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Tour News for July 18

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Lance Armstrong (USPS, 1st stage)

Click for larger image
Lance Armstrong
Photo: © AFP

"I felt great today, it was perfect. I said this morning 'I'll take 5 to 6 minutes on Simon and Kivilev' and Bruyneel said: 'no, no, 3 to 4 I think'."

"I was riding 2 races today, one against the favourites and one against Simon and Kivilev. I am actually quite surprised with their times, I thought they wouldn't lose as much. There's a lot more to come, with the Pyrenees close."

Armstrong will be relying on Roberto Heras and Jose Luis Rubiera to help him. "The Spaniards are excellent climbers who prefer the Pyrenees to the Alps. They will be motivated all the more since the Tour detours into their country."

"The race must become hard, because Simon has so much advantage. The three Pyrenean stages are difficult but short, less than 200 km. All the teams that want a result will need to attack. My objective is to bring myself closer to the yellow jersey and take it."

When asked if his family is with him he replied: "No, no, my family is in Nice. It's too hard recuperating. At the tour, with all the press there is no real recuperation, so I need all the rest I can get."

"My twins will be born mid December. My wife had to go to the doctor last week, for a check up and at that time they also had the opportunity to look at the sexes. My wife said she didn't want to go without me there, so the doctors wrote the sexes down and put it in an envelope. This evening I'm going to open it. It doesn't matter to me, boy or girl, as long as they are healthy, health is everything."

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

"I still have a good little lead. If all goes well, I should still stay in yellow for the first stage of the Pyrenees. But, it is useless to think that I can leave them with this jersey on my shoulders. I am thinking I am able to finish in the region of 9th place in Paris. Perhaps Didier Rous, who is good at the moment, will give me a hand."

"In other circumstances, I would have finished around 100th place at 12 minutes: Here, I am 46th at 7 minutes; I am still thinking of a stage victory. But, it would be necessary that I am not too close to the GC so that they let me go."

Dirk De Mol (USPS assistant manager)

"Lance was very good today. We were only looking at taking back some time on Kivilev and Simon. We thought 3 on Kivilev, it's 6; and estimated 5 minutes on Simon, it's actually 7, so that's great. It shows how strong Lance really is."

"There is a heavy program to be finished off in the coming week and a half. The real Tour de France has only just started now! Really! Lance has some room to move now, in case he has a bad day it's not that bad. In reality, we have been controlling the race so far. It sort of has been USPS against the other teams from the start. The only day we didn't control the race, the break took 35 minutes, that really was the result of us not controlling."

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

"I am content with my performance. Armstrong is in great form but I knew that already; I remain confident.

"I haven't lost my morale. Why should I? Armstrong has said himself the last few years that I'm the bigger talent. That does not seem to be the case. So, I'll just enjoy my rest day tomorrow!"

"Then, in the three Pyrenean stages, I will attack without doubt, if I feel in shape."

Walter Godefroot (Telekom directeur sportif)

"Armstrong is the better rider; he IS stronger than Jan at the moment, there's no denying that. We've learned our lesson. We thought Jan was in better form than he is. We see now that Lance is stronger, in better form."

"Tomorrow we have got a whole day to discuss this; this is not the moment to put all the cards on the table. We will have to wait and see what the next stages bring."

[I'll see you, and raise you three stages]

Joseba Beloki (ONCE, 3rd)

"The aim of a climbing time trial is to hold your rhythm and I did that well enough. I am satisfied with the stage and we will see what happens in the Pyrenees to try and obtain something big near home."

"After what he did yesterday, we knew Armstrong was going to try for two stages. I'm scared of what Armstrong took out of me. The best thing is that I only lost a small amount of time with respect to Ullrich, who is the person who is more threatening to me."

Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel-Euskadi, 4th)

"That was very much to my taste. I have been feeling pretty good and came out of it well, on top of yesterday. In the beginning it was smooth, on the climb I was regular and I got better towards the top."

"The climb...was not very hard, only the first three kilometres are hard before it flattens out."

Igor González de Galdeano (ONCE, 6th)

"It's a stage to suffer a lot in, mainly in the last ten kilometres which were very hard. I was pretty sure that I was going to lose time to the best guys. They are superior and this was something normal, but I am satisfied because I made a very good time trial."

Sven Montgomery (Francaise des Jeux, 9th)

"I rode at my threshold. In the last four kilometres, I had difficulties maintaining my tempo. From memory, the climb was shorter".

Didier Rous (Bonjour, 11th)

"I am satisfied with my race. I had recovered well. As for Francois, he lost only 50 seconds on Kivilev. I think that he will have one day of no-claim bonus in yellow in the Pyrenees."

Laurent Jalabert (CSC, 18th)

"For me, it wasn't obvious: this time trial was more suited to the specialists. Moreover, that becomes difficult on the Tour when you start to accumulate fatigue. Nevertheless, I have good reasons to be satisfied."

Laurent Roux (Jean Delatour, 41st & Maillot Pois)

"I had heavy legs and I was very tired. If I did not have the Maillot Pois on my shoulders I would lost three to four minutes more; I will be at home in the Pyrénées. It would be beautiful to wear it there."

Roberto Heras (USPS, 25th)

"Today it was a recovery day because there are several more hard days left. Lance demonstrated yesterday that he is strong and it is necessary for us all to be good in the Pyrenees."

Serge Baguet (Lotto, 70th)

" I was careful today and managed my efforts efficiently. It went OK. I went into the trial without stress. I suffered badly the days before, but I seem to be better today. I'm not a good time-triallist but I'm not all that bad either. I hope to get through the Pyrenees with legs fresh enough to show myself in the stages that follow."

