Tour de France News for July 15, 2004
Edited by Jeff Jones
Reborn on the 14th of July
Richard Virenque (Quick.Step-Davitamon)
Photo ©: Sirotti
Richard Virenque took an emphatic and emotional victory today on France's
national day Quatorze Juillet, winning the Tour's longest stage
from Limoges to St Flour by a margin of 5'19 over the peloton. As he crossed
the line for his seventh Tour stage win, Virenque looked up with both
index fingers pointing skyward, saying the name "Chabi", dedicating the
stage to his close friend, the late Joel Chabiron, former manager of the
Festina team made infamous by Willy Voet's book as the man who organized
the doping program for the team.
"I was really just hanging on at the end of the stage today...so to
win was really nice for me and the team," said a tearful Virenque. "I
want to dedicate this win today to two people; Joel Chabiron, who recently
passed away and my Mamilu (Virenque's grandmother, who passed away during
the Dauphine Libéré, preventing him from attending her funeral). I was
cramping all over in the final today but I thought of both of them a lot
and I wanted to win for them."
Virenque claimed the polka dot jersey of best climber today, which he
hopes to keep until Paris for a record seventh time. But he also offered
thoughts of retirement. "I can go in peace now," he said. "The day I feel
that I'm on the way down, I will stop. I don't want to ride a year too
many. We'll discuss it at the end of the Tour but as long as the flame
is there, I think I should continue."
Race leader Thomas Voeckler (Brioches la Boulangère) passed one difficult
moment on the Pas de Peyrol, but rediscovered his energy to take fifth
place on the climb and then fifth place in the stage, increasing his lead
on the general classification to 3'00 over Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis). The
remainder of the top GC riders are still over 9'30 behind the impressive
Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo)
Photo ©: CN
Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo) was not happy when he rolled across the line
in 71st place, 6'18 behind winner Richard Virenque. Merckx had ridden
for 134 km in the company of Virenque, before the Frenchman dropped him
on the steep Col du Pas de Peyrol with 68 km to go. Merckx was angry with
his erstwhile companion, complaining that he had not abided by the agreement
they had made once the lead duo realized that they could likely get to
Saint-Flour ahead of the rest of the Tour peloton.
"There wasn't a whole lot I could do," said Merckx. "On the first category
climb Richard went stronger. We agreed that he was going to take all the
points for the mountain jersey then afterwards we would fight for the
finish here and not before. But I guess he has a hard time keeping his
10 full results, report & photos
Hincapie cool as Tour stages go vertical
By Chris Henry in St Flour
George Hincapie, one of the pillars of the US Postal Service Tour de
France team, was cool as usual before the start of the difficult stage
10 between Limoges and Saint-Flour. More than 230 kilometres of constantly
undulating terrain, including a Cat. 1 climb and several Cat. 2 and 3
tests, didn't faze the American. Thus far the Tour has gone according
to plan for US Postal and defending champion Lance Armstrong, who is ahead
of all of his major rivals before the mountains truly begin in the Pyrénées.
"Any Tour de France stage is hard," Hincapie told Cyclingnews
after signing in, not revealing any nervousness about the stage 10 parcours.
"It can be more difficult in the mountains, but this is just a long day
so we're going to try to conserve energy and not let anything dangerous
When it comes to working for the number one Tour favourite Armstrong
and embarking on a bid for a record sixth win, there are no moments to
relax. A wet and dangerous first week kept everybody on their toes and
now that the mountains are looming, keeping Armstrong in position is increasingly
"Every stage is crucial. Obviously there are more hills now so it's
going to play a bigger role in the race. Since the beginning we've been
really attentive and we just need to stay focused," Hincapie added.
We asked George if a sixth win for Armstrong would hold the same significance
for him, being a key man in all five victories to date. Not one to celebrate
prematurely, Hincapie offered only that "it's just the Tour for me..."
Leblanc regrets rider ejections
Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc has expressed his regret
at having to eject Martin Hvastija and Stefano Casagranda from the race
on the rest day, in accordance with the Tour's anti-doping policy. Leblanc
was forced to act when he received a fax from Italian prosecutor PM Paola
Cameran last Saturday informing him that the two riders were part of doping
investigation. Subsequently, Leblanc admitted that it wasn't the ideal
outcome, as Hvastija and Casagrande have been punished without proof of
"We have a conscience ourselves, like you," Leblanc told the Associated
Press. "We know about the presumption of innocence. I looked at Hvastija
yesterday, this brave guy who will return to his country covered in shame.
Do you think I'm happy and proud of that?I'm troubled by it. Maybe he
is right. I'm scared I might, maybe, have committed an injustice."
Leblanc also considered the idea to take a rider's time three kilometres
from the finish line in sprint stages in order to avoid the jostling and
crashes that take place when the GC riders and the sprinters are trying
to stay in front. The idea has been bruited about in the peloton after
a crash-filled first week, including a particularly nasty pile-up at the
kilometre to go banner in Stage 6.
"It would settle down the end of a race if a time is neutralized three
kilometres from the end," said Leblanc. "With all the falls there have
been since the start of the Tour it seems justified. If the riders were
organized and grouped together to make a demand, I would support this.
And I think it has a chance of being accepted."
Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole) - Brief loss of consciousness
after crash at km 180. Sustained back injury and was taken to the emergency
room in Saint-Flour for examination. X-rays revealed a fracture of the
fifth vertebrae without neurological complications. He will remain under
observation in hospital.
Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) - Injured back after crash at km 172, taken
to Saint-Flour hospital after finishing stage for further examination.
X-rays revealed a fracture of the ninth rib on the left side and a bruised
Mikel Pradera (Illes Balears-Banesto) - Pain in left knee and right thigh
Thor Hushovd (Cr&eaute;dit Agricole) - Breathing trouble
Christophe Laurent (RAGT Semences-MG Rover) - Digestive troubles
Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguros) - Abandoned due to severe pain in right
knee injured in crash earlier in Tour
Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole) - Gastro-intestinal distress
Denis Menchov (Illes Balears-Banesto) - Left knee pain
Daniele Nardello (T-Mobile) - Insect bite
Sergio Marinangeli (Domina Vacanze) - Right knee pain
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2004)