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Abandonments aplenty on first mountain stage
Stage 10 from Dax to Lourdes-Hautacam managed to put a huge dent in the hopes of many aiming to win the Tour de France. It appears that many of the favourites are now simply too far behind to threaten Lance Armstrong, but they will certainly try. As happens every year, some fancied riders crashed out, including Jonathan Vaughters (Credit Agricole) who added to his team's casualty list. Vaughters was taken to Lourdes hospital in an ambulance, suffering cranial trauma as well as losing consciousness after his fall.
The rain was the main reason for the accidents, making the descent of the Col de Marie-Blanque more dangerous than it already was. US Postal's Cédric Vasseur, Lotto's Jacky Durand and Thierry Marichal were amongst those who fell, but were not seriously injured.
Cofidis did not have a good day in terms of keeping the team intact: Frank Vandenbroucke (tendonitis in his left knee), Laurent Desbiens, and Laurent Lefèvre all abandoned, as did Jean-Patrick Nazon and Frederic Guesdon (FdJ) . Dario Pieri and Armin Meier were the casualties for Saeco, while Vini Caldirola's Zoran Klemencic and Carlos Alberto Contreras (Kelme) added to the list.
In total, 162 riders
are left of the 177 starters on July 1, not counting the three who were
excluded due to having too high a hematocrit.
After spending a significant amount of time on the climbs in front of the main peloton today, Polti's Richard Virenque declared himself happy with his ride. He didn't gain the polka dot jersey, nor did he win the stage or even get close to holding Armstrong when he rode through the group. However, Virenque was still 4th on the stage and managed to climb to 11th overall on GC, seven minutes in arrears of the Texan.
At the cold and windy Aubisque, Virenque attacked from his climbers group on the wet and slippery descent of the Soulor and gained time in pursuit of whomever was up the road ahead. Virenque's attack blew up his group, after the long descent of the Soulor finished, with 18km to race in Argeles-Gazost near the foot of the steep final climb to Lourdes Hautacam at 1520m; (13.5km @ 7.9% average grade).
Virenque crossed the line 1.57 behind Otxoa and 1.15 behind Armstrong and is now in 11th position on GC, nearly seven minutes behind the new yellow jersey.
A new bike perhaps?
As the only rider to outlast the late surge of Lance Armstrong, the win in stage 10 to Spaniard Xavier Otxoa caps a career which has been fairly quiet to date, with his previous best finish a 3rd place in the Tour of Majorca.
Nonetheless, his ride earned the admiration of all as the 25 year-old managed to hold off the Texan by 42 seconds after being in a break for the best part of 150kms.
Otxoa also has a fondness for motorcycles and may be able to afford a new one after yesterday's effort, which has placed Kelme's supposed leader in the mountains, Fernando Escartin, in an unenviable position. At the end of stage 10, Otxoa was in 8th position on GC at 6.13 minutes, well in front of Escartin who is at 7.34 to Armstrong in 17th position.
"Skip it Skibby!"
Danish veteran Jesper Skibby had to abandon the Tour on the eighth stage. An inflammation in a thigh muscle put an end to this his last ride in Le Grand Boucle. And now his team doctor Joost De Maeseneer wants him to quit or at least not start in the Vuelta later this season:
"Jesper has been working on the bike for more than 20 years now, and I advised him already a year ago that he should quit. He didn't want to listen, but I am saying it again. Jesper is worn, and he'd better stop cycling after this season. Jesper shouldn't start in the Tour of Denmark if I can have my say, and he shouldn't even consider the Vuelta. His muscles are worn, and he is like an old engine where there still is a few miles to squeeze out."
De Maeseneer does not believe however that Skibby risks any permanent troubles with his muscles. But there are other riders of the same age, still able to compete, Alberto Elli, wearer of the yellow jersey for several days is one: "Jesper has always been the sort of rider that gives it all. He has never spared himself", explains his team doctor.
Assisting sports director Johnny Weltz says that there is no presure on Skibby from the team: "He has practically decided himself which races to ride. And he said himself that he wanted to ride the Tour."