Tour de France, Grand Tour

France, July 3-25, 1999

Main Page     Stage 15 Results

Stage 15, Saint-Gaudens - Piau-Engaly, 174 kms:

Stage 15 is the last real chance for those with aspirations for the GC to make a move. The 173 kms stage between Saint-Gaudens and Piau-Engaly involves 6 major climbs. At km 32.5 comes the Cat 2 Col des Ares. Then there are a sequence of Cat 1 climbs - at km 42.5 the Col de Mente (1,349m), at km 97.5 the Col de Portillon (1,298m), at km 122 the Col de Peyresourde (1,569m), at km 142.5 the Col de Val Louron-Azet (1,580m), and finally, at km 173 the climb to the finish at Piau-Engaly (1,800m). The Tour de France has never gone to the Piau-Engaly, a ski-station in the Pyrenees.

149 riders started in fine and warm weather. There were three did not starts overnight - Ludo Dierckxsens (Lampre) who was embroiled in a drug controversy, Guiseppe Calcaterra (Saeco-Cannondale) and Mario Scirea (Saeco-Cannondale).

After 10 kms, the peloton was quiet waiting for the attacks to come as the climbs near. Virenque, Olano and Zülle have to make their intentions known today.

There is also strong interest in the Green Points jersey today with two points premies along the route. Erik Zabel has a narrow 8 point lead over Australian Stuart O'Grady. The first sprint premie came at Fronsac (km 23.5) and as the peloton drew closer the Telekom team formed at the front with Erik Zabel in two. O'Grady's team was no where near as organised as the Germans. The sprint was won by Zabel from O'Grady. As the sprint finished, solo attack specialist Jacky Durand attacked of the front but he was absorbed again after only 800 metres.

Less than 2 kms later, the first climb started. It was the Cat 2, 7.2 km climb up to the summit of the Col des Ares (summit at 32.5 kms) with an average gradient of 4.8 per cent. Tough but not too tough.

Leading the peloton up the early sections of the climb were the two Australians riding for Rabobank - Robbie McEwen and Patrick Jonker. They were accompanied by Pascal Derame (Fra-US Postal), Italian Mariano Piccoli (Lampre-Daikin) and Big Mat's Thierry Bourgignon.

With less than 1 km to climb, Richard Virenque came to the front but at the last moment he was outsprinted by Mariano Piccoli (Lampre). 2nd was Virenque, 3rd was Stefano Garzelli (Mercatone Uno), then Jose-Luis Arrieta (Banesto), Stephane Goubert (Polti), Marco Pinotti (Lampre), Laurent Brochard (Festina) with the 8th rider being Udo Bolts (Telekom). The first hour of racing was slow - 31.6 km/h.

On the descent, Jose-Luis Arrieta (Banesto) and Laurent Brochard (Festina) attacked and held a 12 second lead on a complete peloton. Stefano Garzelli (Mercatone Uno) bridged the gap on the leaders but their lead was slight. The attack did not look to be very serious. Further moves were then made from the peloton and a much larger group formed at the front very soon after. There were 19 riders in the leading group including Alberto Elli, Andrea Peron, Stefano Garzelli, Jon Odriozola, Steve De Wolf, Laurent Brochard, Richard Virenque, Stephane Heulot and Christophe Moreau. The presence of Moreau and Virenque was enough to get the US Postal riders twitchy and they organised a rapid response. The race came back together again soon after.

But it was clear that today there were going to be a series of attacks. As soon as the US Postal team brought the 19 back, 2 riders went away and they were quickly joined by 8 other riders. They were Dominique Rault (Big Mat-Auber 93), José Javier Gomez (Kelme), Bo Hamburger (Cantina Tollo), Jon Odriozola (Banesto), Stefano Cattai (Polti), Javier Oxtoa (Kelme), Lylian Lebreton (Big Mat-Auber 93), Andrea Peron (ONCE-Deutsche Bank), Jean-Cyril Robin (La Française des Jeux), Igor Gonzalez Galdeano (Vitalicio Seguros) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Casino).

