'The Pirate' sails the Alps
Pantani takes the lead; Ullrich fades; Julich holds on
Posted: Tuesday July 28, 1998 08:26 AM
LES DEUX ALPES, France (CNN/SI) -- The first day in the Alps saw a dramatic upheaval in the Tour de France's overall standings when Marco Pantani of Italy won the 189-kilometer (117.5-mile) stretch from Grenoble to Les deux Alpes in Monday's 15th stage.
Pantini will don the yellow jersey for the first time in his career Tuesday.
The Italian's slight stature appeared to help him in the mountains as he made up nearly nine minutes on the punishing climbs against Sunday's overall leader, the defending champion Jan Ullrich of Germany. Pantini barely weighs 60 kilograms (132 pounds) and is 1.70-meter (5-foot, 7-inch) tall.
Pantani was in fourth place entering the day, three minutes, one second behind Ullrich. At the end of the day he had a lead of three minutes, 53 seconds over American Bobby Julich who held onto second with Ullrich five minutes, 56 seconds back in fourth place.
Pantani captured the stage by almost two minutes over Italian Rodolfo Massi and Spaniard Fernadno Escartin, who moved into third in the overall standings.
Julich came in fifth on the day, 5:43 behind Pantani. Ullrich was 25th, 8:57 behind.
"I know that at 3:01 at the beginning of the day it was possible to come back today," Pantani said. "The standings now are important but there is still the time trial which is difficult for me."
There are two more days in the Alps with an important time trial coming up on Saturday, the next-to-last day of the Tour.
In the last time trial, Ullrich gained 4:21 over Pantani. Julich had an advantage of 3:03 over Pantani.
Julich tried to catch the Italian but couldn't come close on the final climb.
"I knew Pantani was dangerous but I didn't think he could do what he did today," Julich said.
"He made us all look silly."
Monday's stage included four major climbs including two rated 'out of category' on a scale of steepness, height and length.
The hills were made worse with rain and fog throughout the day. Temperatures dipped below 10 C (50 F) after Sunday's stage was more than 30 C (86 F).
Pantani won the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) this year and was regarded as an outside threat to Ullrich, although he was third last year to the German, more than 14 minutes behind in the final standings.
"When I came on the Tour this year I was in doubt because I was coming back from the Giro," Pantani said. The Giro finished on June 7th with the Tour de France beginning July 11th.
"I took the courage to start it and today I had the courage to attack in the bad weather conditions," Pantani said. "I took the risks and held up under the pressure."
Pantani lost nearly a year of competition in 1996 after a severe car accident late in 1995 broke his leg in two places.
But he came back to take third in the Tour last year and now won his second stage of this year's Tour and sixth overall -- all finishing with climbs.
Ullrich has had his own problems getting in shape this year. He was more than 10 kilograms (22 pounds) overweight earlier this year.
It was mostly a waiting game throughout the day until the final two climbs. Although France's Christophe Rinero and others built a lead coming over the first two peaks, the group of favorites kept an eye on each other.
Then Pantani went into action.
Heading up the 2,645-meter (8,650-foot) Galibier mountain, Pantani made his move.
He quickly left the other favorites and took off after the Rinero group alone as the others couldn't keep up.
"I waited for the right moment to attack and I was surprised no one answered my move," Pantani said.
He built up a lead of almost three minutes at the top of the Galibier mountain. He even had time to stop completely and put on a plastic jacket to protect him from the wind and cold on the descent.
Although Ullrich cut the gap slightly on the downhill, Pantani moved away on the final climb to the ski station of Les Deux Alpes, almost 1,650 meters (5,400 feet) with rain worsening.
Ullrich kept having trouble. He had a flat. He stopped to confer with his team car. Two teammates arrived to help.
Nothing worked for Ullrich, who appeared to weaken on the final climb, as he lost more than three minutes to Julich on the day.
Tuesday's 204-kilometer (127-mile) stage between Vizille and Albertville has five more climbs but all are between 950 meters (3,106 feet) and 2,000 meters (6,540 feet) with better weather predicted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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