Virenque puts bad times in the past

Tour de France: Pantani pays for tactical error on final mountain stage as Ullrich takes advantage of Armstrong's struggles

When a chink showed in Lance Armstrong's yellow jersey armour on the Tour de France, Marco Pantani was missing. The scourge of the mountains, who had shadowed the American throughout the lumpier stages, made a tactical blunder on the picture postcard route to Morzine, and paid heavily in time.

When a chink showed in Lance Armstrong's yellow jersey armour on the Tour de France, Marco Pantani was missing. The scourge of the mountains, who had shadowed the American throughout the lumpier stages, made a tactical blunder on the picture postcard route to Morzine, and paid heavily in time.

With Pantani floundering on the last of the day's five Alpine climbs it was left to Richard Virenque and Jan Ullrich to make the thrust that slashed Armstrong's overnight lead of seven minutes and 26 seconds by two minutes.

Finally, and after 17 days, the pride of France and Germany got their respective acts together on the 122 miles from Courchevel. It was an impressive show with terrain to match, and the thousands who lined the final climb of Joux-Plane saw the drama unfold.

It ended with Virenque, the "bad boy" of the Tour but still the darling of France, racing home for his first Tour stage success since 1997 when he won at Courchevel, yesterday's start. His finish was made easier by the fall of the Spaniard Roberto Heras less than two miles from the end.

"This victory means a lot to me," Virenque said. "It is a pity that Heras fell, but he would have struggled to beat me in a sprint. It was a great moment of my life. All the bad times I try to forget and retain the best."

It will be back to the bad times in October for Virenque, who goes on trial following the doping investigations that followed the 1998 Tour. Then, he and his Festina team-mates were sent home after some of their management were implicated in doping when team worker Willi Voet was caught with a car-load of forbidden substances. Last year the Union Cycliste Internationale overruled the Tour organisers when they attempted to stop Virenque taking part in the race.

"Mentally, it has all made me stronger, and when another rider shouted to me, 'Go Richard, go', it was good to know that I still had friends."

Virenque might have had a fight to win, but his co-leader, Heras, was too fast into a bend, and crashed into the spectator barriers. He remounted to chase in with Ullrich, whose second placing did the damage to what had seemed an unassailable advantage for Armstrong.

Earlier, Virenque had countered Ullrich's biggest move of the Tour, and their joint efforts had Armstrong in trouble over the last 11 miles.

"It was the hardest day of my life as a racer," Armstrong said, explaining that he had suffered fringale (hunger pangs caused by low blood sugar, which can lead to light-headedness). "I was in a bad way, and I knew I was in trouble. I had to fight as hard as I could to stay in control."

The sight of the Texan sagging after days of total domination was enough for Virenque.

"When you see a rider like Armstrong drop back it is a hell of a morale-booster," he said after finishing 24 seconds ahead of Ullrich. "I also have to thank Pantani because he blew the race open from the start."

As a grimacing Virenque went in search of Heras, who had overhauled three earlier leaders, Pantani, flanked by two team-mates was pedalling almost gently by his standards, and he finished 13min 44sec behind the Frenchman.

The Italian had marked his return to the top after a year's lay-off by winning two mountain stages in four days. Yesterday the man known as Il Pirata (the Pirate) was scuppered by his own enthusiasm. He was involved in an escape which had its first taste of grief when he, the Colombian Santiago Botero and the Spaniard Marcos Serrano, fell on a long descent.

Serrano left with fractured ribs while Pantani went on to indulge in a 50-mile breakaway. He led over three mountains, including the Col des Aravis, on the birthday of the great Gino Bartali, who died earlier this year. Fifty-two years ago, Bartali was first over the Aravis, and if that was not inspiration enough for an Italian, Pantani may have been dreaming of a repeat of his 1997 win at Morzine.

Amid the celebrations in Morzine, Virenque thoughtfully dedicated his victory to the 12-year-old boy who was fatally injured on Friday by a Tour vehicle. He was from Virenque's region, the Var.

To reduce risks on the route, 500 of the 1,500 accredited vehicles have been ordered to take the alternative route laid down for articulated trucks and team coaches, and so avoid having to overtake the massive publicity caravan. Before the start of yesterday's stage, riders and officials observed a minute's silence in memory of the youngster.

TOUR DE FRANCE 16th stage (Courchevel to Morzine 196.5km, 122 miles): 1 R Virenque (Fr) Polti 5hr 32min 20sec; 2 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +24sec; 3 R Heras (Sp) Kelme +27; 4 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +1:09; 5 J Beloki (Sp) Festina +1:11; 6 P Herve (Fr) Polti same time; 7 G Trentin (It) Vini Caldirola +2:01; 8 L Armstrong (US) US Postal; 9 C Moreau (Fr) Festina; 10 S Botero (Col) Kelme all s/t; 11 D Atienza (Sp) Saeco +2:05; 12 R Conti (It) Vini Caldirola +2:13; 13 F Mancebo (Sp) Banesto +2:25; 14 J Otxoa (Sp) Kelme; 15 M Beltran (Sp) Mapei all s/t; 16 D Nardello (It) Mapei +2:55; 17 G Verheyen (Bel) Lotto +3:18; 18 A Kivilev (Kaz) AG2R +3:20; 19 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Deutsche Telekom +3:23; 20 D Rous (Fr) Bonjour +3:38. Selected: 65 D Millar (GB) Cofidis +28:22; 73 L Jalabert (F) ONCE + 30:55; 117 A Zülle (Swit) Banesto s/t. Leading overall standings: 1 Armstrong 2hr 12min 30sec; 2 Ullrich +5min 37sec; 3 Beloki +6:38; 4 Heras +6:43; 5 Virenque +7:36; 6 Moreau +8:22; 7 Botero +10:19; 8 Escartin +11:35; 9 Mancebo +13:07; 10 Beltran +13:08; 11 Herve +13:50; 12 Nardello +14:28; 13 Otxoa +15:47; 14 M Pantani (It) Mercatone Uno +20:46; 15 F Garcia Casas (Sp) Festina +25:48; 16 K van de Wouwer (Bel) Lotto +26:30; 17 R Conti (It) Vini Caldirola +29:22; 18 J M Jimenez (Sp) Banesto +29:47; 19 M Boogerd (Neth) Rabobank +30:22; 20 Trentin +31:41. Selected: 47 Zülle +1:26:01; 60 Jalabert +1:47:58; 66 Millar +2:04:48. Points classification: 1 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom 218; 2 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola 110; 3 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank 105; 4 R McEwen (Aus) Farm Frites 100; 5 E Magnien (Fr) Française des Jeux 92; 6 Botero 90; 7 Armstrong 85; 8 S Zanini (It) Mapei 81; 9 F Simon (Fr) Bonjour 78; 10 Ullrich 70. Mountains classification: 1 Botero 347; 2 Otxoa 283; 3 Virenque 62; 4 Herve 218; 5 Pantani 174; 6 Armstrong 162; 7 N Mattan (Bel) Cofidis 158; 8 Escartin (Sp) Kelme 143; 9 Heras (Sp) Kelme 113; 10 J Beloki (Sp) Festina 112. Team classification: 1 Kelme 216:54:01; 2 Banesto +15:06; 3 Festina +16:40; 4 Deutsche Telekom +55:36; 5 Rabobank +1:14:06.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own