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García-Acosta's greatest victory
Today's stage win by Banesto's José Vicente García-Acosta was the second Grand Tour stage win in the 27 year old's career. He previously won a stage in the Vuelta a España, but rated this as his greatest. Banesto certainly needed a boost after spending their bikkies on the way to Mont Ventoux yesterday, only to have El Chaba and Alex Zülle attack out of the back of the peloton in the first few km's.
Garcia-Acosta has ridden for Banesto for his entire five and a half year career, and has posted other wins including his "native" Tour of Navarra in 1996, and the GP Eddy Merckx (with Abraham Olano) in 1998. He hopes that this win will raise the morale of the Banesto team, adding that "it was an important triumph for me...It was a good day to do it between Mont Ventoux and the Alps."
He knew he was not the best sprinter, and took advantage of the other two (Nicolas Jalabert and Pascal Herve) in a moment of weakness to attack with 11 km to go into Draguignan. They could not react, and he finished with 25 seconds to spare.
Festina's Angel Casero has had a tough time of it this year in terms of finding form. After spending much of the first half of the year overcoming an achilles tendon injury that had him out of competition for most of the season, Casero had to abandon the Tour de France today. He was lying 19th overall coming into the stage, after losing 7.42 yesterday when he was involved in a fall. Although he momentarily lost consciousness and suffered damage to his right shoulder and chest, Casero still managed to ride up Mont Ventoux.
Today was a different story though, as the peloton drove at a rapid 45.8 km/h pace toward Draguignan, Casero pulled out at the feed zone at 99 km. He began today's stage with heavy strapping on his right shoulder after x-rays last night showed no broken bones but he found it hard to pull on the handlebars with his right arm. Greatly disappointed, he said that he was mentally focussed on this Tour (he came 5th last year), and it was unfortunate to have to pull out because of a fall.
Beloki wants to defend
Festina's Joseba Beloki, currently third overall said after his ride to Mont Ventoux yesterday that he was ready to defend his position all the way to Paris. Beloki was also involved in the fall with his teammate Casero, but wasn't too badly hurt, suffering abrasions to his right arm and shoulder. He recovered to finish third in the stage, and is ready for more.
With two very tough Alpine stages in the next two days, he will have to hold his own against the climbers Beltran, Heras, Virenque, Pantani, and Otxoa. Teammate Christophe Moreau is still up there as well, although he suffered on Ventoux, however both riders are good time triallists and will relish stage 19.
Beloki wants to put as much distance as he can between him and the rest of the top 10, despite having an injured arm which he hopes will not bother him too much. He confessed after today's stage that it was tough for GC riders on days like today, as they have to bide their time while the opportunists have their say.
Botero for the dotted jersey?
"I'm going to ask permission to fight for the climber's jersey for our team if it's the last thing I do", Colombian revelation Santiago Botero (Kelme) says to his home country news paper El Tiempo.
Botero was trying to catch Pantani on the Ventoux climb when he got orders on the earphones from sports director Vicente Belda to slow down and look after the suffering Kelme team mate Heras. "I said it before and I'll repeat it: I'll try to win a stage", Botero says.
Danish wild card team Memorycard -Jack&Jones is in trouble. Two injured riders, Jesper Skibby and Michael Blaudzun havwe already abandoned the race. On the 14th stage Michael Sandstöd suffered knee pains crossing the finish line four minutes behind the peloton and Bo Hamburger has pains in his Achilles tendon. Martin Rittsel has had pains in his groin but is reported to be better. Five of the riders are among the 16 last riders in the Tour. But not only the riders suffer. Between Avignon and Draguignan even the team bus broke down.
Manuel Beltran chats
With Mapei's riders dropping like flies from cases of food poisoning in the past few days, their best GC chance remains Manuel Beltran, the former Banesto domestique who is currently sixth overall at 7.25. The Spaniard managed to spare a few words for Gabbi Ekström following the dramatic stage 10.
CN: We saw you in the group that broke away from Armstrong during the stage to Hautacam. Is it a stage victory that you are seeking or are you aiming for the podium like Dani?
MB: I'm for the mountains, so I'll try to get a victory there. I have ambitions for the general classification though, I'd like to get a placing near Nardello.
CN: Which stages are you looking at for a stage win?
MB: Dani said that he knew the Alps, but I knew the Pyrenees!
CN: Who's you favourite for the G.C?
15 July / Stage 14 / Draguignan - Briancon / 185.5km
This was supposed to be " it "; the key mountain stage of the 2000 Tour De France. An eight estimated hour epoch ride over the backbone of the lower French Alps to the ancient gateway city of Briancon. Along the way, two first category cols and a " hors categoire " climb plus the final uphill finish await the Tour de France peloton.
First on le menu is the 2250m Col d'Allos (13.4km at 6.4%) after 127km. Exposed to the elements, with a long and tricky 18km descent, Allos is likely where the first key attacks are launched with half of the stage left to race. Then it's the steep 2109m Col de Vars (10.3km at 6.8%) at 177km and finally the epoch climb of the 2360m Col d'Izoard (14.1km at 7.2%), which includes the eerie and dramatic Casse Desert section with the Fausto Coppi / Louison Bobet monument. The Casse Desert, or " broken desert " is a lunar like landscape of scree rocks that starts above 1900m; filled with crumbling stone pylons. Le Casse Desert has been the scene of many dramatic Tour moments.
Hard to predict an outcome for Saturdays long and tough stage; Armstrong and USPS must be vigilant all day. Kelme and Banesto are sure to try and do someting early on, but will this be the stage where the emerging Joseba Beloki (Festina) can make the difference or where Armstrong will take home the victory bouquet ? Only 8 more hours of racing will tell ! Weather will be a factor; the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies but the strong northwest wind may slow the entire peloton.