Rumours and Truth from the Tour:- Alex Zulle (Once) for three years to Festina.
- Beat Zberg (Mercatone Uno) to Rabobank.
- Francesco Casagrande (Saeco) to Cofidis.
- Ronald Meier (Post Swiss Team) to Festina.
- Jose-Maria Jimenez (Banesto) to Kelme
- Dirk Baldinger (Polti) will return to Telekom to ride for his friend Jan Ullrich.
- Australian Robbie McEwen has signed for another 2 years with Rabobank
- Uwe Ampler (ex-Telekom) has been out of the cycling for some years. Now he has signed as Team Leader for the small professional team, Neubrandenburg.
- Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) is wanted by ONCE (Jan Raas: "Impossible. Michael is still under contract for another year and I am forming a proposal for him in the next week")i do him a proposal next week).
- Henk Vogels (GAN) is wanted by TVM, Festina and the new (but still unknown) sponsor of his Team Leader Roger Legeay.
- Frank Vandenbroucke (Mapei) wants to became leader in the Cofidis-team
- Bjarne Riis (Telekom) - thanks to Danish chewing gum-factory Dandy ? - to TVM.
Pantani InterviewMarco Pantani: "This victory is a liberation"
Thierry Marchand, L'Equipe, July 21, 1997
Two years after his first victory at Alpe-d'Huez, the ill-fated "Elefantino" once again clinched Saturday's stage in spite of a tenacious throat infection. And even if the latter could force him to abandon today [on the contrary, he went on to win Monday's stage as well], he now sees the light at the end of the tunnel after his preceding ruined season.
Marco Pantani is a man of paradoxes. Born by the sea, he excels in the mountains. Charming and outspoken, he is known as "the Pirate" because of the bandana, goatee, and earing he sometimes sports. But there is one area where Marco is consistent: bad luck. Nineteen months after his serious accident in the Milan-Turin race, which almost ruined his career, he came within a whisker of not participating in the Grande Boucle following another fall in the Giro a month ago. But the little (1.72 m) Italian climber is a fighter. And the day before yesterday, in front of his father and his fan club, he joined the legendary Dutchmen Zoetemelk, Kuiper, Winnen, and compatriot Gianni Bugno, the only riders to have won twice at Alpe-d'Huez. In an uphill sprint, he broke his own record for the climb. On Saturday, it was Pantani the flamboyant. But yesterday, while holding third place in the general classification, the jinx caught up with him again in the form of an obstinate bronchitis. To the point of talking about abandoning at the finish at Courchevel.
Marco, after your fine success on Saturday at Alpe-d'Huez, you were suffering much more on the road to Courchevel.
Yes, I am suffering from a throat infection, which is a real handicap - as I said on Saturday after my victory at the Alpe. I'm having difficulty breathing. Today I had a few difficult moments, especially on the Col de la Madeleine, where I was alone. But I never thought of abandoning. The only plus point is that I finished better than I started (6th at 3:06 behind Virenque). I'll see how things go tonight, and I'll decide tomorrow morning before the start whether I continue or not.
The day before, you could hear Romagnia Mia being sung on the slopes of Alpe-d'Huez. How does that make you feel?
It's strange. On Saturday, there were an amazing number of people from Cesenatico, where I was born. I even saw a friend who weighs 150 kilos crying. It was very moving. And then Romagnia Mia, it's sort of our national anthem, the Marseillaise of Romagna. I gave them a present, and they gave me one back. They were singing late into the night in front of the hotel - songs in Romagnan dialect. I think they were a bit drunk.
"Anyone else would be back at home by now"
After all you've gone through in the last two years, what does this victory at Alpe-d'Huez mean to you, compared to the one in 1995?
This victory is a liberation, delivery from bad luck. I think it's more precious than two years ago because of how hard I worked after the accident I had in the Milan-Turin race. I made big efforts to come back to form. Now I'm making up for the time lost. It's also special because I began this Tour badly. First off, I had a lot of falls. Not because I was riding badly, because I fell once in front, once at the back and once in the middle of the peloton. And then I've got a bad bout of bronchitis at the moment (he coughs to prove it). It stops me from sleeping. I rode the first four days on antibiotics, but I stayed with the pace. Anyone else would be back at home by now.
You said at the finish line that you had won more through willpower than physical condition. But you said that two years ago too.
It's true that the two situations are similar. Two years ago, I had been in an accident at San Arcangelo on May 1, and had to stop for three weeks. I subsequently rode the Tour of Switzerland to prepare for the Tour, like this year after my fall in the Giro. In 1995, I won two stages in the Tour, but I paid for the effort later.
