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Tour News for July 17

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Lance Armstrong (USPS, 1st stage)

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Lance Armstrong
Photo: © Sirottti

"It is a very special stage which means a lot for the riders, probably the greatest climb in the history of cycling. That motivated me today, I wanted to win. It is an honour to win this stage, if I had won in a sprint between two riders, that would have been similar. I wanted this stage, and it was during the race that I thought of taking time out of my rivals. It's a mythical stage that I wanted to have on my palmares."

You seemed to be in difficulty on the first two climbs - real or bluff? "Certainly bluff (smiles) but you know now in cycling, everyone looks at everyone else. The directeurs sportifs have TV, the managers, the fans all have TV, therefore you must play on that."

"It was preferable that Telekom continue to work and that I didn't want to work too much, even if I suffered a little at the halfway point (Madeleine). We chose this strategy, we did not know what our adversaries were going to do."

"I take into account the movements of the camera bikes, therefore I pay attention to my attitude and my face."

Will you bluff in tomorrow's TT? "There is no bluff in this kind of solo effort. But, the only alarming thing is that after such an effort, and I can tell you I gave a lot today, I don't know how I will recover, nor the other riders."

A little bluff...
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Lance Armstrong
Photo: © Sirottti

"I think, because I've never done it, that it is very hard to have a test for something like Wednesday after such a difficult day. But that's OK, I am ready for that. I can lose two minutes, but I have trained myself well, I already won a similar time trial in the Tour de Suisse."

And the team? "We haven't had much luck since the start, and when we're at the table, I look at the team around me and see some casualties and sick men...I know that this kind of victory was necessary. It was worth more early than late!"

"We really needed a win like this, really mythical, to set ourselves right again. I had spoken about it with Johan."

About Ullrich's non-reaction to his attack, Armstrong replied: "He is a regular climber, his style is not to accelerate. He can hold a tempo and keep it, and I know that. Last year in a mountain stage, I attacked and he held his pace, he came back and after that it was me who cracked. I must be attentive to that, but we have two different styles."

Are you concerned with Kivilev? "Firstly, it is not only my responsibility to chase him, it is also that of Jan and Beloki. We made a big error the other day and the race is very open. He can take the yellow jersey, but it is very heavy to carry. I respect him a lot and I can tell you that I tried to have him in our team."

François Simon (Bonjour, Maillot Jaune)
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Francois Simon
Photo: © Sirottti

"To wear the yellow jersey is very great. One cannot have a better dream than to take it in l'Alpe d'Huez except of course on the Champs-Elysées."

"I cracked on the Glandon but Jean-Rene Bernaudeau told me to wait for Sylvain Chavanel who came back. I rode at my own pace up the Alpe to avoid exploding. I therefore managed all the climbs."

"I have a dozen minutes on Kivilev and a score on Armstrong. I should therefore spend the rest day in yellow."

Jan Ullrich (Telekom, 2nd stage)
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Ullrich and co
Photo: © AFP

"I am fairly happy with my day. I felt good so I asked my team-mates to ride. They did their work well. I had planned to try something with a dozen kilometres to go, but I could not answer the second attack of Armstrong and I preferred to go up at my own pace."

Joseba Beloki (ONCE, 3rd)

"I lost my chain [note: at the foot of Alpe d'Huez]. When I regained the group, Armstrong had already left. I don't believe that I could have followed him, but unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to try."

Laurent Roux (Jean Delatour, 7th, most combative, best climber)
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Laurent Roux
Photo: © Sirottti

"There is still one thing that escaped me, but I don't have the right to be disappointed. I can't really reproach myself. I think I got the maximum from my race."

"This morning, I had said to Michel Gros that I would be there to attack. I did immediately. At the beginning, we rode well. When I was left with Jimenez, I thought he was bluffing me. When Armstrong came past, it was like having a motorbike next to me, it was beautiful to see."

"Now I have two choices: to defend the Maillot Pois or to take a stage victory. I know that I cannot do both."

Axel Merckx (Domo, 16th)
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Robin Williams and Axel Merckx
Photo: © Sirottti

"To arrive 16th at Alpe is neither good nor bad. I went up at my own tempo. When I saw the attack of Armstrong, I said to myself "Chapeau. It is a beautiful moment in cycling."

Benoît Salmon (Ag2r, 49th)

"I did not have legs. I felt bad on the first col. I am not in good health."

Walter Godefroot (Telekom team manager)

"We will make our true calculations tomorrow evening after the time trial. But it is a pity nevertheless for the interest in the Tour. As for our future tactic, let us wait for Wednesday."

Michel Gros (Jean Delatour directeur sportif)

"When Armstrong attacked, I very quickly understood that the difference was going to be snuffed out. It is necessary from now on to defend the Maillot Pois. But, let us pay homage to Laurent. It is a courageous boy who knew to overcome his fall in the 2nd stage."

