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June 14, 2003, Stage 6: Challes-les-Eaux to Briançon , 153km
It has not been an easy Dauphiné Libéré for Lance Armstrong. Racing to fine-tune his form before the Tour de France, Armstrong has seen his authority challenged by Iban Mayo. How badly does Armstrong want to win this race? How deep is he willing to go? Can he be challenged on these climbs, the same ones which will be featured in the Tour de France in a few weeks? Mayo wants to find out...
To make matters worse, Armstrong had a rare crash the day before, just after the stage 5 start in Morzine. A minor descent, someone's water bottle jarred loose by a pothole, bottle on the road, Armstrong's wheel on the bottle, and down he went. Armstrong was down! A French rider, who will remain nameless, picked that moment to attack. He'll later claim, no doubt truthfully, that he didn't know the yellow jersey was down.
A scary crash, a rider attacking when you were down, and who is this Mayo guy anyway?
Now in stage 6 Mayo has once again drawn his sword, attacking Armstrong on the Galibier. Armstrong, his right elbow bandaged due to the previous day's crash, has to react as race leader and has Francisco Mancebo on his wheel (photo). Mayo's lead is up to 30 seconds at the summit. But Armstrong flies down the other side of the Galibier and catches him. Juan Miguel Mercado, not a threat to Armstrong in the overall, would win the stage and Mayo would gain three seconds on Armstrong on the tricky finish at Briancon. But the victory was assured with just one stage to go. But at what cost just weeks before Armstrong would attempt to join Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain in the "Club of 5"? After the Dauphiné, Armstrong would say "Never again"...never again would he go that deep just weeks before the Tour. Would his rivals heed that lesson in subsequent years?