Agony to ecstasy
Hamilton takes glory, Armstrong still in yellowPosted: Wednesday July 23, 2003 10:28 AM
Updated: Wednesday July 23, 2003 12:14 PM
BAYONNE, France (Reuters) -- Tyler Hamilton will not win this year's Tour de France but will be one of the heroes of the centenary race after taking one of its most difficult stages Wednesday despite riding with a broken collarbone.
The American, a former right-hand man to Tour leader Lance Armstrong, attacked on arguably the most brutal climb this year, the Bagarguy pass, and rode solo for around 100 km for victory.
The CSC team leader, who had asked the bunch to stop when Armstrong crashed near the end of Monday's stage, finished one minute and 55 seconds clear of the peloton, which included all the Tour leaders. (Stage 16 Results | Overall Standings)
His courageous win in the French Basque country moved him up from seventh to sixth in the overall standings, ahead of Italian Ivan Basso.
Armstrong, closing in on a record-equaling fifth Tour victory, still leads German Jan Ullrich by 1:07 and Saturday's time trial now looks like the last threat to his yellow jersey.
The winner for the last four years was quick to pay tribute to the 30-year-old Hamilton.
"It's the greatest feat in this year's Tour," said Armstrong, who hugged his former teammate at the finish.
"It was incredible, incredibly difficult. I did not feel so good at the beginning," said Hamilton. (Hamilton stars in 'most difficult race ever')
"All the credit goes to my team. In the beginning of the stage, the peloton split and I was in the second group.
"Five riders came to bring me back. I dedicate this victory to my teammates."
Hamilton's move on the foggy Bagarguy climb left other Tour contenders motionless.
Armstrong's U.S. Postal teammates and Ullrich's Bianchi partners had no reason to respond as the rider from Massachusetts is no threat for final victory.
By contrast, the Telekom team of third-placed Alexander Vinokourov and the Euskaltel outfit of Spaniards Iban Mayo and Haimar Zubeldia, who were riding almost on home territory, did launch a chase to save their leaders' overall placings.
But the toll of 18 days of racing in intense heat and the efforts of the most exciting Tour in years proved too much and the bunch could not catch Hamilton.
They did limit the damage, however, meaning Vinokourov, Zubeldia and Mayo retain their placings.
Hamilton's feat was all the more exceptional as he had been on the verge of retiring after crashing in the first stage in Meaux.
"I really can't believe it. Five days ago, I started to be extremely tired because of all the stress from the fracture and all the pain," he said.
"I felt I was starting to lose a little, but last night (team director) Bjarne Riis told us to keep the morale and stay focused.
"We believed in ourselves and we fought hard today," added Hamilton, who scored the 27th stage win by an American in the world's greatest cycle race.
Hamilton, who took up cycling after a nasty crash in an Alpine skiing downhill as a youth, has a long history of collarbone fractures and acts of bravery.
He finished second in the Giro d'Italia last year with a similar fracture.
The American, who says he was inspired by watching Armstrong fight back from a near-fatal cancer, crowned a fantastic year for his CSC team.
Teammates Jakob Piil and Carlos Sastre, who nearly replaced him as team leader because of his injury, also won stages in Marseille and AX-3 Domaines.
Thursday's 181-km 16th stage from Dax to Bordeaux should allow sprinters to make it back into the spotlight.
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