With one week left, Vinokourov makes Tour a 3-man race

LOUDENVIELLE, FRANCE — LOUDENVIELLE, France -- He may not be climbing as well, but Lance Armstrong still barrels down the mountains like a yellow-light bandit.

Armstrong took the descent of the Col de Peyresourde at top velocity yesterday and preserved his lead in the Tour de France. It wasn't easy. He is now facing multiple challenges as opposed to one big one.


The man Armstrong was chasing was not Jan Ullrich, who is closest to him in the overall standings, but Alexandre Vinokourov, the Kazakhstan rider who has been the most consistent provocateur of the race, attacking repeatedly in the mountain stages.

Vinokourov took off again on the final climb of Stage 14. His path through the hyperventilating masses of Basque fans at the summit had already been cleared by riders with no chance at the overall title, and he was able to scramble to third place, 18 seconds shy of Armstrong and three seconds behind Ullrich.


Armstrong has never lost the yellow jersey this late in the race. He kept it yesterday because he went for broke on the other side of the Peyresourde. Almost motionless in a concentrated crouch, leaning perilously close to the edge on every curve, the Texan looked more in control than he has in days.

"It's fair," Armstrong said of the open speculation that he is on the south side of his prowess. "I think it's obvious I'm not riding as well as I have in years past. I can't exactly say why. Something's not clicking."

Vinokourov's season has been emotionally charged since the death of his friend and countryman Andrei Kivilev of the Cofidis team in a crash in last spring's Paris-Nice race.

When Vinokourov won the nine-day stage race, he carried a poster-size photograph of Kivilev onto the podium and wept openly. He has also won the Amstel Gold one-day race and the Tour of Switzerland this season.

"I'm perhaps profiting from the duel between Lance and Jan because they are watching each other, and that gives me a little bit of freedom," said Vinokourov, 29. "I'm happy I got time off them both."

Vinokourov races for Ullrich's former team, Telekom, and is a close friend of the German rider. Before the Pyrenees stages began, Vinokourov declared that if Ullrich made a big move in the mountains, he wouldn't try to challenge him.

As Vinokourov's own podium chances increase, that kind of cooperation seems less likely. The Kazakh is not a strong time trialer and will have to make his statement in the two remaining mountain stages. This centennial Tour now boils down to those two days and Saturday's time-trial ending in Nantes, on the Atlantic coast.

Tomorrow's Stage 15 features the third and last uphill finish of the race, on Luz-Ardidien. Two years ago, Ullrich clasped Armstrong's hand as they scaled the summit together, a gesture conceding the Texan was the stronger rider that July.


No such handshake agreement is likely this week.

Armstrong seemed chipper yesterday.

"I knew it was going to be close," he said. "I probably didn't expect it to come down to the last few decisive stages, so this perhaps is a bit of a surprise.

"Something's not going right. There's nothing I can do about that now.

"All I can do is wake up every morning and do my best, and that's what I'm doing. If we get to Nantes and I have 15 seconds and I lose by 16, it'll go down as the closest Tour de France in history and I'll go home and have a cold beer and come back next year."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.



14th stage

(118.92 miles from Girons to Loudenvielle-le-Louron)

1. Gilberto Simoni, Italy, Saeco, 5 hours, 31 minutes, 52 seconds.

2. Laurent Dufaux, Switzerland, Alessio, same time.

3. Richard Virenque, France, Quick.Step-Davitamon, same time.


4. Andrea Peron, Italy, Team CSC, 3 seconds behind.

5. Walter Beneteau, France, Brioches La Boulangere, :10 behind.

6. Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan, Team Telekom, :41.

7. Iban Mayo, Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi, same time.

8. Steve Zampieri, Switzerland, Vini Caldirola-So.Di, same time.

9. Haimar Zubeldia, Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 1:24.


10. Ivan Basso, Italy, Fassa Bortolo, same time.

11. Lance Armstrong, United States, US Postal-Berry Floor, same time.

12. Jan Ullrich, Germany, Team Bianchi, same time.

13. Christophe Moreau, France, Credit Agricole 2:14.

14. Daniele Nardello, Italy, Team Telekom 3:04.

15. Alexandre Botcharov, Russia, Ag2R Prevoyance, same time.



17. Tyler Hamilton, United States, Team CSC, 4:31.

23. Jose Luis Rubiera, Spain, USPS, same time.

26. Manuel Beltran, Spain, USPS, 5:17.

57. Viatcheslav Ekimov, Russia, USPS, 19:40.

58. Floyd Landis, United States, USPS, same time.


60. George Hincapie, United States, USPS, same time.

61. Roberto Heras, Spain, USPS, same time.

100. Pavel Padrnos, Czech Republic, USPS, 29:57.

103. Victor Hugo Pena, Colombia, USPS, same time.

151. Fred Rodriguez, United States, Vini Caldirola-So.Di, 32:56.

Overall standings


1. Lance Armstrong, United States, USPS, 61:07:17.

2. Jan Ullrich, Germany, Team Bianchi, 15 seconds behind.

3. Alexandre Vinokourov, Kazakhstan, Team Telekom, :18.

4. Haimar Zubeldia, Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 4:16.

5. Iban Mayo, Spain, Euskaltel-Euskadi, 4:37.

6. Ivan Basso, Italy, Fassa Bortolo, 7:01.


7. Tyler Hamilton, United States, Team CSC, 7:32.

8. Francisco Mancebo, Spain,, 10:09.

9. Christophe Moreau, France, Credit Agricole, same time.

10. Carlos Sastre, Spain, Team CSC, 12:40.


14. Manuel Beltran, Spain, USPS, 15:50.


20. Jose Luis Rubiera, Spain, USPS, 24:24.

23. Roberto Heras, Spain, USPS, 32:54.

49. George Hincapie, United States, USPS, 1:23:06.

75. Floyd Landis, United States, USPS, 1:50:58.

78. Viatcheslav Ekimov, Russia, USPS, 1:52:13.

96. Pavel Padrnos, Czech Republic, USPS, 2:10:31.


97. Victor Hugo Pena, Colombia, USPS, 2:11:05.

119. Fred Rodriguez, United States, Vini Caldirola-So.Di, 2:31:08.