Nazon win’s on Champs-Élysées, Cooke snatches points jersey in final rush to the line
By Andrew Hood
The 2003 Tour de France returned to where it started three weeks ago and finished with the same winner as the past four years. Lance Armstrong endured what he called a “crisis-filled” Tour to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Induráin in cycling’s “five club” as five-time Tour winners.
“It was the hardest victory and it’s like a dream,” Armstrong said at the finish line on the Champs-Élysées. “I will put everything I have into trying to win a sixth victory.”
Armstrong fought through a litany of problems and overcame a rejuvenated Jan Ullrich to claim final victory by 61 seconds, his smallest margin during his five-year Tour reign. The overall race speed was a record 40.940 kph, 0.7 kph faster than the previous fastest set by Armstrong in 1999.
Armstrong was relieved that the harrowing three-week, 20-stage race was over and on Sunday he toasted his victory with champagne during the Tour’s final stage. “This close one feels different and feels better than all the other ones,” Armstrong said. “I definitely feel like I have missed or dodged a lot of bullets.”
Armstrong won one individual stage, along with the team time trial victory taken by his U.S. Postal-Berry Floor team. On the negative side, he had to shake off two crashes and one dramatic near miss to match Induráin’s record of winning five Tours consecutively.
Armstrong is now poised to become the first to win six, but after his travails to win this one, Armstrong knows it’s not going to be easy.
“This Tour took a lot out of me, the stress was much higher than it has been in the past,” said Armstrong, who added he won’t be going to October’s world championships in Canada. “I need to step back from cycling and relax a little bit and focus on 2004 in due time.”
|I’m not coming back (next year) to get second or to lose, but rather to return to a level that I had for the first four victories. This year was not acceptable.
Each of the founding members of the “five club” was derailed in their efforts to win a sixth Tour. Armstrong vows to come back stronger than ever. “I will be back next year,” he said. “I’m not coming back to get second or to lose, but rather to return to a level that I had for the first four victories. This year was not acceptable.”
Finale in Paris
The peloton was relaxed and jovial on the Tour’s final stage. Gerolsteiner’s Uwe Peschel didn’t take the start, after a fall in Saturday’s time trial broke one of his ribs, leaving 147 riders in the race.
Armstrong and his eight U.S. Postal teammates were fined 200 Swiss francs each and the team was fined 4500 Swiss francs Sunday because they rode with different jerseys – bearing the old U.S. Postal Department logo – for the final stage. Riders are not allowed to change out of their normal team jerseys, but the team defied the rules to wear the jerseys in honor of the Tour’s 100th-anniverary celebration.
The race heated up at the day’s first intermediate sprint as the Tour hit the Champs Élysées for the first time. Cooke edged McEwen to grab back the two points he trailed McEwen by in the green-jersey competition. The second sprint went the other way and McEwen was back in the lead by two points.
Several riders made unsuccessful moves until Laurent Brochard (Ag2r) built a small margin at the start of the fourth lap. Andrea Peron (CSC) and Massimiliano Lelli (Cofidis) bridged to Brochard and were quickly followed by Christophe Moreau (Crédit Agricole). It all came back together when Jakob Piil (CSC) tried to get away.
With five laps to go, CSC’s Michael Blaudzun jumped with Mikel Astarloza (ag2r), Vicente Garcia Acosta (ibanesto.com), Laszlo Bodrogi (Quick Step-Davitamon), Bram De Groot (Rabobank), David Latasa (Kelme-Costa Blanca), Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole) and Maryan Hary (La Boulangère).
With four laps to go, the eight men led by 44 seconds as Telekom and fdjeux.com started to chase. With 20km to go, the lead was down to 33 seconds.
With two laps left, the gap was 17 seconds, but they lingered off the front by 12 seconds coming onto the bell lap. Astarloza and De Groot attacked the group, but Telekom and fdjeux.com collaborated to finish them off.
Cooke led the final sprint with McEwen hot on his wheel while Nazon came off McEwen’s wheel to win the stage.
“It was better than I could expect for, but I had great legs today,” said Nazon, who wore the yellow jersey for one stage before the Alps. “It was the chance of a lifetime and I don’t really remember who I followed. I got on McEwen’s wheel and won.”
Cooke and McEwen bumped shoulders over the line and Cooke came through ahead of McEwen to claim the green jersey by inches for a two-point differential on the final points classification.
