Welcome to live coverage of Stage 14 of the Tour de France!
Stage 14: Agde-Ax-3 Domaines, 220 km
Today the riders hit the Pyrenees, or perhaps the Pyrenees hit the riders. The peloton begins a brutal weekend with two consecutive uphill finishes. Today is a 220.5 km roll that ends at the top of the Ax-3 Domaines.
The riders began with three Cat 4 climbs, a Cat 3 climb, and are now going up the Above Category Port de Pailheres.
T-Mobile is driving the peloton up this climb, trying to stretch things out. Quite a surprise, that.
Nardello has been in the early break, he has dropped back, T-Mobile will use him as a stepping stone. They are putting their cards on the table.
1509 CEST - Garzelli, Totschnig and Beneteau now the three only survivors of the break, Roberto Heras is dropped as Ullrich powers on. The peloton is being shredded by the T-Mobile pace. Armstrong is now alone!
Guerini, Vino Ullrich and Armstrong alone
Vino attacks! Ullrich is pacing Armstrong back to Vino! What is he doing?
Now Ullrich picks up the pace he wants to keep the pressure on and wants to eliminate the chasers. Ullrich pulls through and begins to set the pace. Whoa, it has all hit the fan already, and we have a lot of this climb left plus another climb to boot. The peloton in shreds.
Rasmussen and Basso and Evans and Mancebo have bridged. Several Discovery riders are chasing, trying to bridge - Julich, Jaksche, Hincapie, and several others.
Moreau leads the Discovery lads, as Basso picks up the pace at the front. There at 10.5 km left to the top.
Vino attacks again! Armstrong is still isolated. Well this wasn't in the game plan for Discovery.
Will Ullrich chase him down again? Basso goes with him.
Moreau has gone. Basso is now solos by himself.
6:12 AM [poddio] Ullrich responds! He's up to Basso. Where is Lance? Kasheckin is with them. Landis is actuallly leading Lance up the climb... hmmm...
Perhaps Lance is waiting for reinforcements. Vino, Kasheckin, Ullrich and Basso lead. Rasmussen tries to bridge, Landis counters
as Ullrich puts the pressure on. Ullrich has Nardello ahead, of course. 39 km left.
Ullrich is flying for now, but this climb gets much much steeper. Well, Armstrong is with Mancebo and Ullrich, letting the rest go. Ullrich, Basso, Vino and Kasheckin as Armstrong attacks! Armstrong is trying to bridge the gap
He was marking Rasmussen and Mancebo because they were closer on GC. I now understand.
He has now dropped Rasmussen, who is only 38" back on GC, and Mancebo as well. Armstrong bridges the gap, Mancebo and Rasmussen are struggling in the chase. They dig deep and try to bridge Landis now on the front of this elite group, Ullrich 2nd wheel.
Vino might be in trouble... and Landis is trying to attack. Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) is still in this group. The big guns are all sort of looking at each other now, waiting for the next attack to come, measuring each other.
Whoa, this is some great racing. The pace falls out of the front group , Vino, Rasmussen, Kloden, Ullrich, Kasheckin, Evans - as Basso puts some pressure on. Who is missing here? Well, Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) for one is not in this group. Still leading the race are Garzelli and Totschnig - those two have 8 kilometres to the summit.
Basso, Ullrich, and Armstrong are now dropping the others. Basso is the one driving it. Vinokourov is now dropped! Rasmussen and Mancebo are chasing the trio of Basso, Ullrich and Armstrong.
Moreau is still there with that Armstrong group. No that's Kasheckin, not Moreau.
There will be much angst in France, as Moreau is not in this group. He could ride himself into the white jersey today. Basso and Ullrich attack again, Armstrong pulls him back. Landis with him.
I love it when people go after Lance like this and make it a real race instead of a slaughter.
Armstrong, Ullrich, Landis and Basso, the pace drops again, Mancebo, Rasmussen and Kloden chasing. Basso goes again!
Vinokourov labours off the back of the group; it doesn't look like he's going to get back on, but he's done some sterling work for Ullrich.
