Aussies find strength in spirit as the old Cadel returns
Motivated by what he felt was 'his' stage win two days ago in Saint-Lary Soulan, 27 year-old Spaniard Oscar Pereiro avenged his near-miss with an impressive, powerful performance in the Pyrénees today, outsprinting a four-man breakaway group to claim his and Phonak's first victory of the 2005 Tour de France.
"I am delighted to get this after my disappointment the other day," said Pereiro, his dark brown eyes and big, friendly smile gleaming in the afternoon sun. "I dedicate this win to my wife who is pregnant, where we are expecting a child at the end of October, and also to my family and friends.
"I came to the start thinking about the general [classification], too, but it wasn't easy in the first week. There were so many riders fighting for GC, and I thought it was better to try to attack to go for a stage than to stay on the wheel. I asked [Floyd] Landis and [Santiago] Botero to have the freedom to do this, and they agreed with that."
Another significant beneficiary of today's stage was Davitamon-Lotto's GC man Cadel Evans. The 28 year-old Australian knew today was one of his final chances to take time out of those lying above him, and when he saw an opportunity at the 30 kilometre mark, he ran with it à la Forrest Gump. In one fell swoop, Evans jumped from 11th to 7th on GC, and is now less than three minutes away from a top-five finish in Paris.
"I saw an opportunity where I could take four minutes on Armstrong, so I had to go for my chance today," said Evans, totally exhausted but completely satisfied. "I didn't know if the GC guys would let me go; in a way, I was working for me, but also working for Robbie [McEwen] for the points jersey, because he's still in with a good chance if he wins a stage. I was going to get in a move anyway so the points weren't available to Hushovd and O'Grady. I had hopes of picking the right break; we're sponsored by the Belgian lottery, and it looks like I picked the right ticket today!" he grinned.
Asked if this was a new, attacking Cadel Evans will we see more of in the future, he replied: "It's the old Cadel Evans coming back.
"Y'know, I had two really bad years, and a lot of people have forgotten what sort of rider I am. I always believed in myself and some people really believed in me, and I thank them for that. This is all for the people that believed in me...Marc Sergeant, my girlfriend, my family, my really good friends who have stuck by me the last two years, because it hasn't been a very good two years for me and now you're seeing the old Cadel come back."
Spurred on by the tragic death of Australian national team cyclist Amy Gillett, who died in tragically senseless circumstances in Germany yesterday, the Aussies found strength in the spirit of their fallen comrade. "It was the least I could do," said Evans.
Added Cofidis' Stuart O'Grady: "It's a shocking, dark day for Australian cycling; I tried to ride out there with their spirit, thinking of those guys back home... yeah, hard day," he said, visibly moved by his fellow South Australian, who left this world far too young, just 29 years old.
O'Grady took the field 'sprint' for 65th place, way out of contention for the any sort of points and leaving the classification for the maillot vert at status quo, where he lies 14 points behind the lead of Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole). But Stuey is sticking with his plan on chasing that elusive green tunic, which he has come within a whisker of winning on more occasions than he cares to remember.
"I don't want to wear it and ride around in it, I actually want to win the competition," he said.
"I've worn it once on the Champs Elysées - been there, done that - this time I prefer to win it. I think we'll know a lot more after tomorrow night. The next couple of days are going to be very important; if Thor has a bad day in the next couple of days, I'll hopefully be there to pounce on it, and vice versa."
Last-ditch attempts were made by T-Mobile and to a lesser extent, CSC, on the difficult though early climbs of the Col de Marie-Blanque and Col d'Aubisque. Though just as in days previous in the Pyrénees, the maillot jaune is finding a comfortable resting place on the shoulders of Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel), who grows ever closer to rewriting the already rewritten record books.
Asked what the focus will be in the days leading towards Saturday's crucial time trial in Saint-Etienne, Armstrong's - and Discovery's - motto will be one of 'caution rules the day'. "Just being careful, staying away from crashes, problems, being careful with the diet and food, no illnesses and silly things coming along. We still have almost a week left, and it is not over until it's over," Armstrong said.
How it unfolded
After a much needed rest day in Pau after 15 stages of the 92nd Tour de France, a Tour that is shaping up to be the fastest ever, Stage 16 was the action final mountain stage of this year's Tour de France. The climbs on offer today. Non-starters today were Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi) and Bortolami (Lampre-Caffita). At the start today, Australian riders were wearing black armbands in memory of the fatal accident in Germany involving the Australian national women's team, which killed Amy Gillett and left five others in hospital.
It was a beautiful day for racing, sunny but not as hot as over the weekend. After a 3.7 km neutral section, the start happened at 12:19. There were some attacks from the start, but all were covered by Discovery Channel, but most of the action was at the back with crashes. Klöden, Hushovd, Vinokourov and Leipheimer all hit the deck in the first 15km, but all got back before the first intermediate sprint in Bidos (km 27.0).
Meanwhile, Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) attacked after 22km and was joined by Julich (CSC), Serrano (Liberty), Canada (Saunier Duval), Pellizotti (Liquigas), Fedrigo (CA), and Goubert (Ag2r) but they were pulled back after 5km. At Bidos, Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) won the first sprint ahead of Turpin and Juan Antonio Flecha, who kept on going and after 31km, ten others had gotten across to the attacking Fassa Bortolo rider: Zandio (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne), Evans and Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto), Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Vasseur (Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone), Geslin (Bouygues Telecom), Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Gilbert (Française Des Jeux), Ludewig (Domina Vacanze) and Turpin (Ag2r-Prevoyance). Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) was the best placed rider on GC, starting the day at 12'57.
