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Tour de France News Extra for July 17, 2004

Edited by Anthony Tan

Armstrong pours cold water on doubters

By John Trevorrow in La Mongie

No doubts for Armstrong
Photo ©: Jon Devich
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In between brilliant sunshine at the start and end of today's stage, rain poured down on the remaining 166 riders in this year's Tour. More importantly, perennial favourite Lance Armstrong poured cold water all over suggestions an ending was nigh to his place at the top of general classification.

On the final ascent of the course, Armstrong smashed into submission main rivals Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton, though stage winner Ivan Basso's strong showing thrusts him into the role of the man second-most likely. Ullrich and Hamilton, whilst not out of contention, would need a dramatic reversal of form if they are to deny Lance a record sixth Tour victory.

The most disappointing aspect of today's final 10 kilometres was that most of Lance's rivals were dropped when George Hincapie, not at the upper echelon of climbers, was driving the peloton. One has to wonder how much Jan would have appreciated having team omission Cadel Evans in the final few kilometres.

An early break of three meant that Aussie green jersey hopes Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen did not need to worry about the two intermediate sprints on offer before the taxing finale. O'Grady ploughed away at his own pace, crossing the line in 71st position 15'08" behind Basso. McEwen was expectantly further back, but was satisfied with a restrained 160th placing.

Rogers solid

Riding high with Ullrich
Photo ©: Caroline Yang
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Michael Rogers (Quick.Step-Davitamon) delivered impressively on his pre-Tour bid to make a stance as a legitimate general classification rider, crossing the line in La Mongie in the same group as Jan Ullrich in 22nd position. Whilst team-mate Richard Virenque launched an assault on the peloton during the first category one climb, it was Rogers who was able to keep pace with some more proven peers.

The Quick.Step rider expressed a reserved contentment: "At the bottom of the climb, I couldn't quite go with them, but I was pretty satisfied with my race," he told Cyclingnews.

"Yeah, I'm pretty happy with finishing with Jan Ullrich. At the bottom of the climb you could see US Postal lining up in place and then they hit the gas. Jeez, they were strong when they hit the gas; there was nothing you could do. I could see Ullrich struggling and obviously so did Lance and he went for it. It was a serious mountain stage, so two minutes wasn't bad. If you can't go with the front group there is nothing you can do. You just get into your own rhythm and make your own way up.

"I am sure Armstrong and Postal will keep it a tight race now," said Rogers about the remainder of the race. "I will look for opportunities to get away, but you have to go with the right guys."

Other Aussies exhausted

O'Grady did not try to hide his exhaustion after the difficult day: "Oh... just got through. It was really tough out there. That weather was terrible; I've just got to try to recover tonight because tomorrow is going to be even worse."

When asked how his 'rest day' was [see morning banter below], a smiling Baden Cooke lamented, "Yeah, it was easy. Two punctures and one hunger flat, other than that it was easy."

An exhausted Matthew Wilson did not have the energy for such joviality, nor even to speak.

Sprinters ...
Photo ©: Bettini
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Looking comfortable in his maillot vert, Robbie McEwen was lively enough to perform another mountaintop mono. "I rode within myself today. Once we hit the mountains I just stayed with the gruppetto. Tomorrow's going to be a bit tougher."

Scott Sunderland finished in the middle group and looked to have a bit in reserve. "I just did what I had to do and looked after Caucchioli until we got into the mountains. Then it was just a matter of getting to the finish with the most reserves," he said.

Liberty Seguros' Allan Davis seemed to be travelling well ahead of the duo of category one climbs in today's stage, and said post-stage: "I'm feeling alright at this stage, not too tired. The legs are okay, no worse than a lot of other riders. Obviously there's still a lot ahead of us."

'Alby' reiterated his one and only role at this stage of the Tour. "My focus is entirely on Roberto. Just carting him along for as much of the trip as I can. As long as a couple of us are there each day, he'll go well. I guess whoever is going the best on the day does the job. Hopefully I can do my fair share."

Stage 13 preview: Harder and longer

By Anthony Tan

Time to attack, Tyler
Photo ©: Caroline Yang
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The thirteenth stage of the Tour de France and the second day in the Pyrénées bears a strong resemblance to Stage 12 of the Tour two years ago, which also began in Lannemezan and finished at the Plateau de Beille. It was also where Lance Armstrong repeated his triumph from the previous day to inflict a double dose of damage on his closest rivals, making the Tour look like a one-horse race with a week's racing still to go.

