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Aussie Rogers' team lose out
The yellow jersey hopes of Australian Michael Rogers might be virtually dead and buried for this year, but ahead of key Tour de France stages he knows who his allies could be.
At the end of the 14th stage on Saturday, Rogers' Columbia teammates George Hincapie and Mark Cavendish were left gutted, for different reasons, as Katusha's Sergei Ivanov claimed his second career win on the race.
With all due respect to the Russian and his team it was what happened in the final 10km that got everyone talking about the race, and what may become of it in the Alps beginning on Sunday.
AG2R rider Rinaldo Nocentini, who had a 5:25 lead on Hincapie at the start of the stage, looked set to lose his yellow jersey to the American as he raced ahead with a 12man breakaway.
With 20km to go Hincapie's group still held a lead of over six minutes on the chasing bunch, but as AG2R struggled to close the gap they called on help, and were duly obliged by Columbia's big rivals
"We spoke with the Garmin team and asked them to help us in the chase," added Nocentini. "They put riders at the front in the final 10, 15km and that gave us a bit of freshness."
In the end, their contribution allowed Nocentini to defend the jersey by just five seconds.
Hincapie is now second overall and, with little chance of winning the race, losing out on becoming race leader, albeit briefly, for the first time since 2006 left him sore and refusing to talk to waiting media.
Having helped Armstrong to win all seven of his yellow jerseys, the former Tour de France champion was among those to hit out at the tactics of Garmin.
"No one, and I mean no one, wanted George in yellow more than me," said Armstrong.
"Our team rode a moderate tempo to put him
in the jersey by at least two minutes. AG2R said they would not defend then they started to ride.
"Until 10km to go he was solidly in yellow until Garmin put on the gas and made sure it didn't happen."
Columbia, who thanks to Cavendish have won four stages in this year's race, saw things go from bad to worse when the Isle of Man rider was disqualified from the stage.
Norwegian Thor Hushovd complained that Cavendish had tried to force him into the barriers, a complaint upheld by race officials who disqualified him from the stage.
Rogers later said the decision had been unfair.
"I just saw the replay on TV. Cav just held his line. The barrier moved out," Rogers said on his Twitter account.
Cavendish is now 18 points shy of Hushovd in the points competition but it is the yellow
jersey battle which should now take centre stage.
With Cadel Evans still 3:07 off the leading pace and around three minutes behind main rival Alberto Contador of Astana, Australia's twotime runnerup, and rival teams, knows what lies ahead.
"At the moment we are really well placed in the general classification," said Contador and Armstrong's team manager Johan Bruyneel.
"That means guys like Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Carlos Sastre need to attack us, not necessarily on the climb to Verbier (Sunday) but starting from then."
Ahead of three days of climbing in four days Monday is a rest day it would have suited Astana to have a team like Columbia ride with the yellow jersey.
Bruyneel could only lament that lost opportunity, but admitted he, too, was mystified with the motives of Garmin, for whom former Armstrong teammate Matt White, an Australian, works as assistant team manager.
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