It looked to be a less hot day in the Pyrenees this morning, when the mountains were covered a bit in clouds. But when the bunch took start at 11.18 CET, it already was getting more and more tropical.
First attacker of the day after just a few k. is Mikel Pradera from the Once team. Bianchi and Telekom are playing alert and go with him.
In between huge mountains covered with trees and a narrow stream next to the road, the riders do not really have eyes for the scenery. Like it was like in the past days, today to the stage gets exciting and vibrant right from the start. A group of about twenty forms itself in the lead. Flecha tries to jump from bunch to breakaway. In the lead are Bettini, Virenque and Aldag too. The three accompanied the others in an earlier stage this Centenaire. The group though seems a bit too big to really stand a chance of staying away.
Dufaux, already in his a bit older days, is in the breakaway too. He seems to be getting more eager as age passes by.
Breakaway has a gap of 25 seconds and consists of Piil, Guidi, Garmendia, Bettini, Rogers, Virenque, Aldag, Nardello, Mengin, Petrov, Simoni, Pradera, Beneteau, Dufaux, Zampieri, Peron and Landis.
Botero and Hary try to join them.
The gap increases smoothly to over five minutes. Rogers is doing his share of the work in the breakaway. The winner of amongst others the Tour of Belgium and the Tour of Germany has impressed Lance Armstong during this Tour. The man from Austin told the Ozzie that he thought he would be a great rider when he keeps on developing the way he does.
Gap now is 1.20" at 21 k. The men in the lead are going crescendo. The two counter attacking riders - Botero and Hary - have been caught by the peloton.
The riders are heading for the first climb of the day, the leaders now have over 2 minutes advance.
First real climb of the day is the second category Col de Latrape. It'll be followed by the first category Col de la Core and the second category Col du Portet-d'Aspet (where some years ago Fabio Casartelli suffered his fatal fall). After that it will be the Col de Menté and de Col du Portillon which await the peloton. Last bust not least will be the Col de Peyresourde, 10 k. from the finish line.
Hincapie sets the secure pace of the bunch on the Latrape. For those with bad legs it will sure be a hard day in the mountains today. Just hope all brought the correct tickets to the bus...
Botcharov, a Russian who has lived a long time in France at the foot of the Portet d'Aspet, now is riding through his backyard, so to speak. Virenque is working his way to the polka dots points. Mengin (first wearer of the KOM jersey) though is the one to take the first place there:
At the back of the pack Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner) has to let go.
Teamleader from the CSC team Bjarne Riis told at Danish tele he does not believe Armstrong has the legs to take time on Ullrich today. He also said yesterday at first he had a dilemma, whether to stay with the car near Hamilton or with the broken away Sastre.
The main bunch now is 8.50" behind the leaders in the decent of the Latrape. 38 km raced and the very useful breakaway group now have over 8 minutes on the US Postal lead peloton. Bruyneel is using his forces wisely today by getting the Spanish climber Triki Beltran in the break. He may be vital as a "stepping Stone" for Armstrong later in the race.
Haselbacher quits the race. The group is very strong, with Bettini, Virenque and Rogers for Quickstep and good climbers like Nardello, Botcharov and Simoni. The gap now is 9.10". Beltran is the highest ranked man on the GC in 13th place @ 9.10 - the way this break is moving he could find himself "Virtual Yellow".
45 km covered - for the first time in 4 years Lance Armstrong awoke this morning to find he was no longer favourite - William Hill the UK bookmaker make Germany's Jan Ullrich 4-6 favourite with Armstrong at 11-10 and Kazakh Alexander Vinokourov at 14-1.
Next mountain awaits, with an over ten minutes gap for the leaders. 47 km covered - Armstrong would not be surprised at the bookmakers - he himself said yesterday - "Jan has really performed a great race and he is now favourite for the Tour. I have always said that he was my biggest rival.
"And every time we did the Tour together the second part of the event was very tight between us two."
50 km - the escapees are now approaching the Cat 1 climb of the Col de la Core they are still working very well together. Virenque, is once again in his element, in the Polka dot jersey, in the tour on a day when TV viewing figures will be as high as the mountains the riders will cross.
60 km covered and the escapees extend their lead - now up to 10.56. Jan Ullrich, following his extraordinary time trial that made front page news in all the German papers yesterday: Jan Ullrich runs them all off the road -- a sensational triumph!" wrote Bild. Berliner Zeitung had the headline "The Fastest" - so once again German hopes will be sky high, and Ullrich has regained his status after his fall from grace last year.
