By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews
You just knew Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) would attack on a Tour de France stage like Wednesday’s Alpine monster from Courchevel to Briançon. And if he went on the attack, Wednesday’s was just the type of stage Vino’ was destined to win.
“We can’t say that we were surprised,” said race leader Lance Armstrong after he kept his 38-second margin over Dane Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank). “Whenever somebody is in a breakaway all day long, it’s always impressive. Like the other day, with Rasmussen, an all-day effort is never easy.”
Still, to see how the ever-popular Kazakh national champion made his move was impressive. He attacked only 30km into the 173km stage as part of a 10-man group that was eventually reduced to just two: Vinokourov and Colombian Santiago Botero (Phonak).
The Botero-Vinokourov breakaway was the highlight of an otherwise dull stage. The only other major outcome was the elimination of the former yellow jersey, German Jens Voigt (CSC), who finished 46:43 back, just 41 seconds outside the time limit. That means that, following Dave Zabriskie’s withdrawal on Sunday, the Tour has now lost two of its three race leaders, both of whom ride for CSC.
Vinokourov’s bravado also paid off for him on overall time. After dropping to 16th overall, 6:32 back, at Courchevel on Tuesday, the Kazakhstan champion is up to 12th, 4:47 behind Armstrong, a margin he said he would try to cut further in the Pyrénées next week.Full Results
“I am always optimistic. I have good morale,” Vinokourov said after outsprinting Botero to win stage 11 and fend off Armstrong’s group of 28 riders by 1:15 – thus soothing the frustration of his second place on stage 7 to Nancy last Thursday.
“I don’t know what will happen in the general classification in the Pyrénées,” he said, “but I do know I will attack more. If you don’t try you will never win the Tour. You have to take risks.”
Besides Vinokourov’s move up the overall standings, there were only two other changes in the overall classification today. They were the rise by second-place Botero from 11th to sixth, now 3:48 back, and the move by Frenchman Christophe Moreau (Crédit Agricole) from fourth to third after picking up the eight-second time bonus for third place on the stage.
Botero, who won a Tour stage into Briançon in 2000, was philosophical about his stage loss to Vinokourov; but he recognized that his efforts had paid off with a handy overall time gain.
“I knew it would be difficult to beat Vino’ in the sprint, he’s so strong. He’s a great rider to be in an escape with, he’s strong and motivated,” said Botero.
“I tried to drop him on the downhill. I made up the 40 seconds quite easily on the top part of the descent that was quite tricky, but from there it was wide open like a highway to Briançon.
“It’s nice to be back at the Tour in top form, riding for stage victories. I had hoped to be better situated in the GC, but I made up some time today. We’ll keep trying.”
Discovery team superb
The day was another success for Armstrong and his teammates, who again produced a magnificent display of teamwork on the tough menu of Alpine climbs: the 24km-long Col de la Madeleine, 12km Col du Télégraphe and 17.5km Col du Galibier, which was followed by the 40km downhill run to the finish in Briançon.
“The climbs that we are doing now are very different than the climbs we did on Saturday,” said Armstrong, referring to the Discovery team’s collective failure that day.
“On the contrary, all the questions about how the team could turn around so quickly, we could ask the same questions about the people that were on the front on Saturday — why aren’t they on the front now?”
One of the stars of the Discovery Channel team was Armstrong’s most loyal of teammates, George Hincapie, who rode at the front of the “Blue Train” for most of the ascent of the Galibier, this Tour’s highest peak.
Hincapie and his teammates were chasing Vinokourov and Botero, who had shed all their former breakaway companions.
“We didn’t want to let Vino back in the race. He’s a tough competitor, but he had a bad day yesterday,” said Hincapie, who finished the stage in 24th place. “We didn’t want him to get too much time. We let them go, and wanted to keep them within a minute. We knew if we did our tempo, they wouldn’t get much time. A couple of guys started to get dropped, and when it was just Botero and Vino’ [left], we knew it would be easier to control.
“Vino’ went faster than we thought. It was a phenomenal ride for him today. The descent was tough, but when you’re going at 70 kph and you’re pulling, even the downhill is tough.
“I’m glad tomorrow isn’t a mountain day and hopefully nothing too dramatic happens. I know [the Galibier] climb well. I know if there weren’t any big attacks I could do it. It was hard in the last kilometer, but I made it. Lance is feeling good. He looks super-strong and he’s happy with us and how things are going so far.”
Vino’s big day
The first hand grenade to be thrown from the peloton on stage 11 came after only 9km. on the decent from Courchevel, when Norwegian green jersey contender Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) and Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R) attacked. The pair took got a lead of 6:48 seconds after 26km, nearing the foot of the 25km-long Madeleine.
