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Tour de France News for July 18, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Important test for Armstrong

Moment of truth
Photo: © Jeff Tse

After 12 days of racing, Lance Armstrong has just a 21" lead in the general classification over Alexandre Vinokourov, and less than two minutes lead over the top five riders on GC. At this time last year, the gap was 2'28 to second place, and nearly six minutes to fifth.

"The differences between my rivals are small, but the first time trial came earlier in previous years," said Armstrong in Toulouse yesterday. "I have trained more than ever on my time trial bike, and this will be one of the most important time trials that I have ever ridden in the Tour. I think that the wind will play a big role."

Armstrong could seriously damage the chances of his rivals with a strong victory, or he could lose ground and possibly the yellow jersey. That seems unlikely, but it has been a hard fought Tour so far.

McEwen salvages unlucky day

Precious points
Photo: © Olympia

Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) lost any hope of a stage win yesterday when he punctured on the Côte de Saissac, but he still managed to rally for the bunch sprint and edge out green jersey holder Baden Cooke. McEwen had a few words with Saeco's Gerrit Glomser after the sprint, as the Austrian evidently was equally intent on mixing it up in the dash to the line.

"We fought to get into Baden's wheel," McEwen told Het Nieuwsblad. "I told the Austrian that it was only for ninth place and that he has to understand that every point is important to me."

McEwen's Lotto-Domo team was set to chase the leading break of eight riders, with some help from Brioches La Boulangère, but the Aussie's puncture on the climb shut down the chase and McEwen didn't have the energy to restart the pursuit. Faithful teammate Christophe Brandt was leading the charge in the peloton, but slowed down when he learned that McEwen had punctured.

"I punctured on the Côte de Saissac. While trying to get back on, my legs completely cramped. I felt really bad. I had to sprint in twelfth because of it. We were unlucky today to have eight rouleurs in the front today. When I had to change wheels, I knew that the victory was gone." Nonetheless, McEwen was satisfited to learn who had won the stage. "I am happy that it was Juan Antonio Flecha who won in Toulouse! When I am in Barcelona, where my sister-in-law lives, we always train together."

Disappointment for O'Grady

Stuart O'Grady, who was racing toward his European home in Toulouse, was particularly disappointed not to have emerged victorious from the winning break of eight riders. Juan Antonio Flecha of iBanesto.com made the opportunist move, after several early attacks, and the remainder of the break was unable to mount a cohesive effort to chase the Spaniard.

"I'm really disappointed," O'Grady said after the finish. "I was feeling good, but at the end everything fell apart. Toulouse is my second home after Adelaide, and that's why I wanted to win here."

O'Grady, theoretically the best sprinter in the break, didn't have much help in the chase. This sentiment was echoed by fellow Aussie Michael Rogers, who himself lamented the lack of coordination to chase Flecha.

"I know it's a bit complicated because I'm a good sprinter and nobody wants take me all the way to the end," O'Grady acknowledged. "Yeah, I'm angry, because I don't have much interest in racing for second place."

Job well done for Da Cruz

Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com) may not have worked with O'Grady and the others in yesterday's break to chase Juan Antonio Flecha's winning move, but he had his reasons. With teammate Baden Cooke leading the green jersey competition, Da Cruz had one task to focus on: prevent O'Grady from picking up points.

"Nobody wanted to ride at the end, so the Spaniards preferred to attack since they're not as quick in the sprint," Da Cruz explained. "They were right, and they won."

"Behind, I just had to keep an eye on O'Grady and prevent him from getting green jersey points," he added. "I took my chances, and I took two intermediate sprints to steal points from O'Grady. It's too bad for him, but that's racing, and those were the instructions I got on the radio."

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