By Hedwig Kröner in Montpellier
The yellow jersey wearer Lance Armstrong was in good spirits at the finish in Montpellier, and looking forward to some further mountain action after today's flat sprinter's passage. The "shorter, yet steeper" Pyrenees are calling, and the Discovery leader knows that this mountain range favours more explosive riders.
"Regardless of what happens tomorrow or on the next day, we still have the advantage of knowing that there's a long time trial in the end," he said post-race. "But if somebody is having a great day and I can't follow the explosive riders and their accelerations...who knows what will happen? But, I might be able to follow," he added.
In the summer heat of these Southern stages, Armstrong also took special care in hydration. He learned about this crucial factor the hard way in 2003, when his performance was significantly reduced in the time trial to Cap Découverte. "Everybody's performance suffers in the heat. Some riders, of course, deal with it better than others. But it doesn't have to do that much with what happens in the race or with physical make-up, but with how you hydrated yourself the night before and in the morning, as hydration is critical. As soon as you start to get behind on that, then your performance starts to evaporate. Tomorrow's going to be 40 degrees, so I have to be careful," he said.
Asked about the climbs on Saturday, he explained, "The Pailhères is not one of the more famous climbs from the Tour de France, but in recent years we've been there a lot. It's very long, very steep, and incredibly narrow at the top in 2000 metres, so it's difficult to move out into a good position if you're not." The final climb to Ax-3-Domaines is less long, and also a little less steep. As for the stage on Sunday, "It's the hardest day of the Tour," Armstrong believed. "It's actually a stage that we do almost every year, except they change the final climb. Portet d'Aspet, Peyresourde, all of these climbs... they're almost in the same order, and the amount of elevation gain for that day is just the hardest thing."
Of course, stage 15 will be a special day of remembrance for Armstrong, too, as it marks the 10th anniversary of his former Motorola teammate Fabio Casartelli's death. "It feels almost like yesterday when we were descending the Portet d'Aspet and I saw him there, which just goes to show how time flies...," a touched Armstrong said. "It's always a tough moment to pass that point, also in training. His wife, his son and his parents will be here, and it's added motivation for me. When he died, his son was just born, and to see him now as a ten year-old boy, and a carbon copy of Fabio is a pretty special sight. He was a great guy, and he left a little baby so it's a tough situation. I'll ride with his memory on Sunday for sure," he concluded, also explaining that his visits to the Casartelli family on his trips to Italy were very private. Armstrong plans to attend a small remembrance ceremony on rest day in Pau.