Incredible! Today's tour stage 15 was another wild one, with Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich and Alexander Vinokourov all within mere seconds of each other at the start of the race. Well, it didn't stay that way very long. Ullrich attacked on the climb up Col du Tourmalet, which was much earlier than expected. But it would seem Jan played his hand a bit too soon, and was caught by a cool, calm Armstrong.
On the last climb up Luz-Ardiden, the leaders made another break, separating from Vinokourov who struggled to keep up. By the end of the day, Vino's 18 second gap would widen to over 2 minutes. I was surprised to see Vino fall so far behind in one stage, but these are the killer mountains that separate the champions from everyone else.
In the midst of the climb up Luz-Ardiden, Armstrong was involved in an accident with a fan and his bag, which wrapped onto Lance's handlebar and threw him to the ground, along with Iban Mayo. Ullrich managed to avoid the spill but amazingly stopped and waited with the group of riders, while Armstrong and Mayo got back up.
Lance was pumped with adrenaline after the spill and once the small lead group started out again, he attacked and separated from Ullrich on the climb. Wow!
"After the crash, I had a big rush of adrenaline. I told myself 'Come on Lance, you must win the Tour today,"'
The gap widened as Lance passed the lone breakaway rider and finished the stage with a win, while Jan pounded the pedals to keep the gap as slim as possible. All told, Ullrich's 15 second gap behind Armstrong has now been lengthened to 1:07.
For a detailed account of the stage, I recommend the live blog coverage of stage 15 by Locutus over at Daily Peleton... you can really can feel the excitement just reading his breathless, moment-by-moment account!
I was amazed me at todays stage not only for the wild racing action, but because of Ullrich's sportsmanship. Lance had extended the same courtesy to Ullrich in a previous Tour, where Ullrich had gone off the side of the road and Armstrong waited to make sure he was OK and safely back on the road with him before continuing the race.
I love Ullrich's quote about the incident today:
"I have never in my life attacked someone who had crashed. That's not the way I race,"
Very classy. It's not hard to see that these two respect each other very highly and can separate fierce competition from real life. It's not often you see this kind of respect and sportsmanship in modern sports. I'm glad it's still alive and well in cycling.
I'm pulling for Lance to win his 5th Tour and I think he may just pull it off, but my respect for Ullrich is very high. Besides I wouldn't count him out until the last seconds of the last individual time trial stage of this wonderful Tour de France.
Hang on tight, it's gonna be a wild ride! :-)