90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
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Stage 15 - Monday, July 21: Bagnères-de-Bigorre - Luz-Ardiden, 159.5 km
Commentary by Roger Hughes with additional reporting by Jeff Jones, Chris
Henry, Tim Maloney, and Gabriella Ekström
Time conversion guide: GMT = CEST - 2 hrs, AEST = CEST + 8 hrs, EDT = CEST
- 6 hrs, PDT = CEST - 9 hrs
Start time: 12:25 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:15 CEST
Welcome to the live coverage of stage 15, brought to you in association with T-Mobile.
Today's stage is the Showcase Showdown at the centenary Tour de France:
Behind Door #1, it's Lance Armstrong, four-time Tour winner going for his fifth and having the toughest battle of his career on the way to Paris.
Behind Door #2 is Jan Ullrich; the über-biker from Germany, former Tour winner and 2000 Olympic road race champion who has suddenly found the best form of his life to challenge Lance.
Behind Door #3 is plucky Kazakh Alex Vinokourov; a never-say-die kind of guy who isn't afraid to have a go anytime, anyplace.
With cooler, overcast conditions typical of the Pyrenees region, the Tour peloton should have a further break from the oppressive heat of the past two weeks. Monday is a short, intense stage from Bagnères-de-Bigorre to Luz Ardiden, and marks the fifth time a Tour stage has started at this tiny Pyrenean town. After an up and down first half across the Bigorre River valley, the last 80km of Stage 15 will be tough, with col d'Aspin, the legendary hors catégorie Tourmalet and the final steep assault of Luz Ardiden to conquer.
If he's good, Armstrong and his Postal squad will try and put it to Ullrich and Vino on the final 13.4km ascent. Armstrong explained that "tomorrow is an important stage. It's a mountaintop finish, which is a lot different than finishing with a descent."
Lance will really need his teammates tomorrow, especially Roberto Heras, to work the Luz-Ardiden set-up train perfectly, and then have a great day himself to try and crack the incredibly strong Ullrich. Win or lose, It may be the ride of his life.
Stage 15 climbs
- Kilometre 94: Col d'Aspin (12.3km at 6.4 percent)
- Kilometre 134.5: Col du Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.4 percent)
- Kilometre 159.5: Luz Ardiden (13.4km at 7.6 percent)
Before the start, the riders are holding a minute's silence for AG2R's Lauri Aus, who was killed while riding in his native Estonia yesterday. His team-mates are all up in the front of the starting lineup alongside the jersey holders.
The race proper is now under way, after a neutralised section slightly disrupted by demonstrators, and the attacks start going almost as soon as the road is clear. The first man up the road is Michael Boogerd, but he is chased down after a couple of kilometres; the brisk pace has already lined out the bunch and caused some trouble at the back, with Fred Rodriguez one of those in difficulties.
12:41 CEST 13 km/146.5 km to go
One non-starter today: Marco Milesi of Vini Caldirola. There are still continuous attacks at the front of the race, but none have got too far away yet although the bunch is very strung out and gaps are opening up.
Weather report: Cooler temperatures today, with increasing clouds and higher humidity at the start. Out on the course this morning the temperature was 22 degrees, and it should be about 18-20 degrees at the finish in Luz Ardiden.
Floyd Landis (US Postal) said that Lance is feeling good, and he likes this kind of weather.
There are three fourth-category climbs in the first half of the stage today, and both of the day's bonus sprints are before the Col d'Aspin, so there is something for the sprinters to do today other than just hang on.
12:50 CEST 20 km/139.5 km to go
A likely looking group has now formed, with about a dozen riders including Paolo Bettini (as usual) and Salvatore Commesso; they have about 20 seconds lead from a bunch which is still lined out and chasing hard. Santiago Botero is in there, and George Hincapie is policing it for US Postal.
13:03 CEST 31.5 km/128 km to go
Coming onto the first of the three fourth-category climbs, the Côte de Meilhas, Botero and Chavanel stretch the pace at the front and several riders are in trouble at the back, including Axel Merckx and Philippe Gaumont.
