Valverde in the final few metres took the stage victory from Armstrong, but he could hardly have been bothered. Armstrong blew away his main rivals, leaving Ullrich to crawl in two minutes behind. He’ll be absolutely gutted, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by his performance.
The 192.5km stage headed to the 2000m finish in Courchevel having departed Grenoble, and the attacks started in the first few kilometres. Yuriy Krivtsov, Joost Posthuma and Laurent Brochard broke away before lunchtime. They built up a strong lead of around 8 minutes, and several more riders joined their group.
The ascent up Cormet de Roseland punished many riders in the peloton – riders were being ejected from the back quicker than you could count as the category one climb kicked in. Approaching the summit, Brochard increased the pace, causing some of the seven strong group to fall back. Francebo Mancebo darted off the front of the peloton to try and catch the riders up ahead, and Iban Mayo dropped out the back of the peloton.
By the summit of the Cormet de Roseland, Brochard’s lead dropped to under four minutes. After a scary fast descent where Brochard pushed himself and his tyres to the limit, they began the ascent of the final climb up to Courchevel. This is where Armstrong and his remaining teammates really wound up the pace, sending huge ripples of pain and despair through the bunch.
Riders continued to drop off the back and, surprisingly, Alexandre Vinokourov began showing signs that he was struggling with Armstrong’s pace, and eventually had to admit defeat and watch Armstrong ride away. This was a shock, but then Ullrich, in his last year to prove he’s as good as Armstrong, was dropped.
Armstrong continued up the climb joined by Basso, Valverde, Mancebo and Sunday’s winner Rasmussen, and in the final few metres a sprint developed, but Valverde just managed to take it from Armstrong. The Texan was hardly worried, though, as his task for the day, to show his rivals who the boss is, was completed.
It was a surprise that the T-Mobile team couldn’t mount a better challenge on Discovery’s dominance. With Vinokourov, (Andreas) Kloden and Ullrich, they were expected to flex their muscles in this first mountain stage, or at the very least keep up with Armstrong. By their performace, they have shown their hand and Armstrong must be feeling very confident going into Stage 11.
Armstrong said after the race: ‘It’s a great feeling (being in yellow). It’s nice to put some time into the rivals.’ And Vinokourov said, ‘He’s the king’. Well, we’ll find out for sure over the next few days.
1. Lance Armstrong Discovery Channel – 1,6866.0km in 37h11’04″ (44.92km/h)
2. Mickael Rasmussen Rabobank at 38″
3. Ivan Basso CSC at 2’40″
4. Christophe Moreau Credit Agricole at 2’42″
5. Alejandro Valverde Illes Balears at 3’16″
6. Levi Leipheimer Gerolsteiner at 3’58″
7. Francisco Mancebo Illes Balears at 4’00″
8. Jan Ullrich T-Mobile at 4’02″
9. Andreas Kloden T-Mobile at 4’16″
10. Floyd Landis Phonak at 4’16″
Watch this space, we’ll have some photos very soon.
Stage 11 preview
From Courchevel this stage will be a struggle for yesterday’s attackers or those just trying to hang onto the pelaton. The 173km stage includes two HC climbs of 2000m and 2645m. HC is designated to a climb that is beyond categorisation; basically it’s the worst type of climb that you’ll probably want to avoid. On the way to the final HC summit of Col du Galibier, there’s a category one climb to contest with. The three climbs all share gradients of about 7% for between 12 and 25km distance. Ouch!