Mon dieu - Moncoutié!

Maillot vert battle gets interesting

On Quatorze Juillet (Bastille Day) in France, Cofidis star David Moncoutié repeated his first Tour de France victory achieved exactly 364 days ago. With 37 kilometres remaining, the 30 year-old Frenchman attacked his breakaway group on the penultimate climb of the Col de Corobin, and consolidated his 14 second lead at the summit to cross the line one minute ahead of Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) and Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguros-Würth).

"It is great to win on the national is a very important day for the French," said Moncoutié. "It was a very nice race today, especially because there were many spectators along the route supporting the French riders.

"Last year's victory was so emotional for me, and today I wanted to feel the same emotions again. I was feeling very bad in the Alps, but I thought today could be my stage."

Not known for his descending skills - better known for his lack of, in fact - today Moncoutié shrugged off his downhill demons and increased his advantage all the way to the finish line in Digne-les-Bains. "Of course, I know it's very difficult for me on downhills, but I thought I had to take some risks today, and I really wanted to win the stage," he said.

Behind Moncoutié, seven riders finished on the same time, 57 seconds behind, and led home by Sandy Casar. Said the exhausted 26 year-old Française des Jeux rider at the finish line: "It was very hard for me on the climbs; it was complicated, and I had to manage my efforts. Cofidis and Crédit Agricole weren't working in the chase properly, and after [Stuart] O'Grady did a lot of work, Moncoutié countered. I couldn't go with him because I have been at maximum for two days, and it was already difficult to be in the break.

"I hoped that we would catch him [Moncoutié] on the flat, because we're looking for a stage win and not second place. He was strongest today, no doubt! I'm happy that a French rider won today, though," said Casar.

T-Mobile's Stephan Schreck was also part of the original 13-man move, but along with Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), O'Grady, Massimo Giunti (Fassa Bortolo) and Giovanni Lombardi (Team CSC), the German succumbed to the high tempo and repeated accelerations on the Col de Corobin, eventually finishing three and a half minutes down.

"We wanted one rider in a break so after the second climb I jumped with them," Schreck said when asked if was part of the team's plan to be in a breakaway today. "But the course was hard; it was always up and down and in the finale, it just didn't work out like I wanted. I felt good, but on that long climb they attacked three or four times and each time I followed, but then my legs just exploded."

While the top 10 on general classification remained unchanged, the battle for the maillot vert has taken on a different and intriguing shape. As a result of his injuries sustained from a crash on the Courchevel yesterday, green jersey wearer Tom Boonen (Quick.Step-Innergetic) did not take to the start line in Briançon at midday, leaving Hushovd as the de-facto leader. And with Hushovd and O'Grady in the breakaway, the pair extended their lead in the classement over defending points champion Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), who did his best to salvage the day in winning the bunch sprint for 14th place.

The team of maillot jaune Lance Armstrong also experienced a significant loss after the crash and subsequent abandon of climber Manuel 'Triki' Beltran. Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel is still unsure how the accident happened, but was more concerned for the Spaniard's well-being after he landed on his head, race doctor Gérard Porte advising Bruyneel to pull him out of the race 15 kilometres after he remounted. Beltran was later taken to a local hospital to have some initial scans, and is reported to be in a stable condition.

"It could be very critical," said Armstrong on the loss of Beltran. "With two tough days coming up in the Pyrenées, we didn't want to lose any climbers, and Triki's one of our pure climbers. Having said that, what's happened happened and we have to look to Jose [Azevedo], Chechu [Rubiera], even George [Hincapie], Popo [Yaroslav Popovych] and Paolo Savoldelli to pick up the slack. I still feel very confident that with those seven guys, we can still manage."

How it unfolded

On France’s national holiday, Le Tour headed south from Briançon on the Route Napoléon, through the hot, barren southern Alps to Provence on an unforgiving stage with numerous hard climbs. The day dawned bright and sunny again, as the hottest day so far at the 2005 Tour was on offer. Maillot vert Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) didn't start today; his crash on the descent from Courchevel and the major climbing yesterday inflamed his knee and thus, Thor Hushovd (CA) is the new leader of the maillot vert points competition. Jens Voigt (CSC), maillot jaune du jour on Stage 10 and Kevin Hulsmans (Quick.Step) were also non-starters, not making the time limit on Stage 11.

