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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems
Despite losing more time to Alexander Vinokorouv, Stage 14 was a better day for Lance Armstrong. Armstrong and I talked prior to the start of today’s stage, and he was upbeat and happy with the way his legs felt. He confirmed that gut feeling with a strong ride alongside Jan Ullrich throughout today’s tough climbs. He looked comfortable with the pace, even when Ullrich cranked up the tempo on the Col de Peyresourde.
Armstrong and Jan Ullrich can afford to let the Kazahk gain time on them because they know they can both finish well ahead of him in the final time trial. Even with a lackluster performance in the Stage 12 individual time trial, Lance still finished 20 seconds ahead of Vinokorouv, and on a good day the U.S. Postal leader can gain well over a minute on the Telekom rider.
With less than twenty seconds spanning the top three positions in the 2003 Tour de France, the yellow jersey really is up for grabs tomorrow. The stage is going to be very hard even before the peloton reaches the base of the final climb. The Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet are backbreaking climbs in their own right, and tomorrow they are just appetizers before the 13.4-kilometer, 7.6-percent average gradient main course, the summit finish to Luz Ardiden.
Climbs in the Pyrenees differ from those in the Alps. In the Alps, the ascents tend to be longer and more gradual, and the roads are smoother and wider. The Pyrenees, in contrast, feature narrower, rougher roads and the pitches tend to be steeper. This affects not only the climbing portion of the race, but also the handling issues on the descent. The racers were reminded of the dangers inherent in descending in the Pyrénées today when they passed the site where Fabio Casartelli died in the 1995 Tour de France. It’s nice to think that maybe the Italian’s spirit helped keep everyone safe on the six steep and twisting descents of Stage 14.
The last time Armstrong and Ullrich faced each other on Luz Ardiden, Euskaltel Euskadi’s Roberto Laiseka took the stage win and approaching the finish line 1:08 later, Ullrich extended his hand to Armstrong to signify the battle for the yellow jersey was over. There will be no such gestures from Armstrong, Ullrich or Vinokorouv tomorrow, as the battle for the yellow jersey seems destined to continue all the way to Paris.