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Tour News for July 19

Three for the road

Tour heads for decisive Pyrenees stages with Armstrong seeking Maillot Jaune

By Tim Maloney

As the sailboat Tour De France is buffeted offshore by unseasonably stormy July weather, the land bound peloton of the 2001 Tour De France (bicycle) is in Perpignan after transfer day, preparing themselves for three tough TDF stages, three testing mountain top stage finishes in a row. Thursday morning in Grenoble, the TDF riders boarded a charter flight to Perpignan this morning and arrived before noon, just in time for lunch.

"It's never really a rest day," defending TDF champion Lance Armstrong told British Eurosport. "You have to travel and ride and eat - it might be more restful to race," said Armstrong at his team hotel as he prepared for a 2 hour leg stretcher ride on Thursday.

After 1926 km of racing, maybe somebody up there likes Lance Armstrong. The record low temperatures and rainfall for July in France have provided the worst TDF weather since 1990, and Lance's track record is that he is a mudder. Look at his big wins in the last two Tours; Sestrieres '99 on a cold and stormy day; Hautacam '00 was wet and humid - the lousy weather is almost made to order conditions for Lance. His chief TDF rival Jan Ullrich is an avowed sun worshipper; the sinewy German champion shines as does the sun. The crap weather since the depart in Dunkirk on July 7th, with rain, wind, cold...and more rain, wind, and cold has not been what Ullrich has been looking for in bike racing weather, while Lance thrives in bad conditions.

Up until today, le Maillot Jaune has changed hands five times in twelve stages, with a key break on stage 8 changing the complexion of le Tour. Arriving with an unprecedented 35'00 lead, that break has put a yeoman rider, Frenchman Francois Simon of Bonjour in the race lead. But Simon's lead can't last long. The 32 year old is not a climber and with three consecutive stages of gnarly ascents and descents, including a tough tris of mountain top finishes will likely put the yellow tunic on the shoulders of Armstrong by Saturday night.

As this is written, French Catalunya is buffeted by stormy 50km + northwest winds, and according to reports from Stage 12 finish at Ax les Thermes, cold rain has started to fall, with snow dusting peaks above 1700 meters. for the high peaks, this race could still turn very ugly for all concerned.

Friday's Stage 12, 166.5km from Perpignan to Ax les Thermes May not be a decisive stage, as the parcours is not that challenging. The tricky descent of the Col de Chioula before the final 9.1km ascent to the Plateau de Bonsacre is relatively steep, but it is not a well known climb where riders can gauge their effort.

Stage 13 may be the day the Maillot Jaune changes hands, as Francois Simon will be hard pressed to resist the onslaught of Lance Armstrong and USPS on Saturday, July 21.

This is brutal stage from Foix to St.Lary Soulan with the final hors categorie climb to Pla d'Adet (10.3km at 8.3%) is preceeded by an opening Cat 2 climb, Portet d'Aspet, where Lance Armstrong and the peloton will stop briefly to pay homage to his fallen teammate Fabio Casartelli at his monument. Then over the next 100km, there are 4 consecutive Cat 1 climbs before the final ascent to Pla d'Adet. The mega stage over 194 km has 48.7 km of climbing with an average grade of 7.9%. Perhaps the day's 4th climb will have the largest impact; the 13km climb of the Col de Pyresourde is steep, narrow and bumpy.

Sunday's Stage 14 from Tarbes to Luz-Ardiden has a rolling opener over 68 km, then the road goes up over the Cat. 1 Col d'Aspin, the monumental climb of the Col du Tourmalet (16.9km @ 7.4%) and finishes with the final uphill ascent, a tough 13.4 km haul at a 7.5% up to Luz-Ardiden.

Once the next three days in the Pyrenees are over, the winner of the 2001 Tour De France should be much clearer. Certainly Deutsche Telekom and ONCE will throw everything they've got at Lance Armstrong and USPS to put the defending Tour champion on the defensive, but as the curtain rises on the decisive Pyrenees stages, Armstrong looks ready to dominate as he did in the Alps.

Rest day: Grenoble - Perpignan

After some 1,900 km of racing in 12 days, the 166 riders left in the Tour de France have finally earned themselves a rest day, of sorts. However, with a transfer from Grenoble to Perpignan, there was no opportunity for a lie in, as most had to be up by 7:00 am to catch the 9:15 plane, which arrived in Perpignan at 11:30. Following that, there was lunch (optional) and a ride, the latter anywhere up to 3 hours.

Then perhaps a massage and stroll eating a huge ice-cream (if your name is Eros Poli, sprung on the rest day in 1998).

Pantani v. Ullrich in 1997

By Jeff Jones

Is Ullrich really in top form in this Tour de France? Was his best year in 1997 when he won La Grande Boucle at the tender age of 23? Since then, he has finished second on two occasions - once to Marco Pantani, and once to Lance Armstrong, who currently has 3'34 advantage on the German from Merdingen. He also finished second in 1996 to his then team captain, Bjarne Riis.

