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Stage 15: Deadly Andy, Triumphant Frank

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letour.jpgThere were two races today. Egoi Martinez, Danny Pate, Simon Gerrans, and José Luis Arrieta formed the early break and probably weren't expecting to stay away, but nasty conditions on the road changed the storyline. Oscar Pereiro was the victim of a terrible broken-bones crash, going over a guard rail and falling five meters to the switchback below. There was also a double pileup on both sides of roundabout as the slick conditions knocked the peloton over like dominoes. Even Menchov had a big dig undone by a slippery switchback.

In the race of the breakaway, Egoi Martinez looked to be the strongest as he broke the group apart on the slopes of Prato Nevoso. But Pate bridged back and, more slowly but surely, Gerrans bridged back as well. Gerrans then somehow found the legs to attack on the steep slopes of the finish to take the win ahead of Martinez and Pate. I've photographed Danny Pate winning on the flat turf of Missouri, but little did I expect the "TT specialist" to hang with a Spanish climber in the Pyrenees. I think Vaughters owes him a giant bottle of wine as well.

In the race of the GC, CSC again brought the pain. Nearly the entire team was in force to ratchet up the tempo, but it was Deadly Andy Schleck who deserves the big kudos on the day as he slew the yellow dragon Cadel Evans. So much was expected of Andy Schleck, even a yellow jersey, but he had a bad time in the Pyrenees. Today he showed why so much potential is seen in the young rider. He hammered the leaders repeatedly and each time he seemed used up, Sastre would then launch a big attack. Then it would come back together, Deadly Andy would fight back up, and then kill them again. Brother Frank sat comfortably on Cadel Evans' wheel, letting him try and dig the sharp attacks back, weakening with each attempt. It was cruel, almost, to watch the CSC trio dismantle Evans.

Sastre, Kohl, and Menchov finally sprung free and Valverde bridged up. It was open bar on Evans as everyone in the top ten sensed the opportunity to gain time. Kohl, sitting in fourth place in the GC, was suddenly in position to take the yellow jersey from Evans. Only Sastre could hold onto his wheel as Kohl sprinted for fifth place on the day. Kohl is a familiar sight in the mountains, but who would have predicted that the Gerolsteiner rider would be laying it all on the line on in the Alps to take yellow?

It was then up to Frank Schleck to determine who would win the battle for yellow. With Evans reeling, the advantage was Frank Schleck's: he only needed one second and he got nine. It was a bit cruel for poor Kohl, who needed 46 seconds to take yellow and got 47, but he did take the KOM jersey for his efforts.

Christian Vande Velde gained time on Evans as well but lost spots in the GC as Kohl and Menchov were able to leapfrog with their efforts. Menchov suddenly seems a lot more dangerous and will be watched more carefully as he's quietly fought back the time lost due to inattentiveness on the flat, windy stages.

CSC can't celebrate just yet. They'll need a lot more time than 8 seconds on Evans to take yellow in Paris, so expect more fireworks after the rest day.

Vaughter's Tweet of the Day (Stage 15)

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The stage hasn't finished yet, but I think this one will take it:

Apparently we crash as a team too.. Everyone ok, JV

In reference to Dean, Millar, Vande Velde and others being involved in a slippery, double-sided roundabout crash.

Tour de France '07 Stage 15 link roundup

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Updates: VeloNews: Evans showing signs of wear as Rasmussen and Contador battle for top spot Casey Gibson Stage 15 Photo Gallery Tour de PEZ: 196KM to Loudenveille!, Carmichael Sez: What Goes Up Must Come Down, WorldCycling.tv: Alexandre Vinokourov Interview, WorldCycling.tv: Michael Rasmussen Interview, WorldCycling.tv: Chris Horner Interview, Vinokourov Stage 15, CyclingNews Roundup, CyclingNews Roundup 2, Bobby Julich ESPN Column, Cyclelicio.us Stage 15 Summary and Links

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  • Fabian Wegmann Stage 15 Diary (translated from German)
  • Versus Stage 15 Diaries: Phil, Paul, Bob
  • Carmichael Sez: What Goes Up Must Come Down
  • Vinokourov Stage 15: "Yesterday I had no legs, I didn’t feel very well in my head and I had no motivation at all. I understood during the yesterday’s stage that I wouldn’t win the Tour this year. My teammates were wonderful, they encouraged me a lot this morning. That’s what make me attack in the first kilometers. I felt good, as well as my legs. At the first break, I thought there were too many riders and that I had to go on with my effort. As I saw I could make it, I tried to be alone and first at the top of the last climb, in order to be sure to win the stage. Today is a great victory. For sure, I wasn’t lucky the first two weeks and without my fall, things could have been different. But that’s sport…"

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Vino - JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Vino!

