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Well, the mountains are upon us, dear readers, and I for one, am rubbing my palms together in anticipation. Another glorious day of le Tour - Mountains! HUGE gears! Tremendous Champions! Pain and suffering! Funny sunglasses! Lycra!
What more can a girl ask?
Today, our brave soldiers head into the mountains for the first time in this campaign. You can have a look at the stage profile here. The principle difficulties are a lovely little 4th category climb at km 35 up the Côte de Louvié-Juzon, for 5 km with a average 3.2% grade... a nice little hors d'ouerve, followed by the first Hors Catagorie monster, the Col d'Aubisque: 16.7 km with an average grade of 7.1. Not bad for a main course. For desert, our riders will savor La Mongie; a nice 12.8 km ascension at an average grade of 6.8%.
They're calling this a warm-up for the hard mountains to come, but hey! I think it would kill me.
Not our so our protagonists, however, and this stage marks the first day of real, mano a mano racing for many of our GC contenders. Yesterday's stage saw ONCE's boys in pink leading the peloton home in a long thin train. I imagine it was a pleasant enough armchair ride to the finish for Armstrong, who will be well-placed to start putting whatever plots he's got cooked up for the mountains into action. In past years of his reign, Armstrong has attacked hard in the first mountain stage of the tour, and earlier this week he promised to take the fight to the competition with some aggressive attacking in the mountains.
We should also begin to see some of the climbers come to the fore, and the first battles for the King of the Mountains title will begin in earnest. Will Richard Virenque thrill every housewife in France with a stunning return to his former glory? Will Laurent Jalabert repeat his aggressive and thrilling performance from last year and end his 14 year career in style? Or, will young Oscar Sevilla, Kelme's puppy-faced co-leader, now a significant way down on the GC, throw his considerable power into the polka dot jersey?
Will Armstrong serve notice that he is ready to put the hammer down, or is he playing a deeper game? Can Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano keep the yellow jersey as the road turns upwards? Has Santiago Botero balanced his time-trialling prowess with the climbing legs he will need to challenge for the podium? Can Beloki keep it together? Will Tyler Hamilton put the screws to his former bossman?
Here we go!
So U.S. POotal leads the charge down the descent of the
first HC Col of the race. Jalabert is around 2' 30" off the front. The Posties look strong at the front...they still have a lot of numbers.
The riders cruise through the feed zone. Michael
Sandstod, a strong helper on CSC, has crashed hard and is out of the race.
This is very bad news for Armstrong and Jalabert, as
the classy Dane is a big part of their success.
With Jalabert off the front, Hamilton has a free ride
in the pack.
Mazzoleni has met up with Etxebarria and they are
pursuing Jalabert. Haven't caught him yet.
McGee is at the doctor's car, but doesn't look
seriously injured. The standard road rash. Jalabert is really starting to threaten the Yellow
Jersey...his gap is growing.
The peloton is 3' 55" behind Jalabert.
If Jalabert stays away, he should take the mountains
jersey from the leader on the road, Halgand.
JaJa looks very strong and determined. He'd love to
finish his Tour career with a stint in Yellow.
Postal had whittled the field down to around 50 over the
top of the climb. On the long descent, the peloton has largely regrouped. Jaja only needs to finish in the top 25 or so to grab the Polka Dot. Some ONCE boys are off the back. Looks like a flat or bike change.
Beloki (ONE) had a flat, but he should regain the group
Jalabert's gap is down to 3' 25". Still, he could be in
Ekimov, Hincapie, and Joachim lead the peloton for
Postal. They are aided by Aldag of Telokom, for some reason.
Sevilla of Kelme also had a flat earlier.
Well, no more sprint points on offer today, I think.
Not sure if McEwen is in the group.
Perhaps Aldag is there on behalf of Julich or Livingston.
McEwen is off the back, and Zabel is just behind
Postal. There IS one more sprint on offer today.
McEwen is chasing in a group of 30. It'll be a hard
In the back, Beloki has another mechanical. He's back
on the rear of the peloton again.
Jalabert's breakaway took the first points on offer
today. Zabel only needs to get 2 points to reclaim the Jersey. The Green Jersey, that is.
