Botero's attacks, stamina win stage

Armstrong maintains lead of more than 4 minutes

Tour De France

July 24, 2002|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LES DEUX ALPES, France - If he hadn't had one bad day on Mont Ventoux, Santiago Botero might pose a real threat to Lance Armstrong's Tour de France defense.

The Colombian, who beat Armstrong last week in the Tour's first long individual time trial, lost 13 minutes to the champion in Sunday's furnace-like heat. Botero began yesterday's Stage 15 - the race's longest - more than 18 minutes behind Armstrong and seemingly out of contention.

Botero attacked on the first of three climbs in the 140.43-mile stage as the race moved into the Alps, stayed in a lead group that opened up a gap of as much as 10 minutes on the peloton, and launched another successful attack with a little more than 5 miles to the summit. He won the stage by nearly two minutes and gained 11 minutes on Armstrong, who came in ninth.

Armstrong stayed in first. He rolled in even with Joseba Beloki, who remains 4 minutes, 21 seconds behind him in the overall standings.

Botero, the Kelme team's co-leader, thus re-established himself as a versatile rider, but also re-emphasized the inconsistency that has prevented him from surpassing his seventh-place finish in the 2000 Tour.

"The Tour is very, very difficult to win," said Botero, the only multiple-stage winner besides Armstrong this year. "Perhaps it's better to win a stage than to finish fourth or fifth overall."

Today's stage starts with the long descent of Les Deux Alpes and includes three of the highest-rated climbs in the race - two of more than 5,000 feet, Col du Galibier and Col de la Madeleine, and a finish in La Plagne after an ascent of 4,300 feet.

U.S. Postal is likely to stick to a somewhat conservative game plan to preserve Armstrong's position - as are ONCE riders Beloki and Igor Gonzalez Galdeano, who are in second and fourth place, respectively, and have said their goal is to finish on the podium.

NOTE: Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France champion and a four-time runner-up, was banned from cycling until March 24 after testing positive for amphetamines.

A disciplinary panel decided on the minimum penalty, including a $1,400 fine, because it determined that Ullrich did not take the amphetamines to enhance his performance, the German cycling federation said.

Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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