Richard Virenque (Quick.Step-Davitamon) helped France celebrate Bastille Day, or Quatorze Juillet as they prefer to have it called, with a win in the tenth stage of the Tour de France – just as he did last year in the Alps at Morzine.
Virenque’s 5.19 victory over the rest of the field in the 237km from Limoges to St Flour put the Frenchman in the top spot of the King of the Mountains competition. It wasn’t a victory without controversy though: Following the stage Virenque faced accusations from his breakaway partner, Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo), that he had broken a pact the two had made immediately after escaping the peloton.
Merckx claimed that the pair had agreed that Merkx would help Virenque – going for a record seventh King of the Mountains win – gain points for the Maillot Pois on the climbs and they would then fight for the finish at the end. But on the steep ascent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol, Virenque picked up pace and left Merckx behind, spurred on by the adoring crowds lining the Puy de Mary. Merckx wasn’t able to keep up and afterwards complained bitterly that Virenque had broken his word by attacking on the climb. For his part, Virenque conceded that the two had a pact and that it hadn’t worked out as intended, but he claimed that Merckx had dropped off, rather than him going on the attack.
Elsewhere in the field the charge for the line on the uphill finish created a seven-second gap between the group including Armstrong, Ulllrich, Mayo and yellow jersey Voeckler, and the thirty-odd riders in the main bunch, including Tyler Hamilton and Roberto Heras. It’s not much, but who knows how important it will be in the broader scheme of things.
In the overall standings Voeckler held on to the top spot, making it his fifth day in yellow and a double celebration for the French.