Stage 11 Reports

Roger from in front of his TV

As usual the report is drawn from Channel 4's coverage.

It's an up and down day with three Cat 2 climbs and three Cat 3s. The sun's shining and there's not a cloud in the sky.

At the first sprint 11km out at La Roche-des-Arnauds, Erik Zabel (Telekom) consolidates his lead in the green jersey compettion, with Frederic Moncassin (GAN) still chasing to get it back second and Fabio Baldato (MG) third.

We next jump to the Col de Cabre (Cat 2, 47.5km at the summit) on the climb of which Max Sciandri (Motorola) abandons with tendinitis in his right leg, something that has been bothering him for several days.

The climb is a Festina benefit, with Richard Virenque taking 1st, Laurent Brochard 2nd and Emmanuel Magnien 3rd.

On the descent a break forms. It's Rolf Jaermann (MG), Brochard, Thierry Bourguignon (Aubervilliers) and Paolo Salvodelli (Roslotto). They are still clear on the Cat 2 Col du Rousset (km 111.5) and cross the Cat 2 Col de la Chaux (km125.5) in the order Brochard, Jaermann, Bourguignon, Salvodelli with 1.20 on the peloton which is being tightly controlled by Telekom.

We jump to the 3rd Cat col de Malatra (summit at 142.5km) The lead group has fallen to two riders -- Brochard and Jaermann -- and chasing them at 55 seconds are a further nine, Salvodelli and Bourguignon from the original break plus Chepe Gonzalez (Kelme), Laurent Roux (TVM), Marco Fincato and Stefano Cattai (Roslotto), Spanish champion Manuel Fernandez Gines (Mapei), Alberto Elli (MG) and Laurent Madouas (Motorola -- sporting a very close haircut). As we join them Bourguignon is slippping off the back and has resigned himself to falling back into the peloton.

Further up the climb Brochard and Jaermann are caught by what are now eight chasers -- Brochard has a front-wheel puncture just before they arrive -- but there's a quick change from the neutral service car and he's soon back into the group. Back in the peleton, Telekom are still in full force on the front, seemingly controlling it as much as leading a chase.

Over the Cat 3 Col de Limouches (166km) the break is still away, and there's now a long descent down towards Valence.

The report jumps to just before 3km to the finish and just before the banner there's an attack by Elli which is jumped on by Fincato. The two build a gap of maybe 50m but Roux works his way up to them and at 2km to go they have about 100m on the rest. Soon, though, Brochard starts to bridge across and they are all together again. They're finessing -- Brochard attacks gets a little gap -- but Cattai pulls the rest up to him.

As the group reaches the 1km mark Chepe Gonzalez attacks hard from the back, rising out of the saddle up a short rise. He's well clear going hard. It's Gonzalez for Kelme and Colombia!

Back with the peloton, Telekom only relinquish control inside the last kilometre or so, with MG taking over the fight -- for ninth place -- for Baldato. But it's Zabel who snatches a few more green jersey points, sprinting out from four down the line.

Stage summary

The Telekom team continued to completely control the race, letting a group of eight riders representing no threat break away and fight amongst themselves for the stage win.

In his first Tour de France, Columbia's Chepe Gonzalez (Kelme) took advantage of this by surprising his fellow escapees with one kilometer left in the stage. He started sprinting from behind and finished in front of Fernandez-Gines, Elli, Brochard, Roux, Cattai, Fincato and Madouas. Three kilometers before the finish line, Alberto Elli had tried to start things up, but Fincato and Roux quickly countered him.

All the Telekom and needed to do today was set the pace at the front of the field. They did just that, placing most of their riders up front for most of the stage. They didn't counter-attack at any time because none of the riders in the breakaway posed any threat to yellow jersey Bjarne Riis or best sprinter Erik Zabel.

Zabel consolidated his position in the sprinters standings by beating Frederic Moncassin in the La Roche-des-Arnauds (km 11) sprint and winning the sprint in the pack, a little less than three minutes after the lead group.

By staying up front all day, Laurent Brochard (Festina) helped teammate and best climber Richard Virenque. Virenque won the first climb (Col de Cabre, km47.5), and Brochard, by finishing in the top three in the other climbs, prevented Virenque's opponents from scoring too big.

Brochard was part of the first breakaway, 50 kilometers into the stage, when he took off in the Col de Cabre descent, with Jaermann, Salvodelli and Bourguignon.At the Col de la Chaux (km 125.5), the four were rejoined and Bourguignon and Salvodelli were left behind.

Jaermann gave up a little farther and the stage's winner would eventually come out of the group of eight riders that were left.

Gonzalez Wins Stage 11

Chepe Gonzalez's unexpected win in Thursday's 11th stage of the Tour de France came as welcome relief for Colombian cycling which has fallen on hard times recently. ``It's the most important win of my career and an enormous surprise,'' the twice winner of the Tour of Colombia said after scoring his first significant victory outside his country.

The 27-year-old, whose full name is Jose Jaime Gonzalez Pico, escaped from a group of eight riders in the last kilometre to take the day's 202-km stage to Valence. ``In the last climb, I wasn't feeling too good and I was afraid I might fall back,'' he said. ``Then I started to believe I could win because I knew the other guys would not watch out for the little Colombian.''

Cyclists from Colombia shot to prominence in the 1980s and shone in the world's greatest cycle race thanks to their ability in the high climbs.

Lucho Herrera, fifth in the Tour in 1985, and Fabio Parra, who finished third three years later, became idols at home and dozens of Colombian journalists travelled to France every summer to follow the race.

Then there was Alvaro Mejia, who was fourth in 1994 but has disappeared since. ``Nobody knows where he is,'' Motorola team director Hennie Kuiper said. ``It's a pity. He was a great rider and the only Colombian I knew who fared well against the clock. He was a potential Tour winner.''

While European cycling has evolved dramatically over the past few years the Colombians, with gifted riders but limited means, were unable to follow. As the sport declined, sponsors retired and two Colombian teams -- Cafe de Colombia and Varta -- collapsed.

The Glacial team, whose leader Nelson Rodriguez won a Tour stage in 1994, still exists but was not selected for this year's race.

Only five Colombians, all with Spanish side Kelme, entered the race this year compared to 26 in 1986. ``It's hard to find sponsors and the press has been very severe with us,'' said Gonzalez.