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Stage 11: Day Of Destruction

Stage 11 …Day Of Destruction
Pau – La Mongie 158 km

Bam! Pow! Kablooie! The shots rang like Mt. St. Helens blowing her top as one by one the Tour’s gc heavyweights got bombed out of contention by the might of Us Postal. As predictable as it seems, each year is more amazing to watch as Armstrong and his men return to the Tour stronger than before and take control of the race when, where, and how they want.

Today’s first stage into the high mountains was another awesome display of their might, and an horrific display of destruction all down the side of the 13 km climb to the 1700 m ski station at la Mongie. Once again Lance waited until the final climb of the first mountain stage to stamp his authority of the race, and except for lone French hope Laurent Jalabert (CSC) who had been off on a race long break all day – the group hit the bottom of the last climb intact, with US Postal setting the pace. The rest of the challengers rode along side, waiting and watching for their chance to escape, which unfortunately never came.

The peloton was content to let US Postal control the race, and this was their fatal mistake, as the boys in blue were so fast that no one was able, nor attempted to get away. Here’s how it played out on the last climb:
1. The first to go (out the back) was David Millar, who had high hopes in the mountain this year and was lying 7th overall just 2’11” back – today he lost over 7 minutes and is now 27th at 9’28”.
2. Tyler Hamilton – he was sadly never in it and lost over 3 minutes, leaving him 5’38” back in 11th place.
3. Santiago Botero – Monday’s TT winner apparently blew it early and lost 2’24” landing him 5th on gc at 4’:13”.
4. Richard Virenque – love him, hate him, he’s always there in the mountains, at least he used to be. He got ejected out he back early and arrived with Hamilton at 3’14”. He now sits 9’23” back in 28th place.
5. Galdeano – this morning’s maillot jaune hung on as best he could, but could only match the pace till half way up the last climb before saying “adios” to the lead bunch and his leaders jersey. He struggled, you could see it all over his face, but he did limit his losses to 1’54” today and is arguably still in it at 3rd overall at 1’48” back.
6. Leipheimer – America’s man for the future? He hung in there longer than most and was quite visible in his Rabobank team colors, perhaps because we’re not used to seeing the Dutch squad near the front in the mountains… he looked strong, but lost another 2’41 today and is now over 7 minutes back.

At 5km to go, with the lead group down to about 12 riders, Roberto Heras took over at the front and upped the pace, blasting the rest to smithereens, reducing the tete de la course to 3 riders – himself, Armstrong, and Beloki. His pace was so high that Armstrong even asked him to cool it a bit, as the trio caught and dropped Jalabert. Heras’ huge effort finally cost him in the final meters, as Beloki the passenger was pushed into second position by Lance – to cover any last minutes bids for glory and time bonuses. It was clear that Beloki would beat Heras, so Lance jumped in the final 200 meters and simply blasted away, leaving even viewers gasping at his incredible strength and power. Heras deserved the win, and Lance had hoped to help him get it, but in the final it came down to sacrificing the battle to win the war, and gain the bonus points that go with a first place.

Armstrong is clearly the man to beat, and tomorrow will be a day that contenders must play their cards. If they have been paying attention the past three years, they’ll know that waiting for Lance to crack is futile, and a guarantee to losing the race. Teamwork will be more important than ever, and every man will be needed to battle the mighty Us Postal boys, who showed their strength today. Is the moral of the bunch crunched? We’ll see tomorrow as the riders cover 200km, five big climbs including another mountain top finish to 1780 m at Plateau-de-Beille. Expect over 5 hours in the saddle, more high temperatures, and even more heat from US Postal.

Results Stage 11
1. ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP 4h 21′ 57″
2. BELOKI Joseba ESP ONE 00′ 07″
3. HERAS Roberto ESP USP 00′ 13″
4. MANCEBO Francisco ESP BAN 01′ 16″
5. RUMSAS Raimondas LTU LAM 01′ 16″
6. SEVILLA Oscar ESP KEL 01′ 23″
7. BASSO Ivan ITA FAS 01′ 23″
8. KIVILEV Andrei KAZ COF 01′ 34″
9. JALABERT Laurent FRA CST 01′ 49″
10. AZEVEDO Josй POR ONE 01′ 52″

Results Overall After Stage 11
1. ARMSTRONG Lance USA USP 40h 47′ 38″
2. BELOKI Joseba ESP ONE 01′ 12″
4. RUMSAS Raimondas LTU LAM 03′ 32″
5. BOTERO Santiago COL KEL 04′ 13″
6. AZEVEDO Josй POR ONE 04′ 31″
7. SERRANO Marcos ESP ONE 05′ 17″
8. BASSO Ivan ITA FAS 05′ 22″
9. MANCEBO Francisco ESP BAN 05′ 33″
10. HONCHAR Serhiy UKR FAS 05′ 35″
11. HAMILTON Tyler USA CST 05′ 38

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