Today's big 52k time trial from Lanester to Lorient ended with surprises,
confirmations, and disappointments. The biggest surprises were the
performances of Santiago Botero of Kelme-Costa Blanca, who won the stage in
a time of 1h 2' 18"; Fassa Bortolo's Serhiy Honchar, who pulled off third in
the stage @ 18"; and the great ride of Mapei's Laszlo Bodrogi, who finished
5th on the stage @ 25". The confirmations came with the strong rides of
Lance Armstrong of U.S Postal (2nd @ 11") and the ONCE-Eroski team leaders
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (4th @ 19") and Joseba Beloki (10th @ 1' 38"). The
biggest disappointment of the day came with the ride of Rabobank's American
leader, Levy Leipheimer, who came in 19th @ 2' 25" despite being a favorite
for the stage.
The course was undulating, going up and down for the first 32 or so
kilometers before leveling off for the final section. However, the winds
played havoc on the riders, causing a number of strong men to lose time over
the final section of the course. One of the strong early rides came from
Victor Hugo Pena of U.S. Postal, who was on a mission to ride all out and
set some good splits for his higher-placed teammates to shoot for. Pena
started the day in 126th overall, and rode to a time of 1h 4' 52", good
enough for 18th on the stage. The big time early on was set by Bodrogi (who
started the stage in 99th place @ 5' 31") as he smashed all the best times
along the course to finish with a time of 1h 2' 43". This was good enough
for 5th on the stage, only 25" off the winning time set later by Botero.
The next favorite to start was Tacconi Sport's leader Dario Frigo. After a
disappointing team time trial that left him in 76th place @ 4' 04", Frigo
finally got to shine on his own. He rode to 8th place on the stage with a
time of 1h 3' 52", 1' 34" off the winning time. The next two favorites down
the ramp turned in disappointing times, with Telekom's Bobby Julich coming
in 50th @ 3' 56" off the pace, followed by the frustrating ride of
Leipheimer. After that, it was time for the big guns to start firing.
Raimondas Rumsas, the Lampre-Daikin rider who was a revelation in the
Prologue, bested Bodrogi's times all along the course before fading at the
end. Rumsas crossed the line fractions of a second behind Bodrogi, and ended
the day in 6th @ 25".
Then it was Botero's turn. The Kelme rider (who started the stage in 30th @
2' 14") shattered every mark on the course, blazing a trail that would lead
him to the top of the podium. Botero commented before the stage that he was
now gunning for the podium in Paris, and today's ride was an excellent
start. Honchar (20th @ 1' 36" to start the stage) bested the 19.5km split
time of Botero by 2", but faded later to come in third best on the day at
18". Still, it was a great ride for the Fassa Bortolo man as he moved up to
4th in the GC. David Millar of Cofidis also rode well, coming in just 50"
behind Botero to end up 7th on the day.
Finally, the big battle between CSC, ONCE, and U.S. Postal hit the road
with the last 10 riders. Tyler Hamilton of CSC struggled in the strong
winds, but came through with a respectable time at 1' 56" for 12th. The big
show occurred when Armstong rolled down the ramp. The 3-time defending champ
came through the first check 6" behind Botero, but rallied by the 35km point
to erase his deficit. Tied with Botero at the halfway point, Armstrong faded
slightly on the second half of the course to finish 2nd on the stage, 10"
behind the Kelme man.
The ONCE boys rolled out last. Beloki isn't the strongest time trialist, but
he rode a good time to finish 10th @ 1' 38". Gonzalez de Galdeano was
looking to defend his Yellow Jersey, and flew through the 19.5km time check
5" slower than Botero, but 1" faster than Armstrong. He faded in the next
section of the course, but rallied to end up 19" behind Botero and 8" behind
Armstrong. His time was good enough to preserve his position at the top of
the GC, an upset of the expectations coming into the stage.