Meanwhile, behind them, the race was not spared of drama. The green jersey, Belgian Tom Boonen (Quick Step) — the man in Hushovd’s sights — was nursing his right knee from another crash after only 6km. Another to seek medical treatment was the stage-10 winner at Courchevel, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears), who was wearing the white jersey as best young rider.
As for Hushovd, he was motivated to stay away, to make it over the Madeleine summit at 55km and then to the first intermediate sprint of the day at 97.5km.
He gave it a good try. After 3km of climbing the Madeleine he surged away from Dumoulin, who, at 5-foot-2, is the smallest rider in the Tour peloton.
Meanwhile, a chase group formed, and a formidable one at that after it was reduced from 10 riders to seven: Vinokourov, Botero, American Chris Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir), and Spaniards Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), Roberto Heras (Liberty-Seguros) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi),
The group reeled in Hushovd before reaching the 44km mark on the Madeleine with a lead cut to 1:20 by the Discovery Channel train, whose pace obviously hurt many riders in the peloton.
Among those who dropped off were Spaniard Joseba Beloki (Liberty-Seguros), who managed to rejoin the peloton 5km from the summit, and Italian Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas-Bianchi).
With Hushovd and Heras long gone from the breakaway, it was with 3.5km to go on the climb that Horner and Mancebo lost touch with the front group, whose fate was seemingly doomed and imminent when their lead was just 28 seconds.
But that was not the case, despite Mancebo and Botero both losing contact. Botero soon rejoined the front group — and not for the last time in the day — shortly before the summit at 55km. In fact, Botero led the stage over the 6561-foot summit.
In the Colombian’s wake were Vinokourov and Pereiro in that order, followed at 50 seconds by Martinez and the peloton led by Moreau who was chasing King of the Mountains points.
On the descent, Pereiro lost his line and went off course, but without sustaining any injury; Martinez rejoined him, as did Botero and Vinokourov. The four then stretched their lead to 1:25 at the feed zone in St. Avre after 75km.
The peloton’s deficit increased to two minutes at the foot of the Télégraphe, which for all intents and purposes is the first part of the giant Col du Galibier, as the two are only separated by a short 4km decent.
Up front and with a tail wind, Martinez was the first to lose contact, followed by Botero with 10km of the ascent to go. But again Botero chased back, going on to lead the attack over the Télégraphe’s 5104-foot summit at 110km; Martinez, meanwhile, was soon caught by the peloton, which was three minutes down.
The leading trio had 3:30 seconds at the start of the Galibier, and it wasn’t long before her steep beginnings forced one of them out of contention. Pereiro lasted only 2km before dropping back.
Again, Botero would follow suit. With 9.5km of the 17.5km ascent left, he was dropped for the third time while the Discovery Channel-driven train, manned by Armstrong and five teammates, was still hovering about three minutes behind.
Vino stayed away to the mist- and cloud-covered 8678-foot summit at 133km, followed by Botero at 41 seconds, and then at 2:23 by Rasmussen — who bolted off the front in pursuit of vital climbers points — and then the peloton at 2:40. A group of men just dropped, including Australian Michael Rogers (Quick Step) and German Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile), would rejoin on the descent.
The downhill action by Vinokourov and Botero was spectacular, and not just for the scenery. Vinokourov plummeted down the Galibier. However, miraculously, he was caught yet again by the ever-defiant Botero, returning to the front for the fourth time on the stage.
With 25km to go Vinokourov and Botero, former T-Mobile teammates, had a 2:30 lead on the peloton and worked together brilliantly to fend off a pack that was absolutely flying, driven by Discovery Channel.
As Vinokourov and Botero entered Briançon, a two-up battle for the stage win was secure. Vinokourov sat on Botero’s wheel as the pair passed under the 1km to go flag, not surrendering it until 250 meters to go, when he launched his final sprint to the line.
Botero had no answer, but Vinokourov would not ease up until he crossed the line. He made four or five surges in the last 250 meters, each time dipping his head with the effort.
It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. And for a victorious Vinokourov, that was all that mattered.Top 10
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), T-Mobile
2. Santiago Botero (Col), Phonak, same time
3. Christophe Moreau (F), Crédit Agricole, at 1:15
4. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC, s.t.
5. Eddy Mazzoleni (I), Lampre, s.t.
6. Lance Armstrong (USA), Discovery Channel, s.t.
7. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, s.t.
8. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
9. Mickael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, s.t.
10. Georg Totschnig (A), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
1. Lance Armstrong (USA), Discovery Channel, 1859 kilometers in 41:59:57 (43.902kph)
2. Mickael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, 00:38
3. Christophe Moreau (F), Credit Agricole, 02:34
4. Ivan Basso (I), CSC, 02:40
5. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Illes Balears, 03:16
6. Santiago Botero (Col), Phonak, 03:48
7. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, 03:58
8. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears, 04:00
9. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, 04:02
10. Andréas Klöden (G), T-Mobile, 04:16