The break is mopped up on the climb with the exception of Botero, and Chavanel, who have been joined by Patrice Halgand, not far clear. US Postal are leading the chase with Armstrong in third or fourth spot. Chavanel takes the summit first ahead of Halgand and Botero.
13:14 CEST 35 km/124.5 km to go
Straight on to another little climb, the Côte de Bugard; Halgand is dropped by Botero and Chavanel and is being pulled in by the peloton. Paolo Bettini has had mechanical trouble and got a bike change. Chavanel takes the second climb as well.
Saeco's Bertagnolli has retired; he was the first rider dropped when the pace lifted in the opening kilometre this morning.
13:22 CEST 42.5 km/117 km to go
The two leaders go through the first bonus sprint at Montastruc just over a minute in front, Chavanel again leading; the remaining two points are picked up by Thor Hushovd despite a challenge from Brad McGee; he nudges a touch closer to second-placed Robbie McEwen.
13:31 CEST 46.5 km/113 km to go
The third of the fourth category climbs, the Côte de Castelbajac is again making it hard in conjunction with the sustained pace. Once again Chavanel takes it - Botero doesn't seem to be interested in the pickings along the way. Behind, Stéphane Goubert (Jean Delatour) is trying to bridge the gap and picks up third, but then sits up and is caught.
Bettini has had his bike changed again (changing back to his original machine after it has been repaired), and Fred Rodriguez has retired; he looked rough at the start.
13:43 CEST 55 km/104.5 km to go
The two leaders are still going away with 2.34 lead over the peloton; AG2R's Iñigo Chaurreau is trying to bridge the gap, about a minute ahead of the bunch. Botero was quoted by the bookies as a 40-1 outsider for today's stage this morning, should anyone be interested (don't read the last sentence if gambling is illegal in your jurisdiction). Mayo and Armstrong are joint favourites for the day at 3-1.
US Postal are leading the chase, with Armstrong sixth in line; don't look to be going too hard, though, unsurprisingly. Bianchi and Telekom are in close attendance, naturally.
A few days ago, Alexandre Vinokourov told Cyclingnews that Santiago Botero would get stronger and stronger throughout the Tour, and could possibly win a stage. This morning we caught up with the Colombian to get his take on Vino's comments.
Botero: (laughs) "He just says a lot of silly things because he's my friend. Vinokourov, however, is strong enough to win another stage."
14:06 CEST 75 km/84.5 km to go
The race has settled down now; Botero and Chavanel are still riding steadily clear; Chaurreau isn't really making much impression on the leaders but getting a bit further away from the bunch.
Chavanel leads through for the second bonus "sprint", with Botero not contesting
it; he clearly has his mind on bigger things, although it isn't clear whether
he his up there on his own account or to provide a stepping stone for his team-mate
Alexandre Vinokourov, while Chavanel is probably mainly after the prize money
rather than the points and the bonuses... Chaurreau takes third, of course,
so there will not be any more green jersey-related action today.
Virenque punctures and gets a wheel change, and then needs the brakes adjusting once he is riding again.
14:16 CEST 82 km/77.5 km to go
So that's the hors d'oeuvre finished, and we are now on to the main course; the two leaders are tackling the lower slopes of the first category Col d'Aspin. There are big crowds out, and plenty of Spanish flags (and, curiously, the yellow cross on a blue background of Asturias is quite prominent too) as well as the omnipresent Ikurrina, the red white and green Basque flag.
In the bunch, Euskaltel are now visible up at the front.
Several people who have mailed us have queried the awarding of time bonuses on mountain stages, which used not to be the case in the Tour. This year both stage finishes and intermediate sprints carry the same bonuses for all non-TT stages, the result of a set of standard stage race regulations issued by the UCI. The Tour still differs from the Vuelta and the Giro in awarding different points on flat and mountainous stages to favour the sprinters in the green jersey competition, however.
