a long time in order to bring the break back. That failed attempt may have layered a lot of exhaustion on to the team and this will prove critical in McEwen's quest for Green.

With just one modest Cat 4 lump to get over, tomorrow's almost flat stage will be another for the habitual passengers of the autobus. However with the battle for Green at full boil Credit Agricole, Davitamon-Lotto and Cofidis will attempt to either get their points man up the road in a break or more likely orchestrate a violent bunch sprint finish.






Stage 13: Miramas – Montpellier (173.5km)

Bold, brave, stupid

On a scorching hot day five riders made a bold move to escape from the bunch just 15km into the stage. They stayed out there for most of the race traversing the flat Camargue plains setting an incredible speed and suffering under the searing sun.

In a pre-race interview Robbie McEwen said that he expected a break to get away but now, because he was no longer in contention for the Green jersey, he would not ask his team to spend hours chasing down the break as they did in vain yesterday. Nobody believed what he was saying, not least of all Robbie himself.

Mercilessly Robbie sent his poor domestiques to the front when the break reached about 9 minutes. Again for hours the poor lads flogged themselves at the front. Meanwhile Credit Agricole (for Green Jersey holder Thor Hushovd) and Cofidis (for Stuart O'Grady) happily cruised along in the Davitamon.Lotto slipstream.

On the run in to Montpellier the bold five (Carlos Da Cruz, Francaise des Jeux); Chris Horner, Saunier Duval; Thomas Voeckler, Bouygues Telecom; Ludovic Turpin, Ag2R-Prévoyance and Juan Antonio Flecha, Fassa Bortolo) were reeled in to just under one minute. At that point Sylvain Chavanel exploded from the bunch and quickly bridged across to the break.

Chavanel then went again and bravely Horner chased him down. Somehow the two managed to gain 25 seconds coming into the last km. However behind them the bunch was cranking it up to warp speed. At this point the leading duo should have put their heads down but instead started playing cat and mouse. One can understand that Horner having been in the break for about 170km was running on empty but Chavanel demonstrated extreme stupidity as he dumbly watched Robbie McEwen and the bunch come past with 200m to go.

An interesting note; Robbie was clocked at 73kmph (45mph) on the line!



Into the mighty Pyrenees


Stage 14: Agde – Ax-3 Domaines (220.5km)

Everything but the kitchen sink

Throughout this Tour Jan Ullrich and his T-Mobile team have been severely criticized for their lack of aggression in pursuit of the Yellow Jersey. Probably the least complimentary person of all is their own team manager, the abrasive Walter Godefroot. Above all Ullrich is singled out for his lack of preparation and his poor winter habits that lead to considerable weight gains.

Today at long last the T-mobile boys got their act together. With a premeditated plan they burst into action on the HC climb of the Port de Pailheres. Giuseppe Guerini set a blistering pace that destroyed the peloton and dispatched Armstrong's team out of the back. With Lance isolated, T-Mobile continued their attacks. Armstrong stayed cool and dealt with each salvo elegantly. After one acceleration from Vinokourov, Armstrong pulled him back and made a point of riding beside him while looking totally at ease. By this time T-Mobile with the clear advantage of numbers were showing signs of desperation. They were throwing everything at Lance. Nothing worked except that Armstrong was now breaking them as a group psychologically.

Over the top of the Pailheres four riders accompanied Armstrong. Ullrich was the sole survivor from the T-Mobile gang. On the descent Vinokourov and Kloden made it back. As the climb to the finish at Ax-3-Domaines started Vinokourov attacked again. His own teammate Kloden dragged him back ostensibly setting Ullrich up for an attack. Armstrong did not need his team; he had T-Mobile working for him! Ivan Basso then started dueling with Armstrong and their combined accelerations made Ullrich lose contact. He slipped back to lose 18 seconds at the finish. Maybe the kitchen sink would have helped T-Mobile today!

