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Stage 13: Cavendish unbeatable

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letour.jpgYesterday Mark Cavendish held up three fingers as he crossed the line. Today there was no finger counting -- the stage wins are just too numerous at this point. Columbia did their work at the front to keep the breakaways contained, knowing full well that they have the man to deliver on the line. All the sprint teams took their best shot. Even Robbie McEwen finally got his groove back on (sans leadout man), but Cavendish's kick is too much to match.

It was almost a good day for Milram: their man Terpstra was off the front for over 170km, first with Brard, then solo for another 15k before being caught. Then Milram setup a good leadout train for Zabel, but they went a bit too early as Hushovd's lead out sped past. Cavendish was smartly tucked in on Hushovd's wheel and was able to get a great jump.

A lot of French riders took their best shot today. Brard raced most of the day off the front with Terpstra. Later Auge took his shot and then Chavanel as the counterattacks kept coming, but too many sprint teams smelled blood.

There was plenty of jersey maintenance work today. Flecha had sweeper duties for Freire, leaping off the front to collect any remaining sprint points behind Brard and Terpstra. Gerolsteiner worked on their Lang/Kohl 1/2 in the KOM standings as Lang and Kohl swept up the third-place KOM points. They had a bit of a scare near the end when Krauss split his Specialized machine on a road sign, but he was able to walk away.

Updates 7/22 2:30PM: Millar Diary, Julich ESPN Column

Updates: Bob Martin's Stage 13 by the Numbers, VeloNews: Lieutenants will factor heavily as Discovery, Astana prepare for battle in Pyrénées, VeloNews: Chris Horner Watching Evans' TT, VeloNews: George Hincapie Post-Race, VeloNews: Levi Leipheimer Post-Race, VeloNews: Astana GM Marc Biver: Evans Most Dangerous, SBS Stage 13 Video Podcast, CyclingNews Roundup 2, CyclingNews Roundup

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Stage Summaries/Reports:

  • CyclingNews Roundup 2: Stage 14 preview - the Pyrenees await, McQuaid applauds Gerdemann's anti-doping stance, Schumacher soldiers on
  • CyclingNews Roundup: Rasmussen stuns field in TT, Phoenix from the ashes, Evans calls time trial "very good", Predictor pleased with Evans' ride, Cancellara's crash, Contador continues with consistency, Stage 13 post-race quotes

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Stage 13: Beziers - Montelimar

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FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Voigt! Whenever there's a break, you're likely to see Voigt, and today Voigt finally found the one that worked for him. He and Oscar Pereiro whittled the break down until it was just them. Voigt then went with 800m to go; Pereiro pulled it back. They sat and talked a bit, and then Voigt went again and was able to hold off Pereiro.

It was an ideal situation for a break, as Phonak was completely uninterested in chasing as were the sprint teams. It seems that everyone in the peloton is still too tired and will do some pessimal pacing with Alpe d'Huez and the rest of the Alps on their minds. The weather has been hot, the stages have been long, and the rest day isn't until Monday.

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty ImagesThe big news is a transfer of yellow jersey to Oscar Pereiro. I don't know what the Vegas line was on Pereiro moving into the yellow jersey from 28 minutes back -- heck, the odds of a break getting a half an hour on the field was probably pretty slim. The appears to have been Landis' tactic, as he's been hinting at his desire to hand over the yellow jersey temporarily in order to take some pressure off of his team. Landis didn't want to use up his team before the Alps, especially since they were barely there for the Pyrenees. But Oscar Pereiro moving into yellow on a Stage 13 break? I don't think I saw that in anyone's predictions. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The mountains return tomorrow. Oscar Pereiro will be handing over that yellow jersey again soon -- we're getting close to breaking the record for most yellow jersey changes. Pereiro can climb, but I can't see him defending well after riding in a break like that. Other riders that are way down should take note -- the peloton and leaders are going to allow long breaks (Hincapie, you there?).