Leipheimer was just back up to this group, but he's having trouble with the accelerations and is dropped again. Vino now in big trouble - he is pedalling square wheels. Mancebo, Rasmussen and Kloden are 27 seconds behind the yellow jersey group, with Vinokourov about a hundred metres behind them.
Basso still forcing the pace, Ullrich, Armstrong and Landis all looking comfy. They are driving away from the chasing Leipheimer, Evans, and Kashechkin. Behind, Mancebo, Ramussen, Kolden now 43'' back on the yellow jersey. Vinokourov is exactly 1'00" down now. This is thrilling and we're not even on the Ax-3 Domaines yet!
So it looked early on like Armstrong was in trouble, with no teammates and Vino and Ullrich off the front. But he bided his time, marked Rasmussen, and waited for his chance to leave the Rabobank Dane in his wake.
Totschnig drops Garzelli in front! Ullrich has one advantage - he has Nardello waiting up the road for him, which may prove significant. If Leipheimer could catch Armstrong's group, he also has Totschnig up the road.
The yellow jersey quartet now passes Philippe Gilbert, a castaway from the break. It is now one on one on one on one... four big GC men all without teammates, taking shots at each other... old school attacking riding. Dig it.
Garzelli is stubbornly not letting the gap grow between him and the Austrian rider.
5 km to the summit, Totschnig leads the race, Garzelli just behind. About 5 minutes back, Ullrich Armstrong, Basso and Landis, who have picked up Gilbert. Armstrong is leading his group setting the pace now... he doesn't want Rasmussen or Mancebo to get back on.
Totschnig has struggled in this Tour after riding so well last year. Today he's trying to atone for that.
Young hopeful Gilbert is doing well, tagging on to the back of this top-quality group and keeping pace with some of the best climbers in the sport. Landis is also really looking good here. He came good in the late mountains last year as well. This year, though, he is riding for himself, not Armstrong.
Basso and Armstrong are taking turns setting the pace, a truce for now. They are trying to distance Rasmussen. Further down the mountain, Vinokourov, frying in the heat, has been passed by a Euskaltel rider - probably Haimar Zubeldia.
Landis now has a teammate in this group of leaders... they have picked up Alexandre "Bullwinkle" Moos (Phonak).
Oops, now Moos is dropped. No, now Moos is back on again. If Floyd "Rocky" Landis and Alexander "Bullwinkle" Moos could get something going, this could be a day where Landis makes his move for the podium. His teammate Botero (Phonak), who is in 6th on GC, is nowhere to be seen on this climb... he was dropped long ago.
Nardello and Ullrich meet up - the best laid plans. Leipheimer is back up to this group.
Vinokourov has come back to Rasmussen's chase group.
1540 CEST - 32 km left. Vinokourov's on compatriot Kashechkin's wheel; Zubeldia is also up there - shades of 2003 for the Basque.
The last time this race finished on the Ax-3 Domaines (in 2003), the day was won by Sastre. If you'll remember, that was the day when Ullrich attacked and dropped Lance, but he only picked up a handful of seconds that day.
The road now becomes steep again, so we can expect more attacks. Landis and Moos, Ullrich and Nardello, Armstrong, Basso, and Leipheimer in the front group, but Nardello is finding the going tough, as is Moos. So back to 5 men, spread across the road.
Sorry, Botero is 5th on GC now that Valverde is out. So the men high in the GC who are not near the front on this climb: Moreau (Credit Agricole) 3rd @ 2' 34", Botero, 5th at 3' 48". The rest of the top ten are near the front of this race, though some are doing better than others.
Behind, there are still Kloden, Evans, Zubeldia, Rasmussen and Mancebo; Vinokourov has just fallen off the back of that group. They now pick up Garate who was part of the original group.
Meanwhile, further up the mountain, Totschnig forces himself upwards. Armstrong is setting the pace. You know, since he attacked Rasmussen, Armstrong hasn't looked at all in trouble. He easily rode up to Ullrich's wheel once he made up his mind to do it, and now I get the feeling he's just waiting for the final climb to attack again.
Landis takes a bottle of water from a spectator and passes it onto Levi Leipheimer. Well, finally we get a shot of Moreau far behind, struggling on this steep monster.
