A day of rest, then Tour heads south
Special to the Post Independent
Jakob Piil of Team CSC won Tuesday’s hot-and-steamy, 10th stage from Gap to Marseille as the Tour de France left the Alps and headed south toward the Mediterranean Sea.
A day after his thrilling “short-cut” late in Monday’s ninth stage, Lance Armstrong stayed on dry pavement Tuesday to finish safely in the lead group to retain his hold on the yellow jersey.
Time again for the sprinters
The race for the green points jersey, meanwhile, apparently is now going to be one of the Tour’s main story lines, with Aussie Baden Cooke of Fdjeux.com and defending champion countryman Robbie McEwen of Lotto-Domo looking to knock heads all the way to Paris. McEwen shot ahead to claim some points at a intermediate sprint Tuesday, but Cooke took second and then won the sprint for 10th place coming in behind a breakaway to retain his hold on the green jersey.
The day’s major move came when Piil and eight other riders shot off the front just after the sprint. Piil shot away from the break about 10 miles before the finish to win the stage.
“It’s a nice feeling. I’ve tried the last two years. I had some bad luck, so I’m very happy now,” Piil said. “The last couple of years I’ve learned a lot from being part of breaks and I had the opportunity today. I didn’t want to miss it.”
Cooke led the main bunch home at 21:23 back.
Favorites catch their breath
Armstrong rolled out of the Alps with his thinnest lead ever since his first Tour victory in 1999. Both individual time trials still lie ahead, but Armstrong was unable to put the hurt on his rivals in three hard days in the Alps.
“Everything is open in the Tour. It’s never happened like this before that after the Alps that everybody is so close together,” said U.S. Postal’s assistant director Dirk Demol. “In the mountains Lance couldn’t make the difference like he has in the past.”
Demol said the team is not panicking because they realize the Tour’s hardest stages are still looming in the Pyrenees.
“We know the hardest part is yet to come. There are still two time trials and four stages in the Pyrenees,” Demol said.
Joseba Beloki’s painful departure from the Tour on Monday left a big gap in the fight for the final podium. Alexandre Vinokourov of Telekom moved into second following his victory Monday and the time bonus that came with it. Bianchi’s German Jan Ullrich, meanwhile, has been quietly riding through the first half of the Tour and sits in sixth place overall at 2:10 back.
“I am still standing among the favorites,” Ullrich told German reporters. “I am looking forward to the time trial and then the Pyrenees. Everyone knows that’s where the Tour will be decided.”
Team CSC’s Tyler Hamilton said he’s still suffering with his fractured right collarbone. Tuesday’s stage was difficult, he said, because although swelling has gone down in his shoulder and back, pain continues to hinder him.
“I feel like there’s a knife in my back,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he is satisfied he made it through the Alps in good position.
“I’m still taking it one day at a time. I still don’t feel 100 percent. I know the Pyrenees are going to be hard,” Hamilton said. “It’s a nice feeling. Three difficult stages, especially under my circumstances they were that much harder. I’m pleased to have them over and I’m looking forward to a rest day and here comes the Pyrenees.”
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