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Tour de France Cycling News for July 15, 2005

Edited by Jeff Jones & Shane Stokes

Stage 13: for the sprinters?

Stage 13 profile
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Although it's as flat as any of the stages in the first week, the 13th leg of the Tour between Miramas and Montpellier will not necessarily end in a bunch sprint. The general classification riders will have no interest in attacking today, but there are plenty of riders left in the Tour who haven't tasted success and will try to get into a strong breakaway. That will put pressure on the Davitamon-Lotto team, which has the best sprinter in the race in the form of Robbie McEwen, to chase. The question is, whether they will have the firepower left after 12 very hard days of racing to bring a break back, especially without a Boonen-less Quick.Step to help them out.

Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd leads the green jersey competition at the moment by a sizeable margin over Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) and McEwen. Like the yellow jersey competition, it is up to the other riders to challenge Hushovd, and Credit Agricole certainly won't be obliged to chase today. But Davitamon-Lotto may find an ally in Cofidis, as O'Grady is still thinking about the green jersey, even if he can't normally beat McEwen in a head-to-head sprint. Perhaps Gerolsteiner (Wrolich, Forster), Francaise des Jeux (Eisel, Cooke) and Liberty Seguros (Davis) will help get things together as well.

Montpellier first hosted a Tour finish in 1930, when Charles Pélissier won. Danish rider Rolf Sörensen was the last winner here, in 1994. And interestingly, Lance Armstrong abandoned after the end of that stage while lying 33rd overall, more than 26 minutes behind eventual winner Miguel Indurain.

Watch the stage unfold on live.cyclingnews.com.

Valverde may retire from Tour

Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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White jersey wearer Alejandro Valverde's will start today's 13th stage of the Tour, but may withdraw from the race if his knee problems persist. The Illes Balears rider won the tenth stage to Courchevel, moving to fifth place overall, but began to experience knee pain on the same day of the race. The condition has persisted since then.

Team director Eusebio Unzúe said that he was hopeful, but not necessarily optimistic, that he will be able to continue. "It is worth taking a risk (if the problem persists). Today's stage is flatter and easier but instead of going at 50 kilometres per hour they will be doing 70. If the problems persist, Alejandro will abandon today. I am not very optimistic."

Illes Balears do have some consolation in that Paco Mancebo is eighth overall, 4 minutes down on Lance Armstrong. "We have Paco, he is going well," Unzúe said. "We will see how he does in the Pyrenees."

Tankink in doubt

Bram Tankink (Quick.Step) is likely to become another non-finisher in the Tour de France, as he has been suffering from bronchitis for the last few days. His team doctor suspected him of having an inflammation of the lungs, but a scan carried out on Friday morning in the Aix-en-Provence hospital revealed no signs of an inflammation. This, Tankink will start the 13th stage, but it is still doubtful whether he will make it through the Pyrenees on the weekend.

Beltran OK

Discovery Channel's Manuel Beltran is reportedly OK after crashing and blacking out during Stage 12, although he is out of the race. Behind the Blue Curtain's Chris Brewer reports that, "Beltran had to stay in the hospital for a 24 hour observation for a concussion but will then return home. He's fine, but after crashing and wrecking his helmet he still wanted to continue racing, but had no memory whatsoever of going down after touching wheels with another rider."

Boonen ready for rehab

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step), who was forced out of the Tour before Stage 12 because of a knee injury, has been examined by doctor Van Den Bogaert in the Herentals clinic near Antwerp, Belgium. The doctor diagnosed Tom with lesions to the lateral area of his right knee cap with internal bleeding. The main structure of his right knee has suffered no functional damage. Boonen will rest for three days before starting his rehabilitation, but will be allowed to resume racing in 10 days, and will not have to change his racing program.

Merckx strong, but not strong enough

Axel Merckx (Davitamon-Lotto) was one of the main protagonists in yesterday's Stage 12, eventually finishing 7th after missing David Moncoutié's move on the Col du Corobin. Merckx found himself in a chase group with six others, and although he looked to be the strongest, he could not get them organised enough to close the 30 second gap to the Frenchman in front. Unfortunately for Merckx, Davitamon-Lotto's green jersey oriented team tactics made it harder for him to ride his own race.

On the Corobin, Merckx was forced to drive the pace up and set a hard tempo, instead of trying to go with Moncoutié. "Axel had to get rid of Hushovd and O'Grady, which worked," said team director Marc Sergeant to Sportwereld.be. "Before that I let him take it easy and made the team work to put pressure on the break, so that they had to give full gas. Everything is for the green, after all. On Friday there is likely to be a bunch sprint and maybe Hushovd and O'Grady will pay for their efforts."

Robbie McEwen is currently 35 points behind Hushovd and 13 behind O'Grady in the green jersey competition, an almost impossible task for the Australian, who has won the jersey twice in his career. But after stage 12, he was not writing himself off. "We'll see," he told Belgian TV. "I'll take it form day to day. I lost a lot of points today. Maybe tomorrow it will be different."

