The Tour’s first stop in the unforgiving Pyrenees did not disappoint. Amazingly, the Discovery Team was left in the dust again today (reminding us of an earlier stage) 10k from the summit of the first climb when Ullrich’s T-Mobile team basically sprinted up the mountain. Lance was isolated, but – despite our worst fears when we first saw it – it didn’t appear to bother him. He countered every important attack and looked no worse for the wear, though he took only second on the stage as Austria’s Georg Totschnig took the victory after being in a long breakaway.
In the final moments of the last climb, Lance was accompanied by only Ullrich and Basso, and then Ullrich even dropped off. It was reminiscent of last year, when only Basso could stay with Lance on the big climbs. Basso got third on the stage, Ullrich fourth.
First there were three, and then there were two. All photos from here, here and here.
One odd development (which has been alluded to the entire Tour by the announcers) was the in-fighting on the T-Mobile team which became apparent each time Vinokourov attacked up the road and his own teammates (Ullrich and Italy’s Daniele Nardello) would lead the group back up to him. In racing etiquette, that’s just not done – you don’t chase down your own teammate. And eventually, Vino couldn’t hang onto anyone. He’d expend all his energy to claw his way back up to a group, and then drop again like a yo-yo, back and forth, until he finally had to ride his own pace to the finish line three minutes behind the leaders. Vino’s contract is up at the end of this year, and he has said the only other team he’d consider riding for is Discovery Channel. After his teammates’ actions today, it seems a move for him is all but certain.
Michael Rasmussen, the leader in the Tour’s climbing competition, started the day only 38 seconds behind Lance overall, and we assumed he’d stay in that same spot until the individual time trial when he’d drop like a stone. And yet even he was put into difficulty today, losing 50 more seconds to Lance.
Two other Americans did quite well in today’s stage, moving up on the overall standings – Levi Liepheimer and Floyd Landis are now in 5th and 6th on the general classification, and both are good time triallists and can expect to move up more – so long as they can survive tomorrow’s brutal second Pyrenean stage.
Levi (in blue) and Floyd (in green) worked together to get to the finish.
Totschnig’s win is exciting, as he’s 34 years old and has been a professional for quite awhile – and this is his first Tour win. He was already crying as he crossed the line, and couldn’t contain his tears on the podium. The TV cameras even captured him lying down after getting off the bike, and then being held up (still crying, of course) by a team helper. And the only complaint his Gerolsteiner team could possibly have is that he forgot to zip up his jersey before he crossed the line, as all the photographs of his win don’t show the sponsor’s name!
Totschnig crossing the finish line, collapsing after the finish, and crying on the podium. How can you not adore this guy?
(L) I love it when the photographers get creative. (R) That crazy Texas guy returns...