By Shane Stokes
George Hincapie had undoubtedly the best day of his career today, transforming himself from Classics rider to Tour mountain stage winner on the hardest day of the race. The Discovery Channel rider reached the top of the Hors Category Saint-Lary-Soulon with just Phonak's Oscar Pereiro for company, easily outsprinting him to take his first ever Tour stage win.
Teammate Lance Armstrong had surely thought about winning today on eve of the 10th anniversary of the death of Fabio Casartelli, but when a 14-man group containing Hincapie and Pereiro gained 19 minutes on the peloton, Discovery switched to Plan B. Armstrong focussed on getting more time out of the other GC contenders and did just that, breaking clear with Ivan Basso (Team CSC) on the final climb and finishing just behind the Italian in seventh. Jan Ullrich lost 1'24 to Armstrong, while all the other contenders were even further back.
After getting into the early break, Hincapie and Pereiro went clear on the category one Col du Peyresourde, along with Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile), Laurent Brochard (Bouygues Telecom) and Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole). However the duo proved too strong for the others on the final climb, with a fresher Hincapie jumping away from the Spaniard for the win.
"I knew it was going to be a tough day," said the visibly moved 32 year old after the finish. "I actually wanted to just go in the breaks and get a head start on the group, possibly wait for Lance and help him out at the finish. But we ended up getting 18 minutes. Johan said "you guys aren't coming back, George do your race." They gave me the go-ahead. It is a dream come true today."