Stages and Riders
Stage 17 Brief:Three major climbs today as the riders spend their last day in the Alps. At 59.5 kms comes the Cat 1 Crêt de Châtillon (Le Sennoz) (a long 17.4 km climb at 6.7%). Then at the 97 kms mark comes the Cat 3 Col des Prés (a 3.3 km climb at 6.6%) followed by the Cat 1 Col du Revard (a 16 km climb at 5.5%) at the 124.5 kms mark.
The events of last evening in Albertville have now left their mark on today's stage. After a very slow start (24 kms in the first hour) to show their solidarity with the TVM riders, the peloton came to a halt at the first intermediate sprint at 32 kms. After a long meeting between themselves, and with Jean-Marie Leblanc speaking with the French Sport's Minister, the riders started to ride again but at pedestrian speed. They decided to ride to the finish line in Aix-les-Bains without their race numbers on.
Luc Leblanc told the press that: "We're going on for the public and that's all."
Laurent Jalabert was the first to quit overall though and he got into the team car. Soon after the riders started again, the ONCE team minus Jalabert were some 600m behind the team cars. Soon after they all abandoned and the manager Manolo Saiz said: "The Tour is over." Jalabert told reporters: "I stop. I made this decision knowingly. I was too depressed to start the race."
To make matters worse, Jean-Marie Leblanc announced that the police will be taking more riders away for questioning tonight. It is believed that all the ex-Festina riders in the peloton are being targetted. He told the press: "Tonight there will be new investigations by the police in the Tour de France. But I have arranged they will happen in a normal way and not as last night. That was a scandal."
Marco Pantani is the big winner and Jan Ullrich the big loser, if you ignore the wider principals that the riders appear to see. This was Ullrich's last chance really to take any time from Pantani. As long as the Tour goes on tomorrow, Pantani is in the box seat.
And late news just in (16.10) - the police are already searching the hotel rooms of the Casino, Polti and ONCE teams in Aix-les-Bains. It is understood that other search squads are ready for the arrival of the cyclists. Strange country indeed. The latest is that the rooms of Vitalicio Seguros are being searched by police.
There is a story circulating that Coca Cola, the major sponsor to the Tour de France is considering pulling out.
The Police have announced that they will search all the rooms of all the teams tonight.
ONCE abandoned after the bosses in Spain called Manolo Saiz and told them to stop riding. This was after the bosses heard that police were searching their hotel.
Jean-Marie Leblanc is now preparing a press statement.
A report from the finish line: Dutch NOS Radio's Jeroen Wielaert is at the finish. He says that Behind the finish line it seems like it is a soccer match rather than a cycling event. There are some large buses full of police with riot shields and cudgels.
Spectators who were waiting patiently for the riders to pass have reacted badly to the withdrawal of the ONCE team and the snail's pace of the peloton. The riders, without their race numbers on, were split into two groups as spectators stood in the centre of the rad at the top of the Cret de Chatillon (at 149 kms). Some of them were cheering while others were booing. Punches were thrown as riders tried to get through.
At the first feed-zone, Banesto and Riso Scotti have abandoned the Tour. The audience in the vicinity applauded their stand. Riders from both teams were seen in the team cars in tears and clearly distraught.
Meanwhile, police from Lille arrived at the finishing line and sealed off the ONCE truck and took away rubbish bags.
Bjarne Riis told Jean-Marie Leblanc that "If the judiciary and police are doing the same tonight as last night with TVM then all the teams will leave the Tour tonight. The riders are not against the investigations, but they are against the way they are being treated. We have some dignity"
Jean-Marie Leblanc has reaffirmed his aim is to get the Tour to Paris on Sunday. He issued a communique on Radio Tour which said in part: We want the rider to arrive in Paris not like criminals but in a peaceful and sporting environment. We hope from the bottom of our hearts that you, the managers and you the riders, deserve to arrive on the Champs-Elyées."
He said he understood the protest by riders and that they would all abandon if similar events to those last night with TVM occurred again. He said the police had told him that the investigations would continue. He said it was unworthy to treat the riders like TVM was treated.
And the decision by the Jury
The UCI Jury at the Tour de France has annulled the stage and declared that 116 riders who crossed the finishing line could remain in the Tour. They declared that ONCE, Banesto and Riso Scotti had abandoned from the race and would not be permitted to start tomorrow.
The day came to a finale with TVM riders crossing the line with their hands joined and raising their arms. It was nearly dark as the riders reached Aix-les-Bains some two hours after the scheduled finish.