“I just thought about winning the stage and forgot about the green jersey. I’d realized I’d been beaten, but then I thought I still might get the jersey,” Cooke said. “I was hurting, I couldn’t hold my position. My team was unbelievable. When I heard the bell, I came to life.”
Ullrich, 29, came back from his own difficult year to finish second behind Armstrong for the third time and for the fifth time of his career. Ullrich, a winner of the 1997 Tour, said he was more than happy with his performance.
“I started the Tour with the idea of winning next year and now I’ve won a stage and come closer than ever before to beating Armstrong, so I cannot be disappointed,” Ullrich said, who derailed Armstrong in the Cap’Découverte time trial. “I believe I will be coming back stronger in the next years.”
Alex Vinokourov (Telekom) rode an inspired and attacking race to finish on the third and final spot on the Tour podium. Vinokourov won a stage into Gap and attacked in every mountain stage to move within 18 seconds of Armstrong until he languished off the back up Luz Ardiden.
“It’s an honor to be on the Tour podium,” said Vinokourov, who almost snagged the yellow jersey in a daring attack into Loudenvielle. “When you are that close to the yellow jersey, of course you think of taking the yellow jersey.”
For his attacking role, the Kazakh rider won the Tour’s “super-combativity” prize that’s decided by a race jury.
Frenchman Richard Virenque (Quick Step) had a great day into Morzine when he won the stage, took the yellow jersey, and began his campaign to wrap up the King of the Mountains climber’s jersey for a record-tying sixth time.
“This is the fruit of a lot of hard work and labor to win the jersey,” Virenque said. “I will be back next year to try to win a seventh jersey.”
Denis Menchov, iBanesto.com’s Russian rider, proved he could be a name for tomorrow after taking the best young rider’s white jersey
CSC won the team competition, and the automatic Tour invitation that comes with it, and took three stage wins with three different riders (Stage 10 with Jakob Piil, Stage 13 with Carlos Sastre and Stage 16 with Hamilton).
Tour’s highs and lows
American Tyler Hamilton became one of the most popular stories with his tenacity and determination to endure numbing pain after fracturing his collarbone in the Tour’s first stage.
“I want to thank everyone who supported me and helped me get through the past three weeks,” Hamilton said. “I promise to come back next year and do better.”
Hamilton, 32, won an epic stage into Bayonne in Stage 16 and finished second in Saturday’s final time trial to move into fourth overall.
“Tyler could have finished on the podium if he hadn’t fractured his collarbone, but we cannot think about that now,” said Team CSC’s Bjarne Riis. “We’ve had a great Tour and we can only be happy.”
Euskaltel-Euskadi proved its wild-card invitation was well deserved, with Haimar Zubeldia and Iban Mayo finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, in the overall standings. The highlight for the orange-clad Basque riders was Mayo’s exciting stage victory to Alpe d’Huez.
Fdjeux.com’s Bradley McGee took the Tour’s first yellow jersey in the opening prologue while Cofidis’ David Millar won Saturday’s final time trial to make up for the disappointment of losing the prologue when his chain slipped off in the final 500 meters of the stage when he was clearly ahead.
Italian Alessandro Petacchi did his best imitation of Mario Cipollini, winning four sprinting stages in the Tour’s first week and heading home once the road went uphill. His Fassa Bortolo team fought on gamely with just three riders after losing star Aitor Gonzalez and most of the team to illness. Ivan Basso followed up on his promise and finished seventh overall.
Plenty of would-be contenders faded away, including Gilberto Simoni (Saeco), Santiago Botero (Telekom) and Stefano Garzelli (Caldirola). Simoni bounced back to win a stage into Loudenvielle in the Pyrenees while Botero and Garzelli both abandoned.
Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) saw his Tour dreams derailed when he crashed in the spectacular pileup in the Tour’s first stage while Joseba Beloki (ONCE-Eroski) broke his leg after coming into a corner too fast in the final downhill of the Alps.
Crashes proved costly for Leipheimer and Hamilton, the primary victims of the pileup in stage 1. Armstrong also went down in the spill and tweaked his back again from his spill at the Dauphiné Libéré.
Overall winner: Lance Armstrong (USA) U.S. Postal
King of the Mountains: Richard Virenque (F) Quick Step
Points: Baden Cooke (Aus) Fdjeux.com
Best young rider: Denis Menchov (Rus) iBanesto.com
Aggressivity: Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Telekom
Team standings: CSC (Dk)
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