By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2003
Lance Armstrong’s bid to win more time over his main rivals for the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey could be undone by the ambitions of some of the race’s climbers.
The 12th stage of the Tour de France on Saturday is the first of four days in the Pyrenees and depending on how Armstrong has fared in the previous day’s time trial will decide whether the American needs to up the pace or not.
Armstrong is only 21sec ahead of Telekom rider Alexandre Vinokourov and barely a minute in front of Euskaltel’s Iban Mayo – both of whom have shown their climbing abilities on a regular basis this season. And even before the 31-year-old U.S. Postal team leader sets off from the ramp on Friday for the 47-kilometre race against the clock, he would do well to consider the ambitions of riders such as Richard Virenque, the French public’s most popular rider, who still wants to be the Tour’s best climber and is dead set on winning a record-equaling sixth polka dot jersey.
Mayo, the 25-year-old Basque who is still third overall, has shown on several occasions this season that he can climb just as well as the American.
After winning the eighth stage’s climb to the legendary Alpe d’Huez – far away from the orange-clad hordes of Basque supporters – Mayo will have plenty of motivation when he meets the passionate locals in the Pyrenees.
Although the smiley-faced little climber says he is not even thinking about winning the Tour, Armstrong would be wise to keep tabs on Mayo’s attacks all the same.
“I don’t even want to think about winning. All I’m going to do is continue to attack, and try to be at the front,” said Mayo, who is already hoping to keep his deficit to Armstrong during the time trial at a reasonable level.
“Up until now Armstrong has always took a lot of time from his rivals in the time trials. I’m going to do my best to keep that at a minimum,” added Mayo, who came second behind Armstrong in the one-week Dauphine Libere stage race. But we’re only at the halfway stage – everything can change. Everything will change.
“With the mountains and two time trials still to come, performances are set to peak and drop every day. Some riders will probably do well on the climbs and others will collapse. Personally I feel fine, but we’ll see how I feel in a few days’ time.”
Mayo, who made his debut on the Tour last year, finished 88th in 2002.But he’s been making up for that this season.
Just when it looked as though Armstrong would finally win Liege-Bastogne-Liege this season, Mayo popped up to beat him into third place, taking second behind American Tyler Hamilton who beat his old teammate to the honors on the world’s oldest one-day classic.
Mayo was there again on the Dauphine and beat Armstrong in the opening prologue before beating him on one of the alpine climbs.
The Spaniard’s victory on the Alpe d’Huez last week may have been tempered by the fact that Armstrong hung back to keep watch on his main rival Joseba Beloki – who has crashed out of the race – but Mayo’s climbing abilities look spot on.
And the feeling on the Tour is that, even in the absence of Beloki, Armstrong will have a fight on his hands.
Irish champion Stephen Roche, who won the Giro, Tour and world championships in 1987, feels the Texan is not his habitual dominant self.
“Armstrong didn’t stamp his authority on the race in the Alps the way he usually does,” Roche told AFP on Thursday, denying suggestions that the American was simply suffering because of the heat. “Normally Armstrong doesn’t suffer more than anybody else. And he did in the Alps, so he has a big interest in pushing his rivals down the standings on the time trial.”Lance Armstrong’s bid to win more time over his main rivals for the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey could be undone by the ambitions of some of the race’s climbers.