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By Tim Maloney, cyclingnews.com correspondent
Zabel's record fifth
"For me and the Telekom team, it was a great Tour this year. We want to thank the fans in Germany and France," said Erik Zabel (Telekom), who took his 5th consecutive Maillot Vert in winning the points classification over Robbie McEwen (Farm Frites) and Romans Vainsteins (Vini Caldirola). Zabel also won a stage in a sprint finish and continued to show his power in bunch sprints.
Telekom enjoyed a few days with Le Maillot Jaune on the back of the popular Italian Alberto Elli, and as for Tour runner-up Jan Ullrich, there must be some satisfaction in finishing 2nd. In fact, three weeks before the Tour, Ullrich's form was questionable. So questionable, in fact, that he was worried about his ability to even finish a tough three week race. But in the end, Ullrich's tenacious nature and his class as a rider saw him improving daily.
"I can't be anything but satisfied with my second place," said Ullrich after the conclusion of Le Tour 2000. " I'm already thinking of 2001; anything will be possible (then)."
French and Spanish success (or not)
French hopes soared with two stage wins in this Tour; a gutsy solo effort from Momo Agnolutto (AG2R Prevoyance) in Limoges and dramatic, emotional win from Richard Virenque (Polti) in Morzine. Virenque was an excellent 6th on GC, the 2nd Frenchman, while his Polti teammate Herve was 12th. Christophe Moreau (Festina) also had an excellent Tour to finish 4th, as many observers thought the lanky Frenchman would crack along the way, but his solid ride to Courchevel and an excellent 3rd place in the final TT showed that Moreau was the real deal.
As was his surprising Festina teammate Joseba Beloki. After a win in the TT at the Tour de Romandie, the Basque Beloki looked to be a young man on the way to the top, and his 3rd place overall in this year's Tour De France had his Festina team director Juan Fernandez smiling. Beloki didn't show himself much in this Tour; he just stayed on the wheels, rode a smart, conservative race and protected his third spot on GC. Is the 26 year old Beloki a threat for the future in the Grand Tours? Probably, but he'll need to confirm his Tour performance going forward for the top men like Armstrong and Ullrich to take him more seriously.
Another young Spaniard emerged at Le Tour this year - Francisco Mancebo (Festina). His top 10 GC finish and climbing and TT talents put Mancebo in the same category as Botero and Beloki. But despite Cente Garcia-Acosta's Bastille Day stage win in Draguignan, Banesto had a major disappointment this year with Zülle. The powerful Swiss stankovite just didn't have it when it counted. Nor did his Banesto teammate El Chaba Jimenez. In fact, after El Chaba dominated the Volta Catalunya in late June, he looked like he would be a real dangerman at Le Tour, but it was not to be.
Even more disappointing at Le Tour was the performance of O.N.C.E. They had one moment of glory in the St.Nazaire team time trial, but after taking over the Maillot Jaune for Laurent Jalabert, O.N.C.E boss Manolo Saiz let it go after one stage in a fit of pique. But Jaja and his co-O.N.C.E leader Olano finished the 2000 Tour.
"I'm happy to be here," Jaja said in Paris. "But I've no regrets; the (lost) Maillot Jaune happened so long ago that it's forgotten." As likely the Grand Tour ambitions of both Jalabert and Olano must be; both riders could not compete on the top level at this year's highly competitive Tour De France and probably need to look elsewhere for their big wins in the future.
Kelme - number one
Unquestionably, the best team in the race was Kelme, who won the Team GC competition; every day as the race progressed, one, two and sometimes four Kelme riders were up the road, attacking hard and making an impact. Although Fernando Escartin didn't make it pack to the podium this year, Maillot Pois Santi Botero has emerged at 26 as a man to watch in the future. Winning the Best Climber's jersey and winning Stage 14 win was a major breakthrough for the Colombian. As for Kelme's Javi Otxoa, he was runner-up in the Climber's classification and won stage 10. Kelme was focused and their all for one, one for all approach to the 2000 Tour De France was admirable.
Stage winning teams
Some teams like Mapei and Rabobank came with few GC illusions and just wanted to win as many stages as possible. Despite some internal issues, Mapei ended up on top with 4 stage wins; two by sprinter Tom Steels, one from Paolo Bettini and the prestigious final stage in Paris. On the Champs-Elysées, Mapei teamwork thwarted Erik Zabel and delivered the biggest win of his career to Stefano "Zaza" Zanini.
