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Tour de France: Jambon Report Stage 15
 
By Locutus
Date: 7/18/2005
Tour de France: Jambon Report Stage 15
 
Golden Hams of the Day
  • "Gorgeous" George Hincapie (Discovery Channel). After years of sticking his face in the wind to help other riders in the Tour, Stage 15 saw a bizarre karmic turnaround for Hincapie. Up the road in that dozen-man break, Hincapie was sitting on saving his energy to help Armstrong when the GC men finally caught them. But then the GC men didn't catch them. With fresh legs, Hincapie was able to match all of the attacks up the final climb of the Pla-d'Adet, and then come around for the victory on the hardest mountain stage of the Tour. This victory and his ride in the Dauphiné Libéré this year will give the Discovery Channel team something to think about in the off-season: they have an amazing Grand Tour weapon in Hincapie, a man capable of strong time trial, climbing, and breakaway performances. Should they continue to put him at the service of a designated GC leader, or should they make him more of a leader in his own right? These are the kinds of problems that team directors love to have.
  • "Poor" Oscar Pereiro (Phonak). Up until Stage 15, this had been a rather disappointing Tour for the man who finished 10th on GC last year. While Hincapie won the stage, Pereiro was the tragic hero of the day. Pereiro was the prime mover in that day-long break: his attack started things off, he did huge pulls on the climbs, and he blew the break apart on the Pla-d'Adet. The only man he couldn't shed was Hincapie, whose GC responsibilities dictated that he sit on and save his energy. Pereiro put in an amazing ride with an enormous amount of work that should have ended in a stage victory, but Pereiro would only take home 2nd place on the stage for his efforts. Still, this is certainly not the last we'll hear of Pereiro, who is also a top-notch time trialist. He's up into 2nd in the mountains competition and 17th on GC, and will gain confidence from this powerful performance.
  • Ivan "Bello" Basso (CSC). I feared that Basso's legs wouldn't be up to this stage because he had ridden the entire Giro. Boy was I wrong. Basso has gotten steadily stronger in this Tour, and today he threw everything he had left at Armstrong. His vicious attack at the bottom of the Pla-d'Adet blew Ullrich off the back for good and put Armstrong under serious pressure. His subsequent pacemaking and attacks put Armstrong on the rivet. However, they also put Basso on the rivet, and he couldn't drop the big Texan. He ultimately came across the line in 6th on the stage at 5' 04", the same time as Armstrong, but he put 1' 24" into Ullrich and 1' 28" into Rasmussen. This put Basso firmly into 2nd place on GC at 2' 46", and he now looks a lock to finish on the 2nd step of the podium in Paris. However, Basso's ride has also got people talking about the post-Armstrong era being the Basso era. His biggest rival in next year's Tour is likely to be Ullrich, which would be a classic battle between a superior climber vs. a superior time trialist. The last time the Tour saw such a battle was 1998, when the Italian climber Pantani was able to tame the young Ullrich. Pantani pulled off the double that year, winning both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. Since the ascendancy of Armstrong, such a feat has seemed impossible. With Armstrong retiring, such a feat suddenly seems possible again, and Basso looks more and more like the man most capable of doing it.
  • Francisco "Neckbrace" Mancebo (Illes Balears). Mancebo once again stuck with Rasmussen on the final climbs, and this time he was able to distance himself from some of his biggest rivals for a top five GC finish. Crunched over his bike looking like a chiropractor's wet dream, Mancebo came across the line in 11th at 6' 32", which was 1' 22" better than Leipheimer and a whopping 3' 02" ahead of Landis. This allowed Mancebo to move up into 5th on GC at 6' 31". He now has a 1' 04" lead on Leipheimer and a 3' 02" lead on Landis in the race for that final spot in the top five. If he can hold his this lead into the final time trial, he'll be looking good for his best Tour finish ever.
  • Lance "El Jefe" Armstrong (Discovery Channel). Barring illness or injury, Armstrong now looks like he'll win his seventh Tour de France this weekend. He worked with Basso to distance Rasmussen and Ullrich, increasing his GC lead to 2' 46". In the final time trial, that gap will likely increase a great deal. Armstrong once again demonstrated tactical savvy and superior climbing ability, jumping across to Basso's wheel only after the Italian had a big gap on Ullrich. By marking Basso and distancing his other rivals, Armstrong once again got the maximum gain with the minimum amount of effort. He didn't have to win this stage to make clear one final time that he is the Boss of the mountains of France.
Ham-Gazers of the Day
  • Floyd Landis (Phonak). Floyd really struggled up the Pla-d'Adet, coming across in 19th at 9' 34". This put him well behind such men as Ullrich, Rasmussen, Mancebo, Leipheimer, and Moreau. Landis now sits in 7th at 9' 33", and he has a big gap to overcome if he wants to climb any higher up the GC. Landis is a mean time trialist, but he'll have to attack and gain a bit more time in the stages to come if he wants to finish in the top five.
  • Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank). Another mediocre day for Rasmussen, who came across the line in 10th at 6' 32". This dropped him to 3rd on GC at 3' 09", but he actually gained time on most of the other men chasing him like Landis and Leipheimer. This means that while the podium is looking like a shaky proposition for Rasmussen, he looks like a lock for the top five in Paris. Given his expectations at the start of this Tour, that result would be a dream come true for the Dane. Oh, and with all of the climbs of Stage 15 now out of the way, Rasmussen is pretty much a lock for the Polka Dot Jersey.
  • Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile). Ullrich faded on the final climb, losing 1' 24" to Basso and Armstrong and only taking 4" from Rasmussen. While 2nd place now looks out of reach for the 1997 Tour champion, he still has a good shot at overtaking Rasmussen for 3rd in that final time trial. Ullrich is still 4th on GC at 5' 58", but he's only 2' 49" behind Rasmussen. If you've ever seen Ullrich time trial (and if you've ever seen Rasmussen time trial), you know that Ullrich is very capable of taking far more that 2' 49" from the Dane.
 
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