Its a great ride from Totschnig - he still has 4'15'' on the Yellow jersey, and he could prove to be a big ally for Leipheimer. Once again Moreau will have words with Kasheckin - who again has forgotten to help his captain. Christophe Moreau is already 3'30" down on the yellow jersey group! French hopes melt in this canicular heat.
On the other hand, Kashechkin looks set for the white jersey. And it's not his "fault" if he's riding better than the team's self-appointed captain.
I don't think Moreau would see it that way!
At the other end of the race, both Bradley McGee (FDJeux.com) and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) are struggling. McGee is still struggling with crash injuries, and who knows what is wrong with Heras. Huge crowds near the top of the climb. Totschnig has a feed back over his shoulder as he crests.
Totschnig first over the climb - chappeau!
1550 CEST - 29 km left. Basso now taking his turn pushing the pace in the Yellow Jersey group.
The CSC man has clearly been taking lessons from Armstrong in perfecting the look of steely focus and tenacity. Now Ullrich takes his turn. So five men: Ullrich, Landis, Armstrong, Basso, and Leipheimer are driving the chase. Well, Leipheimer isn't helping to drive this group because he has a mate up the road.
I must say, it is great to see Ullrich back to being Ullrich today. He is a great rider, and still a threat.
Ullrich leads the group under a couple of German flags, to the delight of the rabid German fans at the side of the road.
Group Armstrong over the top - of the climb, 3 riders from the USA in the top group - and 3 ex-Postal riders too. Remarkable, really. The are 3'48" down on Totschnig as they go over the top of the Pailheres.
Lots more Basque fans at the top of that climb, but thankfully they go crazy and cheer for every rider. Otherwise, they wouldn't have a lot to cheer for today... the Basque riders are struggling. Hours spent baking half-naked in the sun, wrapped in Basque flags. They come out in their thousands for the Tour's crossing of the Pyrenees.
Indeed, only Zubeldia is offering any hope; he's hanging tough in the Rasmussen/Mancebo group.
And a big pack of Belgians with that string of flags...
This descent is tricky enough without the added danger of treacherous melted tar; let's just hope that nobody crashes.
Over the top of that climb, Garzelli was 52" back and the Yellow Jersey group was 3' 45" back. Another 40" back is the group with Rasmussen, Evans, Mancebo, Zubeldia, and Kloden.
Then Vinokourov is solo chasing behind that Rasmussen group.
Armstrong adjusts his shoe straps on the descent. Man, I wonder how today's exertions will affect the riders on tomorrow's killer stage... Tomorrow is a real meatgrinder, a Cat 2, four Cat 1s, and an Above Category climb to finish. Just like a friendly club ride in the park, that.
Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom) was in that early break, and he's still just ahead of the Armstrong group.
Totschnig with about 4 minutes advantage must go for the stage victory now - he will also move well up the Classification.
The yellow jersey group doesn't seem to be going all-out on the descent - this will benefit Totschnig as well as the chasers behind. The Rasmussen group is closing on the Yellow Jersey group. They could be back up to Armstrong soon.
Yep, now the Rasmussen group has caught them.
Totschnig looking good, extending his lead on this descent. Behind, his teammate Leipheimer only has to follow wheels because he's got a mate up the road. Vinokourov is still alone, trying to catch up to the Yellow Jersey group. Now Ullrich has Kloeden in support, and it looks like Vino will bridge - advantage T-Mobile? Armstrong has no teammates anywhere to be seen.
He has two former teammates with him, but Landis and Leipheimer are out for his hide this year. Totschnig descending very well, very slick, very quick!
1608 CEST - 10km to go for the lone leader, Georg Totschnig.
So Garzelli is chasing Totschnig, Beneteau is about to get picked up by the Armstrong group. Vino's dizzying descent has nearly paid dividends - he is about 100 metres behind the yellow jersey group.
In the Yellow Jersey group: Armstrong, Leipheimer, Ullrich, Kloden, Landis, Zubeldia, Basso, Mancebo, Rasmussen, and Evans. Hmmm... lot of English being spoken in that group.