After some early attacks, Brad McGee ((Française Des Jeux) went away solo, gaining 20 seconds after 12 km. McGee took the first intermediate sprint in La Roche-De-Rame (km 17.5) and was caught 1km later. McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) was second over Hushovd (C.A). After 37km, Turbo Guerini (T-Mobile), Contador (Liberty) and Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) had a go and were joined by Brandt (Davitamon-Lotto), Chavanel (Cofidis), Sinkewitz (Quick.Step), Lefèvre and Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) and Casar (Française Des Jeux). At the second intermediate sprint in Embrun (km 44.5), Chavanel beat Contador and Lefevre (Bouygues Telecom) and the pace was hot over the first hour, covering 50.5km.

The escapees were disorganized and were caught after 58 km, as they started the Cat. 3 Côte des Demoiselles-coiffées, a 4.6km climb at 4.8% average grade that topped out at 1067m with a spiky rock formation. Up the climb, Fritsch (Saunier Duval) abandoned, while Beltran (Discovery Channel) crashed. Triki hit his head and lost consciousness for a short time. Race doctor Gerard Porte wouldn't let him continue, so he abandoned. Boogerd took the points on the Côte des Demoiselles-coiffées ahead of Fedrigo, Garzelli, and Martinez, making sure his Rabobank teammate and maillot a pois Rasmussen didn't lose ground to his climbing rivals.

On the descent from this climb on a small, unrated hill, Spanish Champ Juanma Garate (Saunier Duval) and Vicioso (Liberty) attacked and were soon joined by other riders looking to go on the attack. The sun was shining and temps were in the low 30's. With 112km to race, an 11 man break had formed, including Stephan Schreck (T-Mobile), Giovanni Lombardi (CSC), José Luis Arrieta (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne), Axel Merckx (Davitamon-Lotto), Massimo Giunti (Fassa Bortolo), Juan Manuel Garate (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Angel Vicioso (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Sandy Casar (Française Des Jeux), with Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and O'Grady (Cofidis). chasing at 0'25 and the Discovery Channel team riding tempo in front of the peloton 1'40 behind. Five km later, the Viking and the Kangaroo had joined the break to make it 13.

On the Cat. 2 Col Saint-Jean, a 13.2km climb at 4% to 1332m, the break was riding together well and Garate took the KOM points from Casar and O'Grady, with the peloton 4'07. The status quo continued after 115.5km on the Cat. 4 Col de Labouret, a small 2.2km climb at 3.2%, where Garate, Merckx, and Arrieta took the points, with the peloton cruising at 4'15. As the break hit the base of the penultimate climb of the Col du Corobin, a 12.4km Cat. 2 ascent at 4.5% with 43km to go, the peloton was riding through Digne-les-Bains for the first time.

O'Grady upped the pace as the narrow back country road began to steepen. Merckx attacked and was joined by Halgand, Vicioso, Moncoutié and Garate. O'Grady and Hushovd were dropped as Moncoutié made a beautiful counter-attack, reminiscent of his move just under one year .ago to win a Tour stage in Figeac. Cresting the summit of the Col du Corobin first with 30km to go, Moncoutié was pursued by Arrieta, Merckx, Garate, Halgand, Casar and Vicioso (Liberty) 0'38 behind. 7'42 behind, the peloton cruised over the top of the climb with no real chase happening. The Cofidis man was riding brilliantly with his classic solo attack, while the break couldn't get its act together to bring back Moncoutié.

Atop the Cat. 4 Col de l'Orme, an easy 2.7km climb at 3.9%, Moncoutié was still half minute ahead of the chase with 9.5km to go as the huge crowds on the climb cheered on the solo Frenchman in his audacious bid for victory. In Digne-Les-Bains, the scent of lavender and 14th July fireworks was in the air as the 30 year-old Cofidis man held off the chasers and took his 12th career win, 0'57 ahead of Casar. Hushovd took the sprint from O'Grady for 9th, 3'15 back to increase his lead on Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady in the race for the maillot vert. McEwen took the bunch sprint for 14th, 10'53 behind Moncoutié.

Stage 13 - Friday, July 15: Miramas-Montpellier, 173.5km

Stage 13 starts in the first-time stage town of Miramas just north of the Berre de l’Etaing west of Marseilles and heads west to Montpellier, where Rolf Sorensen took a stage win 11 years ago. After the Alps, Stage 13 is a chance for the sprinters to assert themselves after the Alps and before the Pyrenees.

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