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The tough keep going

Tour pretenders play second fiddle to Armstrong

Posted: Wednesday July 16, 2003 10:41 AM
Updated: Wednesday July 16, 2003 11:25 AM
  Lance Armstrong Lance Armstrong has already dropped many of his pre-race rivals. AP

NARBONNE, France (Reuters) -- They were hoping to steal Lance Armstrong's show -- but halfway through the Tour de France, they are no longer on the bill.

Italians Gilberto Simoni and Stefano Garzelli, Colombian Santiago Botero and Spaniard Aitor Gonzalez will have to wait another year to be in the Tour limelight.

To make matters worse, they even got a stinging rebuke from the record-chasing American.

"Now Gilberto Simoni knows that the Giro is not the Tour de France," Armstrong, the four-times champion, said about this year's Giro winner.

"Now Aitor Gonzalez knows that the Vuelta is not the Tour de France," he added of the Tour of Spain champion.

"Thay both may be a leading factor in this race. But not this year," the American insisted, without mercy.

Impressive in the Giro mountains, Saeco team leader Simoni had looked an intriguing challenger for Armstrong before the Tour began on July 5, even claiming that there were no real climbers in the Tour start list.

Ten days later, he found himself 52 minutes behind Armstrong, with 69 riders ahead of him in the overall standings.

"To say things like Simoni said was an insult to Tour riders and an insult to the Tour," Armstrong said.

Over-enthusiastic

Garzelli, second in the Giro which he won in 2000, pulled out with acute bronchitis before stage 10. But he had also lost far too much ground to be a threat.

The Italian, 30 on Wednesday, confessed it was probably too much to take part in the Tour and the Giro in the same year.

Botero, fourth last year after becoming the first man to beat Armstrong in a long time trial, was a big question mark before the start.

The answer was emphatic. The Colombian, overweight and off form, was dropped as soon as the road steepened and was a distant 64th, 49:13 behind Armstrong after the Alps.

Vuelta champion Gonzalez also suffered from the Giro-Tour syndrome. The Spaniard decided to start the Tour to make up for his disappointment in the Italian race, which he finished a lackluster 19th.

But he was one of six Fassa Bortolo riders to pull out with a virus.

After three podium places in three Tours, Spain's Joseba Beloki looked the one man capable of upsetting Armstrong this time.

He challenged the Texan in the mountains but was the victim of his over-enthusiasm -- breaking his right femur, elbow and wrist in a horrible crash five kilometers from the finish in Gap on Monday.

Beloki joined Levi Leipheimer, eighth last year, on the casualty list after the American injured his hip in a massive pile-up on day one.

Leipheimer's Rabobank teammate, Dutchman Marc Lotz, also went out in the same crash while deputy leader Michael Boogerd crashed later in the stage.

Other disappointments came from the sprinters.

With world champion Mario Cipollini controversially missing, former world champions Oscar Freire and Romans Vainsteins, six-times points winner Erik Zabel and last year's green jersey winner Robbie McEwen were expected to dominate the sprints.

They have been overshadowed by Alessandro Petacchi, winner of four stages before abandoning, and Australian Baden Cooke who currently tops the standings.


 
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