Serano saves Liberty's Tour; Ullrich getting closer
By Shane Stokes
Marcos Serrano finally gave the Liberty Seguros team something to smile about when he raced to victory on today's 18th stage of the Tour de France today. The Spaniard attacked his breakaway companions on the steep climb of the Montee Laurent Jalabert, dropping Cédric Vasseur (Cofidis), Axel Merckx (Davitamon.Lotto) and Xabier Zandio (Illes Balears) on the 10% wall up to the finish in Mende.
The four were part of a group of ten which established itself 50 kilometres after the start in Albi, opening up a maximum lead of over 15 minutes approximately 20 kilometres from the end. Carlos de la Cruz (Francaise des Jeux) jumped clear shortly afterwards, but was caught and passed on the penultimate climb of the Cote de Chabrits. Merckx and former maillot jaune Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) were clear over the summit but Serrano, Vasseur, Zandio and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi) got back on before the start of the final climb, where Serrano made his victorious move.
The peloton hit the slopes over 12 minutes later and there an acceleration by Ivan Basso (Team CSC) carried race leader Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel), Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Cadel Evans (Davitamon.Lotto) clear. These drove it on to the finish, where Evans led them home 11'20 behind Serrano. Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) and Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne) finished 37 seconds back, with Floyd Landis (Phonak Hearing Systems) a further 12 seconds down.
The net result is that Ullrich moves to within 2'12 of Rasmussen, meaning that a podium place is possible if he does a strong time trial on Saturday. Evans overtook Vinokourov to get back up to seventh overall.
"This victory is for my family, of course," Serrano said post-stage. "My wife, my children, my children, my family. And my team, of course, including the helpers. When someone wins it is not an individual victory but the work of the whole entity, the whole team which makes it possible. It is the team as a whole that does it, therefore this is a victory for Liberty Seguros."