Gap now is 13 minutes. One of the climbs that has a bad ring to its name is the Col du Portet d'Aspet. In 1995 St. Girons was the starting point for one of the stages of the Tour de France. Less than two hours later, at the col du Portet d'Aspet, the Italian rider Fabio Casartelli was fatally injured in a fall.
Since 1997 the cycling association of the Couserans has organised each summer several days of cycling events in his memory. The entrance fees go to a fund established by the Casartelli family in aid of professional cyclists injured in falls.
Three routes--Easy, Medium and Difficult, are plotted for each day of the event and includes a stop at the Fabio Casartelli memorial.
61km - the lead up to 13.07, Beltran at the head of the escapees, his team Postal at the head of the peloton. Bruyneel is doing everything he can to keep a tight control on this race.
66km to go the gap up to 14,14 Simoni leading the escapees now. He looks in determined mood, behind still Postal lead the peloton with Hincapie pulling the peloton's tired legs along.
1 k. to the top, Robert Hunter has to let the back of the pack go.
Manuel Beltran is now virtual leader on the road with Virenque up to second - the gap over the 14 minute mark. 67 km over the top of the Col de la Core for the escapees the peloton still a long way down the mountain, with David Millar not looking too happy near the back of the group.
As Daily Peloton's podofdonny already noted down at this site about Triki Beltran: Manuel Beltrán, US Postal's latest signing and strengthening boost to the Tour de France squad, has confirmed to the Spanish press that Lance Armstrong was the key to his decision to sigh for the American team.
"During the Vuelta Murcia I spoke to Lance Armstrong and I asked him if his team was fully complete for this year's racing calendar and asked him to mention me to his Directeur Sportif, Johan Bruyneel", said Beltrán.
"After several weeks I received a call from Bruyneel. He offered me the chance to ride for them this season with the possibility of continuing next season, and he commented that Lance Armstrong was very keen to include me in the squad," said the 31 year old from Andalusia.
Beltrán said that he is extremely pleased to be signed to the US Postal team:
"I have joined one of the best teams in the world, with the best cyclist on the planet; and I am totally committed to help him win the Tour for the fifth consecutive time. Right now I am supermotivated after the problems that I have endured this season in the Coast team".
Manuel Beltrán was also pleased to be joining Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera:
"It is important to be in the same team as two Spanish riders, particularly since both are great cyclists. We can achieve great things together and I hope to achieve some great triumphs with them".
"The truth is that the US Postal is a great team, especially in the mountains."
The cyclist of Jaén will be valued for his experience in the French Pyrenees.
"I had the opportunity to ride some the stages of the Tour of France, and get acquainted with some of my new team mates. The fact is this is a great move for me in every way."
The team directors are getting a bit nervous now about the gap the break took. Both Godefroot (Bianchi) and Gorospe (Euskaltel) are now sending their guns to the front of the bunch too.
Virenque was 1st over the Col de la Core so extends his lead for the polka dot jersey prize . Meanwhile still down the mountain Brad McGee also is having problems hanging on.
The yellow jersey is peddling along, hard to tell whether he is showing some cracking or not.
Euskatel take up the lead in the peloton, still climbing the Col de la Core - David Millar in all sorts of trouble at the back of the peloton. It has been an exceptionally tough tour and the tour doctor is expecting no more than 120 riders to finish.
79 kilometres - the escapees on the descent of the Col de la Core, with Betinni giving a display of descending skills - then the riders will go through the feed zone and tackled the Col du Portet d'Aspet.
14.28 the gap as the peloton crosses the Col de la Core. Millar is having some severe difficulties to go on.
83km - the gap of the leaders who are Piil, Peron, Bettini, Virenque, Rogers Aldag, Nardello, Dufaux, Simoni, Beneteau, Pradera, Guidi, Mengin, Petrov, Zampieri, Beltran and Botcharov still around the 14'30 mark. Millar is taking all sorts of chances on the descent trying to recapture the peloton.
Brian Holm, sportdirector at Telekom told in Danish TV (http://tour.tv2.dk/nyheder/618/) that "It is going to be interesting to see what US Postal will do. For the first time in history they send a man in the break yesterday. Are they going to do that again? It seems like the team and Armstrong are in great doubt, but it is exciting."
