Stage 15: Lezat-sur-Leze - Saint-Lary Soulan

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.

profile 15

stage 15 map

past Pla d'Adet victory

Armstrong waits for Ullrich

Armstrong attacks Ullrich and takes yellow jersey from Francios Simon

Day Late Stage Log

Prediction: Armstrong. My prediction almost a week ago was that Armstrong would win one of the weekend stages. Despite yesterday's performance, Armstrong did not win the stage, and I would think that, with this being his final Tour, he will want Stage 15, the hardest of the Tour stages, to be part of the recounting of his career. No one will question that Armstrong was the strongest this Tour. There is nothing left to prove, but he's won here before when he beat Ullrich to honor fallen teammate Fabio Casartelli, and I think he will want to do so again.

A 14 rider breakaway is over 18 minutes ahead. It includes three Rabobank riders that are working the KoM competition, and Hincapie is also up there as part of Team Disco's tactics for today. Hincapie is riding high enough in the standings to break into the top ten, so perhaps Disco is hoping this will encourage some of the GC contenders to chase. Pereiro is also there and will be another carrot.

The group of 14 is starting to shed some riders with 70km to go on the Col du Portillon

CSC is now starting to give chase

The peloton is shedding some riders on the Col du Portillon

Col de Peyresourde (Cat 1, 13km @ 7%)

CSC and T-Mobile are doing work at the front, so Team Disco's attacks with Hincapie seem to be working. Maybe this will help keep the Discovery train intact unlike yesterday. The gap is down to fifteen minutes

The peloton is really at a fast tempo going up the Col de Peyresourde. Sastre of CSC is at the front.

Savoldelli was helping with tempo but it looks like he may be done for the day. Armstrong still has Popo, CheChu, and Azevedo

The breakaway is down to six riders. Brochard attacks at the top of the climb, but they're back together.

Armstrong's group is now at about 20 riders. CheChu is setting the tempo. It's 11 minutes to the breakaway, but I don't know how much Discovery wants to help chase that down. They're over the top of that climb, two climbs and 30km to go.

Col de Val-Louron Azet (cat 1, 7.4km @ 8.3%)

Savoldelli is back up with Armstrong. The breakaway has pushed its advantage back to 12 minutes. CSC's Sastre has moved back to the front to push the pace back up.

Now Savoldelli, Sastre and Kloden are being dropped. So is Zubeldia

Azevedo is setting the pace that is shedding so many riders.

Vino is moving to the front. CheChu is being dropped and Moreau is in trouble. It's Vino, Ullrich, Basso, Armstrong at the front. Popo and Azevedo are barely hanging on. Rasmussen is also there.

Basso is accelerating, Ullrich and Armstrong follow. Basso's going even faster, Armstrong goes around Ullrich to stick to Basso's wheel. Ullrich is barely hanging on.

Popo is dropped.

It's just Armstrong and Basso again, but Ullrich isn't too far back. Ullrich still looks good. He's brought himself back onto Armstrong's wheel. Basso accelerates again to hurt Ullrich. They're 9:28 behind the lead break.

Levi, Landis, Rasmussen, Mancebo, and Vino are together further down the road.

Mancebo is trying to bridge back up to Armstrong's group but he doesn't make it.

With Hincapie ahead, Armstrong will have a teammate again if they catch the lead group.

Brochard is over the top first, again taking some KoM points. One final descent for them before the Pla d'Adet finish.

Armstrong's group picked up one of the riders from the earlier breakaway.

Moreau and Popo are with the chase group behind Armstrong.

7:37 between Armstrong and the leaders

In the lead group Oscar Sevilla is attacking on the final climb. Pereiro chases him down and counter attacks. Boogerd and Hincapie get on his wheel. 9km to go. Looks like it may be up to Hincapie to make this a Discovery Channel victory.

Basso is attacking. Armstrong is going to try and chase him down, leaving Ullrich behind. 7:20 gap to the leaders.

It's Basso and Armstrong. 6:20 gap to the leaders with 5.3k to go.

Rasmussen is losing a lot of ground and probably a podium finish.

In the lead group Cauchiolli attacks and is jined by Pereiro. Cauchioli falls back and Hinapie sprints up so it's just Hincapie and Pereiro. 4k to go

Ras and Vino are fighting, Ras needs to get back up to Ullrich.

A motorbike just crashed into a stupid fan who was trying to run alongside the riders.

The gap to the leaders looks like a minute too much for an Armstrong win

2.5k to go, 5:20 gap

Pereiro is leading Hincapie up the hill. If Hincapie holds on he should be able to take the stage, which would be a huge win for him -- Hincapie's guided Armstrong to six Tour victories but has never gotten a stage for himself.

1km to go for Hincapie and Pereiro. They're going to start playing back and forth to get into position. Hincapie is still riding behind Pereiro. 500m to go. This should be all Hincapie.

300m to go. Pereiro picks up the pace.

and hincapie attacks with 200m to go

Hincapie is easily taking this stage. Hincapie has got it. Armstrong's top lieutenant finally gets a Tour stage for himself.

related articles: Tour de France 2005
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