Vinokourov may have five Tour de France wins under his belt, but this is the most amazing that I've ever seen in his career. It's not his first comeback win -- Stage 10 in the 2005 Tour stands out in my mind -- but he can barely walk from what I've seen of his interviews and yesterday was downright disastrous (big time losses and a crash). I guess you don't need to walk when you can ride. Nancy Toby calls him Rasputin, Bobby Julich calls him The Bull.

A stage victory won't get Vino back on the podium, but there's little doubt in my mind that he would be winning this whole thing if it weren't for his crash. Vino was part of an early 20+ rider break that also contained Menchov and Hincapie. Vino knew his chances were good and his teammates did as well -- Ivanov burned himself through to bridge Vino back up when the breakaway split to keep Vino near the front. Vino's big attacks came as the Peyresourde approached. After bridging up to the leaders, he attacked the remnants repeatedly until he was all alone. He crossed the top of the Peyresourde solo and time-trialed down the descent to victory.

Contador and Rasmussen battled it out again today. The contenders seemed a bit tired today, sticking together in a large group on the slopes of the Peyresourde, six-seven minutes behind the break. Discovery decided to stir it up by sending Popovych up the road. Rabobank chased that back but lost Menchov as a result. Contador then decided to test Rasmussen... repeatedly. Contador attacked again, and again, and again, as the two twig riders got a bigger and bigger gap on the rest of the contenders. Contador caught Hincapie at the top of the climb and Hincapie drilled it at the front to give Contador and Rasmussen nearly a minute on their rivals at the finish.

Leipheimer had to sit content with the rest of the contenders as he watched his teammate up the road. The accelerations aren't his style and he couldn't help the others bridge back. Contador needed the time gaps on Evans to protect himself in the upcoming time trial. We'll see if Leipheimer gets a chance to put his own attacks on Evans after tomorrow's rest stage -- 1:25 on Evans separates Levi from the podium right now. Kloden is also nipping at Levi's heels, 9 seconds behind.

There wasn't much GC shakeup in the top five even if gaps were gained, but the overall top ten did get some juggling around due to Kim Kirchen's (T-Mobile) great second-place effort and Zubeldia's (Euskatel) third-place. Kirchen climbed five spots back to 9th while Zubeldia rocked into 7th to bump Kashechkin down a spot. Valverde dropped back out of the top ten to 11th and, for all his lieutenant efforts, Popovych sadly drops out of the top ten to 12th.

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 2.23
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor - Lotto 4.00
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team 5.25
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 5.34

There were quite a few abandons and non-starters today: Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) and Philippe Gilbert (FDJ) were the non-starters, while Fast Freddie (Predictor-Lotto), Cyril Dessel (Ag2r) and Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) abandoned -- Le Mevel due to a crash.

Stage 15: Gap - L'Alpe-d'Huez

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Frank Schleck won the day and Landis probably won the Tour. Scheck's victory was earned by the hard work of his CSC team. CSC put three riders into a 24-man break and Zabriskie and Voigt pushed that break through rain and shine until it was whittled down to a select group at the base of Alpe d'Huez. Lampre also did a bit of work in that break and both Schleck and Cunego were launched on the final climb. Schleck and Cunego rode up together most of the way, but with 3k to go, Schleck attacked and put in the gap he needed to win, having enough time to zip up his jersey at the end. It's Schleck's first Tour de France and first Tour victory.

Landis finished in fourth and it looks like in all certainty he'll be wearing this yellow jersey in Paris. He took his yellow jersey back from Pereiro, who fought hard but lost out by 10 seconds. Landis never showed a second's weakness while all of his GC competitors did. Menchov couldn't hold Landis' wheel, not even with Rasmussen somehow bridging up to Menchov to help out. Evans couldn't hold on either and Sastre made a good effort, but was dropped further up the climb. Kloden was the only GC contender that stayed with Landis the whole way, but even when his T-Mobile teammate Mazzolini dropped back from the break, Kloden could never get a gap.