90km - Millar rejoins the peloton, but he is surely in for a torrid time today. The escapees approach the feeding zone the Euskatel lead peloton is still 14.35 behind.
91km - now Bianchi also move to help out the peloton. Gimondi gave this assessment of the last few days. "The two racers are now detached of 15” only in the overall ranking. To summarize Jan earned 1’36” in the time trial and 19” more on the first Pyrenees stage, so he is getting more and more dangerous – concluded Gimondi – and Armstrong knows this and he is right to be afraid of him.”
95km - Euskatel and Bianchi still lead the peloton, behind a wedge of Postal Blue shirts with Armstrong being looked after, the gap is not really falling to the breakaway still around the 14 minute mark.
97 km - the escapees are on the climb of the Col du Portet d'Aspet, at the back of the peloton Davide Rebellin is in trouble, he has had by his standards a very quiet Tour.
Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) abandons and so does Rafaele Ferrara (Alessio).
98km - Quickstep's Rogers, Bettini and Virenque lead the escapees up the Col du Portet d'Aspet - the gap has started to fall though and is now at 12.27. 100km - Euskatel in orange, Bianchi in green, lead the Postal men in blue - but Armstrong has dropped back deeper into the peloton.
102km - Brad McGee again in trouble at the back, Alberto López de Munain (Euskatel) is doing a huge amount of work at the front of the peloton.
Rogers leads teammate Virenque up the climb, with Beltran stuck to his wheel.
103 km - Col du Portet d'Aspet - Virenque takes the points of the KOM competition.
At the back of the peloton, quite ironically, are two Kelmes Parra and Latasa. At the back, some Postals are in trouble... mechanical problems, it seems. Is that Landis? Yes, it is. Pena waits for him to bring him back to the bunch.
104km - Landis and Pena have some troubles at the back of the peloton, but they quickly sort it ou and return to the chase.
Also at the 'arriere' are Botero and Casar.
Hunter (Rabobank) is the next who quits the race.
The gap is getting less, the back of the pack is to let go by for instance Hans DeClercq and Nick Gates of the Lotto-Domo team.
Col du Portet d'Aspet - still Euskatel and Bianchi lead the peloton up the climb, the escapees are on the descent. Armstrong is not where you would expect him to be near the front of the peloton.
110km - the escapees start on the Col de Menté meanwhile the splitting peloton still climbs the Col du Portet d'Aspet the gap still around 11 minutes. 111km - the "Scorpion" Richard Virenque is looking like he is enjoying another day in the spotlight, helped of course by the "Cricket" Betinni and the remarkable young gun "Dodger" Rogers. Le Local de L'etappe Botcharov attacks. on the climb in his backyard. Bettini and Nardello and Piil are having difficulties to follow. And so does Aldag.
115km -Col de Menté is steepest at the start the escapees are still working well together - Euskatel still lead the chase with Hincapie third in line keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. The peloton is heading towards Spain, they will cross the country in a while. At the Peyresourde it allready is Orange All Over with all the Basques that came there to cheer on THEIR team.
Rogers and Botcharov will have the Col de Peyresourde fresh in their minds, having tackled it a month ago in the decisive Route du Sud stage, in the front group. 116km Rogers also having difficulty in the front group now.
FdJeux.com Nicolas Portal is today the one who drives the bus of less climbers over the mountains. 116.5km - The peloton splits in pieces as the climb of the Col du Portet d'Aspet takes its toll under Euskatel pressure - the gap is still dropping down, to 9.36.
Rogers dropped back, but fought his way back to make pace for Virenque. Petrov is one to watch, not just for this stage but for the future. He won the 2002 Tour de l'Avenir, the traditional stepping stone to actual Tour de France greatness. In the coming years, he could be a threat.
Bianchi is setting the pace, Flecha in problems, so is Ekimov and some other Posties already (Pena and Landis).
117km - Rogers leading the escapees who seem to have regrouped as they approach the summit of the Col de Menté. Verbrugghe (Lotto-Domo) quits the race too.
Armstrong has Heras, Beltran and Rubiera there to help him out.
Francisco Mancebo said before this stage, "It suits my abilities, but it will be harder to recover after each climb". When asked if he would attack, he responded, "Why not? However, I have to choose the right place, yet not neccesarily on the final climb as all the favourites will be doing that there".
