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Ivan Basso tonight vowed to fight on in his bid to dispossess Lance Armstrong of the yellow jersey, but admitted that the American had shown "no sign of weakness" on stage 14 of the Tour between Agde and Ax 3 Domaines.
A satisfied but exhausted Basso retired to his team CSC hotel in Pau tonight having put up the sternest resistance of all of Armstrong's rivals on the first of three days in the Pyrenees. The 27-year-old Italian now lies third on GC, 2-46 adrift of Armstrong and now just over a minute down on Michael Rasmussen.
One of Basso's most aggressive performances in the Tour received scant reward as Armstrong pipped the Italian to second place on the stage behind Gerolsteiner veteran Georg Totschnig. Armstrong crossed the line two seconds clear of the CSC climber and picked up 12 bonus seconds to Basso's eight.
"I tried to attack on the penultimate and on the final climb, so at least you journalists can stop saying that I never attack," Basso quipped at the finish-line. "To be honest, I saw no sign of weakness in Lance's riding. He is very strong and it's so hard to get away. I'll keep riding my race, I won't give in, and today has certainly given me a lot of confidence. I always said that I would get better as the race went on, that I would be stronger in the Pyrenees than in the Alps. That's exactly what's happening."
Concerns about Basso's form prior to today's stage had been fed by conventional wisdom to the effect that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ride the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same year. Basso himself had admitted to having the same doubts, which seemed to have dissipated this evening.
"I suffered in the Alps and especially at Courchevel because I was still coming to terms with the speed of the Tour," revealed Basso, a third-place finisher in the Tour last year. "The difference between the Tour and the Giro is that here we go about 5kph faster on the climbs and 10kph faster on the flat."
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