Stage 13: Lavelanet - Béziers 171 km|
So with the first two brutal mountain stages over, the race has a small
transition day between the Pyrenees and the
Alps. Setting out from the
Esplanade de la Concorde in Lavelanet the race covers two three-category
and one 4th category climb after only 50 kilometres. The region is steeped
in Cathar history and legend, indeed the last climb of the day the col de
Saint Benoit is a central part of Rennes-le-Chateau mystery. Whether the
riders will have time to ponder on the mystery of the poor priest who over
night became a multi-millionaire is unlikely.
However those of you not
engaged in 171 kilometres of cycle racing may care to look at
After the early hills the final 100 kilometres are dead flat and the
race speeds into Béziers
which first held a stage in 1938 (Stage
Félicien Vervaecke) and for the last time in 1958 (Stage winner:
Pierino Baffi was involved in one of the
following his stage victory in 1958. He was sprinting with
Darrigade on the Parc des Princes, Paris, when the groundsman stepped out
onto the track . Darrigade collided with him and suffered serious headwounds, lying unconscious on the track for a full thirty minutes. Sadly the
groundsman died from the injuries he received.
In 1962 Pierino had a son,
Adriano, who has had an equally successful career and at the age of 40 is
still on the Mapei books - although most of his racing in recent years has
been in the 6 day events. Who was the better rider,
father or son? Both
men had remarkable careers and fans of the track would probably vote for the
son, however due to the fact that Pierino is one of the few riders to
complete the Grand Slam - finishing all three major Tours in one year (1958:
Giro 23rd, Tour 63rd, Vuelta 37th), roadsters may vote the other way.
This should be the stage when a small breakaway can succeed. One would
expect to see a team like Lotto having men in all the early attacks. Robbie
McEwen (Aus) should still be in the contention for the Green jersey
better way of depriving your main rivals of sprint points than having a
couple of team mates up the road stealing the bonus points away? Aerts has
been showing some very useful form this season, Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) and
Serge Baguet (Bel) are always a joy to watch while Christophe Brandt (Bel),
Hans de Clercq (Bel), Thierry Marichal (Bel), Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus) (who may yet surprise) and Aart Vierhouten (Ned) are all strong riders.
To look at the stage profile
Peloton's Stage Prediction
Coming out of the mountains,
the chances are a group of around twelve
men will be clear of the peloton with 5 minutes lead and 50k to go. The US
Postal tactic so far this year of riding at the front has been both
spectacular and successful - however it is doubtful that any team could
sustain this approach over three weeks - it is up to the contenders to
attack and constantly put the Postal boys under pressure. Domo brings
housewives' choice, Richard Virenque, the excellent Dave Bruylandts (Bel) and
Enrico Cassani (Ita),
Servais Knaven (Ned)
Tomas Konecny (Cze),
(Bel), possible green shirt contender Fred
Leon van Bon (Ned) and the very strong Piotr Wadecki.
Expect to see Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) and Axel Merckx (Bel) in a Belgian
civil war for the honours today.
Rider's identification number - the riders number is also
attached to his
bike. Of course should a team leader need to change his
bike with a Domestique this can cause the commentator severe problems.
Eurosport commentator Mike Smith, unaware that Hamilton had crashed in this
year's Giro, and
(what a great lieutenant)
had given him his bike,
got into a muddle in the best Yorkshire style.
While his son Axel is continuing the family trade in France, it is worth
remembering the great Eddy Merckx.
His best performance in terms of sporting honour was without doubt his
second place to Thevenet in the 1975 Tour.
The pair seemed equally matched -
Thevenet - a great climber but poor descender and Merckx, not quite at the
top of his game. On the stage into the ski-resort of Pra-Loup, Eddy,
who entered the stage with 58 seconds advantage decided attack was the best
form of defence and at the foot of the last climb seemed to have the race
Merckx then hit the wall. Gimondi, a close friend, was the first to
reach him and tried to rally him - but Merckx was now paying the price for
his boldness. Next to pass the struggling Merckx was Thevenet - who
"passed him on the other side of the road,
too embarrassed to look at his
Merckx ended the stage 1 minute behind Thevenet.
Merckx had a bad day on the Izoard - and then things got worse. Maybe a
touch of wheels saw him and the Danish rider Ole Ritter come tumbling down
in the neutralised section. The doctors urged Merckx to retire since he was
concussed and sick - he refused. That night an x-ray revealed that he had
broken his cheek bone - and had no sensation in his jaw. Merckx, aware
that if he retired it would affect
people's evaluation of Thevenet’s victory
decided to continue. Unable to eat solid foods, Merckx not only continued to
Paris, but carried on competing as well, actually gaining time on Thevenet
in the time trial. Each evening Merckx would stagger into the press room,
barely able to talk to the astonishment of the assembled journalists, many
of whom urged him to retire.
But Merckx was not quite finished. On the last day he made one last
attack - and a worried peloton had to chase hard to pull “the Cannibal”
back. As Thevenet passed Merckx, the Belgium said, “Now you have won the Tour!”
Such is the stuff of legends - to which the modern day tales of
deception, insult and trickery are pale yellow shadows of former glories.