LA MONGIE, FRANCE — LA MONGIE, France - It's not about the time, the precious seconds and minutes that Lance Armstrong gained yesterday while he climbed a mountain in sun and wind, rain and thunder.
The time was great, though. Armstrong finished second to Italy's Ivan Basso in the 12th stage at the Tour de France, 122.7 miles from Castelsarrasin up into the Pyrenees to this ski station. They were both given the same finishing time of 5 hours, 3 minutes, 58 seconds.
Armstrong moved up to second overall, 5:24 behind Frenchman Thomas Voeckler. A day earlier, Armstrong was sixth and 9:35 behind.
The Texan added significant minutes to his advantage over all those who were supposed to perhaps stop his charge to an unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour de France victory.
Jan Ullrich, who has five times finished second in this race and only once, when Armstrong was sickened with cancer, finished first, trails him by 3:37. American Tyler Hamilton is 4:22 behind Armstrong.
Iban Mayo, who had hoped to win this stage in front of his madly cheering, orange-wearing Basque countrymen, and Roberto Heras, who had led Armstrong up the mountains as a U.S. Postal teammate a year ago before feeling strong enough to lead his own Spanish Liberty Seguros team this year, are barely visible in Armstrong's rearview mirror.
More startling than the time were the looks.
There was the look of agony and pain, the huffing and puffing that it took Ullrich to haul himself up Col d'Aspin and then up again, a climb even higher and steeper, to the summit at this ski station. Afterward, Ullrich said he had no legs and hoped to find them tomorrow.
There was the drawn and pale look of Hamilton, who had split from his Danish CSC team, hoping that all the leeway given him by the Swiss Phonak group would pay off this year in something higher than the fourth place he finished last year.
And there was the look of joy and freedom on Armstrong's face as he finished the 8-mile, final ascent and crossed the finish line on a day that began hot and sunny only to turn cool and suddenly stormy, making for slippery descents.
He crossed the finish just behind Basso, a young Italian whose mother has cancer and who Armstrong has taken a liking to. Armstrong probably could have won but didn't need to. He reveled in the joy Basso took in his first Tour stage win.
NOTE: Armstrong's teammate and another rider were cleared to race yesterday despite their involvement in a case of suspected doping, a cycling official told the Associated Press.
The Council of Professional Cycling settled a dispute between Tour organizers and cycling's governing body on whether Pavel Padrnos of Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team and Italy's Stefano Zanini of Quick Step-Davitamon could continue to race.
Padrnos and Zanini have been called to appear in October in a case involving suspected doping in the 2001 Tour of Italy.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Tour at a glance
Yesterday: A 122.7-mile ride from Castelsarrasin to La Mongie, France.
Winner: Ivan Basso, Italy, Team CSC, in 5 hours, 3 minutes, 58 seconds.
How others fared: Lance Armstrong, United States, U.S. Postal Service, 2nd place, same time. Jan Ullrich, Germany, T-Mobile, 2:30 behind.
Yellow jersey: French cyclist Thomas Voeckler of Brioches La Boulangere keeps the lead.
Today: Stage 13, Lannemezan to Plateau de Beille, 127.7 miles.
122.73 miles from Castelsarrasin to La Mongie 1. I. Basso, Italy, Team CSC, 5 hours, 3 minutes, 58 seconds.
2. L. Armstrong, U.S., US Postal, same time.
3. A. Kloden, Germany, T-Mobile, 20 seconds behind.
4. F. Mancebo, Spain, Illes Balears, 24 behind.
5. C. Sastre, Spain, Team CSC, 33.
6. O. Pereiro Sio, Spain, Phonak, 50.
7. D. Menchov, Russia, Illes Balears, 59.
8. M. Scarponi, Italy, Domina Vacanze, 1:02.
9. I. Mayo, Spain, Euskaltel, 1:03.
10. S. Gonzalez, Spain, Phonak, same time.
Others 12. G. Simoni, Italy, Saeco, 1:32.
14. C. Moreau, France, Credit Agricole, 1:59.
16. L. Leipheimer, U.S., Rabobank, same time.
18. B. Julich, U.S., Team CSC, 2:28.
19. G. Guerini, Italy, T-Mobile, same time.
20. J. Ullrich, Germany, T-Mobile, 2:30. 34. T. Hamilton, U.S., Phonak, 3:27.
1. T. Voeckler, France, Brioches La Boulangere, 51 hours, 51 minutes, 7 seconds.
2. Armstrong, 5 minutes, 24 seconds behind.
3. S. Casar, France, fdjeux.com, 5:50 behind.
4. R. Virenque, France, Quick Step, 6:20.
5. Kloden, 6:33.
6. Basso, same time.
7. Mancebo, 6:43.
8. Jakob Piil, Denmark, Team CSC, 6:53.
9. S. Gonzalez, 7:23.
10. Sastre, 8:11.
Others 12. Leipheimer, 8:50.
13. J. Gutierrez, Spain, Phonak, 8:51.
16. Ullrich, 9:01.
17. Julich, 9:11.
20. Hamilton, 9:46.
26. R. Heras, Spain, Liberty Seguros, 10:42.
27. Simoni, 10:49.