Did you dream of winning again at Alpe-d'Huez?
(He hesitates.) Yes and no because on Saturday I knew what I was doing. It was me that decided to dream. I attacked the climb flat out, right from the bottom, without asking for help from anyone. And I pushed it right to the finish.
So as to beat your record for the climb that you held from three years earlier?
Maybe, but that doesn't really interest me. You know, all it takes is a head wind and the result is different. And then two years ago there were many more cols before the climb. So you can't really compare, although let's say it's a good sign.
How did you spend your nine months off the bike, after your accident in the Milan-Turin race in October 1995?
Let's say I had a normal life, with my family. I did everything a rider can't do. Going out, going to restaurants with friends... What was difficult was going around on crutches, being able to do nothing without being accompanied for six to seven months. That really bothered me, especially because I'm a very independent person. I couldn't even drive. When I let go of the crutches, I was desperate to do tons of things. Two days later I did 40 kilometres on my bike. I should never have done it but I wanted to too much.
"The best Pantani is still to come"
Physically, are there still traces of your accident?
Yes, I've got one leg that is eight millimetres shorter and a difference in the angle between the left and right ankles. And also some muscular problems. I am still under surveillance but I'm happy to be back.
Do you think you are now at the same level as you were two or three years ago?
I think I'm at about the same level, with the added physical maturity of a twenty-seven-year-old. But without the accident I'm sure I would be even stronger. Having said that, it is very difficult to come back to the top level after having stopped riding for nearly a year. That's why I think the best Pantani is still to come.
When you had to abandon the Giro last month because of yet another fall, did you wonder whether you were under a curse?
No, I don't believe in curses. However, I think I was very unlucky. It's a pity because I had prepared more for the Giro than the Tour. Without wanting to be pretentious, I am convinced I would have done great things in the mountains. I'd have been, let's say, at least one of the main protagonists.
Is the Giro more important than the Tour?
No, the Tour is more important for everybody. If you win a stage, everyone knows about it. That's not true of the Giro. Even if the latter has improved a lot, especially in the last couple of years, it still doesn't attract the best riders in the world like the Tour does.
Was your change of team, from Carrera to Mercatone-Uno during the off-season, beneficial?
A bit, but not that much because 70% of the team is made up of ex-Carrera riders. The backup, the riders... In fact, the reason I changed is that this team really believes in me and I am its undisputed leader. At Carrera, there was Chiapucci. Even if he was no longer the Chiapucci of a few years ago, his reputation still set the direction of the team.
Weren't you even more surprised by your performance in the timetrial the day before at Saint-Etienne than by your victory at Alpe-d'Huez?
No, not really. Because the Saint-Etienne stage was more like a real stage than a timetrial. Over 55 kilometres, the best riders come first. The ones who went well on Friday were the same ones who were at the front at Alpe-d'Huez. I felt good in the first part of the stage. It was later that I lost time. But look at Virenque. At Saint-Etienne, he did better than me. That is significant.
Is your goal still a podium placing?
My goal was a stage win. That's done. Now I will try to win another [as he did] and to attack, as long as my throat infection doesn't make me suffer too much.
"I still need another year or two to win the Tour"
Does Jan Ullrich impress you?
He is very, very strong, and it's a bit of a surprise for all of us. He has an impressive physique, and above all he is very powerful on the climbs.
Would you compare him to Indurain?
No, because their attitudes and riding styles are different. But like Indurain, he suffers when the gradient of the cols gets too steep. Also, he's only twenty-three. He is less mature, but he's got so much time in front of him. All he needs is a bit of luck and he'll avoid the falls. But he is vulnerable.
Today, what do you still need to win the Tour?
Eleven minutes thirty (he bursts out laughing). No seriously, let's say that for the next installments I'll have to be better in every department. Especially in the timetrials. I think I still need another year or two to win.
From Matthew Bramley
Zulle to FestinaWorld time trial champion Alex Zuelle, who has just signed a huge deal with Festina, can look forward to an exciting future at the strong French team judging by the Tour de France.
The Spanish-based but predominantly French team took their fourth Tour de France stage on Thursday when Didier Rous won the 18th leg from Colmar.
Rous was set up for a 75-km solo breakaway victory by team mates Laurent Dufaux of Switzerland and fellow Frenchman Pascal Herve, who was second. The day had started with fighting talk from leader Richard Virenque.
``It's the last day, we're going to do something,'' Frenchman Virenque, second overall behind yellow jersey holder Jan Ullrich of Germany, told his team.
