Inspired Hincapie wins toughest stage

It was totally fitting that on the day the Tour passed over the climb where Fabio Casatelli died 10

It was totally fitting that on the day the Tour passed over the climb where Fabio Casatelli died 10

PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM

It was entirely fitting that on the day that the Tour de France went over the Portet d'Aspet pass where Fabio Casartelli was tragically killed when he crashed 10 years ago that one of the Italian's Motorola team-mates that year should win today's epic Pyrenean stage to St Lary Soulan. It was also extremely surprising that the stage winner should be Classics specialist George Hincapie, who outsprinted Oscar Pereiro at the final summit to become the first of Lance Armstrong's team-mates to win an individual stage at the Tour during his long run of success.

It was also fitting that Armstrong, one of many riders wearing an armband bearing Casartelli's name, should tighten his grip on this race by seeing off all of his rivals bar Ivan Basso. This pair finished together five minutes or so behind Hincapie, with Jan Ullrich struggling to limit his losses another minute or so down, just ahead of Michael Rasmussen who slipped to third place behind Basso. Armstrong now leads the Italian by 2-46, and the next week of the race should now be one of triumphal procession towards that seventh title next Sunday.

What turned out to be the winning break went away after just 27km, well before the first of six categorised climbs. The group was 14-strong and all contributed over the first couple of climbs, but riders began to fall away on the Col du Portillon, as three Rabobank riders (Dekker, Boogerd and Kroon) set a good pace and cleaned up the mountains points in order to protect Michael Rasmussen's lead in that competition.

By the summit of the Peyresourde, the fourth climb of the day, there were just six left at the front - Boogerd, Pereiro, Pietro Caucchioli, Laurent Brochard, Hincapie and Oscar Sevilla, and the latter two were spending most of their time at the back of the group, clearly waiting to see whether they would have to drop back and help their team leaders back down the mountain.

Back there, CSC and T-Mobile had upped the pace to prepare the ground for their leaders, and riders were being scattered behind them. The only problem was that Armstrong had a decent number of his team-mates around him and never looked in any trouble.

The six leaders remained together on the fifth climb, the Col de Val Louron Azet, which they crested with a lead of almost eight minutes on the yellow jersey group. This was significantly down on their maximum of more than 18, but there was now no chance of the overall contenders catching them, and six knew that the stage would be decided between them.

Alexandre Vinokourov continued the scattering process in the yellow jersey group on that fifth climb, with Ullrich tucked him behind him. But Basso soon responded, Armstrong went after him, and then Ullrich followed, as the rest settled to their own pace.

After another fast drop into the valley, there was no chance for a breather before the final 10km climb to the finish. Sevilla began the action in the leading group, attacking strongly, unzipping his jersey as a statement of intent, and then seeing Pereiro, Boogerd and the dogged Hincapie go past him. The American stuck to the wheels of his rivals, responding when Caucchioli came back and attacked the three leaders, then following Pereiro when the Spaniard went clear, all the time refusing to give.

Although Pereiro kept trying to manoeuvre the American to the front, Hincapie stuck to the Spaniard's wheel. With by far a better sprint, the result was always likely to go Hincapie's way, and when he finally surged to the front with 200 metres left Pereiro had no answer.

Behind, Ullrich tried a last throw of the dice with some strong pace-making at the foot of the final climb, but again had no answer when Basso jumped away and Armstrong skipped easily after the Italian. The reason for Sevilla's earlier loss of momentum became obvious when he fell back to guide the wilting Ullrich to the finish. The Tour is once again slipping away from Ullrich, and he will still be hard pressed to finish on the podium given an almost three-minute deficit on Rasmussen.

Stage 15, Lezat sur Leze-St Lary Soulan

1 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 205.5km in 6.06.38 (33.63kph)
2 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Phonak 0.06
3 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole 0.38
4 Michael Boogerd (Hol) Rabobank 0.57
5 Laurent Brochard (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 2.19
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) CSC 5.04
7 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel
8 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) T-Mobile 6.28
9 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile
10 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 6.32
11 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears
12 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 7.33
13 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 7.54
14 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Crdit Agricole 8.14
15 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel 8.47
16 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
17 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita 8.54
18 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel 9.32
19 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 9.34
20 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros 10.37

25 Bobby Julich (USA) CSC 12.13
31 Chris Horner (USA) Saunier Duval 14.01
80 Luke Roberts (Aus) CSC 36.09
81 Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick Step
120 Baden Cooke (Aus) Francaise des Jeux 44.10
130 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Ag2r
138 Brad McGee (Aus) Francaise des Jeux
147 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
148 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis
149 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis
152 Fred Rodriguez (USA)

Overall standings

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 62.09.59 (42.31kph)
2 Basso 2.46
3 Rasmussen 3.09
4 Ullrich 5.58
5 Mancebo 6.31
6 Leipheimer 7.35
7 Landis 9.33
8 Vinokourov 9.38
9 Moreau 11.47
10 Andreas Klden (Ger) T-Mobile 12.01
11 Evans 12.57
12 Popovych 14.27
13 Zubeldia 15.26
14 Mazzoleni 17.56
15 Jrg Jaksche (Ger) Liberty Seguros 18.16
16 Julich 19.03
17 Pereiro 19.30
18 Hincapie 19.35
19 Andrei Kashechkin (Kaz) Crdit Agricole 20.35
20 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval 25.48

32 Horner 52.41
37 Rogers 1.00.56
76 O'Grady 2.01.49
95 McGee 2.16.45
98 Davis 2.18.26
114 Roberts 2.41.31
120 White 2.49.04
126 Rodriguez 2.55.20
136 McEwen 3.04.19
142 Cooke 3.07.56
143 Gerrans 3.08.16

Points

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 164
2 O'Grady 150
3 McEwen 142
4 Vinokourov 90
5 Robert Frster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 84
6 Davis 81

King of the Mountains

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 185
2 Pereiro 114
3 Armstrong 92
4 Boogerd 90
5 Moreau 89
6 Botero 88

Young rider: Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel
Team: T-Mobile

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