Climbing comparisons were made after Lance Armstrong's stage 10 win to l'Alpe d'Huez, when Armstrong rode the climb in 38'01, and Ullrich in 40'00. Armstrong failed to break Marco Pantani's 1997 record of 37'35 for the famed climb, but an interesting point about that year was that Ullrich only lost 47 seconds to Pantani i.e. he rode up it in 38'12. There was a difference in 1997, as there were no serious climbs before l'Alpe - just one category three climb, followed by a fairly flat run before the final burst.

In stage 10 in 2001, there were the giants of the Col du Madeleine and the Col du Glandon before l'Alpe d'Huez, which would certainly sap the legs of even the best climbers. In 1997, the day prior to l'Alpe d'Huez was a 55 kilometre time trial, which Ullrich dominated. In 2001, it was a fast but not particularly challenging stage from Pontarlier to Aix-les Bains.

Ullrich was better in yesterday's time trial to Chamrousse, but still lost a minute. Once again, he appears to be riding himself into form as the Tour progresses, while Armstrong is already at his best. The next three stages will see who has the most stamina, but the money as always is on Armstrong to increase his lead.

This analysis is supported by team director Rudy Pevenage: "Jan is now not so far away from his 1997 form. I have never seen him so relaxed as in this Tour - this is a good indication."

However, he has a big opponent: "With an Armstrong like this, even Indurain would have had difficulties," said Pevenage. "On l'Alpe d'Huez at the most a Pantani in top form could have held on."

Results of stage 13 in 1997

1 Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone Uno          5.02.42 (40.336 km/h)
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom                     0.47 
3 Richard Virenque (Fra) Festina                1.27 
4 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco              2.27 
5 Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom                     2.28


Comments and views from L'Equipe and Cyclingnews after the TT

Jan Ullrich (Telekom, 2nd)

Yesterday I lost a minute and I certainly didn't lose my morale. I've never prepared better for the Tour and I'm not prepared to let it go now. I could be content with second place. But I came to this Tour to win."

On Armstrong: "What he can do, is phenomenal. If he had started before l'Alpe d'Huez, I thought he could have had over a 10 minute lead."

Andreas Klöden (Telekom, 19th)

There's three days to attack Armstrong," said Klöden with a lot of confidence. "We believe we can do it. Alex Vinokourov and I are ready for it. Team Telekom really want to get to the Pyrenees."

Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis, 32nd)

Kivilev had a terrible day yesterday, although he is known as a lousy time trialist. Kivilev complained that he was still tired and recovering from the tough day to Pontarlier.

"I really thought I could do a good job, but I think you have to also be a realist. I knew I was going to lose 3-4 minutes on Armstrong, but to lose have to realise I was having a bad day. My only satisfaction is still being 2nd on GC. There's still 3 major stages and everything could change."

Joseba Beloki (ONCE, 3rd)

"I'm always ahead and it's really good for my morale. In the climbing time trial, I felt as though I had a good rhythm. I could have used a bigger gear at the top. I really don't know what's coming or if I'll make it to the podium. It's the road that decides."

"To beat Ullrich? He's strong, it's pretty hard. I'm better than last year, but so's he."

Bernard Thenevet (former Tour winner)

"Armstrong is really too strong. Everyone's racing for second now. Maybe the race is between Beloki and Ullrich, and maybe ONCE may attack to shake up Ullrich."

Walter Godefroot (Telekom manager)

"Today Armstrong is on the same level as Merckx, Hinault, and Indurain in the TdF. Now that's what we have to deal with. But we know a great champion can have a bad day, In any case, we'll go and burn some candles in Lourdes." >p> Oscar Sevilla (Kelme, 5th)

"For my first tour, everything seems really difficult. Even to go for a pee in the anti-doping control. Today and yesterday was good for me. I'm happy with the situation with Kelme in general. We're coming to the Pyrenees where the Spanish are waiting for us. We'll practically be at home."

Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE, 6th)

"I really got fried yesterday. Armstrong is superior, but we're also there to make his life hard. In the second part of the Tour, we've always said that he's going to slow down. We don't have anything to lose."

General perception of Armstrong's efforts

It seems that for the time being, Lance Armstrong is being credited for his superb performances in the past two days, after clearly winning both stages. But they are not being called "extra-terrestrial" efforts by the French press this time.

Armstrong is really inspiring the public, he's winning a lot of people over. The "legend of Lance" has reached past the cynical Euro media and is touching the people with his great sportsmanship. Every day after the stage he's on TV talking French, being proactive and positive ("How do you want it? In French or English," he said after yesterday's stage). He made an effort to learn French after winning last year's Tour, and it shows.

His team has got a few issues with injuries and so on, but less than people think.

Moreau stays silent

After French papers reported yesterday on former Maillot Jaune Christophe Moreau's "silence" in recent days, the Festina captain cancelled a press conference today in his hotel, giving two hours notice.

Casper amazes on the mountain

La Francaise des Jeux' occasionally chubby sprinter, Jimmy Casper, put in a sterling performance during the stage 11 time trial to Chamrousse, finishing a respectable 106th. His faithful directeur sportif Marc Madiot said that "I did not believe him, so much so that in the evening, I waited for the decision of the commissaires to find out whether he had cheated or not."

