Tour de France, Grand Tour

France, July 3-25, 1999

Main Page     Stage 9 Results

Stage 9, Le Grand Bornand - Sestrières (Italy), 215 kms:

Mario Cipollini had planned to scale the climb at Sestrières in front of his Italian tifosi and then withdraw from the Tour immediately. The plan failed because he fell on the descent of the Col de Montgenèvre just after the peloton had crossed into Italy and had to abandon. He received some stitches to a head contusion. Earlier in the Tour he had accomplished 4 stages victories in succession and became the first person in 69 years to do so. He is also the best Italian in total stage victories. His joy was clear when he drafted Jaan Kirsipuu during the ITT on Sunday. He received a fine for that offence. Then on Monday, it was party time in Le Grand Bornand during the rest day. There were togas and Roman costume worn to celebrate Julius Ceasar's 2099 birthday. The party boys continued into Tuesday and many of the Saeco team turned up to the start line in a cart (like a chariot) in new uniforms - bearing Roman motifs. The humourless UCI officials fined the riders 6000 Swiss Francs.

When in doubt - attack! Lance Armstrong took a 6 minute plus lead in the Tour after a dashing win on Stage 9 which finished at the ski station on Sestrières. The first day of mountains and an American with a stranglehold over the Tour. Commentators were expressing - Astonishment, amazement, and admiration. And there were also murmourings among officials and the press - the inevitable suspicion which these days surrounds any exceptional performance. Lance Armstrong provoked all these feelings while demolishing the best climbers in the Tour de France on the last climb to Sestrières.

In less than seven kilometers, the American champion created large gaps. The Swiss rider Alex Zulle was at 31 seconds, Spaniard Fernando Escartin and Italian Ivan Gotti at 1.26, Richard Virenque and a small group at around 2.30. The differences were substantial.

At the beginning of the stage in Le Grand Bornand, everyone was asking whether Lance had it in him to defend his yellow jersey as the climbing started. Nearly 6 hours later after a parcours of 213.5 kms, the questions changed. How does one explain the performance, reminiscent of Bjarne Riis in 1996 - the total domination of the peloton. In a few hundred metres he went away from Escartin and then 6.5 kms to go he passed Zulle and went on to win easily.

Armstrong now has more than 6 minutes on Spaniard Abraham Olano, who once again showed his fragility in the mountains. He also leads French aspirant Christophe Moreau (3rd), by some 8 minutes. Olano and Moreau were back in the bunch with Russian Pavel Tonkov and Italian Stefano Garzelli after being dropped on Galibier. Another hopeful, Kazak Alexandre Vinokourov went off on the Telegraph, and Dutchman Michael Boogerd was dropped on the Valloire.

Earlier, it was Richard Virenque who provided the sparks. I reported yesterday the mixed feelings about the French rider. I wrote "A diary attributed to an American rider in the peloton has said that the rider hates Virenque and hopes he dies in the mountains." Sure enough. The words were clearly not literal but figurative. For those who worried Frankie Andreu wrote (verbatum): "The team that didn't participate was Polti -- who had no guy in the break and for some stupid reason wouldn't ride. Man, I hate Virenque. I hope he gets killed in the mountains. Oops, my filter must have malfunctioned." Nothing to get too excited about eh!

Well Virenque did die on the last climb but not before showing some aggression earlier on the climb of the Galibier (2645m). In appalling conditions (wet and mist), he attacked with Kelme riders, Colombian Joaquim Castelblanco and the Spaniard Fernando Escartin and the leading bunch fragmented. Armstrong, sitting the wheel of American Kevin Livingston, continued on without losing much time. At the top of Galibier, the highest point of this Tour, it was Arrieta in front and heading for the long descent to Briançon.

A group of 7 riders then worked together including Armstrong, Zulle, Beltran, and Arrieta - to keep the distance gained on Olano and co. The rain was relentless and it hailed occassionaly. Kevin Livingston joined Mario Cipollini in falling on the last descent.

Lance said at the end: "If you look at the weather, it was a good day for me because of the conditions. I alway ride well in this cold weather conditions. In cold rain, you don't have too much competition. It was raining in Oslo, in the Amstel, in other races I won in my career. On the Galibier, I did not feel super. Then I looked at the others and, by the look on their faces, I saw that they were suffering too. Today was brutal. It was cold, very cold. ... I'm still nervous. I don't think the race is over, The others will be back and they will be better and they will attack and I can have bad days and the conditions can run out. The form can run out in the next four or five days and I'm in trouble. We don't think we have the race won."

Lance Armstrong in Brief:

  • Born: 18/9/1971 at Dallas, USA.
  • 1.78 m, 73 kg.
  • Married to Kristin.
  • Lives near to Nice.
  • Professional since 1992.
  • Motorola (1992-1996), Cofidis (1997), US Postal (since 1998).
  • Tour de France: 5th participation. 5 stage victories (Verdun 1993, Limoges 1995, Prologue Puy-du-Fou, ITT Metz, and Sestrières 1999). 3 abandons (1993, 1994, 1996). 36th in 1995.
  • 12th in UCI Rankings.