"It's too great," a delighted Zanini told cyclingnews.com after the win.
Rabobank's Erik Dekker was awarded the marketing prize as the most combative rider; his amazing three stage wins at Le Tour 2000 and the overall attacking style of the boys in orange did liven up Le Tour. Combined with Leon Van Bon's win in stage 6, Rabobank also came away with four stage wins.
Toto Commesso (Saeco) was rewarded for his attacking at long last on stage 18 into Fribourg. In front of massive crowds, the stocky little puncher slugged his way to a win over another young talent Alex Vinokourov (Telekom).
Pantani: Quo Vadis?
What can one think of Marco Pantani? The Mercatone Uno rider, winner of the '98 Tour De France came in after a weird re-entry to cycling at the Giro d'Italia. He suffered at first in Le Tour due to his lack of base conditioning. But as Pantani came into shape, he began to emerge as a major player. In a controversial "gift", Pantani took the mountaintop finish in perhaps the toughest stage at Le Tour 2000 atop Le Mont Ventoux. Following this, Pantani's brilliant climb to win his 2nd stage in Courchevel showed what he was capable of when the Italian reaches his top level of fitness.
However, his strange aggressive race on Stage 16 and the verbal jousting with Armstrong may have set the stage for an overly exaggerated rivalry with Lance in the years to come. Let's hope for the sake of the stability of Le Tour that Armstrong and Pantani can make their peace and come back to race without the polemics in Le Tour 2001.
A rebuilding year
So if the 1999 Tour De France was a year of re-birth for the worlds greatest cycling show, 2000 must be considered a rebuilding year. There was renewed enthusiasm among the French public, the massive crowds in Germany, a new influx of fans from America coming to support their hero Lance and the future excitement to come from the impending bike battles between Armstrong and Ullrich. Like Lance and Jan, we can't wait until next year!
Polti's Jeroen Blijlevens was disqualified after the finish in Paris after he started a fight with Bobby Julich and struck him several times in the head. The Tour jury disqualified him not only in the last stage classification, but also in the overall classification. So there were only 127 finishers in this year's Tour.
"Julich hindered me intentionally several times, the same as Backstedt did on Saturday. I wanted to talk to him after the race, but he keep nagging me. I gave him some friendly taps," said Blijlevens afterward.
Leblanc: most beautiful since '89
Tour director, Jean-Marie Leblanc was full of enthusiasm about this year's event, calling it the "most beautiful Tour since 1989" when Lemond won by 8 seconds over Fignon in the final time trial. "I'm very glad about the motivation of the riders and the team leaders. I saw a new awareness within the peloton regarding cycling and racing, as well as for doping too."
Next year, Leblanc has decided do cut the numbers in the Tour even more, but allow more teams to start. He has said that there will be 22 teams next year, of 8 riders each for a total of 176 riders.
Prizemoney - who got what
The final division of the FF 12 million ($US 1.7 million) in prizemoney that the Tour de France had on offer this year has been made. The yellow jersey team of US Postal came out on top as expected with $US 335,000 for the win. They were followed by Telekom with $US 260,000 and then Festina and Kelme with approximately $US 200,000 each. Bottom of the list was wildcard entry, Memorycard-Jack&Jones, who still managed to come away with $US 11,700.
The following is the final breakdown in US Dollars.
1 US Postal Service 360,315 2 Telekom 261,800 3 Festina 205,658 4 Kelme-Costa Blanca 202,525 5 Rabobank 83,610 6 Banesto 76,883 7 Mapei-Quick Step 72,463 8 Polti 60,448 9 Lotto-Adecco 44,243 10 Vini Caldirola 41,378 11 Farm Frites 37,298 12 Cofidis 34,468 13 Saeco-Valli&Valli 34,098 14 Ag2r-Prevoyance 32,198 15 ONCE-Deutsche Bank 31,008 16 Credit Agricole 29,453 17 Mercatone Uno 29,155 18 Francaise des Jeux 28,288 19 Bonjour-Toupargel 24,480 20 Memory Card-Jack&Jones 11,688
Le Tour 2000 is not over yet for cyclingnews.com. In the coming days, we'll be posting more views, news, analysis and a few little surprises. Don't go away!