At the summit of the Cat. 3 Col d'Ichère after 50.5km, a 4.4 km ascent at 6.2 %, the break was 4'50 ahead of Serrano (Liberty), who had counterattacked out of the peloton, which was led by Discovery Channel at 5'24. Pineau took the KOM from Ludewig and Horner. 11km later at the foot of the second climb of the day, the Cat. 1 Col de Marie-Blanque, Serrano was chasing solo 3'30 behind the break, with the peloton at 6'00. Marie-Blanque was a 9.3 km ascent at 7.7 %, and from the peloton, Pereiro, Vinokourov, Leipheimer, and Kashechkin attacked, but Kashechkin was hit in the nose by a spectator with a giveaway from the caravan publicitaire and had to sit up and see the race doctor.
Mazzoleni and Basso got to the front of the peloton, with Leipheimer getting on their wheels. Then Mazzoleni attacked from behind, followed by Basso, which drew a covering move by Armstrong. Vinokourov sat up, while Mazzoleni continued his effort and bridged up to Pereiro, while all the action reduced the groupe maillot jaune to 30 riders. At the summit of the Marie-Blanque, Serrano was closing on the break at 1'32, while Pereiro and Mazzoleni were together 2'50 and the groupe maillot jaune at 3'45 with 110km to go.
Down the Marie-Blanque and into the feed zone in Bielle, the break was working well together and took their lunchboxes with Serrano at 1'32, Mazzoleni and Pereiro at 2'40, and groupe maillot jaune at 4'22. The penultimate climb of the day, the Hors Categorie Col d'Aubisque was looming, a 16.5km climb at 7%. As the 11 riders up front passed through Laruns with 90km to go, Rodriguez sat up and the break became 10. Behind, Serrano had sat up to wait for the two chasers as the Aubisque began and the trio began to began to close down on the break up the next 15km of the ascent.
Behind the remains of the break, there was plenty of action in the groupe maillot jaune up the Aubisque. Vinokourov attacked, and Kashechkin and Arroyo (Illes Balears) tried to bridge. Vino gained 1'00, Kashechkin and Arroyo 0'30, but the break was still 6'00 ahead. Then Heras attacked, then Steinhauser, then Klöden and Julich attacked, but to no noticeable effect. However, up front in the break, Stage 16 was changing shape. Evans had made a massive attack 7km from the summit of the Aubisque, blowing the break apart.
Behind Evans in the groupe maillot jaune, Ullrich and Vino were attacking to put the pressure on Rasmussen, but all his attacks were covered by Basso and Armstrong, with the Danish rider right there with every move.
Atop the Hors Categorie climb with 72km to race, Evans passed first, with Pereiro at 0'47, Mazzoleni and Zandio at 1'00, Serrano at 1'14, Ludewig at 1'33, Gilbert and Flecha at 2'24, Pineau, Geslin, and Turpin at 2'40. Horner had eased off at 4'13, and was caught by the Rasmussen and the Armstrong group at the top. In the end, the T-Mobile attacks didn't make a dent in Armstrong's armor, Basso or Rasmussen.
Along the tiny gravel strewn road across the unrated Col de Soulor, then down the long descent to the second intermediate sprint in Arthez-d'Asson, there were some changes, as first Pereiro, then Mazzoleni and Zandio got across the former mountain biker from Melbourne. At the second intermediate sprint in Arthez-d'Asson (km 140.5) with 40km to go to the finish in Pau, Pereiro and Mazzoleni's charge had exploded the front of the race. Pereiro took the sprint from Evans, while Serrano and Ludewig were chasing at 1'50, with a third group from the break, led by Gilbert at 2'40 and the peloton at 5'00. Serrano and Ludewig realized that they were in no-man's land, so they sat up and were caught by the chase group.
With 30km to go in the tiny village of Nay, the four front riders were all together, but Zandio hadn't been working to protect his Illes Balears team leader Mancebo's place on GC. Pereiro felt no such compunction, as he and Evans hammered all out. The Phonak man didn't see fit to protect his teammate Landis's 7th place on GC, so the Davitamon-Lotto rider moved up into that position as Pau approached.
With 20km to race, the last climb of the day was the small Cat. 4 Côte de Pardiès-Piétat in the lovely green hills overlooking the beautiful capital of the Bearn area. Up the 2.6km, 5.2 % bump, Evans rode all out to move up on GC. Although it is the Aussie's first Tour de France on the road, he was a standout rider in the Tour de France VTT ten years ago, as well as a former maglia rosa in the Giro d'Italia. Pereiro was going pull for pull with Evans on the run-in to Pau, with the chasers at 2'00 and the hard charging groupe maillot jaune less than 4'00 back. Finally, Pereiro stopped working under orders from team director John Lelangue with around 5 km to go, leaving Evans to do everything.
For the 58th time in the Tour de France, Pau hosted a Tour stage finish, the last time five years ago as Patrice Halgand took the win for Jean Delatour. Despite the hard chase behind, the quartet made it to Pau and Pereiro would not be denied in the sprint. He took Phonak's first ever stage win in Le Tour, with non-worker Zandio sprinting in for second ahead of Mazzoleni, while a drained Cadel Evans was 4th. The Aussie moved into 7th on GC, just 0'04 ahead of Pereiro's Phonak teammate Floyd Landis.
Stage 17 - Wednesday, July 20: Pau-Revel, 239.5km
The longest stage of this year's Tour heads east from Pau on the rolling terrain at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains from the Pyrenees-Atlantique, Haut-Pyrenees, Haut-Garonne south of Toulouse and into Revel. With two Cat 3, one Cat 4 and two intermediate sprints, Stage 17 is a perfect day for a big break to get away