Race doctor: Peloton in good shape

Despite the rigours of racing for 12 days straight over 1900 kilometres, Tour race doctor Gérard Porte believes that the peloton is in good shape coming into the first rest day, with 23 abandonments so far. He told France 2 TV that "The peloton is in good health. In spite of the ordeal of Pontarlier (stage 8) and two Alpine stages, I have not seen many riders who are tired."

"The peloton has not been touched by any epidemics, there are not too many big wounds, most have avoided the falls, and all is rather well. The health of the peloton is thus very satisfactory the day before the first rest day."

Dr Porte commented about Armstrong's performance so far, saying that he was not surprised: "He can prepare...[During winter] He does not have, like Jan Ullrich, problems with weight."

"What he did in the Alps does not astonish me. I thought he was capable of it. He is a great pro. An excellent rider, a fine tactician. Before Alpe d' Huez, he knew to stay in the wheels."

"As for the polemic about him at the beginning of the Tour, no-one seems to remember that before his cancer, he was World Champion at 23. These are guys who have Formula 1 engines, who ply their trade and do that only. They have a hygienic life which I admire, have exceptional physical capabilities and especially a recovery capacity that enables them to set out again the next day."

"The champions recover better than the domestiques. The abandonments so far are proof of that. The high average (41.149 km/h) have not had an effect to increase abandonments. The total number is normal so far."

Three teams tested in Perpignan

The UCI have carried out drug tests on riders from three different teams, upon their arrival in Perpignan, near the Pyrenees today. Cyclists from the Credit Agricole, Fassa Bortolo and Kelme teams were tested, and although he didn't name anyone, team sources said Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), Jose Angel Vidal (Kelme) and Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) were tested.

Leblanc happy so far

The performance of the French teams and riders in the Tour has pleased and relieved Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc, who was widely criticised for extending the net in May to include more French second division teams, at the expense of some better known foreign first division teams.

Christophe Moreau's prologue win and yellow jersey, Laurent Jalabert's two stage wins, Credit Agricole's team time trial win and one week in yellow (although their team composition is not particularly French), and Francois Simon's yellow after l'Alpe d'Huez has pleased Leblanc no end.

"You can say that it is a start, the first part of the Tour blazed the way for French cycling and it is necessary that the French cyclists convince themselves, I hope that it is the case, that the others are not better than they," said Leblanc before the transfer to Perpignan.

"It was said that French cycling was in crisis, it is for that that we wanted to give it a little push by selecting French teams for the Tour de France," added Leblanc.

He commented on the differences in this Tour to previous years, with the "lack of control" in the first week, although he did not link this to the lack of a certain Italian sprinter's team in the race. However, from an organiser's perspective, having different and unexpected riders in yellow was "all very good."

"And then in 48 hours, we have realised that 'the patron' Lance Armstrong has reaffirmed himself by winning two stages. We will arrive in the Pyrenees with three difficult stages, three mountain finishes, and there I think that we will forget about all that went on early in this race with strange breakaways, and big gaps. If that could continue, so much the better, but I believe that this time 'the patron' is back."

Credit Agricole earn most francs

Not surprisingly, the dominant team during the first week of the Tour de France, Credit Agricole, has also earned the most prize money so far. The mixed nationality French sponsored team has amassed a total of 258,100 French francs (US$33,000), after winning the team time trial and having both Stuart O'Grady and Jens Voigt in yellow for a total of 7 days.

Tour prize money earned so far (FF)

258,100: Crédit Agricole
242,150: Telekom
182,500: Rabobank
179,050: ONCE
174,750: CSC-Tiscali
168,050: Française des Jeux
163,100: Fassa Bortolo
156,700: Festina 
145,100: US Postal
143,000: Lampre-Daikin
122,900: Bonjour
120,000: Jean Delatour
117,100: Kelme-Costa Blanca
101,800: Domo-Farm Frites
98,600: AG2R 
79,600: Euskaltel-Esukadi
56,350: Lotto
56,300: BigMat
56,150: Mapei
47,100: Cofidis

Note: FF7.75 = US$1

German TV audience big on stages 10 and 11

At least 4 million German cycling fans watched the action on both Alpine stages (10 and 11), where their hero Jan Ullrich finished second on both occasions. The figure was greatest for stage 10, where 4 million watched the king stage of the Tour on ARD TV, representing a market share of 41.2%. On stage 11, it was on average 2.49 million (33% market share).

Since the beginning of the Tour, the market share for the German audience has been between 14.8% (Stage 8, Colmar-Pontarlier) and 41.2%, and has been helped by the performances of Erik Zabel, Jorg Jaksche, Jens Voigt and Jan Ullrich.

Colmar car driver declared "not responsible"

The driver of the car in Colmar that smashed through three barriers, injuring several people last Saturday after stage 7, has been called "not responsible" for his actions by a psychiatric expert called in to assist the enquiry in Colmar. The man claimed that he heard "celestial voices telling him to go and embrace Laurent Jalabert [the winner of the stage]" and was known to be not in complete control of himself.

He has been accused of "armed violence and endangering others" after the potentially fatal incident, but this may be diminished due to the aforementioned reasons.

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