But it's not long before the ascent and Vino has had very little time to recover; Bruyneels car is so close to Armstrong it needs a race number! The climbing has now started for Totschnig, who rides over a giant drawing of pornographic content. Chapeau to that; must have taken buckets of paint... I'm losing focus slightly (just kidding).
The fans are already thick on the lower slopes of this final climb up the Ax-3 Domaines... it will be an absolute zoo near the top. 4'40 advantage for Totschnig.
Armstrong at the back of the group, sizing things up. Vinokourov attacks the Armstrong group! Unbelievable!
He knows nothing but how to attack... Armstrong won't respond to that, but others might. Wait, Kloden is chasing him! Now Kloden takes over.
Ullrich chased Vino down earlier, now Kloden seems to be doing it... dissension in the T-Mobile ranks? Kloden is causing carnage - Evans dropped. Mancebo is struggling to join Kloden, Ullrich, Landis, Basso and Armstrong - he's about ten metres back. Now Vinokourov struggles at the back of that group, stabbed in the back by his own teammates if you ask me.
The group is Kloden, Ullich, Basso Landis, Armstrong, Liephiemer and Rasmussen. With just over 6km to go, Totschnig still has 4'22". He really should win this now. Kloden doing a great job setting the pace - Mancebo is on Armstrong's wheel. It will be interesting to see if Armstrong tries to attack, or just follows wheels and save his bullets for tomorrow. Hopefully, Ullrich will attack and force him to chase.
Totschnig, still looking good, Garzelli still behind him, as Kloden drives on the yellow jersey group.
Zubeldia soundly dropped now. Basso attacks. Ullrich responds, Lance on Ulle's wheel. Landis and Leipheimer are struggling, but bridging up now. Rasmussen and Mancebo have been dropped again! It's Basso, Ullrich, Armstrong, Landis - Rasmussen, Mancebo, Kloden dropped.
Basso is really putting the hurts on them. Great so see Basso back in this kind of form. He's looking to climb up to 2nd on GC today, perhaps higher. They pass Beneteau.
Landis is dropped. Basso flicks his elbow - he wants somebody to pull through, but nobody will. Landis comes back This will give the other favourites an opportunity to come back too. Leipheimer is trying to drag himself back with Landis... they make it. Now Leipheimer cracks!
He'll just have to set his own pace to the top. Beneteau has also fallen away. Landis is dropped.
Ullrich has blown them out the back... the U-Boat setting a fierce pace now. It's Basso, Ullrich and Armstrong, the three heavyweights, slugging it out. With 4.7km to go though, the Rasmussen group is obstinately staying at only 15 seconds. Armstrong having a little chat with Basso. Wonder what that was about.
Now Lance accelerates. Ullrich, Basso and Armstrong now, horns locked on the final climb, and Armstrong picks up the pace.
He wants to bury Rasmussen. Basso now pulls through. As Mancebo and Rasmussen go under the 5km to go banner, Kloden loses their wheels. Garzelli gets caught Michael "Bone Machine" Rasmussen is actually looking good, setting a strong pace. And Armstrong attacks again.
1628 CEST - 3.8 km left. Totschnig's lead down to 2'30''. Armstrong setting the pace, Ullrich on his wheel. It is blistering hot out there today, and Ullrich loves the heat. Armstrong, Ullrich and Basso extend their advantage on Rasmussen and Mancebo to 36".
Basso and Ullrich have their jerseys unzipped all the way. You can see their bib straps. Totschnig now in a deep world of pain. Armstrong looks over and sure enough, Basso pulls through.
3km to go for Totschnig - he is suffering. The chase group is working well for now. They are putting time into their other rivals. Maybe they will sort it out amongst themselves near the top, or perhaps tomorrow. Ullrich pulls through, doing his turn.
Oh, yeah, they are into the runners now... the fans that run alongside screaming. The 3 km banner. These fans are mad. 1'50'' for Totschnig.
Now 2 km left. Totschnig is still away... he is only 1 km from the top of the climb.
There is about a 1 km stretch that is not so steep after the climb. The trio chasing him are still only 38" ahead of Rasmussen and Mancebo, who are riding sensibly and at a good rhythm. Ullrich, Basso, Armstrong still taking turns.