The breakway was a big factor in the finish as riders in the break dropped back on the Alpe d'Huez to help out their GC hopefuls. Voigt was first, putting in a big effort for Sastre not long after helping to launch Schleck -- Voigt may have done the biggest effort on the day. Merckx was next, as Landis jumped onto his wheel and shouted for him to go. Merckx was a caught a bit by surprise, but quickly jumped to the front and handed over a bottle. Mazzolini was last, coming back to pace Kloden.

The big abandon on the day was Tom Boonen, who leaves with some yellow jerseys but no stage win or green jerseys. Most would be happy with that sort of haul, but the Belgian press is probably letting him have it today.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Azevedo * Actual: Azevedo, where did you finish? Somewhere way back (7+ minutes)

Hincapie! Since 1999 Hincapie has ridden for Armstrong in the Tour, helping Armstrong to many victories but never taking one for himself. With this being Armstrong's final Tour, it's about time that Hincapie gets his just rewards for his hardwork. It probably wasn't in the playbook for Hincapie to take the stage, but as things shaped up on the penultimate climb things just got better and better for Discovery. The other riders isolated Armstrong again, but the attacks were less spirited. Eventually it was just Armstrong and Basso, while up the road Hincapie's breakaway kept getting smaller and smaller. Hincapie didn't have to do any work in the breakaway, which left him with fresher legs with which to easily outsprint Pereiro for the victory.

This was the 'queen' stage of the Tour -- no stage has quite as many leg-punishing climbs. Discovery sent Hincapie in the early breakaway of 14 riders, which was slowly whittled down over each of the day's big climbs. Discovery probably wanted to put Hincapie in the break for two reasons: 1) to force other teams to chase the breakaway and 2) to have an extra teammate for Armstrong available if the breakaway was chased down -- with all the isolation attacks on Armstrong, a good way to counter them is to just place a teammate further up the road. The strategy worked better than planned. CSC and T-Mobile did give chase and they did repeat their isolation attacks on Armstrong on the Col de Val-Louron Azet. After those attacks was Armstrong, Ullrich, and Basso. Some riders caught up on the descent, but it was quickly those three again as they attacked up the Pla d'Adet. Ullrich looked good, but eventually he could hold on no longer, and it was just Armstrong and Basso.

(I just got back from Comic-Con this morning - which I'll have plenty of posts from. Trusty TiVo recorded the TdF for me while I was gone, but I've only had time to catch up on the Individual TT and this morning's Stage 15)

stage profile

photoStage 15 was simply awesome. If you thought the attacks on Stage 8 had drama, this morning's stage had all of that and then some.

The drama first started on the Col du Tourmalet (site of last year's Armstrong-Heras-Beloki train). Ullrich attacked 3/4 of the way up, but Armstrong was able to contain the attack. However, damage was being done to Vinokourov who was dropped and did not catch back up until Luz-Ardiden. With neither able to assert an advantage, Armstrong and Ullrich both waited for their teammates to return to the group for the final ascent.

They didn't get to use their teammates for too long as Mayo launched an attack which Armstrong caught up with and continued. Vinokourov was dropped again and wouldn't recover. And then came the watercooler moment of the ascent: Armstrong was leading the attack with Mayo on his back wheel. As he came around a turn, a fan's musette caught his right brake lever and dropped the bike to the group, with Mayo falling on top. CheChu led Armstrong back into the chase group, and Ullrich and Hamilton slowed the chase group to wait for Armstrong's return. As Armstrong bridged back up to the chase group his right foot slipped out of the pedal, making everyone wonder what sort of damage had been done to his bike.

However, rather than pause to switch bikes, Armstrong caught up to the chase group and then launched the final attack of the day, leaving Ullrich unable to respond. Armstrong caught up to Chavanel, gave him a respectful pat on the back, and then continued his climb to the finish line on Luz-Ardiden. Armstrong finally gets his individual stage win of the tour, and on a stage that people hoped he would leave his mark on.

Congrats to Chavanel who dominated the mountains today, but was caught in the final kilometers of Luz-Ardiden.