Hennie Kuiper (ex-team director Motorola)

"The Telekom team is strong all right, but I don't know if Ullrich is strong enough. It's 3-0 for Armstrong at the moment and knowing Lance, he's always got another surprise up his sleeve. The look he gave Ullrich in the stage up Alpe d'Huez, yes, that is really something typical for Lance."

"When Lance is on top, his team follows automatically. Lance learns quickly, he loves records but I don't think he'll try to set a new record for Tour de France wins. There is so much more to life."

Johan De Munyck (ex-Giro d'Italia winner and co-commentator for VRT Belgium)

"It's going to be hard for Ullrich to beat Armstrong. I think that Telekom have played Kloeden too much in the stage up Alpe d"Huez, there is no more possibility for team play now. Telekom will have to attack in the coming stages."

"What Armstrong did yesterday; I knew all along it was comedy although he had me fooled too for a moment, when he went to sit in the back. He plays good theatre. But the way he gave Ullrich that look when he passed him, I can't appreciate that. Maybe it's something American, to laugh at the competition like that, I don't know really, but one thing's for sure, Ullrich did not at all deserve that, it was humiliating to Ullrich and definitely uncalled for."

"I notice Armstrong is getting better and better at riding that small gear up those climbs. He is definitely the strongest at this moment. It's absolutely amazing what he does"

Stage 11 - Full results & report
Stage 11 - Live coverage

Team Telekom hopeful

Despite Jan Ullrich now being 3'34 behind Lance Armstrong on GC after a first half where he has failed to gain any time on the Texan, the Telekom team is still hopeful that they can pull something off in the Pyrenees.

Ullrich indicated that he is "really happy to finally see the rest day" where he will ride just 120 kilometres after a plane transfer to Perpignan.

In the Pyrénées: "I am very familiar with the stages that are coming. They are difficult, but I have ridden them. There are dangerous descents and also the knowledge of the terrain will help me. It will be important to attack every day. If I have good legs, I will do it."

However, without discounting the excellent Joseba Beloki, Jan Ullrich still appears to be in the "best of the rest" category. Armstrong will have to have a very bad day for Ullrich to pull back that lead and on current form it looks likely that the distance between the two will increase, not decrease in the Pyrenees. Armstrong is, and always has been, too good.

For Telekom manager Walter Godefroot, the tactics will be to attack, hopefully with the Spanish squads. He believes that his team is "better than US Postal". They were certainly stronger yesterday, but the tactics of setting a hard, steady tempo over two hors categorie climbs were a little questionable, especially as the Postal riders were outnumbered.

"You cannot say that all is well when three minutes are lost in two stages," added Godefroot. "We hoped that Jan would be closer to Armstrong. But, he is definitely in better condition than we thought. Will he be able to keep it to Paris? However, the Tour is not finished."

At least the Tour has unfolded a little differently this year, although the podium may well end up the same as last year. The time gaps have created a more open race, meaning that it is necessary to attack to make them up. Armstrong hasn't got the Maillot Jaune yet but there seems to be an air of inevitability hanging over the Pyrenees.

The relative time gaps

After today's mountain time trial, Pascal Simon still has a 13'07 lead on Lance Armstrong, which will take a couple of days in the Pyrenees to erase. The following is a breakdown of the major GC contenders and their relative time gaps to Armstrong.

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service       47.01.43
2 Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski                   3.10
3 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom                         3.34
4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Festina                   5.14
5 Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spa) ONCE-Eroski       5.58
6 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca            6.24
7 Santiago Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca          8.28

Will Simon limit the damage to finish in the top 5 in Paris (remember there's still another long, flat TT to come)? Will Kivilev suddenly sprout his climbing legs and hold Armstrong's wheel all the way through the Pyrenees? There are three mountain top finishes from Friday to Sunday that will answer these questions.

Robin Williams goes riding

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Robin Williams
Photo: © Sirottti

American actor/comedian Robin Williams surely enjoyed yesterday's stage 10 from Aix-les-Bains to l'Alpe d'Huez, where his friend Lance Armstrong out-acted and out-rode all the competition during the final dash up the Alpe. Williams, together with Eric Idle (Monty Python) were both on hand to watch the action, and both were impressed. It was hard not to be.

The somewhat portly Williams says that he took up bike riding after running became too painful. "I used to love to run, but you get to a certain point and your legs go 'thank you, check please.' A bike is more forgiving - with my build, it's 'go you little sausage boy, run you little turkey'.

"When you have thighs like these, there's two choices - cycling or go-go dancing," he adds, never one to shy away from an opportunity to joke.

He has ridden with Armstrong, and quickly got an idea of how he stood in the fitness stakes. "I was keeping up and I realised he wasn't even warmed up - he took off and it was 'bye-bye'," said Williams. "All of a sudden, I was in the special Olympics and he was gone - I felt really damaged."

"The Tour kind of sobered me up - I came here and saw them finish and I thought 'I just ride'," he said. "I have no illusions any more - it's like me saying 'I compete'.

Eric Idle does not cycle, but is still amazed at the whole circus that is the Tour de France. About the advertising caravan that extends for kilometres, driving along the parcours before the riders come through, Idle commented that "It's a strange feeding frenzy of French people drinking coffee and having free gifts thrown at them - it's absolutely madness."

"You see 500 cars that throw stuff from them," Williams chipped in. "Normally you don't get to see that unless it's a riot."

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