US cyclist George Hincapie pulled off one of the most surprising moves of the Tour de France this year by winning Sunday's grueling 127-mile stage over six mountain passes in the Pyrenees.
Lance Armstrong retained the yellow jersey in the overall competition, but the other overall standings got shuffled for the leaders as the continuous climbing exhausted the peloton.
The stage win by Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team member Hincapie marks the first time an Armstrong teammate has won a stage of the Tour de France since Armstrong began his comeback in 1999.
Hincapie, known as a sprinter and one-day specialist, found himself in a 14-man breakaway about 18 miles into the stage. He wheel-sucked the whole time, jumping up to the lead group everytime someone made an attack. No one expected him to help out, because any work at the front would have hurt Armstrong, his team leader.
On the final 6-mile climb up the 8%-grade Pla d' Adet, Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) led most of the way but had to relent to Hincapie's fresher legs in the final 200 yards.
Hincapie explained to OLN the strategy of being in the breakaway:
“If I was in the breakaway, I could wait for Lance” if he got in trouble. Armstrong never did get in trouble, so Hincapie had the green light to go. “It worked out amazing for me.”
According to the knowledgeable Tour de France 2005 blog, Hincapie becomes the 8th US cyclist to win a Tour de France stage. The others: Lance Armstrong, Andy Hampsten, Tyler Hamilton, Greg Lemond, Davis Phinney, Jeff Pierce, and David Zabriskie.
After the race, team manager Johan Bruyneel commented about his Discovery team:
“Not so bad for a weak team. We have the yellow jersey, the white jersey (Yaroslav Popovych), and the stage win.”
The Discovery team had been criticized as not being as strong as some of Armstrong's previous teams after the team leader had been isolated Saturday and earlier one day in the Alps. Armstrong also gave kudos to his team on Sunday, commenting, “They kept me company.”
After some other survivors of the breakaway arrived, Ivan Basso (CSC, left) and Armstrong crossed the finish line about 5 minutes after the stage winners.
Armstrong told OLN he wanted to help out Basso. “I gave him a hand at the 5K,” Armstrong said It was another minute and a half before Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) was pulled across by teammate Oscar Sevilla, one of the original breakaway riders who dropped back to help Ullrich.
Mickael Rasmussen (Rabobank) finished on Ullrich's heels, then Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) and Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile), the instigator for the final break-up of the leaders' group.
On the next to last climb, the Col de Val-Louron Azet, a group containing Armstrong, Basso, Ullrich, Rasmussen and other Tour leaders were comfortably and systematically pulling in the breakaway. Then Vinokourov, the renegade T-Mobile rider, attacked and dropped teammate Andreas Kloden (Vino passed Kloden in the overall today) and several Discovery team riders. Then Basso, Armstrong and Ullrich accelerated and found themselves ahead of everyone else.
Basso's attacks over the next few miles were matched by Armstrong, who jumped out of the saddle and raced up. Ullrich (right) couldn't match their quickness, but slowly lumbered up in his big gears. Finally, on the Pla d' Adet, Ullrich couldn't answer the Basso-Armstrong attack and was dropped for the last time.
Ullrich still tried to put time on Rasmussen, but the Danish cyclist wearing the King of the Mountain jersey struggled back and finished just behind Ullrich.
Here's the top riders in the Tour, comparing their rank at the end of Sunday's stage to Saturday's standings:
1 – Lance Armstrong (Discovery) was 1 at beginning of stage
2 – Ivan Basso (CSC) 2:46 behind, was 3rd at beginning of stage;
3 – Mickael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 3:09 behind, was 2nd;
4 – Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) 5:58 behind, was 4th;
5 – Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) 6:31 behind, was 7th;
6 – Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) 7:35 behind, was 5th;
7 – Floyd Landis (Phonak) 9:33 behind, was 6th;
8 – Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) 9:38 behind, was 9th;
9 – Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) 11:47 behind, was 10th;
10 – Andres Kloden (T-Mobile) 12:01 behind, was 8th.
See other resources for following the Tour de France 2005. After a rest day on Monday, the peloton returns to the Pyrenees and the 10-mile climb up the Col d'Aubisque.