14:28 CEST 88 km/71.5 km to go
Ullrich punctures but gets a quick wheel change and a big push from Rudy Pevenage to get him back up the road; he is getting back into the peloton as an under par Axel Merckx is tailing off the back. The pace up the mountain is still pretty steady, with US Postal leading; the German champion's jersey of Erik Zabel is right up near the front; today he will be working for Vinokourov while he can. The two leaders are still pulling away gradually. It looks as though the big guns are not going to start firing too early; often big summit finishes discourage riders from attacking on earlier climbs because you can lose too much time if it goes wrong.
Robbie McEwen is finding it tough and Nick Gates has gone back to help him; lanterne rouge Hans De Clercq is also drifting off the back - looks like Lotto will be responsible for getting the bus started today.
14:47 CEST 94 km/65.5 km to go
Chavanel crosses the summit of the Aspin in front of Botero; nearly 10 minutes behind them the bunch is still riding steadily, with Chaurreau still alone in no man's land. He may well not feel too sociable today; the AG2R team were all clearly very emotional before the start following the death of their team-mate Lauri Aus yesterday.
Cyclingnews spoke before the start with Philippe Bouvet, senior cycling writer at French sports daily l'Equipe. Bouvet was excited at the developments in this year's race, calling it a fantastic Tour.
"This is the closest between the top two riders between 1989," Bouvet noted. "But really with three riders so close, the Tour has never been so hotly contested this far into the race.
"I think that Vinokourov is not a guy to count out, because he may be able to take advantage of the fact that Ullrich and Armstrong are really looking at each other and afraid to attack each other. Armstrong has to attack today, and we'll see what happens. There is a chance that Vino could take the jersey with a well-timed attack just like on the Peyresourde."
Steve Zampieri of Caldirola-SO.DI., 8th in yesterday's Stage 14, was in a good mood when Cyclingnews found him this morning.
"I was very happy with my ride yesterday, because the team has lost Mazzoleni and Garzelli, so this is good for the team," he explained. "It's a good thing to finish 8th on such a hard course. I might have a go today as well, if I have any strength left.
The pace has lifted a bit in the still climbing bunch as Euskaltel put a modest amount of pressure on, and a few riders are drifting off the back., including yesterday's stage winner Gilberto Simoni. Virenque moves up as we reach the summit; he jumps to take the points for fourth place with Laurent Dufaux - the only rider who can mathematically take the jersey from him - on his wheel.
15:02 CEST 104.5 km/55 km to go
The two leaders are now well down the descent to Saint-Marie-Campan, which for them is probably mainly significant as the location of today's feed zone, but was also a must for the course designers in this centenary tour as the location for the Tour's most legendary piece of bloody-minded officialdom; this was where Eugéne Christophe had to re-weld his own snapped front forks after carrying his bike for 10 km down the slopes of the Tourmalet (being crossed in the opposite direction today) and was ceremonially given an extra 10 minute time penalty for allowing a small boy to pump the bellows in the forge.
Chaurreau is fading slightly as the leaders pick up their musettes and set out directly on the climb of the Tourmalet.
The points Virenque scored on the Aspin put him 141 points in the lead in the mountains competition, with only 135 left to play for, so he has definitively won his sixth polka dot jersey - equalling Federico Bahamontes and Lucien Van Impe - as long as he can get to Paris.
15:13 CEST 111.5 km/48 km to go
On the lower slopes of the climb Botero is in trouble, and Chavanel is now riding
ahead on his own. Unless he is dropping back to do something for Vinokourov,
The weather is closing in a bit now, with some cloud on the tops of the mountains;
we could have some proper Pyrenean weather yet...
US Postal lead the bunch through the feed and as the bunch start the climb (Euskaltel
move up to up the pace) Brad McGee and green jersey Baden Cooke are among those
easing off the back to form a nice sensible bus; all they need to do from here
is stay inside the time limit.
Dressed in his tight fitting green jersey and shorts this morning, points classification
leader Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) was looking better than he has been in the last
few days. "I had three bad days in a row before yesterday but started to pick
up a bit yesterday and I feel alright today," the Australian sprinter told Cyclingnews
before the start.
