Armstrong Wins Stage 15 of Tour, Extends Overall Lead
Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal Service) won Stage 15 of the Tour de France. The four-time defending champion crashed with 10 km left but surged away from a lead group to take the mountainous, 159.5-km stage from Bagneres-de-Bigorre to Luz Ardiden in 4:29:46. Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) outsprinted Jan Ullrich (Bianchi) for second at 0:40. Armstrong has extended his overall lead in the centenary Tour.
From the start, the racing was aggressive. A dozen riders rolled off of the front. The peloton reeled in 10 of them on the Category 4 Cote de Meilhas (31.5 km), but Santiago Botero (Telekom) and Sylvain Chavanel (Brioches La Boulangere) stayed away. When the pair breasted the Category 1 Col d'Aspin (94 km), they led the peloton by 9:30. On the Tourmalet, Chavanel dropped Botero.
Eight km from the summit of the Hors Categorie Col du Tourmalet, Ullrich attacked Armstrong. Armstrong slowly rode up to the German. Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia (both from Euskaltel), Tyler Hamilton (CSC), Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo), and Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) joined the pair. Alexander Vinokourov (Telekom) was dropped and was in a second group about 0:30 behind the maillot jaune group.
On the descent, a regroupment occurred. Vinokourov rejoined, and Armstrong's teammates Manuel Beltran and Jose Luis Rubiera joined the yellow jersey. The chase group swelled to 30 riders as it reached the base of the finishing climb.
Beltran paced the group up the slope. With 10 km left, Armstrong attacked. As the defending champion rounded a corner, his right brake lever caught the strap of a fan's bag, causing him to crash and to take down Mayo. Hamilton and Ullrich went to the front of the group to ensure that it waited for the maillot jaune.
Armstrong and Mayo rose quickly and remounted. The yellow jersey resumed his attack. He nearly fell again when he slipped a gear, but he quickly put time into the group. When Armstrong overtook Chavanel, he patted the Frenchman on the back. Armstrong's lead maxed out at 1:01, but Ullrich and company rallied and cut the advantage to 0:40 by the end of the stage.
In the overall, Armstrong leads Ullrich by 1:07 and Vinokourov by 2:45. Tomorrow will be the Tour's final rest day. On Wednesday, Stage 16, the 2003 Tour's final mountain stage, will take place. The stage will feature five categorized climbs in the first 120 km (including the Col de Soudet and the Col Bagargui, both of which are Category 1), but the last 80 km are largely flat. It will be a good stage for a group getaway. Who will be in it? Check in at http://www.roadcycling.com/ and find out!
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