Meanwhile in the peloton Rubeira is collecting water bottles for his team mates - it is not too hot today though no sign of the forecast rain.
Hauptmann (Caldirola) quits too. km 118 Col de Menté - Virenque over the top first after great work from Rogers. This breakaway effort will surely cement Virenque's polka-dot placing in Paris.
Bettini has fallen slightly off the back over the Col de Mente, though he's been doing the lion's share of work for Virenque.
The gap now is 9.25" at the top of the Menté. There are still two more peaks and 21km (out of the 55km total at the start) of climbing for the breakaways.
km 119 - Interestingly, for the first time, Postal who have Beltran down the road, have taken shelter in the peloton. Armstrong rode that climb about 30 riders back and apart from Hincapie riding shotgun, the Postal men sheltered in the bunch. A sign of weakness or strength for later on in the stage - we will soon find out. Maybe Beltran is feeling particularly strong and can go for the stage? Doubtful, but a possibility.
The man from AG2R, Botcharov, is not used to such high temperatures all his life since he was born in Omsk in Siberia, Russia. Botcharov is nicknamed "Photo Coppi" by his team mates since they think he looks like the great Fausto. He rides like the injury-prone Italian too, apparently.
Another nickname for Botcharov is "Lucien", after Lucien van Impe, the famous Belgian multiple polka dot winner.
Bianchi sprinter Guidi now faces some real suffering, having been caught by the peloton with still 60km to go.
Bettini learned his lesson and no is eating and drinking all the time to build up his energy-levels again.
Once's Pradera lives and trains on the Spanish isle of Mallorca. He's also a handy mechanic, and friends from all around go for automobile aid from him. "It's great, there's always a different problem!" says Pradera. Yes, I think Pradera trained for it before his cycling career took over. He's also Beloki's occasional mountain lieutenant, but is being given a chance to stretch his legs here.
58 km to go - still the escapees with a nine minute lead: Peron, Bettini, Virenque, Rogers
Nardello, Dufaux, Simoni, Beneteau, Pradera, Zampieri, Beltran and Botcharov speed through Saint Beat. Still about ten k. to ride towards the foot of the next climb.
Looks like we could see a duel between France's favourite Virenque and 'Spiderman' Simoni? Simoni is still not looking his Giro-best, but eager to do better in this Tour, he had imagined himself to be a bit more challenging towards the GC and above all for the man from Austin.
The Col du Portillon, after 156 kilometres, is another Cat 1 and is 8.3 kilometres at 6.9 percent - it is the 5th categorised climb of the day and after that mountain there is just the Col du Peyresourde after 180 kilometres.
128km covered by the peloton as it heads through Saint Beat - still being lead by the Euskatel and Bianchi boys and now strung out into a long line which means the speed is up as they head along the valley in pursuit of the escapees.
Current gap is 8.50". Bianchi and Telekom are looking to joint forces in the first regions of the bunch. Ullrich and Vinokourov are chatting a bit, are they setting up strategies?
137km to go for the escapees - as Rogers and Bettini keep the speed high for the "scorpion" Virenque, meanwhile the "spider" Simoni is still looking good in this leading group.
140km covered by the escapees, who include some very experienced men - Dufaux (Alessio) turned pro in 1991 with the Helvetia team - and won instant recognition by winning the Roue du Sud; he had a good day yesterday and will be looking for a win today.
The orange Euskaltel boys are doing their share of the work in the first part of the bunch too. The gap though stays considerable; the bunch does not close in that fast. The four that got dropped are at 5.10", the bunch is at 8.25".
Rabobank's erstwhile Tour captain Levi Leipheimer has been forced to view the race from his couch in Girona, Spain, rather than fight it out for the honours with his rivals. The American crashed out in the first stage, fracturing a bone in his left buttock, and together with his teammate Marc Lotz was forced to abandon. It was a unfortunate accident for Leipheimer, who suddenly saw a big hole punched in his season, which was based around the Tour. Not only that, he is now under a little pressure to ride well in the Vuelta to ensure his contract for next year.
In days following his abandonment, Leipheimer couldn't even watch the Tour on TV. "I found it hard to come to terms with, and furthermore, I was in a lot of pain," he told ANP from his home in Girona.
However, he became interested in it during the Alpine stages, and is now following it each day. "I've been surprised at some things - the attacks by a number of riders and the fact that Lance Armstrong is not as good as in other years. Actually I think Lance will get better in the Pyrenees."
