After spending two days in the Pyrenees, five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong (U.S. Postal) and the rest of the riders in the 2004 Tour got a break from the mountains Sunday as they made their way 120 miles from Carsassonne to Nîes on the flat, winding Stage 14 course. Fassa Bortolo's Aitor Gonzalez took the stage win, blasting away from a group of nine other riders in the final miles and giving himself enough of a berth to roll across the finish line clear of any close challengers. Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak) finished second while Christophe Mengin (FDJeux.com) rounded out the top three.
Gonzalez Wins Stage 14
Gonzalez Wins Stage 14
There were no major changes in the general classification standings and Armstrong, who finished 39th, stayed out of trouble by keeping to the front of the peloton, as did French National Champion Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere), who yet again held on to the yellow jersey.
Armstrong currently stands in second but Voeckler's days may be numbered. Currently the Frenchman holds a 22 second lead over Armstrong, but that lead will more than likely be stripped away from him Tuesday as the peloton heads back into the mountains.
With Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) dropping out of the Tour Saturday with severe back pain and Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) now standing 6:39 behind Armstrong, a new dark horse rival in the form of Italian Ivan Basso (CSC) has made his presence known. Twice, in Stages 12 and 13, Armstrong and Basso battled it out in the last feet for the stage win with Basso taking Stage 12 and Armstrong taking Stage 13. Currently, the Italian stands in third place overall, just 1:17 behind the Texan. Whether Basso will prove to be a true threat to Armstrong's bid for an unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour win will come into glaring clarity this week in the mountains.
Saturday was a day for the sprinters, though, and after multiple attacks and counter attacks, a breakaway group composed of Gonzalez, Jalabert, Mengin, Santiago Botero (T-Mobile), Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Igor Gonzalez Galdeano (Liberty Seguros), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Pierrick Fedrigo (Crédit Agricole), Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner), and Marc Lotz (Rabobank) broke from the peloton and extended its lead from the main group.
While the ten riders worked seamlessly together to garner a lead of over 13 minutes, the peloton was content to let them go, since none of the riders was a threat to the overall leaders.
In the final miles, the attacks and counter attacks began in the lead group with Gonzalez powering past the remaining nine riders to claim his first ever stage win at the Tour.
Monday is the second and final rest day of the Tour. Tuesday the peloton will head into the French Alps for the 11-mile Stage 15 from Valréas to Villard-de-Lans.