They formed after Oxtoa tried a solo move off the front but then waited for a group to join him. First it was Gomez, then the others joined them. Alberto Elli (Telekom) and François Simon (Crédit Agricole) were stuck between the leaders and the peloton for a time but got across as Bo Hamburger was dropped and abandoned the race soon after. So at this stage there were 11 leaders with a narrow gap on the peloton.

The second climb - the Cat 1 Col de Mente (1,349m) was more challenging and with 10 kms to climb to the summit (at km 42.5) there were 11 leaders. Two other riders tried to come across from the peloton some 40 seconds behind. They were Christophe Rinero (Cofidis) and Swiss rider Fabian Jeker (Festina). The front 11 broke up somewhat as the climb intensified and the Kelme pair of Oxtoa and Gomez driving the group. François Simon (Crédit Agricole) the first to go out the back, followed by Rault and Robin. But Simon and Robin mustered the resources to regain contact and the 10 riders out front were 50 seconds in front. The pace was too hard for some of the break and soon there were only 7 in front - José Javier Gomez (Kelme), Jon Odriozola (Banesto), Javier Oxtoa (Kelme), Andrea Peron (ONCE-Deutsche Bank), Igor Gonzalez Galdeano (Vitalicio Seguros), Alberto Elli (Telekom) and Alexandre Vinokourov (Casino). They were 1.05 in front with Rinero stranded between them and the peloton.

The attacks in the peloton started coming with Richard Virenque, Pavel Tonkov and Laurent Dufaux moving away quickly. They went past Rinero and looked strong. Dufaux then attacked Tonkov and Virenque and moved closer to the leading group. The stragglers from that bunch were absorbed by the peloton some 200 metres down the mountain. The main peloton was fragmented badly in the wake of constant attacks from Virenque, Dufaux, Armin Meier (Saeco-Cannondale) and others. Armstrong and Alex Zülle are still in a shrinking peloton. The 6 remaining riders in the lead were Elli, Otxoa, Gomez, Odriozola, Peron, and Gonzalez Galdeano at 0.47.

Virenque followed Gianni Faresin just before the summit. At the summit the leading 6 had 1.00 on the rest. The premie went to Elli (Telekom) from Gomez (Kelme), then Odriozola (Banesto), Peron (ONCE), Gonzalez Galdeano (Vitalicio), and in 6th Otxoa. Behind them was 7th Kurt Van De Wouwer (Lotto), Virenque (Polti), Faresin (Mapei), 10th was Arrieta (Banesto), then Dufaux (Saeco) and in 12th place was Pavel Tonkov (Mapei). At km 72, the lead was 1.30 with Kurt Van De Wouwer joining the leaders . There were still attacking moves coming from the peloton. First it was Massimiliano Lelli, then O'Grady with Michael Boogerd and a group of some 15 riders. The US Postal-led peloton was 300 metres behind and 1.35 behind the leaders at km 78. At km 82, the riders entered Spain (for 12.5 kms of Spanish roads). As the border approached the gap was increasing and by the Spanish town of Les (km 85) it stood at 3.20.

The third climb, the Cat 1 8.2 km climb to the summit of the Col de Portillon (1,298m) at km 97.5 confronted riders with an average gradient of 7.2 per cent. The gap at the bottom was 4.10 and increasing. The US Postal team worked hard to arrest the break as the 7 leaders started climbing. Alex Zülle also had his Banesto team at the front.

Early attackers Alexandre Vinikourov and Francois Simon went out the back of the peloton on the climb. There were constant attacks coming from the front of the chasing group - first Roland Meier (Cofidis), then David Etxebarria (ONCE), Francisco Tomas Garcia (Vitalicio Seguros), Manuel Beltran (Banesto), and then Tonkov and Dufaux moved again. The excitement came when Ferdinand Escartin went away and immediately Lance Armstrong reacted.