Leipheimer is managing to walk, albeit painfully. "I've not ridden a bike yet," he added. "I hope to get on the rollers by the end of the week."
He is not sure how he will fare in the Vuelta, which will depend on the recovery from his crash. And as for his future, he's not feeling the pressure at the moment. "The contractual negotiations will come later. I think that decision will be made just after the Vuelta."
150km covered. The leaders start the climb of the Col du Portillon. Bettini, who once again has done an incredible amount of work, finds the going difficult. At the finish line at the moment it is getting more and more windy.
Dufaux attacks, together with Beneteau. Meanwhile Bianchi and Euskatel still lead the peloton and Postal remain 30 riders back - maybe they are planning a mass attack once the going gets difficult.
Simoni is coping with the pace and stays with the Swiss and French. Dufaux, Virenque and Simoni get a gap on the Col du Portillon - a dangerous trio...5 k. to go to the summit.
Dufaux and Virenque are former teammates - they rode for the Festina team together and used to have a great understanding between each other. Simoni is desperate to save his tour after battling through illness. If he 'fails' today, I expect he won't try again, let alone have another chance. He's looked solid enough so far today - either this climb or the Peyresourde will be sink or swim...or rather climb or be dropped!
Artetxe (Euskaltel) has done his share of the work to make the gap diminish and now has to let the pack go, together with the Australian champion and Axel Merckx.
152km covered - the gap is down to 6'35''. Heras and Landis have to let the bunch go. Less riders to help out Armstrong in the continuing km's. 38 k. to go to the finish line...
Dufaux must have excellent legs, having attacked yesterday on the Pallheres, in an attempt to reach the then-leaders Mercado, Sastre and Rubiera. It seems that Dufaux always has his eyewear perched in his helmet - I can't actually remember seeing him with shades on, though he must have at some point!
Bianchi - in their retro kit are rolling back memories for fans of the great Gimondi - still lead the peloton - as up the road Simoni picks up the pace of the leading trio.
It looks like not only that Armstrong's strengths are lessening, it looks like it's happening for the major part of the team...
Bianchi sweep up double junior world champ Petrov. Current gap is 7.30", looks like the breakaways are going to battle it out amongst themselves. Casero out the back.
Col du Portillon - the Bianchi boys are causing havoc in Spain! The peloton is falling apart under the pressure, Landis drops back to help Heras, will Ullrich put a big attack in today? Zampieri regains contact with the group ahead.
Ullrich must be getting more and more confident - he's beaten Armstrong in the last two days. If a chink in Armstrong's armour shows, Ullrich will do his best to bash a hole.
153km covered. Dufaux, Simoni and Virenque lead the race - 1 minute back are Peron, Nardello, Beneteau, Beltran, Botcharov, Zampieri, and 5 minutes behind them the Bianchi-led peloton. Lots of banners and flags and so on at the roadside show the French still adore their Richard.
On paper, you'd have to say Simoni is the best climber. But anything and everything has happened so far this Tour; and Virenque and Dufaux could both beat Simoni, who may still be slightly weakened by illness.
Cioni, Basso's lieutenant, has to let the pack go to, leaving the young Italian by himself.
Simoni is riding tactically, letting Virenque do the bigger part of the work. Botcharov leads the chasers over the top, in 4th place.
The descent to Luchon will be fast - Dufaux and Virenque are awesome descenders, but they force Simoni to the front - Dufaux's experience shows, he has a word with Simoni.
Simoni does some good descending himself, remember the snow and ice slippery stage in this year's Giro, where he took off with Dario Frigo. Laiseka shows his orange in the front of the bunch. Beneteau joins the three in the lead - good climbing by the Yeasty Boy!
Walter Béneteau turned pro in 1995 with Castorama; his last win was in 2000 in the GP du Télégramme de Brest. Certainly he is having a great day today. Castorama is the team where Beneteau rode with another Tour revelation, Thomas Davy, who later on joined Miguel Indurain in his famous Banesto-team. Would be surprised to see Beneteau win here - but it's still great for the French and Brioches la Boulangere.
166km covered - the four leaders do not contest the sprint. Their mind is on the Col du Peyresourde.
167km covered. The leaders start the climb of the Col du Peyresourde, the peloton is around 7'30 behind. When it comes to a sprint amongst these four in Louchon, it will probably Dufaux who is the fastest.