The struggle between ONCE and Postal came out mixed today. The ONCEs will
definitely gain morale from their defense of the Yellow Jersey. However,
that means that their riders will get two more days on the front of the race
as it heads into the mountains in Stage 11. This will make a week on the
front for ONCE, something that will certainly start to tell on their legs in
the last week. Postal, on the other hand, will have its riders rested and
ready for the last week. Four riders went all out today and had good
results: Armstrong (2nd @ 11"), Ekimov (11th @ 1' 41"), Landis (15th @ 2'
21"), and Pena (18th @ 2' 34"). The "Big Hammers" of Postal, Pavel Padrnos
(34th @ 3' 14") and "Gorgeous" George Hincapie (69th @ 4' 43"), were able to
conserve their energy today so that they can dominate the peloton when
Armstrong needs them to later on. Roberto Heras (105th @ 6' 03") and Jose
Luis Rubiera (76th @ 5' 02") also saved themselves today, as these mountain
goats will need all their strength to help Armstrong in the mountains
starting in Stage 11. For Heras, who is suffering from painful bruises, the
day off must have been particularly welcome. So despite the victory by ONCE
in today's battle, Postal seems to have gained a tactical advantage in the
war to come. Of course, now both teams have to worry like hell over Botero,
who has the climbing prowess and the time trial skills to pose a real threat
for the win in Paris.
Ultimately, today's stage did not prove to be very decisive or selective.
The top six riders finished within 25" of each other, so at best the day can
be called a draw when looking at the overall picture. There were a few
losers on the day, but the only clear winner was Botero, who now must be
taken seriously by everyone. Gonzalez de Galdeano, Beloki, Armstrong,
Rumsas, and Honchar simply kept their podium hopes alive for another day.
The decisive moves will now have to come in the mountains.
Ham-Gazers of the Day
Golden Hams of the Day
- Team Telekom. Most of the team is clearly saving themselves to
defend Erik Zabel's Green Jersey. Their best rider was Bobby Julich, who
came in 50th at 3' 56" behind Botero. Julich said yesterday that he thought
his legs were good, and hoped he could get into the top ten today. His
performance must certainly be frustrating for the popular American, who will
still be on the hunt for a stage win in the mountains with his teammate and
compatriot Kevin Livingston.
- Lotto-Adecco. In the absence of their time-trial specialist Rik
Verbrugghe, who was taken out by a nasty crash a few stages back, Lotto was
content to sit on and save themselves for Robbie McEwen's challenge for the
Green Jersey. Their best placed rider was Mario Aerts, who came in 75th at
- Levi Leipheimer, Rabobank. Another disappointed American at the
end of the day (19th @ 2' 35"), Leipheimer is still only 4' 39" behind
Gonzalez de Galdeano, and there is still a long ways to go until Paris. His
teammate Beat Zberg, an outstanding climber, is right ahead of him at 4' 32"
behind the Yellow Jersey. Together, they can form a 1-2 punch that could
land one of them in the top five by the end of the race. While Leipheimer
and his fans will be depressed by today's results, there is still plenty of
room to hope for an all-American podium.
- Santiago Botero, Kelme-Costa Blanca. He proved that his time
trial victory over Armstrong in the Dauphine Libere was no fluke. Now he
just has to maintain his form for the full three weeks.
- Raimondas Rumsas, Lampre-Daikin. Many commentators seemed to
forget him after his stunning 3rd in the Prologue. By finishing only 25"
behind Botero today, he moved himself up into 8th in the GC, 2' 22" behind
leader Gonzalez de Galdeano. He's an excellent climber, and could pull a big
surprise in Paris…especially if everyone forgets about him again.
- Serhiy Honchar, Fassa Bortolo. He climbed to 4th in the GC at 1'
35" with his great ride today. If he can hang on through the mountains, he
could also pull a big surprise.
- Laszlo Bodrogi, Mapei-Quick Step. The young Hungarian rode a
powerful time trial, rubbing shoulders with the greatest in the sport by the
end of the day. His 5th place in this stage should ensure that he finds a
good home when Mapei disintegrates at the end of the season.