2001 Tour de France rider journals - part 3

In addition to the exclusive journals by Cyclingnews' diarists Bradley McGee and Johan Museeuw, the following are extrracts from the on-line diaries of several other riders in the Tour. See part 1 for rider details and direct links to their diaries.

Edited by Anthony Tan

Rider introductions & diaries for Prologue to Stage 7
Stages 8 to 14
Rest Day
Stage 15
Stage 16
Stage 17
Stage 18
Stage 19
Stage 20

Diary Extracts

July 23: Rest Day - Pau

Michele Bartoli, Mapei

Commenting on his performance in the Pyrenees, elucidating the reason behind his late breakaway on Stage 12 to Ax-les-Thermes; and Miki's promise (haven't we heard this before?-Ed) to look for a stage win at any cost in the final days of the Tour:

"Finally, we got over the Pyrenées - Lance Armstrong was a great show! As long as I'm concerned, I tried not to be an anonymous rider (in reference to his late breakaway with Demarbaix (Ag2r) and Gutierrez (ONCE) on Stage 12, from Perpignan to Ax-les-Thermes-Ed), even if I knew very well I didn't have any opportunity of winning.

"For me it was important to improve my condition too. I can't complain at all about it - my legs are good and I'm sure I will perform well in the finale of the season. The next three stages are suitable for my abilities: I will look for the win at any price, I promise to you."

Tyler Hamilton, USPS

Commenting on how it feels to have a "real" rest day; and Tyler's perspective on the next few days of racing, taking into account a very deceptive course profile:

"This is the first rest day I can remember in a long time where we actually got to rest. Believe me when I say a few nights stay in one spot is a rarity at the Tour. I practically feel like I live here in Pau.

"We went for a training ride at about 10.30 this morning to preview a bit of tomorrow's course. The profile is pretty grim. Don't believe people when they say the hardest stages are behind us - because the next two days are going to be tough. There are no mountain top finishes but the profiles are unrelenting.

"The region we'll be passing through is called the Massif Central. A couple of years back, one of my teammates renamed the area Massive $^$#!@# during a pass through here. Now you know how grueling the terrain is. I really don't think there is one solitary flat section. The stage profile looks like back to back hump back camels."

Stage 15: Pau - Lavaur 232.5km

Michele Bartoli, Mapei

Commenting before the start of Stage 15, on his eagerness and confidence to acquire a stage win on the basis of his current form:

"The next three stages are the last chance to acquire a victory in the Tour de France. In these days, the routes suit me and I know I'm in form. I undertake to face the three stages awaiting us, with the Warrior's determination. I can't promise you a win, but I'm going to work hard for it.

"Even the weather seems to invite me to accept the challenge. I'm afraid that you may judge me too confident in myself (not at all Miki!-Ed). I know very well that the will does not guarantee the win."

Tyler Hamilton, USPS

Commenting on the Posties playing "police" within the peleton today, guarding Lance against the threat of any dangerous moves; and their strict dietary regime now out the window, along with their patience:

"Today was pretty tough. The rolling terrain made for some difficult racing - but things seemed to work in our favour with a break of about 25 non-threatening guys getting away.

"The team spent the second half of the race up front setting tempo, discouraging further attacks and keeping the break in check. We had a little help from Kelme toward the finish. But even so, we never left our guard post.

"The diet regime has hit the skids - (we actually had ice cream for dessert the last two nights). Our body's thermostats are all out of whack - so we're always either too hot or too cold. Our patience is worn thin and almost everything irritates us. We have aches and pains and saddle sores that could rival anyone's worst case of haemorrhoids."

Bobby Julich, Credit Agricole

Commenting on his return to form and improved morale after a proper day's rest, astutely placing himself in the main break of the day:

"The stage was incredibly hilly and undulating, and everyone was riding aggressive after coming off a rest day. U.S. Postal tried to control things but they knew they had to let a break go.

"There were three or four moves that looked like they'd stick, but the move that stayed away was the one I went with. I was pretty surprised because there were 25 guys in the breakaway, compared with the usual 12-15.

"The whole last 100 kilometers was a double echelon. Our lead went from five minutes to 10, and we eventually finished 15 minutes up. The attacks started with 30 kilometers to go, with guys going off everywhere, like a pinball machine.

