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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004

Stage 10 - Wednesday July 14: Limoges - St Flour, 237 km

Then and now: Etxebarria's Ecstasy

It's been five years since St Flour hosted a stage finish of the Tour de France, but one that Euskaltel-Euskadi's David Etxebarria will never forget. Anthony Tan compares then and now on the road to St Flour.

David Etxebarria wins Stage 12 of the 1999 Tour de France
Photo ©: Sirotti
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The last time the Le Tour finished in St Flour (no rhyme intended), a tourist resort made up of some 8,500 people and situated near the Mont du Cantal and the Mont de la Margeride, was in 1999. It was Stage 12 of the Tour and followed a similarly-shaped parcours, beginning in Saint-Galmier and taking the riders on a 197 kilometre journey across six Cat. 2 and 3 climbs through the region known as the Massif Central.

On that day, a break had gone after just seven kilometres with Italians Massimilliano Lelli (Cofidis) and Alberto Elli (Telekom) the first to leave the bunch in their wake. Current maillot vert, rough 'n' tumble Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen, had also gone across, but was off the back as soon as the break hit the day's first climb at km 22, the Col de la Croix de l'Homme-Mort. A series of attacks followed in an attempt to bridge the gap to the two leaders, but a vigilant peloton saw all but the lead duo back into the fold after 61 kilometres, their lead a slender 1'25.

Shortly after the regrouping, a group of nine followed by a group of three riders went clear and this time for good, including Castelblanco, Simon, Mondini, Gouvenou, Heulot, Rous, Lotz, Etxebarria and De Wolf, and by km 80, the dozen made contact with the Lelli and Elli to form a 14-man lead group.

The reinforced breakaway saw the gap widen to 3'30 by km 92, and at Langeac (km 148.5), the advantage had escalated to a huge 11'30. The penultimate climb saw no change in the composition of the race, but with around 40 kilometres remaining and the group's advantage all but assured with a sofa-like buffer of 12-plus minutes, the real games started to begin as the riders began attacking each other.

A shattered group was all that remained shortly thereafter with only eight riders still in contention after 165 kilometres - Gougot, Castelblanco, Lotz, Gouvenou, Etxebarria, Bessy, Desbiens and somewhat surprisingly, one of the original instigators, Alberto Elli.

With 22 kilometres to go, it was Basque rider David Etxebarria who attacked and attacked fearlessly as the octet approached the crest of the day's final climb, and going over the top, the Euskaltel rider's lead was 0'35 on a trio comprised of Simon, Elli and De Wolf.

The short but stocky Etxebarria's riding style was reminiscent of the never-tiring Energizer bunny as he pounded his pedals to the beat of the bunny's drum into St Flour, finishing with a 25 second advantage over Crédit Agricole's François Simon and an exhausted Elli, who finished a few seconds further back to claim third for the day.

After a relatively relaxing 160.5 kilometres from St Leonard de Noblat to Guéret, easing the riders back in to the swing of things after their rest day in Limoges, Stage 10 marks the first major mountain stage of this year's Tour de France.

As the peloton traverse southeast from Limoges to St Flour over a distance of some 237 kilometres, riders face no less than nine categorised climbs - one climb for every 26 kilometres. While none of the climbs are especially tough - the hardest being the Cat. 1 Col du Pas de Peyrol, a 5.5 kilometre ascent with an average gradient of eight percent, coming after 173.5 kilometres - the parcours does favour an all-round opportunist, with the GC contenders probably content to see a break go.

Can Etxebarria do it again?

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