Vino’ Closes In As Simoni Justifies Himself
Alex Vinokourov clawed back more precious seconds in the yellow jersey battle on a hot and humid day in the Pyrennees, while Saeco’s Gilberto Simoni lived up to a little of his self-proclaimed pre-Tour hype edging Virenque and Dufaux at the finish in Loudenveille.
Vino’ made his bid for yellow with 20kms to go, flying off the side of the lead bunch, and charging away with Iban Mayo and Christophe Moreau in his wake. The Kazakh knew he had Daniele Nardello up ahead waiting for him, but he didn’t take any help from anyone. However, the gap never ripped open and the recovering Armstrong (who looked better but still not 100%) and Ullrich pegged his gains to 43 seconds at the line.
The attacks came from the gun this morning with a group of 20 forming in the earliest stages, representing all of the top teams, including the tactical bonus for USPS of Manuel Beltran. With his team-mates setting the tempo behind, ‘Triki’ was rapidly climbing the GC to become virtual ‘maillot jaune’, forcing the hand of the Euskaltel, Telekom and Bianchi teams.
With the gap stretching well beyond the quarter-hour advantage the Telekom and Euskaltel DSs (Pevenage and Gorospe, respectively) could be seen in discussion. By the climb of the Portillon, however, it was Bianchi with 5 men on the front, doing the bulk of the chasing, with Telekom not far behind.
Up ahead of the top guys, the front group had dwindled to about a dozen before Laurent Dufaux split things on the Portillon, taking Simoni and Virenque with him. They quickly built a gap over the top and worked together although Simoni was noticeably ‘lazier’ than the others. Walter Beneteau got across to them on a descent, but couldn’t keep pace on the hills. As the front trio started jockeying for the finish, Andrea Peron almost caused an upset catching them on the last descent inside the last kilometre. He hurtled through the group, but sadly for a top friend of PezCyclingNews, he ran out of steam as Virenque got on his wheel.
The sprint wound up and Simoni edged Dufaux and ‘Tricky Dicky’ to the line. Speaking on British TV, 1987 Tour winner Stephen Roche somewhat sarcastically noted that Simoni “has now justified his expenses in coming here!” Virenque did enough today to clinch a record-equalling 6th King of the Mountains title, although few will rate him as highly as Bahamontes and Van Impe.
At the finish, Armstrong upped the level of the mind games, stating that while he respected Vinokourov, “Ullrich is still the number 1 challenger.” Indeed, it is hugely significant that Lance and Jan let Vino’ go today, knowing that they can probably damage him in return on the road to Luz-Ardiden tomorrow.
The American’s grip on the Tour de France is more fragile than it’s been since his comeback, but when you need to count on someone as a fighter, Armstrong still has the guts. We’ll see tomorrow if Vino’ still has enough in his tank to pull out a lead before the crucial Time Trial head-to-head on Saturday.
Stage 14 Results Saint-Girons – Loudenvielle 191km
1 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco 5.31.52
2 Laurent Dufaux (Swi) Alessio same
3 Richard Virenque (Fra) Quick.Step-Davitamon same
4 Andrea Peron (Ita) Team CSC +0.03
5 Walter Beneteau (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere + 0.10
6 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom + 0.41
7 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi same
8 Steve Zampieri (Swi) Vini Caldirola-So.Di same
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi +1.24
10 Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo same
11 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor same
12 Jan Ullrich(Ger) Team Bianchi same
Overall GC after Stage 14
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor 61.07.17
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Team Bianchi + 0.15
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom + 0.18
4 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi + 4.16
5 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi + 4.37
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo + 7.01
7 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC + 7.32
8 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com + 10.09
9 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole same
10 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC + 12.40