Vicioso tries for stage win, gets third

Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguro-Wurth)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
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Liberty Seguros-Wurth rider Ángel Vicioso made a big effort for stage honours in yesterday's 12th stage of the Tour. He made it into the crucial thirteen man break but missed out when Davide Moncoutié (Cofidis) jumped clear in the final hour of racing. They tried to get back on terms but a disorganised chase made it impossible to catch the flying Frenchman.

Vicioso finished third in the stage, being outsprinted by Sandy Casar (Francaise Des Jeux). However, while Vicioso was disappointed not to win, his showing yesterday was a welcome return to form for the rider who has crashed out of the past two Tours.

"I tried my best, but as soon as the first rider attacks from a break like this one, co-operation breaks down behind and it is very hard to bring him back," he said. "We all worked, but it is impossible because in truth, in these circumstances, everybody saves themselves a little bit."

"Tour stage victories are very hard to come by but the most important thing is that I have been up there in the front and will continue trying to do so. I am satisfied because so far, this is my best Tour. I had to abandon the other two due to falls, but here I have already been third on a stage."

"I knew if I got past the hill I would have a chance, but Moncoutié went away at a very hard moment and it was impossible to follow his wheel. It would have been very nice to win here, both for myself and for my team, but after so many stages things are hard. The Alps didn't go great for the team but today we showed that we have the courage to fight on and to make a good race."

Vicioso has been a professional since 1998 and is in his third year working with Liberty DS Manolo Saiz. He's finished two Vueltas a España and two Giri d'Italia, and has the ambition of winning a stage in a major Tour. He was first past the line on stage 15 of the 2000 Giro but was disqualified by judges, who awarded the win to Biagio Conte. He won two stages of the Bicicleta Vasca this year.

Beloki and Heras feeling better

Liberty's two pre-Tour leaders, Roberto Heras and Joseba Beloki got it hard in the Alps but reported yesterday that they have started to feel good sensations again. The two are therefore more optimistic heading into the Pyrenees. Yesterday was the second anniversary of Beloki's big accident in the Tour, and while he is still some way off the form that earned him three podium placings on the Tour, he is hopeful that he could chase a stage win later in the race. The team's GC hopes now rest with Jörg Jaksche, who lies 13th overall after the Alps and can realistically target a place inside the top ten.

Botero looks to Pyrenees

Santi Botero (Phonak)
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Phonak rider Santiago Botero heads into tomorrow's first Pyrenean stage sixth overall, 3 minutes and 48 seconds off the race lead. He showed his persistence on Stage 11, going clear early on with Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile), fighting back on each time after losing contact and then taking second at the finish in Briançon.

Botero knows that he'll need to be more consistent in the Pyrenees if he is to improve on the fourth place overall he achieved in 2002. The final time trial will however swing things his way, somewhat; the Colombian is a former World Time Trial Champion and he can certainly take time out of the specialised climbers. Even so, the three remaining mountain stages will be crucial.

Although he doesn't look like the typical Colombian, Botero is very proud of his roots. He grew up there, going to school with singer Juanes, and to the same college as Columbia's current president Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Botero studied economics and would probably be working in a bank today if his parents hadn't been so positive about his ambition of becoming a cyclist. "They have always supported me and continue to do so", he said.

He turned professional in 1997 with Kelme, finishing fourth in the Tour de Romandie one year later. Stage wins in the Ruta del Sol and Paris Nice followed in 1999, plus second and third places overall respectively, but the breakthrough year as regards the Tour came in 2000. Botero won the King of the Mountains classification, took stage 14 and finished 7th overall. One year later he placed eighth, going on to take four stages in the Vuelta and third in the world time trial championship.

His final year with Kelme in 2002 brought his best Tour performance; the Colombian took two stage victories plus fourth overall. Later that season he again won a stage of the Tour of Spain and then became world time trial champion in Zolder. Two lean years followed at Team Telecom, before he bounced back this season with Phonak, winning a stage and the overall in the Tour de Romandie, plus two stages in the Dauphine Libéré.

Botero currently lives in Madrid but will almost certainly return to his Colombian home in Medellin after his career ends. Before then, though, he's got another couple of years left in his career. He may not be the world's most natural climber, but the courage and stubbornness he showed on the road to Briançon will undoubtedly earn him many more good results.

Untitled Document

The Tour de France of give-aways and competitions

Don't miss out at Tour time!

Resident freebies expert, Rufus Staffordshire, sniffs out some competitions where up to $1 million in prizes are on offer as manufacturers clamber for your eyeballs. Woof!

Lucky 7 Sweepstakes'
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The Tour de France is not only a reasonably popular bike race, ahem, it's also a great opportunity to win an incredible range of prizes and competitions on offer from manufacturers, publishers and distributors.

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