The 7 leaders were 2.40 ahead with 1 km to go to the summit. The attacking moves continued up the mountain with the Swiss rider Roland Meier being particularly aggressive. There were about 25 riders in the chase group and a larger peloton straggling behind them. The key names in the 25 were Escartin, Armstrong, Dufaux, Virenque, Tonkov, Zülle and Beltran. Over the top the premie went to the Belgian Van de Wouwer from Otxoa (Kelme), then Elli (Telekom), Odriozola (Banesto), Peron (ONCE), Gomez (Kelme) and in 7th place Galdeano. Leading the chasing group at 2.30 over the top was Richard Virenque then Piccoli (Lampre), Etxebarria (ONCE) and Beltran (Banesto). Next was Frankie Andreu followed by Lance Armstrong. Tyler Hamilton and Kevin Livingston were also nearby.

At km 110, the gap was 2.54 and the climbing of the Cat 1 Col de Peyresourde (1,569m) began (summit at km 122). The chase group included Manuel Beltran, Pavel Tonkov, Fernando Escartin, Richard Virenque, Abraham Olano, Alex Zülle and the US Postal riders. A small group comprising Luis Perez Rodriguez (ONCE), Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Kelme), Roland Meier (Cofidis), Francisco Tomas Garcia (Vitalicio Seguros), Manuel Fernandez Gines (Mapei) were between the main chase bunch and the 7 leaders. Escartin and Dufaux then tried to bridge this gap and so there were 3 groups in front of the yellow jersey.

The second peloton consolidated and comprised Garcia, Dufaux, and Escartin. They led the third group (with Armstrong et al) by 20 seconds and the leading 7 remained 1.45 in front of this second trio. Escartin, Garcia and Dufaux continued to build their lead at after 8 kms of climbing they were 1.00 behind the leading 7 and 55 seconds in front of Armstrong, who was being supported by Tyler Hamilton and Kevin Livinstong. Alex Zülle, Richard Virenque and Abraham Olano were still with the yellow jersey. The front group started to suffer and split with only Elli, Gonzalez Galdeano, Peron and Van de Wouver dropping Otxoa and Odriozola. They were joined by the trio of Escartin, Dufaux, and Garcia. The 8 leaders were 1.52 in front with 1 km of climbing to go. Tonkov was dropped soon after as the US Postal riders (Livingston and Hamilton) were actively chasing the 8 out front.

Over the top, the 8 leaders were 1.05 in front of Roland Meier and 1.52 in front of the yellow jersey group.

The 5th climb of the Col de Val Louron-Azet (1,580m) with the summit at km 142.5, saw the lead group break up further. Gomez (Kelme) was dropped as Dufaux surged. There were only 3 leaders - Dufaux, Garcia and Escartin. Escartin attacked hard and went away on his own. Behind there were significant changes occuring. Abraham Olano went out the back of the yellow jersey group and only 9 riders remained together. The US Postal buffer around Lance Armstrong also started to fall apart - with Kevin Livingston the first to go. Armstrong sensing that he could inflict further damage on his near rivals attacked but Alex Zülle and Richard Virenque were quick to get his wheel. Virenque however did not have the legs and went back to Wladimir Belli (Festina), Daniele Nardello (Mapei) and Angel Luis Casero (Vitalicio Seguros).

Over the top of the climb the premie order was Escartin, then Dufaux at 1.11, then Peron at 1.11, Elli, Garcia, and Van de Wouwer at 2.15, in 7th place Lance Armstrong and 8th place Alex Zülle at 2.52, then Virenque at 3.35 in 9th place. Olano was back further with Tonkov and Lanfranchi.

Escartin though had the legs on the final climb and he won easily with a gap of 2.01 on Alex Zülle and Richard Virenque (the latter storming up the last climb). Armstrong was 4th at 2.10. The big loser was Abraham Olano who lost 7.01 to Escartin and second place overall.

In the struggle for the green jersey, Zabel nor O'Grady figured in the second premie and the final points for the day for the stage finish went to climbers. Zabel increased his lead marginally.