"I was a little disappointed. Two guys attacked with 25 kilometers to go and got a gap, but nobody made an effort to close the gap. I got boxed in for the sprint (for third-Ed) and finished 13th. A bunch of non-sprinters in a bunch sprint is pretty crazy - good thing it wasn't for the win."

Stage 16: Castelsarrasin - Sarran 232.5km

Michele Bartoli, Mapei

Commenting before the start of Stage 16, on his anger after initiating the main break of the day, only to suffer from a mechanical setback that annulled any chance of victory:

"I'm angry because the win in the Tour hasn't come yet and the misfortune appears in the worst moments. Yes, I was the promoter of the attack and the legs are good... but, when I had about two minutes on the bunch, I broke the wheel. Really: it broke all at once, who knows why. The point is that I missed a great opportunity. I have got two (opportunities-Ed) left: today and tomorrow. Today's stage starts in Castelsarrasin and ends in Sarran: 230 kilometres and two GP on the mountains in the finale. The route is good. We will see."

Tyler Hamilton, USPS

Commenting on the repetitious nature of the Posties' race strategy that will prevail all the way to Paris; and Tyler's perspective on today's crash that forced five riders to abandon:

"We spent the day in the cockpit of the peloton. Riding up front setting tempo, distracting break aways, and keeping the lead group in check. If that sounds repetitious it is. And it will continue to be our mode of operation through the end of the race.

"It's rare to see such a high number of guys out of the race in one incident. To say the least - today's episode was pretty horrific. When you are moving at the warp speeds of the Tour de France - there's almost no amount of bike handling skill that can help you when a guy goes down in front of you. Before you know it you're five deep in a mound of men and metal.

"The Tour de France is the sole reason many of us spend big money insuring our bodies. Today's mishap is the sole reason why the Tour is not over until you cross the finish line."

Stage 17: Brive-la-Gaillarde - Montlucon, 194 km

Michele Bartoli, Mapei

Commenting before the start of Stage 17, on a failure to deliver his promise of a stage win to his tifosi:

"I can easily imagine your disappointment for not seeing me in the bunch of the pace-makers yesterday, but, believe me, I had inspired three attacks, unluckily unsuccessful, before the riders who fought for the win.

"In brief, I'm keeping my promise and looking with dogged determination for the stage win; today, I'm going to try it again - I'm still hoping that my turn will come soon..."

Tyler Hamilton, USPS

Commenting on how today's stage win by Serge Baguet comprised all the elements of a classic success story; and Tyler's disbelief at the intrigue from Tour fans catching a glimpse of the Posties "performing" some of the most boring duties:

"There is no shortage of great stories in cycling. Today's victor, Serge Baguet from Belgium is one example. Last year he returned to racing (after a three year absence-Ed) and today, he won a stage in the Tour de France. Any of you out there saying, woulda-shoulda-coulda should follow his lead and get back out there. You never know where your passion can take you.

"The US Postal Service has transformed from a cycling team to a circus act. I'm not talking about any new found juggling skills or amazing death defying feats here - I'm speaking of our new found status of freak side show. As we ate our dinners a massive crowd formed outside. Some of my teammates are finding the humor in our situation and are starting to make animal noises as they eat. If you feel like a caged zoo animal, you might as well have a little fun and act like one I guess."

Stage 18: Montlucon - Saint Amand Montrond ITT 61 km

Michele Bartoli, Mapei

Commenting before today's time trial, on his acceptance that he will walk away from the Tour empty-handed; however his return to form has positive repercussions for the future, with his main target now being the World Championships in September:

"I really think that this Tour has to be put in an archive by now. The last chance of a win also disappeared yesterday, though my team tried to bring down the pace-makers' gap.

"Of course, I'm improving my form and the work I'm doing will turn out useful next months, beginning with World Championship trials in August. Today, as you know very well, there will be the time trial. Armstrong is likely to win it, but Ullrich feels extraordinarily angry. We will see a day of great cycling."

Tyler Hamilton, USPS

Commenting on his adoption of "plan B" in today's TT, a consequence of an abrupt realisation that his legs were still tired after setting a hard tempo at the front of the peleton over the last three days; and remarking on how he is still in awe of Lance, even after being teammates for so long:

If things went according to plan, I would have ridden the first half of today's time trial hard to set splits for Lance. But it was apparent by about 5.2 seconds into the race that my body is still crying Uncle. Knowing that I wouldn't be setting any land speed records this afternoon, I opted for plan B which was to ride steady while conserving a few matches for the next two days.