The Bianchi-led peloton stream down the mountain towards Luchon, the gap is still not really closing. Peyresourde is covered in some nice Basque-flavoured orange.
Beltran has orders to wait for the man in yellow and stops by the team car to get an additional drink.
It will be a race within a race though - Ullrich, Armstrong, Vino and the Euskatel boys will start a battle for the yellow on this final climb of the day. Simoni attacks... Virenque and Dufaux counter - Beneteau is dropped.
Sad news: Estonian pro Lauri Aus, a member of the French Ag2R-Prévoyance team, was killed while riding to the Estonian MTB championships on Sunday. Aus was reportedly hit from behind by a drunk driver and died from his injuries in the ambulance.
Bianchi put the pressure on the start of the climb of the Col du Peyresourde, Moncoutie attacks the peloton, Armstrong is beginning to look exposed...He is alone but has Beltran up the road, he is riding in 6th place in the peloton. Simoni has accelerated, dropping Beneteau.
20km to go. Simoni, Dufaux, Virenque lead the race like gladiators in an arena in the sky.
Menchov attacks the peloton. Now Moreau, Ullrich and Armstrong lead the peloton. Moreau attacks. Armstrong responds, Ullrich looks cool. Moreau accelerates again and gets the gap - no response - now Mayo counters.
These guys are over 5 minutes down - there's no direct obligation to follow them. Now Vino responds! Chess at altitude!
Vinokourov has unleashed a Blonde Bombshell of an attack!
Alexandre Vinokourov, Mayo and Moreau have the gap and Laiseka comes to support Mayo!
Alexandre Vinokourov, Mayo, Moreau under the 20 k to go sign.
Alexandre Vinokourov is starting to gain time on Armstrong and Ullrich. Lance can only 'give' 1'01" to Vinokourov, he's treading a fine line...
Ullrich, Armstrong on his wheel, still does not respond. 5km to the summit of the climb for Virenque, Simoni and Dufaux, Alexandre Vinokourov and Mayo storming up the climb. Ullrich leading Armstrong.
Hamilton dropped. Ullrich, Armstrong, Zubeldia and Basso together. 4 k to the summit.
Lance is looking bullish and determined, much better than yesterday. Alexandre Vinokourov and Mayo still on the attack. Simoni leading Dufaux and Virenque at the front of the race - Alexandre Vinokourov and Mayo chasing. What are Armstrong and Ullrich waiting for?
Still Ullrich leading Armstrong, 39'' behind Alexandre Vinokourov. 3km to the summit for Virenque simoni and Dufaux. Ullrich and Vinokourov may be good friends, but you can be sure Der Kaiser won't 'let' Vinokourov win the centenary Tour de France!
Alexandre Vinokourov and Mayo push their advantage over Armstrong to 41 seconds. Moreau is recaptured by Armstrong and Ullrich. At this rate, there is only 20 seconds to give Vinokourov! 15 km to go for Alexandre Vinokourov and Mayo. Mancebo has accelerated from the maillot jaune group.
The dense mountain air is punctuated by hoarse cries of "Allez!" And the riders are definitely Allezing....
Ullrich seems to be gradually going faster as the climb rises, Armstrong on his wheel out of the saddle - but Alexandre Vinokourov has now got 50 seconds.
"AUPA" is more heard on the Peyresourde, when Mayo and Zubeldia pass by.
Vino close to get the yellow jersey now, just 1" behind.
Alexandre Vinokourov - he won Paris Nice, he won Amstel Gold, he won Tour de Suisse - can he win the Tour?
Vino and Mayo have gone early, but the yellow jersey is now in Armstrong's hand to lose, rather than for Vinokourov to gain. It's a great move by the Kazakh, anyhow. He's attacked on all the big stages - and he's done it again, with arguably the best climber of this Tour, Iban Mayo!
Now Alexandre Vinokourov reaches teammate Nardello - who puts in a last huge effort for his Captain!!!
Meanwhile Simoni, Virenque and Dufaux battle through a huge crowd which is three deep for mile after hilly mile. Simoni leads the three men through a mass of Basque Orange.
Alexandre Vinokourov is virtual yellow!!!!!!
He's still doing the pacing ahead of Mayo, whilst taking bidons. Walter Béneteau reaches the top 1'02 behind Simoni.