Featuring five categorised climbs, comprising two Cat. 3s, two Cat. 2s and two Cat. 1s, before culminating in the hors categorie or out-of-category (translation: mind-bogglingly painful) Plateau de Beille, an 18.5 kilometre climb with an average gradient of 6.4 percent, the riders' second day in the Pyrénées is both harder and longer - in fact, at 205.5 kilometres-long, it's the most lengthy mountain stage of the entire Tour de France.

Harder and longer
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Where will the real action occur? Probably not until the final 50 kilometres, and probably not until the final climb, since summit finishes tend to have a deadening effect on earlier action. The first four climbs - Col des Ares (km 49.5; 9 km at 3.8%), Col de Portet d'Aspet (km 71; 10 km at 5.4%), Col de la Core (km 107.5; 14.5 km at 5.8%) and Col de Latrape (km 139; 18 km at 3.3%) - contain over 50 kilometres of uphill, but for the GC contenders, it's just too far out and far too early in the Tour to risk blowing up on the last two climbs. However, this being the final day in the Pyrénées and with overall honours still balanced on a knife's edge due to a rather uneventful first week and a half, aggression will be the order of the day.

One possible scenario could see a well-placed rider from T-Mobile, CSC or Phonak attack before the penultimate climb of the short but steep Cat. 1 Col d'Agnes (9.5 km at 8.4%), forcing Armstrong's US Postal/Berry Floor team to chase; another could see a repeat scenario of the stage to L'Alpe d'Huez from last year's Tour, where Armstrong was isolated and repeatedly attacked by riders from several different teams.

But with Armstrong looking as strong as ever yesterday and US Postal proving strength in unity, it's hard to imagine Sir Lancelot being dethroned. With the majority of the team spared much of the legwork the last few days when Lance flick-passed the maillot jaune to Thomas Voeckler, the Blue Train should be fresh enough to keep at least three men in the front group until around 5-7 kilometres to go - by which point Armstrong can quite easily take care of himself, as he's shown already.

TdF Retro: Vintage Pantani

The Pyrénées has hosted some magnificent battles in both the pre-WWII and modern era of cycling, and the inclusion of the stage finish to the Plateau de Beille six years ago set to continue that tradition.

That year - the 1998 Tour de France - the race was set to follow the harder, anticlockwise route; riders would begin the mountains with two stages in the Pyrénées before the shorter but generally steeper Alpine passes. The Pyrénées, therefore, would most likely decide not who would win the Tour, but who would lose.

Look out for the full story to be posted on Cyclingnews later today.

Morning banter at the Village Départ

By John Trevorrow in Castelsarrasin

Baden Cooke continued on his theme of gradual improvement after his initial problems. "I'm feeling better and better as we go along, mentally and physically. All going well, that can continue today and through next week."

The FdJeux.com rider had an interesting view on a stage that would contain two difficult climbs in succession: "I think today will actually be a bit of a rest day. Aspin's not too hard a mountain. There's a lot of flat to start the stage, so at the bottom of the first Cat. 1, we can just let go in the gruppetto. It's not as if we will be in trouble of missing the time cut in the last 50 k's. But tomorrow is going to be really bloody hard."

Quick.Step's best general classification chance, Mick Rogers, looked upon the next two stages as very difficult, aiming to be setting the pace on the steep inclines. "Today and tomorrow are going to be really hard. I'm feeling pretty good though, looking forward to it. I think a lot of other riders seem tired. I expect a few gaps to really open up with the two climbs so close together."

Matty Wilson's condition seemed to have slightly improved by this morning, though he has an ongoing battle with illness. "I don't really know how I'm feeling. A bit shitty I suppose. This morning shouldn't be as hard as the last couple of days; we can't go along for 75k at 50k an hour again."

The reigning Australian champion concurred with Cooke regarding his take on today's stage: "It will be a bit like a rest stage today... as long as we can cruise to the bottom of the first climb, I suppose. I'm going to need it because tomorrow's going to be pretty bad."

Basso asks for privacy

Team CSC issued a statement today, asking everyone to respect Ivan Basso's privacy concerning his mother's hospitalisation after being diagnosed with cancer shortly before the Tour.

"I am here to race, but I will be doing it all the way, thinking about my mother," said Basso. "All my emotions are with her, and I will dedicate my efforts to her and my family in this difficult situation."

Brian Nygaard, Team CSC's Press Relations Manager, added: "In this moment of grief and hope, we ask everyone to respect Ivan Basso's privacy concerning this matter. Neither the team nor Ivan Basso wish give further specific comments on this subject."

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