Tour de France, Grand Tour

France, July 3-25, 1999

Main Page     Stage 7 Results

Stage 7, Avesnes-sur-Helpe - Thionville, 223 kms:

Italian Mario Cipollini, won Stage 7 and his 4th in 4 days and became the first person in the post-war period to do so. The last person to achieve this feat was Charles Pélissier. In the 1930 Tour Pélissier won Stages 18 to 21 (Belfort to Metz, 223 kms; Metz to Charleville, 159 kms; Charlevile to Malo-les Bains, 271 kms, and finally Malo-les-Bains to Paris, 300 kms). In that same Tour he finished 9th overall and won Stage 1 (Paris to Caen, 206 kms), Stage 3 (Dinan to Brest, 206 kms), Stage 10 (Luchon to Perpignan, 322 kms) and Stage 11 (Perpignan to Montpellier, 164 kms), finished second on 7 stages and 3rd on three. Pretty impressive. He lost the Tour though to Andre Leducq (Fra) who took the yellow jersey after placing third on Stage 9 (Pau to Luchon, 231 kms). It was a stage Pélissier did not figure in. Anyway that was some history. Back to Super Mario.

After 69 years though, things are a little different. While Charles Pélissier was consistent on the flats and the mountains alike (as above), Cipollini is apparently planning to end his Tour after the stage into Italy at Sestrières on Tuesday. The aims are different it seems these days. But whatever, Cipollini is now basking in such an afterglow following his 4 in a row. The only disappointment perhaps was that he and Belgian Tom Steels did not have a head-to-head in Thionville. One of Cipo's victories was gained after Steels was downgraded after the sprint into Maubeuge. But Steels did not figure in the finale today.

The sprint was clean. Cipollini had the luxury of clear space between him and second place-getter Stuart O'Grady, who himself is coming of age as an outright sprinter. Perhaps not before time given his complete lack of climbing skills. The loser of the day was German Erik Zabel. He was wearing the green jersey because the real leader Kirsipuu was in yellow. But Zabel had to perform some gymnastics to avoid falling. He had two feet out of his pedals and was zig-zagging for an age it seemed and it was a miracle he stayed upright. He then had to go to hospital to get his wounds healed - yes, he had fallen earlier with 45 kms to go.

The French press noted that Cipo was laughing and happy, Zabel was in pain and Kirsipuu continues to live his dream. He has now finished the first week in yellow. After holding it for 6 days he knows that tomorrow after the 56.5 kms ITT in Metz that the yellow will pass to someone else - perhaps Lance Armstrong or Abraham Olano, both favourites for the time trial.

It is now coming down to sorting the real hopes from the pretenders. The big money is on world time trial champion Abraham Olano to take over the mantle of leader. Others are recalling the prologue form of Lance but have questioned whether he can keep that pace going for 56.5 kms. Third place-getter overall last year, Bobby Julich is another rider who is being mentioned. They are the obvious favourites.

Up and coming Kazak rider Alexandre Vinokourov (Casino) has little pressure on him but comes into the Tour in great form. He is a possibility. Pavel Tonkov is suffering from a recurrence of his knee troubles and may not last the distance. Alex Zülle is having a bad Tour. He lost time on the crossing of the Gois and fell again between Avesnes-on-Helpe and Thionville. But he is a specialist time trialler and may perform well.

The time trial has two climbs but overall favours the roleurs. A Tour organiser and former rider Laurent Bezault told the press that he thinks the average speed will be high: "About 47 to 48 km/h." The fans are wondering how Richard Virenque will go. He is feted all the way by the crowds. Every morning he is hounded for his autograph and afterwards when he finishes or goes back to his hotel. So far his performances have not been that of a star. But his chance is coming.

The only real action on the stage before the sprint came from Lylian Lebreton who attacked after only 2 kms with his friend Stéphane Heulot. Heulot did not go on with it and waited for the peloton and to allow Lebreton to get away. He was reinforced by long break specialist Jacky Durand but that was not enough. With only 8.5 kms to go, the pair were caught by the peloton. They shook hands and so concluded another failed adventure before the Mario show began.