Jalabert is pushing solo up a small hill. He's looking
a bit tired now.
Jalabert's lead is still 3' 15".
No sign of Landis at the front. Pena, Padrnos,
Hincapie, Lance, Ekimov, Heras, Rubiera all there.
McEwen is still off the back, as far as we've seen.
Livingston of Telekom has had a puncture. Not a good
time for that.
McEwen won on the Champ Elysees in 1999...he can make
it over the mountains. But he needs to do it well enough to compete with Zabel in the intermediate Sprints too.
Jalabert made it through the sprint bonus in first, but
he's more concerned about the Polka-Dots.
Aldag of Telekom still leading the descent.
Kevin Livingston has rejoined after a flat.
Laurent Jalabert still leads, but the peloton has pegged
his speed. His latest time is 3'06".
George Hincapie told me before the tour that he was
feeling stronger than ever in the mountains...I guess he wasn't kidding.
Results of the first climb: 1. Jalabert (CST), 2. D.
Extebarria (EUS), 3. Halgand, (DEL), 4. McGee (FDJ), 5. Virenque (DFF)
McGee went down hard on the descent. He regained the
peloton after lying on the side of the road for awhile.
Laurent is racing through the last town on the course. The peloton is 3.13 behind.
Patrice Hagland is the KOM leader on the road, but
Jalabert can take it today.
Eric Zabel goes over the sprint point in second, and
takes the points jersey back.
Heras was fetching water bottles off the back on the
climb, and easily made it back up and over the climb with the Posties.
Jalabert at 3.19.
Ekimov looking good on the front, George Hincapie right
in front of Armstrong. Christophe Moreau is right there too.
A big showdown is coming up, folks.
17km to go to the finish... They are almost to the bottom of the final climb. Victory Hugo Pena is at the head of the peloton. The climbers are starting to jockey for position in the main group. Laurent Jalabert presses on. 3'25" from the group.
Levi Leipheimer is moving up. Beloki and Galdeano are side by side... Oscar Sevilla is there.
Heading into the final climb, Postal looks good, though
Heras doesn't seem to be there.
Jalabert presses on, riding through thr crowds, he's at
the foot of La Mongie. He's saluting the crowds.
Seven Postal riders are on the front, plus Lance. Victor
Hugo Pena turns off the front. George Hincapie setting the pace at the front! Go George!
Jens Voigt falling off the back of the peloton.
Jaja's lead to 3'10". Can he hold on?
Laurent Brochard is rejoining the peloton.
Jaja presses on. Robbie Ventura is on the wheel of Gonzalez de Galdeano... ha... just kidding... It's Heras there. Heras is now on Lance's wheel!
George, Chechu, Lance and Heras... followed hard on by
Beloki, Leipheimer and Galdeano.
Jean Delatour attacks... Could be LeFevre...
George peels off... he's done his work. Heras slides back to the wheel of Gonzalez de Galdeano.
David Extebarria has been dropped. Bobby Julich looks to have been dropped as well. Boogerd and Frigo are gone. Menchov (BAN) is gone... Denis Menchov is off the back.
Chechu leads Lance on the head of the peloton. Leipheimer is right there. 2'55" is the gap to Jaja.
Christophe Moreau is in difficulty...
Lance looks like he's ready to go... he's hopping on the
pedals... Zubeldia of Euskatel is dropped.
Armstrong throws his hat into the crowd. Hamilton has reportedly cracked as well.
The crowd is resplendent in their orange shirts. Botero has a technical problem! Maybe a flat. Jaja presses on.
Virenque is in difficulty! THe yellow jersey has cracked! About 13 left in the group... Gonzalez de Galdeano has cracked. IGG is off the back! Sevilla is right there with the leaders.
Beloki is hanging on. Postal continues to drive the pace.
Heras is on the front. Leipheimer has been dropped! Heras and Armstrong are driving it! Beloki is holding on. Everyone is gone but Armstrong, Heras (who is driving)
Jaja looks tired in the lead. Less than a minute lead for Jaja.
Galdeano is looking cracked. 4km left for JaJa. The posties are only 26" behind JaJa now.
Lance hasn't even attacked yet! Jaja looks over his shoulder, he knows he's done.