Cooke is defending an eight point lead in the green jersey classification,
with compatriot Robbie McEwen breathing right down his neck. "Fighting for the
green will be tough every day from now," he said, and was not overly confident
about the intermediate sprints today. "There are two sprints, and the first
one's after a couple of climbs - that could be a nasty start."
15:25 CEST 115.5 km/44 km to go
Euskaltel are setting the pace in the bunch, sustained but not violent, and Roberto Heras is among those who can't stay with it. Armstrong is well back in what is still a pretty large bunch.
Chavanel is keeping a steady pace, riding a very low gear, only getting out of the saddle around the hairpins, chatting to his team car. Botero is still drifting backwards, and his rhythm is not as good.
15:36 CEST 118.5 km/41 km to go
A small group moves clear of the bunch with Moreau and then Mayo and then the
action starts as Ullrich crosses to them. Armstrong is straight on his wheel
but he can't hold it for more than a few metres - Ullrich is going away at a
15:38 CEST 119.5 km/40 km to go
Armstrong is being caught be a group with Moreau, Mayo, and Zubeldia. Vinokourov and Basso are a few metres further back.
Chavanel is in La Mongie, where the steep final 5km of the climb starts.
Ullrich catches and sweeps past Chaurreau, and then Armstrong grinds back up to him - you don't get rid of him that easily. The leaders are together.
Mayo has got across to Armstrong and Ullrich now; Vinokourov is half a minute adrift from them, with Zubeldia and Basso.
Mayo has a go but Ullrich is straight on his wheel and Armstrong on his.
Vinokourov is in a bit of trouble, and has been caught and passed by Tyler Hamilton. Basso too is in front of him. Zubeldia has vanished from the radar.
Chavanel is still pushing on steadily among the bleak rocks and equally bleak brutalist ski-station apartment blocks. There are €5000 on offer at the summit for the Jacques Goddet memorial prize, so even if he doesn't hold his lead to the finish (unlikely now) it could well be a profitable day out.
Zubeldia is rediscovered, coming back up to Mayo, Armstrong and Ullrich. Euskaltel also have Laiseka in the group which is forming around Vinokourov, with Glomser and Basso among others, and the entire crowd seems to be wearing orange as well.
Vinokourov is dropped by that group now, as they emerge from the low cloud into sunshine above it.
15:56 CEST 124.5 km/35 km to go
Vinokourov has recovered slightly and is closing on the group that had dropped him.
Chavanel crests the summit alone and €5000 richer, the 72nd rider to lead the Tour over the mountain. If he invests it in a company that manufactures orange dye, he could probably double it; the entire population of the Basque country are beside the road today.
Botero is easing up towards the summit, looking back - he has clearly been called back to help Vinokourov. The Armstrong group catches and passes him. Ullrich leads them over the summit 4 minutes down; Vinokourov has another minute and a half to try to catch up on the descent with Botero's help.
16:09 CEST 134.5 km/25 km to go
Chavanel is going eyeballs out, hands on the tops and elbows tucked in. He should be able to start the Luz-Ardiden climb alone, but he is unlikely to stay alone for long.
16:12 CEST 144.5 km/15 km to go
Chavanel is through the little town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur and sets out on the final climb, as 20 km back down the road Baden Cooke puts on a rain cape prior to starting the descent.
Chavanel has pulled out a few seconds on the descent; the group behind has caught
up with Armstrong, Ullrich and the Euskaltel twins at the foot of the climb,
so they have Hamilton, Basso and Moreau with them. Vinokourov is now in a second
chasing group being towed by Giuseppe Guerini, half a minute in arrears from
the group that counts and another five minutes from Chavanel.
In front, Basso makes the first move, but is rapidly caught. Then they ease up to take off their helmets.
The yellow jersey group ease a bit to see who goes next, and the Vinokourov
group come up from behind to join them. Ullrich and Armstrong now have some
team support; Bianchi set the pace.
Daniel Becke of Team Bianchi told Cyclingnews this morning that "morale in
the team is very good. Jan is very satisfied with his form, and to see him like
that is a pleasure for us too."
