(Updated) The Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team can put another notch in its collective handlebars with Paolo Savoldelli's win on Wednesday.
The Italian, fresh from his victory in the 3-week Giro d'Italia in May, beat Team CSC's Kurt-Asle Arveson in what looked like a slow-motion “sprint” to the finish in Revel.
Neither cyclist is a sprinter with explosive acceleration; Savoldelli basically took Arveson's wheel and just drove past him. The two had attacked their eight-man breakaway in the final kilometers of the 148-mile stage that started in Pau.
The team of Lance Armstrong had never won a stage in the years of his six Tour de France victories, now they've won two. American George Hincapie, who's ridden alongside Armstrong all six of those years on the US Postal and Discovery teams, took Sunday's stage through the Pyrenees from Lézat-sur-Lèze to Saint-Lary Soulan. The Tour de France 2005 blog notes that Hincapie took the Tour's hardest stage, and Savoldelli took the longest one.
The Discovery team — which also had Jose Luis Rubiera in the breakaways — won another victory on Wednesday when it surpassed T-Mobile to take first place in the overall team competition. So-called T-Mobile team leader Jan Ullrich (4th overall), in announcing he was just going for a podium finish, had said on the weekend that at least his team was ahead of Discovery. Not anymore.
As the writer over at Peloton Blog says, this is a very different team surrounding Armstrong this year.
With Discovery's two stage victories (three if you count the team time trial), first place overall in the team competition, Yaroslav Popovych leading the young rider's competition, their leader in yellow for most of the Tour, and Armstrong wearing the yellow for the 79th day of his career (only Eddy Merckx has worn more) – what's left to accomplish?
Armstrong is without an individual stage victory. If he gets to Paris without a stage win, it would be the only time in his run of Tour victories since 1999 without one.
Dan Osipow at The Paceline (registration required) compiled a list of Armstrong's Tour de France stage wins going back to 1993. In his latest run, he's has 4 stages in 1999, 1 in 2000, 4 each in 2001 and 2002, 1 in 2003 and 5 in 2004.
His best remaining chance this year is the 34-mile individual time trial on Saturday in St. Etienne, the next to last day of the Tour de France. Armstrong told the Associated Press that he plans to “ride as hard as I can” on that stage.
Also riding hard will be Ullrich, who needs to close 2 minutes and 50 seconds on Rabobank's Mickael Rasmussen to get onto the podium in Paris. Rasmussen is King of the Mountains in this year's Tour, but didn't do well in the Tour opening time trial, an event at which Ullrich has traditionally done well.
In what would have normally been considered a status quo day, there were changes in the Top 10.
In the final climb, T-Mobile's Alexandre Vinokourov and Jan Ullrich attacked from the leader's group, which was about 22 minutes behind the stage winners. American Floyd Landis (Phonak) and Cadel Evans (Davitamon Lotto) didn't make the jump — perhaps not paying attention — and were left behind with the larger field. Ullrich and Vino couldn't sustain the pressure, but two Discovery riders — Hincapie and Popovych — took up the pace and the group put 20 seconds on Landis and Evans at the end.
Why would Discovery do this? CyclingNews suggested it was an attempt by Armstrong to punish Landis for remarks he made to French sporting newspaper L'Equipe regarding Armstrong.
Vinokourov, T-Mobile's unpredictable rider who had fallen to 16th place after a bad day in the Alps, was the benefactor of this move. He's now clawed his way up to 7th place in intervening 7 stages. Vinocourov celebrated by announcing to T-Mobile that he'd be leaving at the end of the season.
The top 10 are: Armstrong (1, Discovery)
Ivan Basso (2, CSC) 2:49 behind;
Mickael Rasmussen (3, Rabobank) 3:09 behind;
Jan Ullrich (4, T-Mobile) 5:58 behind;
Francisco Mancebo (5, Illes Balears) 6:31 behind;
Levi Leipheimer (6, Gerolsteiner) 7:35 behind;
Alexandre Vinokourov (7, T-Mobile) 9:38 behind;
Cadel Evans (8, Davitamon-Lotto) 9:49 behind;
Floyd Landis (9, Phonak) 9:53 behind, and;
Christophe Moreau (10, Credit Agricole) 12:07 behind.