By Hedwig Kröner in Courchevel
It has been an oft-repeated scenario in the last years, and stage 10 of this year's biggest bike race saw it happening again: an even more powerful Lance Armstrong took the yellow jersey on the first mountain stage, and the German T-Mobile team lost precious minutes in the general classification.
'Der Kaiser' Jan Ullrich finished 2'14" behind the Texan, after being dropped as Armstrong gave his last helper Popovych the signal to accelerate with 12 km to go on the ascent to Courchevel. The German is now placed eighth behind Armstrong, at more than four minutes overall. Somewhat angry and disappointed, Ullrich reflected on the reason of his weakness after the stage. "The crash is probably still a little handicap but I wouldn't have been able to get those two minutes even if I hadn't crashed," he said. "I really fought today, and I didn't lose out completely. My time loss is within certain limits, and the Tour will be over only in Paris."
The German is truly a great role model for persistence, as he will still not let today's deception wear him down, even though this has happened year after year, over and over again. "No, I won't give up. Last year, I had very good legs in the end of the Tour. I did feel good today, but of course I was in a little bit of pain from the crash. I don't know to what extent that had an effect on my performance. I felt good until the attack but then I blew up - too much lactic acid."
Ullrich did not think that he understimated the ascent to Courchevel either. "I know this mountain - on top, it actually rolls pretty well but once you're over the limit...I really have to thank Klödi who waited for me. Of course I'm angry at the fact that I couldn't hold the pace, but what can you do? Tomorrow is another day," he added.
Andreas Klöden, who helped his battling team captain, finished in the same group as him. But the third of T-Mobile's trident, Alexandre Vinokourov, could not hold Discovery's pace on that last climb and dropped off the back of the group with 12 km to go. The Kazakh was visibly struggling hard to hold on, but there was nothing he could do - he just seemed glued to the tarmac.
"I lost a lot of time on GC today, but I hope I will be better tomorrow. I will attack again," said Vino. It's hard, but I don't think we've lost the Tour now. I hope that Jan and Klödi were better today...I don't know anything yet. Who won?" he asked, as these words were his very first reaction after rolling over the finish line. A little later, Vinokourov told Reuters, "I'm not sure what happened. It's been a very bad day for me. The first climb was tough, but we got over that. On the second one, I completely lost it."
Inside T-Mobile, team doctor Lothar Heinrich speculated that Vinokourov had been the victim of a hunger knock, but the Kazakh denied this. He said that he didn't know what it was that blocked him. "This wasn't the Vino we all know," team director Mario Kummer concluded.
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