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The protagonists tell their stories of a dramatic time trial
By Andrew Hood
Friday’s stage of the 2003 Tour de France delivered yet more shocks in what has been a Tour of full of drama. The shock of the day was Jan Ullrich turning 47 kilometers of French asphalt into a personal road to redemption, by scoring his first Tour stage victory since 1998 and pushing his longtime rival Lance Armstrong to an unfamiliar second place in a Tour time trial.
Armstrong said he ran out of water and suffered with the heat, which again shot into the humid-90s. Armstrong was dealt his worst Tour time trial defeat since his 1999 comeback to the race after overcoming cancer. Indeed, since his comeback, the Texan had lost only one long Tour time trial, and that by a scant 11 seconds to reigning world champion Santiago Botero last year.
While Armstrong lost time to a super-charged Ullrich, the four-time defending champion took time on everyone else. He gained a couple of minutes on climbing specialists Iban Mayo and Francisco Mancebo, but not quite as much as he would have liked against Tyler Hamilton or Alexandre Vinokourov.
Telekom’s Vinokourov rode an inspired race to stay close in third place overall only 51 seconds back to keep things interesting going into four stages in the Pyrenees. Here’s what some of the day’s main protagonists had to say after their time trials.
Ullrich is back
Ullrich left all his troubles of the past year behind as he chugged over the rolling course to claim his first Tour stage victory since 1998, when he finished second overall to Marco Pantani.
“I had no special preparation. I felt a little nervous last night, but I had a good meal and a good night last night. I saw the course this morning,” Ullrich said. “I didn’t have any special tactic. I didn’t start very fast. There were some dangerous curves in the beginning. My strength grew better and better as the course went on. I knew I was better than Lance in the time checks and that gave me motivation.”
Ullrich finished 1:36 faster than Armstrong and moved into second overall, just 34 seconds behind his longtime nemesis. Ullrich has twice finished second to Armstrong, but the German continues to insist he came to this Tour thinking of only winning a stage.
“This victory leaves me without words,” Ullrich continued. “I don’t know what will happen now in the Tour. My goal was to win a goal at this Tour, not to worry about the general classification. After what’s happened to me the past few years, what I wanted to do in this Tour is to prove I could come back. I was thinking about next year’s Tour, not this year. I don’t know if Lance will attack. I still have some time to make up on him. The Pyrenees will be very difficult.”
Armstrong in the red zone
Armstrong started strong but faded in the last third of the course and lost time to Ullrich when he said the heat sapped his strength.
“It was harder than I anticipated and the heat certainly played a factor. Perhaps I didn’t have a great day, but it was very tough,” he said. “It was hard to stay cool and stay hydrated. Immediately my mouth was dry as a desert and I was trying to pace myself. I’m not overly satisfied with my performance, but it could have been worse. It was hotter and harder than I expected. I was at my maximum, when I saw that I was losing time, I tried to stay consistent and not lose too much.”
Armstrong said he felt okay in the morning warm-up, but started to feel the heat midway through the course. “I had an incredible crisis. I felt like I was going backwards. I ran out of water. It’s the thirstiest I’ve ever been. I did have a moment there when there was a problem,” Armstrong said. “I felt strong in the morning when I went for a ride, but I didn’t feel super during the effort. Perhaps it was too hot. I suffered. I was surprised by the end result. I started out okay, but I lost time after that.”
Armstrong said the next stages in the Pyrenees will prove decisive, but said he wasn’t worried about having to attack Ullrich. “I don’t know if I have to take more time out (of Ullrich). Jan had a super day, but very rarely has he beaten me in an individual time trial. I would still be confident going into the final time trial,” he said. “It’s not my job to attack. If the others attack, I will follow them … try to follow them.”
Armstrong tipped his hat to Ullrich and said the German deserved the victory. “Jan is a specialist and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he won, maybe the time difference is a bit of a surprise, but he had a great race. It was a super performance,” he said. “As I said before the Tour, I’ve always considered him the biggest rival. He had a great day and now we have to see how the mountains go.”
Hamilton fights through pain
Tyler Hamilton put down another solid performance, riding through pain in his fractured right shoulder to finish fifth 2:43 slower than Ullrich and inching into fourth overall 2:59 back.
Hamilton said he rode without risking going too hard on the over-heated course. “You have to be very careful from the start because you didn’t want to go over your limit. It was a hard day right from the beginning because of the extreme heat. I felt like I went hard tempo the whole time. To go above that you’re going to explode,” Hamilton said. “(I’m) not extremely happy. I felt like I should have been pushing one gear more. There wasn’t so much pounding but it didn’t affect me too much (the pain). I didn’t stand up too much.”
Zubeldia sees a real fight
Euskaltel’s Haimar Zubeldia finished fourth and now sits tied with teammate Iban Mayo in fifth place at 4:29. The Spanish rider said Armstrong’s surprising defeat to Ullrich makes for a very interesting race.
“This confirms that Lance isn’t as strong as the other years. Ullrich is something to behold. He’s very impressive and it’s something new in this Tour. I think he’s getting stronger as the Tour goes on,” Zubeldia said. “Now this Tour is converted into a real battle. We have to respect Lance because he is a champion and Jan as well.”
He said the team will enter the Pyrenees with Mayo and Zubeldia fighting for the podium. Hundreds of thousands of rowdy Spanish and Basque cycling fans are expected to line the courses through the Pyrenees.
“We are two leaders now, so we will see on the road who is strongest. In the Pyrenees we will have extra motivation with so many Basque fans there to support us,” he said. “Now we can dream about the podium.”
Mayo not happy, sees Armstrong vulnerable
Euskaltel’s Iban Mayo suffered over the course and lost 5:03 to Ullrich and fell from third to sixth at 4:29 back. The winner at Alpe d’Huez said he couldn’t find his rhythm.
“I didn’t go well at all,” Mayo said. “I couldn’t find my rhythm and I couldn’t go at my maximum because of the heat. My tires felt stuck to the road. I hope to recuperate for the Pyrenees, but today gives us hope. It shows that Lance is not as strong as the other years and reveals that Ullrich is stronger than we believed. I believe Armstrong is in a hard position now to win the Tour.”
Fassa Bortolo’s Ivan Basso was hoping for more. The Italian finished a disappointing 20th at 6:00 and sank to eighth in the overall standings, 6:49 back.
“I was grinding all day, very slow in the pedals. I am very disappointed. I was thinking I would lose two, maybe three minutes to Armstrong, but to lose six minutes in the time trial is distressing,” Basso said. “Now we’ll see what happens in the Pyrénées, see who will have the legs to attack. Maybe I can recover and try something myself.”
Riis surprised to see Ullrich win
Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis said he was satisfied with Tyler Hamilton’s performance. Hamilton rode a solid race, finishing 1:07 behind Armstrong. “Tyler did a good ride even though he couldn’t give his best,” Riis said. “I expect the next three or four stages will be very hard. We lost only one minute to Armstrong when the others (Iban Mayo and Francisco Mancebo) lost a lot more time.”
Riis said he was surprised to see Ullrich ride in such dominant fashion, but said it was too early to write off Armstrong. “Ullrich was stronger than I expected, more than anyone expected,” said Riis, winner of the 1996 Tour. “There will be some riders paying in the Pyrenees because they went too hard in the time trial. Let’s wait and see about Lance. Maybe he has a plan, maybe he didn’t go to his limit today to save something for the mountains.”
To see how the Stage 12 time trial unfolded, just click here to bring up our Live Update window.