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2004 TDF Stage 11 Report: Phil Ligget

Armstrong Drops Rivals in Pyrenees
Lance Armstrong vented all of his feelings on the Tour de France today, and although the stage win went to Italian Ivan Basso, the American's second place at the Pyrenean village of La Mongie put him well on the road to the record-breaking six win he has been seeking.

Armstrong used his strength to finish off what his US Postal team started on the Col d'Aspin, the first major obstacle in the 123 miles stage from Castelsarrasin. His eight team mates lifted the pace to destroy much of the field, and few could match the speed.

There were pockets of resistance as the front bunch of about 50 raced up the seven-mile climb of the Col d'Aspin in pouring rain, lifting the race to almost 5000 ft. On the descent they chased former world mountain bike champion Michael Rasmussen, whereas German Jan Ullrich descended with careless skills to take a lead on Armstrong.

Armstrong told his team to take no risks and they rejoined the German's side after a short chase. As soon as the last climb began, Armstrong still had his two main climbers, Jose Azevedo (Portugal) and Chechu Rubiera (Spain), around him, and as the steep slopes of the Col du Tourmalet started, one by one Armstrong's rivals fell away.

Nearing the top, and with the return of the warm sun, Armstrong realized that his biggest rival, Ullrich, who has finished second to him three times in Paris, was in terribly difficult and 20 seconds behind. That was the signal for him to finish off the demolition job he and his team had started.

Only Basso, who has never won a stage in the Tour de France but is an exceptionally talented rider, could race alongside Armstrong as they went clear of a field which finished with a spread of almost half an hour.

The thousands of Spanish fans, who had come to cheer Iban Mayo to victory, instead found themselves faced with the familiar sight of the American in command in the mountains. On the last visit to La Mongie in 2002, Armstrong won and took the lead he never lost to Paris at the same finish line.

This time, Armstrong made no effort to win the day as he was in search only of time over the men he feared most. Tomorrow morning when the race goes back into the Pyrenees, all of his rivals are a long way behind.

Ullrich is now 16th, 3-08 behind and saying he could not ride well in the rain. Fellow American, Tyler Hamilton, who inexplicably fell off the pace on his favourite roads, is a distant 20th, 4-22 down. The Spanish, too, can only lick their wounds as the best placed is Francisco Mancebo, 1-19 down.

Outside of the battle for the overall win, still a week away in Paris, French Champion Thomas Voeckler retained 5-24 of his overnight 9-35 on Armstrong. It was his eighth day in the lead, but although he offers all of the courage of great fighter in this cruel race, he knows he cannot ride with Armstrong for much longer.

His face twisted in pain, Voeckler zig-zagged to the line today in 41st place and almost six minutes after Basso and Armstrong has crossed it. Tomorrow's stage is even more difficult to the Plateau de Beille near Ax-les-Thermes, and it will probably be the end of a remarkable period in the brave, young Frenchman's career.

After disqualifying two riders at Limoges last Monday when it was proved that they were still involved in an ongoing drugs investigation in Italy, race director Jean Marie Leblanc today attempted to evict Pavel Padrnos, a member of Lance Armstrong's team, and Italian Stefano Zanini.

M Leblanc had received confirmation from Italy that they are both still "under investigation" in San Remo following police raids on the Tour of Italy when substances were taken from hotel rooms three years ago.

On this occasion, however, the International Cycling Union has not supported the organizers, who operate a strict Code of Ethics which disqualifies any rider involved in such an investigation, whether guilty or not, and they are expected to continue tomorrow.

All for Now,

Phil Liggett International Editor Cycle Sport Magazine

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