It’s the final climb of Stage 15 of the 2005 Tour de France, the queen stage of the last Tour Lance Armstrong will win before retiring. A small group featuring the General Classification contenders and a few hangers on is grinding up the Pla d’Adet, when Oscar Sevilla makes the first attack five kilometers from the summit finish. Oscar Pereiro counters and passes him, and only Armstrong’s lieutenant George Hincapie can stick with Pereiro. Armstrong drops back with Ivan Basso, content to work with him to distance Michael Rasmussen and let Hincapie go for his first stage win after years of supporting work.
As Hincapie and Pereiro tear up the hill, it becomes abundantly clear that one of the pair will win the stage. Neither had won any Grand Tour stages up to that point in their careers, and with Hincapie working for Lance and Pereiro working for Floyd Landis, it was probably their best chance to get a win in 2005. At around 11:34 in the video, you can see Hincapie (in blue) say something to Pereiro (in green and yellow), causing Pereiro to turn and acknowledge him. A few minutes later, Hincapie easily dusted Pereiro in the sprint after the Spaniard led him out for most of the last few kilometers.
Little arrangements of convenience happen all the time in Grand Tours, usually when a rider agrees to tow a GC contender to the line and help him get an advantage on his opponents in exchange for the stage win. But both Pereiro and Hincapie were helpers and neither had any advantage to gain from putting a gap into their pursuers. Pereiro was also a stronger climber, so Hincapie’s victory was rather surprising. In 2014, Pereiro copped to throwing the stage (Spanish), and confirmed that the subject of their conversation was who was going to get to win the stage.
Last week, Pereiro addressed the stage again and shed some light into the slapstick negotiation on the climb that led to Hincapie accidentally winning the stage. According to the Spaniard, Hincapie turned to him and threw out the number 50,000. Pereiro agreed, assuming that Hincapie was saying he would accept $50,000 to drop back and cede the stage. However, Hincapie was in fact offering Pereiro $50,000 (he says it was 50,000 euros, which, given the comedy of translation errors in play, who knows, that’s a lot of coin either way) and he didn’t realize that the two had mangled the fix until after the stage. Cycling News’ report from the stage noted that Pereiro was stunned and mad:
Said a rather pissed Pereiro at the finish line: “I asked him [Hincapie] to work, as we had to collaborate to battle it out in a sprint - but he didn’t. Sometimes it’s not the strongest that wins. I think I showed I was one the guys that wanted this stage the most. I thought there was victory in it for me, but that’s life... I’ll continue trying and one day I hope to be rewarded.”
Here’s his interview, the title of which translates to “I Charged A Premium For Losing Because I Misunderstood A Negotiation”:
This weird saga would eventually have a happy ending, as Hincapie paid up and Pereiro took Stage 16 from a four-man sprint. Pereiro claimed that he was embarrassed by the previous day’s loss that he was ultra motivated to go get a win. According to him, the peloton spent the next morning laughing at him for fucking up his chance to win, and Lance Armstrong apparently told him, “Fucking Pereiro, you’re the dumbest guy in the world.” Lance and Discovery had the Tour secured by Stage 16, so as a consolation to Pereiro, they agreed not to chase down his move, which turned out to be the winning one. After Landis popped a positive in 2006, Pereiro would be awarded the 2006 Tour title, ushering in a half decade of Spanish dominance at the Tour.
As for Hincapie, he got his win expunged after admitting to doping and helping Lance Armstrong get away with carrying out a sophisticated drug program. He went on to tie the all-time record for most consecutive Tours started at 17, but he was eventually stripped of this record along with all his other results from May 2004-August 2006. Stage 15 would be his only individual stage win at the Tour.
Additional reporting by Veronica de Souza