Ten riders got a gap after the usual 25 kilometres. Notable potential stage winners included previous Giro d’Italia winner Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas-Bianchi) and hardman Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner). The rest were; Daniele Nardello (T-Mobile Team), Alexandre Moos (Phonak Hearing Systems), Juan Manuel Garate (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Walter Bénéteau (Bouygues Telecom), Carlos Da Cruz and Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux), Andrei Grivko (Domina Vacanze), Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r-Prevoyance)
They built a healthy lead and looked well in control of things at the Col de Villerouge (90 kms) with over 8 minutes on a very relaxed looking peloton. It continued that way to over half distance, reaching 9.45 at one point. Under usual circumstances this move would have stuck
Then with 42 kms to go T-Mobile hit the front of the group. They must have been aware of the constant media criticism of their (lack of) team tactics as they set about the pace like a herd of stampeeding buffalo.
On the face of it they had it wrapped up. Three riders in the front group that they eventually whittled down to the top GC contenders. Vinokourov, Mancebo and Rasmussen were all dropped but managed to re group on the decent. The escaped group up the road had self-destructed and only Garzelli and Totschnig remained with any serious chance of winning.
On the final climb to Ax 3 Domaines Vinokourov attacked the chasing group.
What happened next was bizarre to say the least. With three riders T-Mobile looked set to be able to destroy a solitary vulnerable Armstrong. Vinokourov had distanced the group. Then his team mate(?!) Kloden began to work with Ullrich directly behind. It looked as if they didn’t want Vino to make any progress. Surely they should let Basso or Armstrong pull him in? then wait and 1-2 attack the small group? What had they planned? I have no idea.
Armstrong looked slightly bemused with the tactic too. Ullrich surged pathetically. Armstrong countered. Basso distanced. Stage over.
Totschnig was superb. Even with 3 kms to go he looked in control and he took perhaps the finest win of his career. What had happened on the road behind him will go down as one of the most disasterous tactical mistakes in cycling history. With three team mates in a small group of riders all you need to do is take it in turns to attack, let the other riders tire themselves chasing, and then counter attack. It’s the simple way to win a race. Perhaps there is more going on at T-Mobile than we know about. One thing is for sure after today – Vinokourov will not be riding for them next year.
Armstrong deserves this race more than any other he has won. Partly because he is clearly the strongest rider, but also partly because no other rider deserves the title ‘champion’.
As for tomorrow’s stage? Rasmussen lost out today so I suspect he may attack. Vinokourov could be mad too, so expect fireworks. Lance will win the stage though, of that I am certain.
Stage 14 Result:
1. Georg Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner 5.43.43 (38.491 km/h)
2. Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 0.56
3. Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 0.58
4. Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 1.16
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 1.31
6. Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems
7. Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d’Epargne 1.47
8. Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank
9. Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team 2.06
10. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 2.20
11. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 3.06
12. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi 3.35
13. Jörg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros-Würth 4.03
14. Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
15. Walter Bénéteau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 4.16
Overall GC after 14 stages:
1. Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 55.58.17 (43.32 km/h)
2. Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 1.41
3. Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC 2.46
4. Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team 4.34
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 4.45
6. Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 5.03
7. Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d’Epargne
8. Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team 5.38
9. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 7.09
10. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole 8.37