Prediction check: * My prediction: A breakaway. Hincapie from the dartboard. McEwen wins the bunch sprint. * Actual: A breakaway (not Hincapie), McEwen wins the bunch sprint.

Stage 13: Lannemezan-Plateau de Beille

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07-17-04.stage13 profile

Armstrong Won! More on that later, but first, and perhaps more importantly, lets talk about those who didn't win today.

Every year there is a stage that is a decisive in the overall race. Sometimes they signal a shift in momentum, or an important stage victory, or the first time in the lead. Sometimes they are the stage where everything gets blown apart and one rider remains, and I believe that this stage falls into that category, not just because Armstrong got his first stage victory, but because there were so many casualties. Of the pre-race favorites, here's how they now stand:

  • Hamilton: Dropped out. The man who fought through last year's Tour with a broken collarbone, finally showed us his limits of pain and dropped out with lower back pain caused by his crash from a several stages before. I'm sure he'll be lobbying hard for new rules regarding sprint finishes now that this is the second year in a row his Tour ambitions have been cut short.
  • Ullrich: he'll be lucky to finish in second after losing over two minutes to Armstrong today
  • Heras: Where you at? A: Over 21 minutes back.
  • Mayo: Buzz favorite after his amazing Dauphine performance: 37 minutes back.

So who are the main contenders now besides Armstrong: Basso, Totschnig, Kloden, and Mancebo. No one expected this list of names, and at this point, they aren't really challenging Armstrong as much as they are fighting for 2nd and 3rd place on the podium. Basso is the clear leader of this pack, having stuck on Armstrong's wheel yesterday to get the stage win, and today sticking on his wheel again for second. He's the only rider in the whole Tour that's matched Armstrong.

There's one other name that deserves mention, even though he's not an overall favorite: Voeckler. People are already using the term 'hero' to describe this guy, and although I have a tough time using that term to describe bike racing, this guy's performance has been extraordinary and has won over everyone's hearts. He truly loves having the yellow jersey and appreciates the honor that it bestows, and he is willing to push himself far beyond his ability to hold onto it for as long as possible. No racer has provided more excitement in the past two stages: every acceleration seems to put him in danger as he falls back, his face is contorted in pain, but he'll reach down, stand up, and push himself forward to rejoin the lead group. I thought he was done for when US Postal pushed a split and Voeckler fell way back, but the next thing I knew he was sitting on Azevedo's wheel just behind the US Postal Blue Train. Voeckler's ride has been the sort of inspiring performance you hope for in a bike race, much like Isidro Nozal's performance in the Vuelta last year, and when Voeckler crossed the finish line with a huge smile on his face, you couldn't help but cheer on the pride of France.

So now, Armstrong. Armstrong looks as good as he did two or three years ago, and his team is as good as it was last year and the year before (Hincapie, Landis, Chechu, and Azevedo put in amazing pulls). In other words, Armstrong looks absolutely undefeatable. Gone are any signs of weakness from last year. Last year the contenders were able to organize themselves and issue constant attacks against Armstrong and expose signs of weakness. This year, the US Postal riders are setting such a hard pace that none of the GC contenders have even been able to issue attacks, and when the Blue Train does pull off, Armstrong himself steps up the pace and leads the final charge up the mountain that, so far, only Basso has been able to follow.

For the second time, the Plateau de Beille has proved to be a important stage victory for Armstrong. In a repeat of yesterday's action, US Postal set a fast tempo, with Azevedo serving as the last rider pulling Armstrong along. This time, though, there was more attrition, and it was just Azevedo, Armstrong, and Basso riding up front after having caught the breakaway riders. Then it was just Armstrong and Basso for the rest of the climb, shooting through the raucous Basque crowd. On the final bend to the finish line Armstrong shot ahead and snagged the victory. I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a bit of tit-for-tat with Basso, whom Armstrong didn't contest yesterday. According to news reports, Armstrong let Basso win yesterday due to a friendship that has developed over Basso's mother having cancer. Today, however, it was Basso that did little to challenge Armstrong's final sprint over the line.