On the Col de Peyresourde, Vinokourov is slowly using his own sword to inflict damage to Ullrich and Armstrong! Alexandre Vinokourov and Mayo over the top 1'40' down on group Virenque. Botcharov is caught by the duo!
Ullrich leads the group yellow jersey - now they have closed the gap on Alexandre Vinokourov to 52 seconds. Armstrong counting on his downhill to regain the jersey.
It's not a technical descent though - no real hairpins there, only in the lower parts the descent will be a bit more difficult. But there is a short final climb just before the finish which could suit Alexandre Vinokourov.
The top of the climb is chock-a-block with Basque fans waving Basque flags!
Group Rubiera passes the summit at 5 minutes behind the leaders. Another hair raising descent, Armstrong now leads Ullrich.
Yellow and celeste going smoothly downhill towards Loudon. Will Vinokourov win this Tour - he better try to take some more advantage, since he is a less good time trialer than his opponents. However, if he produces a TT like the one on Thursday then who knows?
Dufaux, Simoni, Virenque - - 1 minute behind Peron, Beneteau, then Mayo and Alexandre Vinokourov with Zampieri. Armstrong and Ullrich are pulling back time on Vino - the gap is down to 42 seconds. 2 k. to go, a little climb.
Simoni Virenque and Dufaux - 2 kilometres to go. Simoni showing his Giro form a slight little bit. Armstrong and Ullrich working together on the descent to try and pull back Alexandre Vinokourov.
Peron storms past the three leaders! The 4 men together now, Simoni on an inner turn. SIMONI WINS!!!!!!
He deserves this! He's been through hell in the Alps to find heaven in the Pyrenees!!!!! Alexandre Vinokourov finishes 42 seconds back.
Armstrong keeps the yellow jersey! Armstrong keeps the yellow jersey after a day of high drama.
Simoni says: I won here because of my determiniation. I am really happy. This is great to make the tiredness in my legs go away. My team director even told me yesterday to quit, but I said NO, I wanted to prove myself."
Armstrong says: It was a royal stage today. One stays in danger of losing the lead. I felt better today. Yesterday after the time trial it was bad. Tomorrow will be a crucial stage, with an uphill finish.
"Comparing the last TT compared the last TT last year, this lead wont be enough...but two years ago it was. I will go all the way tomorrow."
Bruyneel adds: "That Vinokourov is closing in is good. We now do not carry the weight of the race all by ourselves. Behind the attack of Beltran, Armstrong's only task today was to stay close to Ullrich and Vinokourov. It was Lance's responsibility to take the initiative at the summit to make sure the differences would be as small as possible.
"Vinokourov sure is a great rider. Chapeau for him. I am really impressed in what he is showing so far this season. It is really good for the sport that there now are some riders who compete all year and not just this month."
The bus/groupetto now is on the top of the Peyresourde. In the bus are amongst others Boogerd, Gates, McEwen, Cooke, Moerenhout, Garcia Acosta, Knaven. They will reach the finish line in time.
Thanks for joining us for another great stage! Tomorrow is the Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and the uphill finish at Luz-Ardiden! See you then!
Stage 14 Results (Top 70)
1 SIMONI Gilberto ITA SAE 5h 31' 52"
2 DUFAUX Laurent SUI ALS s.t.
3 VIRENQUE Richard FRA QSD s.t.
4 PERON Andrea ITA CSC 00' 03"
5 BENETEAU Walter FRA BLB 00' 10"
6 VINOKOUROV Alexandre KAZ TEL 00' 41"
7 MAYO Iban ESP EUS s.t.
8 ZAMPIERI Steve SUI CAL s.t.
9 ZUBELDIA Haimar ESP EUS 01' 24"
10 BASSO Ivan ITA FAS s.t.
11 ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP s.t.