It's safe to say, Lance is the only member of the team who put the pedal to the metal today. And fly he did. On days like today I'm reminded of just how incredibly talented he is. Racing along side him is surly frustrating for his main competitors, but it's an honor and a rare opportunity for any rider to support this guy - who is so clearly in his own league.

Bobby Julich, Credit Agricole

Reflecting on the last couple of days that were considerably more difficult than expected, and commenting on a morale-boosting time-trial that places Bobby J in good shape for the San Sebastian and GP Zurich World Cup races later in the year:

The past couple days have been a total roller coaster for sure. Two days ago I felt really good about getting into a break that took back 15 minutes. We went with all the moves, and our own Jens Voigt was in there. He rode like the pilot that he is and won the stage, which is absolutely great for the team. But with 35 kilometers to go, I was involved the major pileup of this year's Tour.

I didn't notice it at first, but my elbow looked like hamburger. After a crash like that you have an adrenaline peak, and then an adrenaline crash which makes you feel not so good. I was a little bummed...I wanted to be in the break that day.

I woke up this morning and rode for an hour after breakfast. Immediately I felt good. I'd set a goal for top ten, but was really aiming for top five. I finished seventh, 12 seconds faster would have put me in fourth, right behind Armstrong and those guys. Today was good for my morale...I started to think back to the last time trial in 1998. The same sensations are there, just 5 percent less. Still, I'm coming out of the Tour stronger and still motivated, 110 percent different from last year. I hope to ride well at San Sebastian and the Grand Prix de Zurich in August.

For Credit Agricole, it's operation Green Jersey. Everyone's putting their personal ambitions on the back burner to protect Stuart O'Grady's Green Jersey. He's had it for so long and fought hard for it, but Telekom's Erik Zabel isn't going to give it to him as a Christmas present.

Stage 19: Orleans - Evry, 149.5 km

Michele Bartoli, Mapei

Commenting at the start of today's stage in Orleans, denoting that the battle for the maillot vert nullifies any chance of a successful break; however Miki is fired up, and is already pondering thoughts of winning races post-TDF:

"I do not believe that the Orléans-Evry will give us great opportunities, even if I'd better keep my eyes wide open not to lose a chance. Of course, the teams of the sprinters left will keep the race close, and the fight for the green jersey will characterize the stage.

"Tomorrow's stage is the same. In brief, I'd better think about the next races. I have all the opportunities to perform well, as my form is OK and I'm longing for a win."

Bobby Julich, Credit Agricole

Commenting on the unrelenting pressure of having to defend both the yellow and green jerseys in this year's Tour, and the unmatched determination that superlatively characterises Stuart O'Grady as an individual:

"It was a battle royale today in the trenches, fighting for the green jersey. It was tooth-and-nail all the way, but Erik Zabel's Telekom team is better equipped for leadouts. In the final sprint, Stu took second in one of the gutsiest sprints I've ever seen, riding a teammate's bike.

Our day was successful, but stressful. From day one we put all our eggs with Stuart, and having first the yellow jersey for a week and now the green, it's taken a lot of energy. In the mountains this year, I just wasn't there. I started feeling better in the last few stages of the Pyrenees, but not quite good enough to be up there with the top guys.

It's been kind of a disappointing Tour for me personally; if I hadn't finished third overall in 1998 I'd be ecstatic. That's the hard part about being an ex-podium finisher in the Tour de France - anything less than that seems dismal.

Regardless of the outcome, we've had the best Tour in quite a few years, and we'll have a great night out tomorrow.

Stage 20: Corbeil Essones - Paris (Champs Elysees) 160.5km

Tyler Hamilton, USPS

Likening his completion of the Tour de France to the joy of Christmas, describing his journey along a similar tone to that famous song "The 12 days of Christmas":

"3,462 kilometres ridden. 20 stages completed. 10 flat stages weathered. 3 medium mountain stages ascended. 4 high mountain stages behind us. 2 individual time trials endured. 1 team time trial survived. 5 mountain top finishes achieved. 2 rest days appreciated. 3-peat checked off.

"The fat lady is singing. And I've never been so happy to hear her voice."