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Jan Ullrich hasn't given up

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Jan Ullrich
Photo: © Sirottti

Ullrich was not depressed at losing 2 minutes to Armstrong today, despite the fact that it happened with incredible ease. He let his teammates set the pace from the foot of the Madeleine (km 87), over two hors categorie climbs, right to the foot of l'Alpe d'Huez (km 193). The strategy didn't really work out as well as Ullrich hoped, as Armstrong was never in difficulty, although he tried to give the opposite impression to the TV cameras.

"The Tour is not lost," he said stoically. "Frankly today and especially on the last climb, I was not so bad. I will continue the fight and I want to believe that the next day will be mine."

Unfortunately for Jan Ullrich, Armstrong was simply better today.

"I was disappointed to see that neither Moreau nor Beloki helped me in the finale to limit the difference to Armstrong," added Ullrich, who may have recalled that they couldn't hold his wheel when he went full throttle near the top.

Can Jan Ullrich make up some time in tomorrow's Grenoble-Chamrousse time trial? It's doubtful, looking at today's results and Armstrong's preparation for the TT. The cards are on the table now, and Armstrong aced everyone today.

Pantani still holds the record

Lance Armstrong's fearsome ascent of l'Alpe d'Huez was achieved in 38'01, an average of 21.8 km/h for the mythical 13.9 kilometre climb. That's certainly fast, but not as fast as Marco Pantani in 1997, when he clocked 37'35 (22.2 km/h) and in 1995 when he rode 38'00. Pantani did not win the Tour in 1997 - a certain Jan Ullrich did, who today rode 40'00 for l'Alpe d'Huez.

Can Ullrich repeat his 1997 feat? Considering the time trialling abilities of Pantani versus Armstrong, it's unlikely that he will get close. His main hope now is a bad day from Armstrong, á la Courchevel last year, on the proviso that Ullrich doesn't have a bad day himself!

Simon's pedigree

Francois Simon (Bonjour) is the new Maillot Jaune, after a solid ride to l'Alpe d'Huez today. Simon lost 10'20 to Armstrong, but he still has another 20 minutes in hand. It will take a few tough stages to get rid of that.

Francois Simon (33) is the youngest of his family, all of whom are cyclists. His brother Pascal actually lost the yellow jersey on Alpe d'Huez 18 years ago. Francois is a former French champion (1999) and considers today to be the most "beautiful day of my career...I was in a hurry to get to the finish today."

Being in yellow after a stage such as today is no mean feat, coming as it did from his massive escape with 13 others in stage 8. Of course, ever since then he has been spoken of as the man to inherit O'Grady's Maillot Jaune. "In spite of the requests for interviews, I succeeded in sleeping well these last two nights so I could face this very difficult day," said Simon.

Today, Simon did his level best to stay with the group on the Madeleine, before he was dropped over the top of the Glandon. He was two minutes down, but managed to chase back on and arrived with the peloton at the foot of l'Alpe d'Huez. Once Armstrong attacked, it was a matter of limiting the damage. He lost over 10 minutes in 14 km, and is certainly not secure in yellow. He will lose more time, perhaps 4 or 5 minutes in tomorrow's time trial, before three more heavy stages in the Pyrenees.

Robin Williams at the Tour

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Fred Rodriguez and Robin Williams
Photo: © Sirottti

Today's stage was graced by a certain American comedic actor, Robin Williams, who was present at the start in Aix-les-Bains and rode in the car with USPS director Johan Bruyneel. Perhaps Williams was giving Armstrong acting instructions on his defunct race-radio, as the Texan grimaced for the cameras on the Col de la Madeleine near the back of the group.

"I am a big cycling fan," said Williams this morning in the village. "I have been friends with Lance Armstrong for four years and I wanted to come and support him on the mountains. I will therefore follow these two fabulous stages today and tomorrow."

Amateur cyclist dies on l'Alpe d'Huez

A 60 year old amateur cyclist has died of a heart attack on l'Alpe d'Huez today. The 21 turn climb is the most mythical in cycling, and the man had ridden to the 13th turn before he collapsed.

Official communiqués

Cloudy, clearing in the valleys. Some possible downpours in the mountains in the afternoon. Temperatures about 27 degrees at the beginning, 17 degrees at the finish.

Hamilton (USPS): Digestive disorders
Kjaergaard (USPS): Head and left buttock wounds
Brard (Festina) and Steels (Mapei): Fall without apparent seriousness
Casero (Festina): Abandonment due to persistent pains in the right knee
Matteo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo): Wounds of the right elbow and the right knee
Blanco ( Wounds of the thigh and the right leg
Anthony Morin (Credit Agricole): Wound of a finger of the right hand Gonzalez (Kelme): Pain in the left knee
Mengin (FdJ): Sore throat

Commissaires decisions
Gouvenou (Jean Delatour) and Sivakov (BigMat): 10 seconds penalty for pacing behind a car
Dekker (Rabobank): 20 seconds penalty for assistance given by his sporting director
R. Sorensen (CSC): 10 seconds for assistance given by his sporting director
Julich (Credit Agricole): 20 penalty for pacing behind the vehicle of his director sportif

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