Australian veteran Neil Stephens won Wednesday's 17th stage, while Frenchmen Laurent Brochard and Virenque won a stage each in the mountains.
Festina have won the two stages since Zuelle's signing was made public in the Swiss city of Fribourg on Wednesday before the start of the 17th stage to Colmar. It is estimated to be worth $6.7 million over three years
The team's watch-making sponsors have been looking to strengthen their squad as they seek to expand their markets.
Swiss Zuelle withdrew from the Tour in the first week after recent collarbone surgery.
``I thank all the lads of Festina. There are lots of teams that would like to do what we've done,'' Rous said.
``When the team is going well, there is a climate of euphoria and that helps us surpass ourselves. It's a magic moment that hasn't sunk in yet,'' the 26-year-old Rous said.
``The breakaway sprung from the difficulties the yellow jersey was having. We decided to step up the pace and when no one wanted to collaborate with us to narrow the gaps in the standings, Richard came up and we set off with Pascal Herve.''
Ullrich has shown signs of tiring badly in recent days after strong peformances in the Pyrenees, where he snatched the lead, and the Alps.
He has lost the support of defending champion Bjarne Riis. The Dane has been unwell over the last few days, leaving any team support for Ullrich to Udo Bolts and sprint specialist Erik Zabel.
The proud Virenque, unhappy to learn of the signing of Zuelle who he sees as a direct rival for the team's leadership, said: ``This morning I told myself I wasn't going to end this Tour without another try because we saw Ullrich finishing tired.
``We go looking for our victories. Like Neil Stephens yesterday, it was a deserved victory for a model team.''
Dutch Team for Tour FemininCoach Piet Hoekstra announced the Dutch team for the Tour Feminin (starting August 12): Debby Mansveld, Yvonne Brunen, Meike de Bruijn, Angela Hillenga, Edith Klep and Sandra Rombouts and without Nicole Vermast, the Dutch national champion. Hoekstra: 'We talked about it together. Nicole has less international experience. She agreed that it's better that she not to go to France.'
Alkmaar, Dutch Track Championships
Men: 1 km: 1. Slippens (Opmeer) 1.07,01, 2. Rozendaal (Warmenhuizen) 1.09,08, 3. Vink (Ede) 1.09,41. Neo's (men): 4 km pursuit: 1. Rozendaal (Warmenhuizen) 4.47,60 2. Vermey (Fra) 4.52,03 3. Van Dorst (Schaik) 4.56,83 Sprint: 1. Vink (Ede) 2. Benjamins (Haarlem) 3. Klunder (Deventer) Points: 1. Rozendaal (Warmenhuizen) 2. Slippens (Opmeer) 3. Van Ommen (Kampen) Keiren: 1. Vink (Ede) 2. Rozendaal 3. Benjamin (Haarlem) Women: 500 m: 1. Haringa (Hoofddorp) 36,99, 2. Van Alebeek (Schijndel) 39,33, 3. Mansveld (Gasselternijveen) 39,59. 3 km pursuit: 1. Van Moorsel (Rotterdam) 3.52,75 2. Leyne (Alkmaar) 4.01,95 3. Van der Zee (Vleuten) 4.06,66 Sprint: 1. Haringa (Hoofddorp) 2. Van Alebeek (Schijndel) 3. Laan (Middelie) Points: 1. Haringa (Hoofddorp) 2. Van Moorsel (Rotterdam) 3. Lyne (Alkmaar)
Henk VogelsSeveral teams have interest for GAN-rider Henk Vogels (with a Dutch and Australian passport). Festina, TVM and Rabobank want to talk with Vogels about his future; now GAN stops at the end of this season. Vogels: "I prefer to stay with GAN. Teamleader Legeay is busy with finding a new sponsor. I think there is a 50/50 chance he find one. After this Tour i buy a house in Toulouse. I can train there very well with Stuart O'Grady and Frederic Moncassin. It a good place to train in the Pyrenees too." After the Tour de France Vogels will do some criteria in Europe, but soon he will start his preparation for the World Championship time tiral in San Sebastian.
The Australian Institute of Sports is busy (in cooperation with the Australian national cycle-union) with buying the timetrial-bike of Chris Boardman.
Luc LeblancLuc Leblanc needs three weeks complete rest, his doctor said.
Ninove, Belgium, Professionals:
1. De Geyter (Bel) 165 km in 3.50.00 2. Andy de Smet (Bel) 3.05 3. Matthew Gilmore (Aus) 4. Van den Akker (Ned) 10. De Leeuw (Ned)