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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 20:05 GMT 21:05 UK
Champions win together
Pantani and Armstrong
Pantani (right) clear of Armstrong - but both were winners
Italian Marco Pantani has won stage 12 of the Tour de France, the gruelling climb of Mont Ventoux in Provence.

Defending champion Lance Armstrong came over the line alongside the winner, increasing his overall lead over second-placed Jan Ullrich.

The stage provided another dominant example of Armstrong's superb form in this Tour, and gave Pantani's army of Italian fans hope that he is returning to his best after recent troubles.


My pride suffered on Monday but I reclaimed it with interest today - the Tour has restarted for me here
Marco Pantani
Armstrong, the defending Tour champion, is now four minutes and 55 seconds ahead of 1997 winner Ullrich - who finished the stage 29 seconds adrift in fourth place.

Spanish sensation Joseba Beloki was third on the stage, 26 seconds behind 1998 Tour winner Pantani.

The win was the Italian climber's first victory since he was controversially excluded from the 1999 Tour of Italy over a blood test reading.

The Mercatone Uno team leader has hardly raced this year and lost almost six minutes to Armstrong during Monday's first run through the mountains.

Ullrich signs autographs
Ullrich before the stage - the German was to lose time
"It was a really important victory for me today as I have had such a difficult time over the past year," said Pantani, nicknamed The Pirate.

"My pride suffered on Monday but I reclaimed it with interest today. The Tour has restarted for me here."

With six kilometres of the Ventoux climb remaining the little Italian was dropped by an elite lead group containing Armstrong, Ullrich and Richard Virenque.

After rapidly losing 30 seconds, it became clear that Pantani was simply conserving energy for a final push.

He charged back up the mountain before attacking the lead group with several decisive changes of pace.


It's not important to win the stage for me - it was so windy today that I am glad it is finished
Lance Armstrong
Virenque was first to crack, but Pantani's decisive attack eventually saw off everyone but Armstrong.

The pair rode the final 2km to the top of the climb where Pantani took an uncontested stage win with Armstrong simply happy to consolidate his overall lead.

"It's not important to win the stage for me. Pantani is the best climber in the world and he deserved to win on Mont Ventoux. He did all the attacking," he said.

The American also paid tribute to his US Postal team, who kept the pace high to eliminate a number of competitors on the lower slopes.

"There were two stories," he said. "I want to thank the team. The second was the wind. It was so windy today that I am glad it is finished."

Britain's David Millar finished 17 minutes back in 95th, having suffered in a crash at the start of the stage. He falls back to 48th overall as a result.

Pantani moved from 24th place overall to 12th, but is still more than 10 minutes adrift of Armstrong.

Several big names lost time to the American, with Virenque finishing more than a minute behind in seventh place.

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong: Unbeatable before Paris?
The two men who completed last year's Tour podium - Alex Zulle of Switzerland and Spaniard Fernando Escartin finished more then three minutes adrift.

They are now 13th and 14th overall, their lingering hopes of winning the Tour gone.

Ullrich may also now have to defend second place rather than attack the lead.

Unless Armstrong cracks in the weekend stages in the Alps no-one is likely to stop the American becoming the first rider to defend the title successfully since 1995.

Click here for details of our live stage coverage

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Brotherton reports from Mont Ventoux
"A wonderful, yet bruising sporting spectacle"

In DepthIN DEPTH
Tour de France
Final analysis of the world's top cycle race
See also:

13 Jul 00 | Tour de France
13 Jul 00 | Tour de France
13 Jul 00 | Tour de France
13 Jul 00 | Tour de France
Links to more Tour de France stories are at the foot of the page.


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