Stage 15 - July 21: Bagnères-de-Bigorre to Luz-Ardiden 159 km
© Copyright Amaury Sport Organisation / A.S.O. 2003
Arguably the toughest day in the race. With 2 HC climbs in the last 30 kilometres, and legendary climbs at that.
The Col de Tourmalet was introduced to the race in 1910 - and it was Gustave Garrigou who had the honour of being the first to cross the summit. 15 minutes later, Lapize appeared, covered in mud and pushing his bike. "Assassins," he spat, before riding on, eventually to win the stage. Desgrange saw that the Tourmalet was a winning formula; the Pyrenean giant has been included in the Tour more times than any other mountain.
In 2001 the Tour route covered the same final climbs and it was a victory for Roberto Laiseka ahead of battling Belli and Armstrong and Ullrich who were locked in their own battle.
Interestingly the three main protagonists all seem equally keen to attack tomorrow -
Lance Armstrong commented -
“After the first climb, I felt a lot better than yesterday, when I had a moment of crisis, caused by the disaster in Friday’s time trial. Today, I had no problems following the others, which looks promising for the days to come. Tomorrow will no doubt be the most important stage of this Tour. I will give it all I have and attack until all my energy is gone. When looking at the result of the time trial, my only conclusion should be my advance on Ullrich is not big enough to put everything on the remaining time trial in Nantes. If I analyse the results of earlier confrontations against the clock, it’s clear I need to watch Ullrich over the coming stages. Tomorrow as well, Jan will be my primary target, even though I keep a close lookout for Vinokourov. If my legs are good, you can certainly expect something…”
Meanwhile Ullrich is keeping a very low profile, however Gimondi observed -
“At the moment Armstrong is trapped in a tight grip, it is important that Ullrich and Vinokourov keep on with the strategy of attacking him, and the Spaniards Mayo and Zubeldia too.
"In my opinion Armstrong seems to have recovered from the effort of the time trial and above all from the first Pyrenees stage where Ullrich had no mercy and crept up precious seconds.
“I liked the strategy of Ullrich today he had the control over the situation and over Armstrong, who fears him. Armstrong is keeping a close eye on him because he feels that Ullrich is his most dangerous opponent, but let’s not forget Vinokourov, he never stops to surprise and to attack.
Winner of Paris Nice, Amstel Gold and the Tour de Suisse Alexandre Vinokourov continues to surprise commentators and fans alike -
"It was a very hard stage. I gave everything to try and get the yellow jersey and for a moment thought I would succeed. Unfortunately I just missed out. Had Mayo given me some help it might have been different, but to be fair, I believe he was at his limit, I did try on Saturday but did not feel so good. Today I had more strength. That is good for morale."
"Perhaps I will still be the laughing third man if Armstrong and Ullrich continue to forget about me!”
Exhausted after his efforts today, Vinokourov will have deep reserves since he has raced all season. Nardello proved his class as a support for him today, and even Zabel has committed himself to the supporting the man from Petropawlowsk.