"Yesterday we thought Lance would try to make the race, but he didn't, so that's
why Jan continued to lead. It seemed as though Lance was only worried about
Jan and not Vinokourov."
16:29 CEST 149.5 km/10 km to go
Chavanel is through the 10 km banner. Behind the tension is rising. There is a certain amount of confusion behind with riders trying to find cars to get rid of their helmets. Garmendia and Beltran are setting the pace and there is some attrition at the front.
Mayo accelerates and then Armstrong attacks,
Armstrong crashes and brings down Mayo!
Armstrong is back on; he caught a hat or something in his wheel and brought
Mayo down too. He is having some trouble with his bike, though, pulling his
foot out and nearly falling again. Nobody is taking advantage, Ullrich is waiting,
and Armstrong is back with the group now; Mayo is OK as well
The situation is stable and once more Mayo attacks and Armstrong counters, just
as he did before the crash; they have a small gap on Ullrich, who is riding
at his own pace.
Armstrong is going away from Mayo now, and Ullrich is looking uncomfortable.
Vinokourov is in trouble too.
16:38 CEST 153 km/6.5 km to go
Armstrong is out of the saddle, spinning a low gear, sporting a bit of a graze to his left elbow but otherwise OK. He is doing the damage he needs to do, but the climb is a long one yet.
Chavanel is still going steadily in front, but he has a train coming up behind him.
Ullrich is leading Basso, Moreau, Hamilton and Mayo. Vinokourov is alone but coming back.
16:42 CEST 154.5 km/5 km to go
Armstrong is looking good, 50 seconds ahead, but Ullrich is limiting the damage. Vinokourov looks better than before but has not got back to Ullrich's group so far.
16:46 CEST 155.5 km/4 km to go
Ullrich is giving it all he can, but is still losing time gradually.
Armstrong comes up to Chavanel, offers him a pat on the back, and rides on. Un uomo solo in comando, to coin a phrase in the wrong language from the wrong race.
16:49 CEST 156.5 km/3 km to go
Ullrich is digging very deep, and the gap seems to be steady at about 50 seconds. Mayo, Zubeldia, Basso, and Moreau are still with him; they too catch Chavanel. Hamilton has been dropped but is still going at a good speed; Moreau is in trouble too.
16:52 CEST 157.5 km/2 km to go
Ullrich is starting to claw back a handful of seconds, but Armstrong should still be able to win it from here. Moreau is dropped.
Behind, Vinokourov is another minute behind the Ullrich group, but still going solidly.
16:55 CEST 158.5 km/1 km to go
Armstrong is through the Flamme Rouge. He will also get the 20 seconds time bonus for the finish, while Ullrich will have to outsprint his companions if he is to take the 12 for second place.
Armstrong comes up into the finish, which is shrouded in thin mist. One of his hardest fought wins.
The Ullrich group come in at 40 seconds, but the two Euskaltel riders take second and third and with them the remaining bonus seconds, so Armstrong will be 1.15 ahead after this.
The judges disagree with me; Ullrich took third and will be at 1.07 on general
classification. Vinokourov comes in in eighth place, 2.01 down; he will hang
onto third spot ahead of Zubeldia.
A fine ride from Armstrong in adversity, and a great win - but what has been settled? The fat lady has yet to sing - Armstrong's margin is still less than the time he lost in the first time trial, so the leaders have a nervous week ahead of them. He has not yet won the Tour, but he has certainly set his stamp on it. Jan Ullrich too fought back with great character to limit the damage.
Armstrong tells the TV interviewer that the crash, caused by getting a spectator's
bag hooked over a brake lever in passing, gave him a rush of adrenalin that
made him even stronger.
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor 4.29.26
2 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0.40
3 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Team Bianchi
4 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
5 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 0.47
7 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC 1.10
8 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom 2.07
9 José Luis Rubiera (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 2.45
10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere 2.47
General classification after stage 15
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor 65.36.23
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Team Bianchi 1.07
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom 2.45
4 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5.16
5 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5.25
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 8.08
7 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC 9.02
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole 11.09
9 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com 16.05
10 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC 16.12
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