MONT VENTOUX, France, July 13, 2000
Three-time Tour de France winner Louison Bobet commented during the 1955 Tour, "It is Ventoux that I need to win the Tour."
Lance Armstrong called the 6,261-foot mountain "the hardest climb of the Tour."
Both may be right.
Armstrong and Italian mountain-climbing specialist Marco Pantani escaped from a pack of 10 front-runners to stage a duel to the top of the dreaded "Giant of Provence," during Stage 12 of the 2000 Tour de France.
Though Pantani won the battle and the stage, Armstrong took another step toward locking up the war by stretching his lead over second-placed Jan Ullrich to almost five minutes.
Armstrong's climbing performance was reminiscent of his amazing Stage 10 assault on the final climb to Lourdes Hautacam just three days ago, where he made up over 10 minutes on eventual race winner Javier Otxoa in the span of just 10 miles. In doing so, he shattered the field of contenders--Pantani and Ullrich included.
Unlike Stage 10, good team tactics and superb riding by Tyler Hamilton and Kevin Livingston contributed to today's accomplishment.
"It was a good race for us, the team was super-strong," Armstrong said.
"There were two stories: I want to thank the team; the second was the wind. It was so windy today that I am glad it is finished."
Hamilton and Livingston shielded Armstrong from 100 kph (over 60 mph) winds and surged to break up the 20-strong lead pack. One surge by Hamilton reduced the field to 15 riders, another by Livingston whittled the lead group down to just six: Armstrong, Ullrich, Roberto Heras, Santiago Botero, Joseba Beloki and Richard Virenque.
Struggling to regain contact with this group, Pantani finally latched back on, recovered and then began launching attacks of his own. The fifth surge by "Il Pirata" was the charm: Only Armstrong was able to stay with him as the two distanced themselves from the others.
There were moments during this break that Pantani dropped off the pace. Though the 1998 champ was doing some work at the front, it was Armstrong leading most of the way up.
Rather than capitalize on Pantani's apparent weakness, Armstrong chose to wait for Pantani and work with him to cheat the wind and conserve energy.
"I suffered when I saw Armstrong," Pantani said. "I thought he was exceptional and I congratulate a great champion."
At the end, Armstrong soft-pedaled as Pantani sprinted for the line. He seemingly handed the diminutive climber the stage in appreciation for helping him add 29 seconds to his advantage over Ullrich.
1. Marco Pantani (ITA) 4:15:11
2. Lance Armstrong (USA) same time
3. Joseba Beloki (ESP) at +:25
4. Jan Ullrich (GER) +:29
5. Santiago Botero (COL) +48
6. Roberto Heras (ESP) s.t.
7. Richard Vireneque (FRA) +1:17
8. Francisco Mancebo (ESP) +1:23
9. Manuel Beltran (ESP) +1:29
10.Christophe Moreau (FRA) +1:31
12. Laurent Jalabert (FRA) +2:01
17. Fernando Escartin (SPA) +3:12
20. Bobby Julich (USA) +6:45
44. Tyler Hamilton (USA) 7:51
52. Kevin Livingston (USA) +10:07
60. Bo Hamburger (DEN) +12:26
132. Fred Rodriguez (USA) +20:52
General Classification after Stage 12:
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) 48:50:21
2 Jan Ullrich (GER) at +4:55
3 Joseba Beloki (SPA) +5:52
4. Christophe Moreau (FRA) +6:53
5. Manuel Beltran (SPA) +7:25
6. Richard Virenque (FRA) +8:28
7. Roberto Heras (SPA) +8:33
8 Francisco Mancebo (SPA) +9:42
9 Javier Otxoa (SPA) +9:46
10 Peter Luttenberger (Aut) +10:01
11. Laurent Jalabert (FRA) +10:14
13. Alex Zulle (SUI) at +10:46
14. Fernando Escartin (SPA) +10:58
29. Tyler Hamilton (USA) +20:16
31. Bobby Julich (USA) +21:08
44. Bo Hamburger (DEN) +27:53
52. Kevin Livingston (USA) +36:37
72. George Hincapie (USA) +48:51
89. Fred Rodriguez (USA) +55:59
123. Frankie Andreu (USA) +1:06:14