Stage 6 - June 15: Albertville - Morzine-Avoriaz, 146 km
Today is the Queen stage of the race. The first of the three category 1 climbs (Saisies) comes after only 30 kilometres and is quickly followed by the Aravis and then the Col de la Colombière (which many riders feel is under rated) the race then heads up the Hors Categorie Col de Joux Plane (1691m) before the steep 6 kilometre descent into the tiny village of Morzine - Avoriaz. It will be an epic day's racing - and the winner will be decided on the slopes of the Col de Joux Plane.
Sporting director of the Franciase des Jeux, Marc Madiot, was delighted by the superb victory of Frederic Guesdon in the fifth stage of Dauphiné Libéré yesterday. "This third victory in the race is the result of the good state of mind within our team, where everyone is a team player and is respectful to my instructions. Everyone adds his contribution to the building. The victory of Frederic pleases me greatly because of his history, he has been with me since the beginning and is a calm, serene guy."
The riders set off under a cloudless blue sky in glorious sunshine, the temperature was 30 degrees and there was no wind. Which of course would suit race leader, Lance Armstrong, who is known to prefer to ride in higher temperatures. It was the US Postal team who once again set the pace at the front of the peloton.
However after an hour's racing came the news that Oscar Sevilla had abandoned the race. One of the most serious competitors of Lance Armstrong, the Spaniard Sevilla gave up after a suffering from the effects of a heavy fall yesterday. More news on Sevilla’s condition later.
Inevitably, a group of riders did break away from the protective cover of the boys in blue: Nicolas Jalabert (CSC Tiscali) who seems to have been in every move in the race, Massimiliano Lelli (Cofidis), Ludovic Martin (Crédit Agricole), Kurt Van De Wouver (Lotto), Jean-Cyril Robin (Française des Jeux), Jose Enriq Gutierrez (Kelme), Dariusz Baranowski, Tomasz Brozyna and David Latasa (iBanesto) (the Banesto team lead the team competition) and also Stéphane Goubert (Jean Delatour).
Dariusz Baranowski (iBanesto) was the first rider over the top of the Col des Saises followed by Martin and Guitierrez, and at this point the escapees had 1min 50sec on the Postal lead peloton. The presence of three riders from the iBanesto team is an indication of how seriously they want to win the team competition, and of course it was an ideal tactical move to have supporting riders up the road for Denis Menchov. The young Russian (second in the young rider competition behind Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi) was the winner of the Ventoux stage - and iBanesto had shown great tactical awareness by sending out so many men in the initial break.
Sandy Casar, second in this years Paris Nice, used his stunning descending skills to launch an attack on the main peloton and continued this momentum to bridge the gap to the escapees. The gap for the escapees rose to three minutes as they reached the col des Aravis, meanwhile Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r) and Walter Beneteau (Bonjour) had attacked the Postal lead peloton on the descent of the Col des Saisies and were trying to bridge the gap to the escapees. The first man over the top of the Col des Aravis was veteran Massimilano Lelli (Cofidis), born in Manciano Italy on 2/12/67, however the gap had started to fall (2’33") and just as Tomasz Brozyna (Banesto) had lost contact with the escapees on the climb, so others were finding the day too hard.
Gorka Gonzales (Euskaltel), Anthony Charteau (Bonjour), Santiago Perez (Kelme), Olivier Asmaker (CSC Tiscali) and Stephan Huelot (Bigmat) had all abandoned by this stage. Once again Casar attacked on the descent of the Col des Aravis - and quickly gained a minute on his fellow escapees and 4’10" on the still US Postal-led peloton. David Millar, who little by little is improving as a climber, also decided that attack was the best form of descent - and he too attacked the peloton - Lelli - presumably informed by radio then waited for the flying Scotsman - and the Cofidis duo started to increase their lead on the peloton.
Over the top of the category one Col de la Colombière Robin (FdJ) led followed by Dariusz Baranowski, Unaï Osa (iBanesto), Stéphane Goubert (Jean Delatour) and Alexandre Botcharov (Ag2r). José Enriq Guitierrez (Euskaltel) and David Latasa (iBanesto) were 10 seconds behind.
