Ullrich cruises into podium spot as Rasmussen has nightmare TT
By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong roared to victory in Saturday’s 55.5km time trial in the last real race of his remarkable 14-year career. And he did it with trademark panache, something that some journalists suggested he was lacking this year as he methodically picked apart the competition en route to an unprecedented seventh Tour crown. “Someone asked if you don’t win a stage, they say you don’t have panache,” Armstrong said after beating Jan Ullrich by 23 seconds in the stage 20 time trial. “I came with the intention of doing one thing; that was to win the overall.” Barring disaster, Armstrong will do just that after Sunday’s run into Paris and the traditional eight laps around the Champs-Élysées on the final stage. His lead of 4:40 over Ivan Basso would be the second smallest margin of victory in Armstrong’s seven consecutive Tour wins. A final time trial
With his three children looking on, Armstrong wanted to end his final Tour time trial on a high note. So his 22nd career Tour stage victory was the finishing touch he was looking for in his final hours as a professional cyclist. “I wanted the last image of their father as a sportsman to be that of a champion, and that means being in the yellow jersey,” Armstrong said. “To have three precious little people maybe remembering one last yellow jersey was one big incentive for me.” Armstrong’s kids might have been cheering, but Ullrich was desperately trying to beat Armstrong one last time. The big German had a lot on the line. He needed to make up 2:12 on Michael Rasmussen to move up onto the podium.
Rasmussen’s podium hopes unraveled in a painful combination of nerves, crashes and mechanical problems. Wearing the King of the Mountains jersey, a visibly nervous Rasmussen crashed on a roundabout in the opening 5km. He then flatted and bungled through a series of wheel and bike changes before tumbling head over heels on a descent after coming too hot into a narrow left turn. A distraught Rasmussen refused to speak to the media after finishing a disappointing 77th on the stage, 7:47 slower than Armstrong. The Dane slipped from third to seventh at 11:33. The time he lost Saturday was very near to the time he gained — 6:04 — on his long winning breakaway into Mulhouse in stage 9.
Rasmussen’s misfortune was Ullrich’s gain. After finishing a disappointing fourth last year, Ullrich gritted his teeth through two painful crashes at this Tour — the first the day before the opening time trial, the other coming down a mountain pass in the Vosges — and never gave up. “I was still hurting from my crash [in the Vosges],” said Ullrich, who ended up third for his seventh career Tour podium in eight Tour starts. “It was hell today. I feel sorry for Rasmussen, but I had my bad luck too.” “Hats off to Lance,” Ullrich added. “He’s a superman.” A tough, tough time trial
Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears) set the early best time of 1:14:51 on the course before being bested by Bobby Julich (CSC), who stopped the clock at 1:13:19, only to see Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile) come through in 1:13:02.
Ullrich had already erased his deficit on Rasmussen by the 20km mark and seemed to be closing in on Basso. At the second checkpoint at 35km, Armstrong led Ullrich by 19 seconds and Basso was third, 34 seconds slower than Ullrich. Basso lost more ground on the following 5km climb to the Col de la Gachet, slipping to fourth on the stage before eventually taking fifth and securing his second place overall. “I went as hard as I could,” said Basso, third overall in last year’s Tour. “I started fast because it’s important to be aggressive in the time trial. You cannot race defensively. I was careful on the descents because it was very dangerous. I didn’t want to crash and lose everything.” There was a duel for the top five between Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner). The pair started the stage separated by just 1:04, with the Spanish rider holding on to fifth place. Mancebo rode exceptionally well while Leipheimer said he couldn’t find his rhythm on the hilly course. At the first time check, Leipheimer was already four seconds slower than the Spaniard and he knew he wasn’t going to pass Mancebo. Then Leipheimer heard Vinokourov was having a great ride and he started to dig deeper to conserve his hold on sixth place. Mancebo finished ninth on the stage, 2:51 slower than Armstrong, while Leipheimer was 14th, 3:13 slower. But both riders nudged into fourth and fifth, respectively, after Rasmussen’s disastrous ride. “I heard we were even at the top of the first climb, I knew then if I didn’t take 40 seconds out of him by then, I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Leipheimer said. “When I heard that Vino’ was 45 seconds up, then I shifted my focus to defend my place rather than trying to gain a spot.” It was another all-American day at the Tour. Armstrong won and three other Americans were in the top 10, with Julich fourth, Floyd Landis sixth (to finish ninth overall) and George Hincapie eighth. Leipheimer was 14th and Chris Horner a solid 25th, 4:55 back. Fred Rodriguez, who’s been battling a sore stomach for the past several days, rode a conservative 123rd to save his strength for Sunday’s finale on the Champs-Élysées — where he hopes to guide Aussie teammate Robbie McEwen to his fourth stage win of the 2005 Tour. An estimated 500,000 fans will be waiting on the Champs-Élysées to see the 155 remaining riders complete what looks like being the fastest-ever Tour. Following Saturday’s time trial, the leader’s overall average speed is 41.762 kph, almost 1 kph faster than the 40.940 kph record set by Armstrong in 2003. The fastest Tour, the most Tour victories and the first champion to go out on top are all hallmarks of the Armstrong era, which will be completed at the same time as what has been an excellent 92nd Tour de France.
Stage 20 results
1. Lance Armstrong (USA), Discovery Channel, 1:11:46
2. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, 1:12:09
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile, 1:13:02
4. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, 1:13:19
5. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, 1:13:40
6. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, 1:13:48
7. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, 1:13:52
8. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel, 1:14:11
9. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears, 1:14:37
10. Vladimir Karpets (Rus), Illes Balears, 1:14:51
1. Lance Armstrong (USA), Discovery Channel
2. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, at 4:40
3. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, at 6:21
4. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears, at 9:59
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, 11:25
6. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile, at 11:27
7. Mickael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, at 11:33
8. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, at 11:55
9. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, at 12:44
10. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Phonak, at 16:04
To see how the time trial played out, simply CLICK HERE to bring up our Live Update Window. Check back for a full report from the VeloNews crew in France.