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It happened again
On stage 16, the winner was once again the leader on the last climb. Richard Virenque crossed the summit of the Col de Joux-Plane in the lead together with the luckless Roberto Heras, and Jan Ullrich some 39 seconds behind. Although Jan closed to within 27 seconds at the finish, Virenque won the stage as Heras disappeared off the side of the road on the last corner.
The other stage winners who have led on the final climb include Marco Pantani (twice), Santiago Botero, and Javier Otxoa.
After winning the stage, Virenque dedicated his victory to the child who died last week whilst watching the Tour. "I'm proud I won the stage with my pedals," he said.
Heras so close...
Kelme's Robert Heras did everything right today to improve his general classification position and put himself in a stage winning position with Richard Virenque as his only rival. However, it was not to be when he lost it on a corner with a little over a kilometre to go in the race. At the end he was downcast: "I am destroyed, opportunities like this do not happen every day," he said. "It was a very dangerous curve but the gendarme did not signal it to me."
Despite ruining his bike, Heras managed to obtain a quick change to remount in pursuit of Jan Ullrich, who had only just passed him. He finished an admirable third in the stage, 3 seconds behind Ullrich and 27 behind Virenque, but must be wondering now what might have been.
Heras' team director, Vicente Belda was similarly disappointed by his rider's misfortune. He had great hopes that Heras would win, especially as he had done everything possible to set it up. "The truth is that I believe Robert needed a victory," said Belda. "With Virenque, I think we had a good chance since they both came in together."
In spite of this, Belda still congratulated his team after another good performance today. "The ride of Fernando Escartin was sensational," he said referring to his long breakaway with Pantani and Herve. "At least we have gained two stages, and are winning the mountains, the most combative and and the teams classifications. We have provided some great cycling."
The prime minister of Belgium, Mr Guy Verhofstadt, visited the Tour yesterday during the rest day. He 'trained' with Lance Armstrong, but said that he needed a 26 on his rear cluster. Today, he was the guest of Johan Bruyneel in the US Postal Team car.
Tour caravan to be reduced
After the tragic death of a young boy as a result of being hit by one of the Tour caravan's publicity cars, the organisers have decided to reduce the number of vehicles in future. Tour race director Jean-Marie Leblanc announced today that the number of following cars between the publicity caravan and the race was going to be cut in half as the race left Courchevel. Only "essential" cars were allowed, cutting the number by roughly 500. In total, 1500 cars form part of the Tour circus.
Leblanc said that approximately 15 million people watch the race first hand during its 3600 km, 21 day odyssey around France. Of course, crowd control is very difficult during the Tour despite the large number of gendarmes employed to manage it. Leblanc was deeply shocked by the incident, and the riders observed a minute's silence before the start of the stage in Courchevel in memory of Philippe, the deceased boy.
"The Tour de France, although it is successful as a sporting and public event, is wasted when it brings misfortune rather than a carnival," said Leblanc.
Bad luck for Caņada
ONCE's David Caņada was a victim of his own team's lack of ability on Saturday, when he lost a significant amount of time on the stage from Draguignan to Briancon. He'd punctured after the last climb of the day, the Col d'Izoard and was forced to wait more than 15 minutes for a wheel change!
He said on French TV afterwards that "the first ONCE car was one minute in front of me with Serrano, while the second car was with Laurent Jalabert...at 36 minutes. And because I was using a small wheel, no one could help me."
So Caņada sat on the road, waiting and waiting. One of the spectators gave him a blanket because it was so cold on the descent of the Izoard. Finally the US Postal car helped Caņada with a wheel. He arrived at the finish, 26'54" behind the winner, dropping to 48th on GC at 45'01" after that stage.
Caņada is now one of only four ONCE riders left in the Tour this year, after Serrano fell today in the early part of the stage and was taken to hospital. Later, Nicolas Jalabert also abandoned. Abraham Olano, Laurent Jalabert, Caņada and Peter Luttenberger are all that remain of the team that powered to win the stage four team time trial from Nantes - Saint-Nazaire.
Last year's number two, Alex Zülle (Banesto), is currently lying 47th at 1.26.01 and has had a torrid time of it in this year's Tour. He was interviewed on Belgian TV this morning as to how he felt: "I'm sick and don't feel good. I have to see every day how it is. The whole year was prepared for the Tour, but I'm not perfect now. I'm not satisfied and feel bad. I hope to be good in the Vuelta, so I can go to Sydney for the time trial."
No Pantani, Armstrong in "Who's Who"
There are approximately 1,000 new names in the new edition of 'Who's Who'. One of the new 'celebrities' is Jan Ullrich, winner of the Tour in 1997. However, there seems to be no place for Marco Pantani (1998 winner) or Lance Armstrong (1999 winner).
Miguel Indurain and Berard Hinault who both won the Tour 5 times have been previously given 'Who's Who' status, but not Eddy Merckx, another 5-time Tour winner. The two Dutch winners, Jan Janssen (1968) and Joop Zoetemelk (1980), aren't in the book either. Zoetemelk is the record holder of the most number of Tour starts (16 times).