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Tour de France Stage 13 Preview
By Podofdonny
Date: 7/6/2002
Tour de France Stage 13 Preview
20.07 - 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 this link

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 winner: Félicien Vervaecke) and for the last time in 1958 (Stage winner: Pierino Baffi). Pierino Baffi was involved in one of the Tour's saddest incidents 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 -  what 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 click here

Daily 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), Axel Merckx (Bel), possible green shirt contender Fred Rodriguez (Usa), 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.

Tour Talk
"Dossard" - 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 that Sastre (what a great lieutenant)  had given him his bike, got into a muddle in the best Yorkshire style.

Tour Legend
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 sewn up.

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 rival's distress." 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.

Full Tour coverage is located on the Daily Peloton Tour de France Main Page here.

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