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Armstrong’s biggest worry: Basque fans

Lance Armstrong said manic Basque cycle fans were his biggest worry as he surged to victory on stage 13 of the Tour de France high in the Pyrénées on Saturday. U.S. Postal’s five-time Tour winner and Italian Ivan Basso (CSC) threaded a precarious route through thousands of fans on the way to the summit at the end of the 205-km stage. French police estimated the crowds on the stage at between 150,000 and 200,000, with around 85,000 of them sporting the orange colours of Euskaltel-Euskadi, whose Basque rider Iban Mayo was having a dismal ride and nearly abandoned. "We just passed a

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By Francois Thomazeau, Reuters

Who loves ya, baby? Not this Basque

Who loves ya, baby? Not this Basque

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Lance Armstrong said manic Basque cycle fans were his biggest worry as he surged to victory on stage 13 of the Tour de France high in the Pyrénées on Saturday.

U.S. Postal’s five-time Tour winner and Italian Ivan Basso (CSC) threaded a precarious route through thousands of fans on the way to the summit at the end of the 205-km stage.

French police estimated the crowds on the stage at between 150,000 and 200,000, with around 85,000 of them sporting the orange colours of Euskaltel-Euskadi, whose Basque rider Iban Mayo was having a dismal ride and nearly abandoned.

“We just passed a section of people, mostly Basque people that were pretty amazing, very loud and aggressive, though not all bad,” said Armstrong.

“I understand they expected big things from Mayo. We looked at each other and said, ‘Man, it’s unbelievable that we went through that without being killed.’ We were lucky to make it through that section.”

Richard Virenque, no stranger to the fanatical mountain-top hordes after six king of the mountain titles, admitted the crowds had been frightening on the climb to Plateau de Beille.

“For the first time, I was frightened on a bike,” joked Virenque, who is bidding for a record seventh polka-dot jersey on his 12th Tour. “I was afraid I might get kidnapped.”

The Tour picked the wrong time to visit Basque Country, with Mayo having a rough ride

The Tour picked the wrong time to visit Basque Country, with Mayo having a rough ride

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

The Basque crowd could not disguise their disappointment at Mayo’s performance, and even booed Armstrong on the podium.

Mayo, sixth in the Tour last year and widely tipped to upset the American, had to be talked back on to his bike and eventually lost 37 minutes and 40 seconds.

Armstrong said the scenes brought back memories of last year when he was brought down after his bike became tangled in a spectator’s bag.

“It crossed my mind and I tried to stay as much in the middle as I could, but when they’re waving flags, it’s sometimes tough,” said Armstrong.

“The other problem was the guys who ran, we were not able to ride as fast as we could because they were blocking us.”

Spectators have in the past caused riders to lose the Tour. In 1975, Belgian Eddy Merckx was punched by a spectator in the Puy de Dome while in 1950, Italian Gino Bartali gave up, claiming he had been attacked by a Louison Bobet supporter armed with a knife.

Three years ago on the Giro d’Italia, fans behaved so aggressively on the roadside that the Italian press called it a form of neo-hooliganism.

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