The Posties are closing, and now past JaJa, who waves
them by. Laurent Jalabert is caught. Heras continues to make the pace.
Jalabert looks really cracked. IGG is over a minute back now.
Armstrong looks completely comfortable, he is in the
Maillot Jaune by 49". Heras is driving the pace... Beloki is struggling to keep Lance's wheeel.
Botero flatted halfway up...he's done...
Man, Beloki is really struggling, but hanging on...he's got guts...
Jaja is back by his team car... The crowds are huge. Heras leads Armstrong. The lead is over a minute.
Heras amazingly picks up the pace again! Lance is standing up, and as Phil says, "dancing on the pedals."
Basso (FAS) is in fourth...he's caught JaJa. Great ride
for the young Italian.
Basso has now dropped JaJa and goes alone after the
Posties and Beloki. Lance is so still on his bike. He doesn't even look like he's racing. Galdeano is dropped off the second group. Beloki keeps hanging on. Heras still leads.
Lance forces Beloki to get in front of him. USPS sandwich for Beloki. Armstrong pulls off and forces Beloki into 2nd wheel. They have him right where they want him. Basso is way back, but chasing. Lance is letting Heras and Beloki battle it out.
It's his. Beloki is trying to go, but Lance is taking the stage. One fist raised. Lance wins the first mountain stage is an incredible demonstration of total dominance.
Rumsas is catching Basso, and passes him at the finish. Sevilla is side by side with Basso as they cross the
Kivilev crosses, Laurent Jalabert, Galdeano... Kivilev comes across. Then JaJa. Then IGG. Here comes Botero, with Sastre. Hamilton is nowhere to be seen.
No sign of Leipheimer either. Didn't call those...they'll be disappointed tonight.
The former KOM is just crossing the line. Christophe Mengin.
Lance doesn't even look tired on the podium.
In an interview, Lance says: "It's nice to be back. I wanted to have a good day, and I thought we could take the jersey, but I was average at best today... We talked about trying to win the stage. I think the guys decided to start the day as if we were in the jersy... Roberto deserved the stage win... as far as I'm concerned, he did win... but we had to win and play that card to get the time bonuses..."
Eric Zabel is back in green.
Patrice Hagland is the new KOM.
1 ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP 4h 21' 57"
2 BELOKI Joseba ESP ONE 00' 07"
3 HERAS Roberto ESP USP 00' 13"
4 MANCEBO Francisco ESP BAN 01' 16"
5 RUMSAS Raimondas LTU LAM 01' 16"
6 SEVILLA Oscar ESP KEL 01' 23"
7 BASSO IvanITA FAS 01' 23"
8 KIVILEV Andrei KAZ COF 01' 34"
9 JALABERT Laurent FRA CST 01' 49"
10 AZEVEDO JoséPOR ONE 01' 52"
11 GONZALEZ GALDEANO Igor ESP ONE 01' 54"
12 MOREAU Christophe FRA C.A 01' 57"
13 LELLI Massimiliano ITA COF 01' 57"
14 MONCOUTIE David FRA COF 01' 59"
15 OSA Unai ESP BAN 01' 59"
16 ZUBELDIA Haimar ESP EUS à 02' 02"
17 GOUBERT Stephane FRA DEL 02' 23"
18 SERRANO Marcos ESP ONE 02' 24"
19 SASTRE Carlos ESP CST 02' 24"
20 BOTERO Santiago COL KEL 02' 24"
GC After Stage 11
1 001 ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP 40h 47' 38"
2 021 BELOKI Joseba ESP ONE 01' 12"
3 024 GONZALEZ GALDEANO Igor ESP ONE 01' 48"
4 158 RUMSAS Raimondas LTU LAM 03' 32"
5 032 BOTERO Santiago COL KEL 04' 13"
6 085 HONCHAR Serhiy UKR FAS 04' 29"
7 022 AZEVEDO José POR ONE 04' 31"
This concludes the live coverage, but stand by right here for results of this first mountain stage.
The Site_Goddess would like to thank both Jaime Nichols and Locutus for their great reporting today, both here and in the DP Chatroom. Allez Jaime, Allez Locutus!