Ullrich accelerates. Basso and Armstrong are on him... Basso pulls through.
Now Lance is dancing out of the saddle up the final section of this climb with Basso and Ullrich in tow. This is so painful for Totschnig, as his mouth gapes open voraciously to gulp in as much air as possible.
Ullrich in trouble! Totschnig gets full points at the top of the climb... now just 1 km to the finish. Armstrong's pace has dropped Ullrich! Only Basso can hold with Armstrong's dancing style. Last time up this climb, it was Ullrich dropping Armstrong near the top. This time, the tables are turned. Go Georg! This will be a great victory for Totschnig! Totschnig wins - a great victory for Austria!
What a way to win for Gerolsteiner, Georg! Armstrong driving it, not looking for help from Basso now. Lance is accelerating through the corners. He has gapped Basso, finally, to get 2nd and the time bonus. Armstrong spriints into second place. Basso third.
Ullrich fourth, 11 seconds behind Armstrong. Leiphemer and Landis come in 5th and 6th not far behind.
Armstrong was given a 2" time gap to Basso at the finish. 1) Totschnig, 2) Armstrong @ 56", 3) Basso @ 58". Ullrich lost 20" to Armstrong. Jaksche and Evans cross the line, 4 minutes down on Totschnig.
So Pod and Andy, did it look to you like Ullrich and Kloden chased down Vino? It wasn't just me, right?
Well yes and no - what did Vino think he was doing?
He had only just back onto the group - to attack was suicidal. Vino should have waited behind Kloden and got his breath. Kloden was already pace setting.
Totschnig laughing and crying after the finish in the arms of his team staff.
In any event, Vino and Ullrich don't seem to be on the same page.
Foolish move by Vino - rush of blood after the descent.
1 Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner)
2 Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel) at 56"
3 Ivan Basso (CSC) 58"
4 Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) 1'16"
5 Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) 1'31"
6 Floyd Landis (Phonak) s.t
7 Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) 1'47"
8 Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) s.t
9 Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) 2'06"
10 Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) 2'20"
GC: 1. Armstrong, 2. Rasmussen @ 1' 41", 3. Basso @ 2' 46", 4. Ullrich @ 4' 34", 5. Leipheimer @ 4' 45", 6. Landis @ 5' 03", 7. Mancebo @ 5' 03".
Ullrich moved way up on GC today, great riding to get himself back in podium contention.
Kashechkin helped Moreau today - he may have compromised his white jersey hopes today; not many people were expecting Popovych to
hold out with his domestique responsibilities. Nobody really considered that Kashechkin would have to work for Moreau either. Both ended at 6'
More GC: 8. Kloden @ 5' 38", 9. Vinokourov @ 7' 09", 10. Moreau @ 8' 37".
Wow, France will be in mourning... Moreau dropped seven places on GC today. What will happen tomorrow? That's gotta hurt France.
Totschnig moved up to fourteenth overall courtesy of today's performance. Leipheimer and Landis both rode well today. With their strong time
trialing skills, they are both looking like strong top five contenders. They both acquitted themselves very well, considering both are thought of as stronger time-trialists than climbers.
Now that Ullrich is back to his old self, he could easily overcome his current gaps to Basso and Rasmussen in that final time trial. They will have to put more time into him tomorrow, if they can. This has certainly whetted the appetite for tomorrow's crunch mountain stage. Yes, the only man in the top six who isn't a strong time trialist is Rasmussen. Armstrong and Ullrich are a level or two above the rest of them in that category, though.
Totschnig very emotional on the stage with his trophy and flowers. He is stoked. The last Austrian winner was Max Bulla in 1931.
Armstrong smiles big and shares a laugh with Hinault on the podium.
Post-race, Ullrich says, "I tried to go with Vino. It left me dead legged, when Armstrong went I had nothing left. I felt stronger in the Alps. I tried to go with Lance, but in the end he was too strong. But in the end I am happy with my performance. "I hope I still have the legs to attack tomorrow."
Commentary today by Locutus, Andy McDobbin and podofdonny.
This concludes our coverage of today's stage. More of the same tomorrow as the race continues in the Pyrenees, so do join us tomorrow! Thanks for reading!