Meanwhile the French commentator was trying to find new ways of saying the peloton is being lead by the US Postal team. "Toujours Postal," "L'US Postal contrôle," before a triumphant "L'US Postal imprime le train en tête du peloton" (the US Postal have stamped their authority on the peloton - who says the French have no sense of humour!).
Meantime the race sped through Cluses and the race reached its dramatic finale. The breakaway group over the fourth category climb of Cote De Chatillon sur Cluses started to splinter on the lower slopes of the Col De Joux Plane. Meanwhile finally Domo joined the US Postal at the front of the peloton , in order to set up Virenque for the final climb. With riders now being sucked back into the peloton it was Andreï Kivilev (Cofidis who launched a surprise early attack. With this move the peloton exploded and from that point on it was every man for himself.
Dariusz Baranowski and Unaï Osa (iBanesto) still were at the front of the race making life difficult for Alexandre Botcharov (AG2R) who was the surviving member of the breakaway group. Kivilev was soon catching those riders left in the wake of the Banesto boys' hard pace - and would have been pleased that David Millar found the strength from somewhere to assist him for a short while.
It was at this point the Texan decided it was time to make his own move - and Armstrong launched a blistering attack which left everyone in his wake. Moreau tried to hold his wheel but quickly went backwards - it was quite simply as the French commentator said, "La démonstration du champion." Meanwhile higher up the slopes of the mountain Osa bravely struggled while Alexandre Botcharov was leading the race in the hope he had enough advantage to steal the victory. Kivilev passed Osa - but the Cofidis man was in for a surprise of his own. Armstrong was now in full flow and when he reached Kivilev he was simply too strong for him.
Armstrong powered up the mountainside and soon had passed the last man from the original escapees, Botcharov. Meanwhile behind, Moreau had made a magnificent comeback and he and Kivilev were to be locked in their own duel for the remaining descent.
The day and race, however, belonged to Armstrong who soloed to glory into the sleepy (well not so sleepy this afternoon!) village of Morzine-Avoriaz. Barring any major surprises, tomorrow it will mean the Texan will have won both the Midi and Dauphiné Libéré already this season. Floyd Landis had another excellent day too - holding onto his second place overall.
Last words of the day belong to Armstrong: "It has been an excellent preparation for the Tour as was always our intentions. I finally conquered the mountain that nearly killed me before. It feels great to win today; we had a hard chase and I was nervous before the final climb but this time I came through without problems it has been a great battle today particularly by the Banesto team."
1. Lance Armstrong (USA, US Postal) les 146 km en 4h26’43" (32,8 km/h)
2. Christophe Moreau (FRA, Crédit Agricole) à 6 sec.
3. Andrei Kivilev (KAZ, Cofidis) m.t.
4. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP, Euskaltel-Euskadi) à 1’31"
5. Richard Virenque (FRA, Domo-Farm Frites) à 1’42"
6. Marzio Bruseghin (ITA, iBanesto.com) m.t.
7. Denis Menchov (RUS, iBanesto.com) à 1'55"
8. Floyd Landis (USA, US Postal) m.t.
9. Alexandre Botcharov (RUS, Ag2r Prévoyance) m.t.
10. Laurent Lefèvre (FRA, Jean Delatour) à 1'53"
1. Lance Armstrong (USA, US Postal) en 24h54'54"
2. Floyd Landis (USA, US Postal) à 2'03"
3. Christophe Moreau (FRA, Crédit Agricole) à 2'24"
4. Haimar Zubeldia (ESP, Euskaltel-Euskadi) à 2'44"
5. Andrei Kivilev (KAZ, Cofidis) à 3'28"
6. Denis Menchov (RUS, iBanesto.com) à 3'46"
7. Aitor Kintana (ESP, BigMat-Auber 93) à 5'09"
8. Marzio Bruseghin (ITA, iBanesto.com) à 5'34"
9. Richard Virenque (FRA, Domo-Farm Frites) à 6'11"
10. Nicolas Vogondy (FRA, La Française des Jeux) à 7'09"