Armstrong still has a leg up in Tour

Boogerd wins Stage 16, but champ increases lead

Tour De France

July 25, 2002|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LA PLAGNE, France - Stage 16 of the Tour de France yesterday was more suited for cable cars than men on bikes. The course featured three of the steepest climbs in the Alps on roads that curl around the craggy mountains like so much spaghetti.

With riders facing nearly six hours in the saddle and a finish at 6,402 feet, it didn't look like a day that would be carried by a long breakaway. But Michael Boogerd surged at the base of the Col de la Madeleine, halfway through the 111.29-mile stage, and hogged the lead from then on.

Although Boogerd slowed on the last punishing stretch, he never relinquished his advantage.

The Dutch rider flashed a marquee smile as he topped the last rise at La Plagne, then kissed the medal he wears around his neck.

"I never dreamed I would be capable of an exploit like this," Boogerd said, calling the victory the most satisfying of his career. "I was thinking at the bottom of the [last climb] that they would catch me, but in the first five kilometers I only lost two minutes and I became convinced I would win."

Boogerd's only other Tour stage victory came in 1996. He won the final sprint in a driving rain in Aix-les-Bains the same day Lance Armstrong quit the race, lending credence to analysts who said Armstrong didn't have the staying power for a three-week race. Three months later he learned he had cancer.

Armstrong, who will wear the leader's yellow jersey for the seventh consecutive day today, was among the riders breathing on Boogerd's ankles late in the stage.

With just more than three miles left in the 11-mile final climb, Armstrong put on one of his trademark displays of power and opened a gap between him and a mini-breakaway that teammate and rival Jose Luis Rubiera had led.

A little over a mile later, Armstrong caught CSC-Tiscali's Carlos Sastre but could not shake him. When he realized Boogerd's lead was too great, Armstrong fell back to the Spaniard's rear wheel and tapped him lightly on the back as if to usher him across the finish line. The two men's times were recorded as the same, 1 minute, 25 seconds behind Boogerd.

Armstrong extended his lead over second-place Joseba Beloki of ONCE to 5 minutes, 6 seconds.

"Tomorrow is a complex stage," Armstrong said. "It's up and down all day, without any flat sections. It's almost the same stage where I cracked in 2000. It will be another hard day."

Boogerd, in 12th place with a 17-minute deficit to Armstrong, does not pose a threat for the triple champion. Although the veteran Rabobank rider finished fifth in the scandal-riddled 1998 Tour and 10th last year, he had all but given up any aspirations for a top-10 finish, especially after the arrival of U.S. rider Levi Leipheimer as the anointed team leader for long stage races.

Three riders, including Domo-Farm Frites rider Fred Rodriguez of Emeryville, Calif., missed the time cut and will not be allowed to continue.

The time differential is calculated every day based on factors that include length, difficulty and average speed of the stage. Bonnie DeSimone is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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