By Hedwig Kröner in Saint-Lary-Soulan
Yesterday, CSC's Ivan Basso told French daily L'Equipe, "You can't write that I never attack - but what can I say now? Armstrong showed that he was the strongest. Nevertheless, I will try again." So the young Italian did today, clearly showing that he was the only GC contender that could match Lance Armstrong's capacities in high mountains and moving up to second overall behind the American.
"Ivan was amazing today," his directeur sportif, Bjarne Riis said after today's stage. "I'm very impressed by the fact he dared to attack and he is really able to challenge Armstrong in the mountains." Basso rode himself to second place in the general classification on the second of the three Pyrenean stages of this year's Tour, only 2'46 minutes away, and therefore almost within reach of the leader's jersey.
The trio of Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso drove up the penultimate climb together, but on the final ascent to Pla d'Adet and following an acceleration by the Italian, Der Kaiser could not hold Armstrong's wheel. Ullrich is now almost six minutes down on the yellow jersey, and after all these years of him trying to slip into it again, one could hardly look at the German getting towed to the finish by his selfless teammate Oscar Sevilla without feeling sorry for him.
Thinking back on the final ascent to Ax-3-Domaines yesterday, when T-Mobile had isolated Armstrong in the Pailhères climb and the ever more courageous Vinokourov attacked again, Ullrich admitted his defeat in his personal website: "That was the moment where I should have gotten Armstrong," he wrote. "But in the end, on the last kilometre, he was stronger than me again. But it was a great fight on a sporting level and that's why I'm satisfied with my performance."
Today, T-Mobile's initial racing strategy - for what it's worth in high mountains, some might say - was hindered by the Danish team, who put on a pace in the third to last climb, the Peyresourde. "That's where we wanted to make the tempo," T-Mobile's Andreas Klöden said. "But when CSC drove in front of the bunch, it was hard for us. I don't care about my placing on GC anymore. We want to get Jan on the podium, and I think we can," he added, preferring to outline the positive side of the situation.
"We have to accept that there are riders in this Tour who are simply stronger," an often grumpy team manager Walter Godefroot said, who will be stepping down from his position after this season. On another note of resignation, he added, "We have tried everything yesterday and today, and that was exactly our goal."