Armstrong widens lead as team-mate wins stage

18th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

SAINT-LARY-SOULAN, France, July 17 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong's bid for a seventh yellow jersey was boosted here Sunday after the stunning victory of his Discovery Channel teammate George Hincapie on the Tour de France's tough 15th stage.

SAINT-LARY-SOULAN, France, July 17 (AFP) - Lance Armstrong's bid for a seventh yellow jersey was boosted here Sunday after the stunning victory of his Discovery Channel teammate George Hincapie on the Tour de France's tough 15th stage.

Hincapie, who has been at Armstrong's side on every one of his Tour winning campaigns but has for years been trying to achieve his dream of winning the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic, completed 6hr 06min of racing over six Pyrenean Cols to beat Phonak's Oscar Pereiro to the finish line.

It was Hincapie's first victory of the race, and to do it on the toughest climbing stage of the race left many specialists dumbstruck - including Armstrong.

"It's a dream come true for me to win a stage like this," beamed Hincapie, who had been in a 14-man attack group early in the race which eventually thinned out as the tough climbs took their toll.

Behind Hincapie, Armstrong registered his own victory of the day after finishing the 205km stage at 5:04 behind.

He was preceded by Italian rival Ivan Basso, however by then Armstrong had already done the damage to the man who has been aiming to upset his plans for a victory on what is his final race.

German Jan Ullrich, who lost 32 seconds to Armstrong on Saturday's first day in the Pyrenees, conceded 1:24 after finishing in ninth place having failed to keep pace when Basso attacked on the last of the six climbs.

The 1997 winner and five-time runner-up is still in fourth place. However he is now 5:58 behind Armstrong in the general classification - a mammoth deficit to overcome if he still has hopes of upstaging the Texan.

The only rider apparently capable of doing that is CSC team leader Basso.

He finished third overall last year and is still in second place, at 2:46 behind and over 20 seconds in front of Danish climber Michael Rasmussen.

There are few stages remaining in the race where Ullrich can hope to take over six minutes from Armstrong. When the race resumes on Tuesday after a rest day, it has four climbs but only one relatively difficult unclassified climb.

On the penultimate day's 55.5km time trial next Saturday in Saint Etienne both Basso and Ullrich will be challenging Armstrong for the win, although, in theory, the winning margins should be nowhere near five minutes.

As a result, Armstrong has practically admitted that the only rider who is worrying him now is Basso.

"It's not easy. Ivan was really, really strong today. And the temperatures didn't make things any easier for us," said Armstrong, who was delighted for the victory of his loyal lieutenant.

"It's a great day for the team. It was an ideal situation, with a teammate in the breakaway and three or four guys with me.

"It's his first victory on the Tour, and to do it on a climbing stage like today is just incredible."

Hincapie was in a dream-like state as he soaked up the attention of the world's press after six years of being in the shadow of Armstrong.

"I'm really in a state of shock," said Hincapie, who said he had originally set out with the idea of helping Armstrong on the final climbs but decided otherwise once his breakaway group's lead had grown to 18 minutes.

"I just thought I would wait for Lance when he needed me but once we got an 18-minute break I spoke to (team manager) Johan (Bruyneel) and he told me the peloton probably wouldn't be coming back and just told me to go for it.

"From then on I was just thinking about going for the win."

As the stage leaders slogged their way over the first of the day's climbs, the searing temperatures and continuous effort began to take their toll.

One by one the 14-man group began to thin out until only six riders rode over the summit of the Peyresourde - the fourth Col of the day - with a 12-minute lead on Armstrong's group.

As Armstrong and Basso began the first of a few attacks - which finally left Ullrich trailing on the final climb, Hincapie was engaged in a war of nerves with four riders who had been part of the original break.

Hincapie, Oscar Sevilla and Pereiro had managed to shake off Italian Pietro Caucchioli on the final climb of the day, however the Credit Agricole rider caught them again - and then attacked.

However Pereiro upped the pace, was followed by Hincapie and they soon overtook the Italian.

From then on Hincapie and Pereiro played cat and mouse as they headed upwards towards the finish line, and the American exacted some revenge on the way by continuing to take any relays at the front.

"I knew Pereiro was strong and that Boogerd was a good climber, but I also knew that the day I was pulling on the Galibier they weren't there," said Hincapie referring to his efforts in the Alps a few days ago.

As a result the New Yorker proved the freshest of the two when it came to the final metres and he raced ahead to win comfortably.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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