12 ULLRICH Jan GER TBI s.t.
13 MOREAU Christophe FRA C.A 02' 14"
14 NARDELLO Daniele ITA TEL 03' 04"
15 BOTCHAROV Alexandre RUS A2R 03' 04"
16 MENCHOV Denis RUS BAN 04' 31"
17 HAMILTON Tyler USA CSC s.t.
18 JAKSCHE Jorg GER ONE s.t.
19 MANCEBO Francisco ESP BAN s.t.
20 LÜTTENBERGER Peter AUT CSC s.t.
21 ROUS Didier FRA BLB s.t.
22 LAISEKA Roberto ESP EUS s.t.
23 RUBIERA José Luis ESP USP s.t.
24 TOTSCHNIG Georg AUT GST 05' 17"
25 SASTRE Carlos ESP CSC s.t.
26 BELTRAN Manuel ESP USP s.t.
27 BROCHARD Laurent FRA A2R 06' 51"
28 SORENSEN Nicki DEN CSC s.t.
29 ZANDIO Xabier ESP BAN s.t."
30 BRANDT Christophe BEL LOT 08' 22"
31 PASCUAL LLORENTE Javier ESP KEL s.t.
32 LUDEWIG Jorg GER SAE s.t.
33 GLOMSER Gerrit AUT SAE s.t.
34 MONCOUTIE David FRA COF s.t.
35 HALGAND Patrice FRA DEL 09' 11"
36 LELLI Massimiliano ITA COF s.t.
37 CHAURREAU Inigo ESP A2R s.t.
38 GOUBERT Stephane FRA DEL s.t.
39 NIERMANN Grischa GER RAB 09' 36"
40 PRADERA Mikel ESP ONE 09' 36"
41 GUERINI Giuseppe ITA TEL 11' 00"
42 PLAZA David ESP TBI s.t.
43 GARCIA CASAS Félix ESP TBI s.t.
44 ASTARLOZA Mikel ESP A2R 11' 28"
45 LASTRAS Pablo ESP BAN 16' 25"
46 CUESTA Inigo ESP COF s.t.
47 BLAUDZUN Michaël DEN CSC s.t.
48 FRITSCH Nicolas FRA FDJ s.t.
49 FLICKINGER Andy FRA A2R s.t.
50 BRUSEGHIN Marzio ITA FAS s.t.
51 GUTIERREZ José Enrique ESP KEL s.t.
52 AZEVEDO José POR ONE s.t.
53 KESSLER Matthias GER TEL s.t.
54 SERRANO Marcos ESP ONE s.t.
55 GESLIN Anthony FRA BLB 19' 40"
56 PINEAU Jérôme FRA BLB s.t.
57 EKIMOV Vjatceslav RUS USP s.t.
58 LANDIS Floyd USA USP s.t.
59 BETTINI Paolo ITA QSD s.t.
60 HINCAPIE George USA USP s.t.
61 HERAS Roberto ESP USP s.t.
62 ROGERS Michael AUS QSD s.t.
63 GARMENDIA Aitor ESP TBI s.t.
64 ANDRLE René CZE ONE s.t.
65 NOZAL Isidro ESP ONE 20' 44"
66 CASERO Angel ESP TBI s.t.
67 O'GRADY Stuart AUS C.A s.t.
68 CIONI Dario ITA FAS s.t.
69 TRENTIN Guido ITA COF s.t.
70 VASSEUR Cédric FRA COF s.t.
General Classification after Stage 14 (Top 25)
1 ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP 61h 07' 17"
2 ULLRICH Jan GER TBI 00' 15"
3 VINOKOUROV Alexandre KAZ TEL 00' 18"
4 ZUBELDIA Haimar ESP EUS 04' 16"
5 MAYO Iban ESP EUS 04' 37"
6 BASSO Ivan ITA FAS 07' 01"
7 HAMILTON Tyler USA CSC 07' 32"
8 MANCEBO Francisco ESP BAN 10' 09"
9 MOREAU Christophe FRA C.A 10' 09"
10 SASTRE Carlos ESP CSC 12' 40"
11 VIRENQUE Richard FRA QSD 12' 51"
12 MENCHOV Denis RUS BAN 13' 37"
13 TOTSCHNIG Georg AUT GST 15' 08"
14 BELTRAN Manuel ESP USP 15' 50"
15 DUFAUX Laurent SUI ALS 17' 21"
16 ROUS Didier FRA BLB 19' 30"
17 JAKSCHE Jorg GER ONE 20' 29"
18 LAISEKA Roberto ESP EUS 20' 47"
19 LÜTTENBERGER Peter AUT CSC 20' 56"
20 RUBIERA José Luis ESP USP 24' 24"
21 BOTCHAROV Alexandre RUS A2R 28' 48"
22 PLAZA David ESP TBI 31' 22"
23 HERAS Roberto ESP USP 32' 54"
24 GARCIA CASAS Félix ESP TBI 33' 03"
25 LELLI Massimiliano ITA COF 34' 52"