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Sunday, 16 July, 2000, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Pantani plunders stage win
Marco Pantani
The Pirate acknowledges a generous Courchevel crowd
Italy's Marco Pantani, the 1998 Tour winner, confirmed his return to form with an emphatic victory in the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.

Trailing a leading group of five riders by more than four minutes at the foot of the climb to Courchevel, the Mercatone Uno rider stormed up the 22.5 kilometre ascent to sweep past the leaders and win the stage by 41 seconds.

Banesto's Jose Maria Jimenez held on for second place, 41 seconds behind Pantani, Roberto Heras claimed third and yellow jersey wearer Lance Armstrong crossed the line in fourth place, 50 seconds down on the winner.

While Pantani was undoubtedly the day's hero, the losers were Deutsche Telekom's Jan Ullrich, who lost more time to Armstrong, and Polti's Richard Virenque, who must now know he cannot win his sixth King of the Mountains jersey.


This is a present for all my Italian friends
Marco Pantani
Pantani, who also won Thursday's climb of Mount Ventoux, completed the 173.5 kilometres from Briancon to Courchevel in five hours, 34 minutes and 46 seconds.

Amazing ascent

Ninth at the start of the day - 10 minutes 13 seconds behind Armstrong - Pantani waited until the finish was only 13 kilometres away to launch an incredible attack that left everyone, including Armstrong, in his wake.

"I had already won on Mont Ventoux but today I had to do the last bit all on my own," said Pantani, after rising to sixth in the overall standings, nine minutes off the pace.

"Armstrong was very strong - but this was my race. Today I climbed very well I gave it 100% even though I have had a little bronchitis - but I was very strong.

"This is a present for all my Italian friends."

Oxtoa and Jimenez
Oxtoa (right) and Jimenez could not resist Pantani's pace
Armstrong will not be complaining tonight, though, as he gained two and a half minutes on Ullrich, to leave the defending champion a commanding seven minutes, 26 seconds clear of the field.

Festina's Joseba Beloki, one of the surprises of the Tour, moved to within two seconds of Ullrich.

Audience participation

While the rest of the field were unable to stay with Pantani, the 30-year-old was given a minor shock when a fan clad in the colours of the Kelme team appeared on his wheel in the finishing straight.

A second intruder, wearing a yellow jersey, minutes later joined the peloton and crossed the line blowing kisses to the crowd.

Lance Armstrong
Armstrong cemented his Tour lead
One hundred and forty one riders started the stage in Briancon, France's highest city, in cool conditions.

After a gentle beginning, the first of the day's three climbs, the 2,645 metre Col du Galibier, claimed three retirements - Leon Van Bon, the winner of the sixth stage at Tours, Fabrice Gougot and David Etxebarria, who won two stages last year.

Going into the day's final climb, five riders - Jimenez, Daniele Nardello, Massimilliano Elli, Javier Oxtoa and polka-dot jersey wearer Santiago Botero - had a four-minute lead on the pack of elite riders around Armstrong, and there were five chasers between the two groups.

But while the leading group played cat-and-mouse - first Botero breaking away, and then Jimenez - Pantani was taking huge chunks out of the deficit and had plenty to spare when he caught Jimenez with two kilometres to go.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Brotherton
"A thrilling lung-bursting finale at altitude"
Lance Armstrong
"It's good to be ahead"
See also:

16 Jul 00 | Photo Galleries
16 Jul 00 | Tour de France
16 Jul 00 | Tour de France
16 Jul 00 | Tour de France
15 Jul 00 | Tour de France
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