Fifty six seconds ahead of second placed Armstrong was the real hero of the day. Austrian Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) was the final survivor of a 200km plus break. It is sad that such an astounding performance should be over shadowed by the fight behind. But at 34 years old, this will be one day in his accomplished career that he will never forget



George Hincapie seen in 2004 Stage 15


The big climbs; a riders view!



Stage 15: Lézat-sur-Lèze - Saint-Lary Soulan

(Pla d'Adet), 205.5 km

By George!

World wide tour experts had today's “Queen Stage” scripted well in advance. In memory of Fabio Casartelli who died on this day 10 years ago, Lance Armstrong would power his way to a memorable win on the single most toughest climbing stage of the Tour to honor his fallen teammate. As stage 15 approached the armchair experts were further convinced that it was Lance's day as he had yet to win a stage at this year's race.

According to George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) his decision to get into an early break was not part of today's team plan. However his rationale was that if he could get up the road then he would be there for Lance when the big boys started racing in earnest. After yesterday's team performance this was sound thinking for today the race included four Cat 1 climbs before the final HC climb to the finish.

As it turned out the composition of the 14 man break played right into Discovery's game plan. CSC in particular was forced to head the chase (which gained almost 20 minutes at one stage) while Rabobank sat back happily knowing that two of their men were ahead and thus protecting Rasmussen's Polka Dot Jersey. On the climb to the finish four men had survived until Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) made his bid for glory. George pulled him back and then easily won on the line. Pereiro was the animator of the day and had the most to gain on GC. George on the other hand was obliged to play a passive role in the break all day preparing for the potential regrouping with Armstrong.

Astoundingly this is the first time in all of Armstrong's winning TdF rides that one of his teammates has won a stage. George has been a tireless and selfless companion to Armstrong throughout all of those years. Universally Tour fans applaud George and see today as just recompense for services rendered, by George.

Writers note. Last year I was on the Tourmalet and Plateau de Bielle. The crowds were insane with a large majority being the highly animated Basque fans. The images going up today's climbs seemed to be even crazier than last year. The road was lost under a sea of screaming humanity. How Hincapie and Pereiro found their way through that seething mass is incredible. Sights like this are unique to cycling and the Tour in particular.



A worthy stage winner; Oscar Pereiro (Phonak)


Stage 16: Mourenx – Pau (180.5km)

The spirit of champions

With the intense focus on the riders at the top of the GC standings it is easy to overlook superlative performances by other riders in the peloton. It should be remembered that everyone getting a place on a TdF team belongs to the world's most elite group of athletes. We become most familiar with the Armstrong's, Basso's and Ullrich's of the race. Others dedicate themselves to supporting their team leaders, others specialize in climbing or sprinting and others, for whatever their reasons are not on their game, and just ride to survive.

Possibly the most exciting group are those who constantly attack and are typically to be found in those ‘race-long' breaks that always seemed to get pulled back just before the finish. This year Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) has probably been the most aggressive rider throughout the Tour. Two days ago he was away all day and finally came second to George Hincapie (Discovery) on the leg breaking Queen stage to Pla d'Adet.

Today the real action started when Cadel Evans (Davitamon.Lotto) attacked his break companions on the final HC climb of this Tour, the Col d'Aubisque. His plan had been to gain significant time and move sharply up the GC table.

Over the top of the Col , Evans was joined by Pereiro, Xabier Zandio (Illes Balears) and Eddy Mazzoleni (Lampre). Gaining over six minutes on the main peloton Evans was now challenging for third place on GC. Pereiro and Mazzoleni were also looking at significant GC improvements. It may not have been panic (as there were still over 60kms to the finish), but the situation ignited a serious chase behind with T-Mobile, Rabobank and Credit Agricole leading the charge. On the line they closed to about three and one half minutes. Pereiro took a richly deserved win and Evans moved up from 11 th to 7 th on GC (not bad for a TdF rookie). None of the four will compete for this year's overall but today they had the “Spirit of Champions”.




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