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By Tim Maloney, European editor
Cédric Vasseur is regarded as a serious, professional cyclist. He is no joker. The 31 yr old pro from Haezebrouck, France, near the Belgian border has 6 career wins, including the 5th stage of the '97 Tour De France in Le Chatre, where he donned the Maillot Jaune after a courageous solo break of 147km. After 5 days in Yellow, Vasseur gave up his treasured tunic to eventual TDF winner Jan Ullrich, but his heroic ride won him a special place in the hearts of French cycling fans. Vasseur comes from a cycling family; his father Alain was a TDF stage winner in 1970.
Cyclingnews spoke to Cédric Vasseur on Saturday on the eve of Paris-Nice, where he told us that "There have been a few articles about me recently in several French magazines, but some of the quotes that have been attributed to me have simply been taking out of context." Vasseur said that "the article in Velo Magazine was good; it was quite accurate and correct."
Vasseur spoke to Cyclingnews to clarify some of the recent misconceptions that have come out. "I had two good years at USPS and I learned a lot there...the team staff are really the most professional in the sport and no rider who has been at USPS can say that they were not well taken care of. My beef is really with Lance, not at all with USPS."
Vasseur related that he sees in a generally positive way; "Lance is still a great champion as a cyclist but I am disappointed how he treated me as a person. I think I deserved more respect in the situation", said Vasseur. "No matter what during my time at USPS, I always gave my maximum in the team for Lance. I never shirked or gave any excuses," Vasseur declared emphatically.
Vasseur explained that the rocky road began with his non-selection for the 2001 Tour De France. "I know for sure that I had some really firm guarantees (from Johan Bruyneel) one month before. But when my (non-selection) happened, I simply had no explanation from Lance or the team."
"Finally, last Wednesday, after trying to contact Lance for a year, I had an e-mail from him where he said he had heard about my comments (in France Cyclisme article) and he told me that the reason I wasn't selected was because I didn't ride well in the ('01) Tour de Suisse. But there was no explanation before; nothing...no one ever told me anything."
"And the quotes about me criticizing Lance's private jet were not correct," Vasseur declared. "If I could afford it, I might get a private jet too! If I have any criticism, it's my opinion is that Lance just doesn't have the same vision of cycling that we do in Europe. Having contact with the fans is really an important part of our sport for all of us (riders); so I don't think that having a bodyguard is such a good idea."
The disappointment is still evident in Vasseur's voice almost a year later when he talks about Dunkerque; "To start that Tour in my home region, in front of all my supporters surely would have been one of the highlights of my career. The Cofidis rider went on to explain that "when I was not selected for the Tour, there were a lot of questions among the French press and I simply had to answer them even though I had no clear information why from the team. I asked (USPS GM Mark Gorski) if I could talk to the press and he didn't say no, so my interview (with Dunkerque paper La Voix Du Nord) came out just before the Tour."
After Vasseur's frank interview, the USPS team was greeted by whistles and boos at the team presentation in Dunkerque. "I am sorry about it, but I was not responsible for anyone booing or whistling at Lance or the team."
Today, Vasseur's goal today is to put this "Affaire Armstrong" well behind him and start winning races, but there is one exception. "The issue between Lance and me is that I have never gotten my part of the prize split from the 2000 Tour De France that I was promised."
Traditionally, TDF winners have divided the prize money among the team riders who supported him and the team staff, rather than adding the TDF purse to the rest of the season's prize money.
"We (USPS riders) all sat down just before the Tour and Lance told us that if he won again, each rider would get a special prize," continued Vasseur. "I know that the other riders (from the USPS 2000 TDF team got their prize split just before the start of the 2001 Tour but I have yet to get anything. That is the big issue I have with Lance".
Vasseur feels strongly that he did his job at the '00 TDF, that he was an important part of the team that supported Armstrong to his second consecutive TDF win. "I deserve more respect", declared Vasseur as he prepared to tackle the tough parcours of Paris-Nice.
By Jeff Jones
In the 2001 Tour de Suisse, won by Lance Armstrong in convincing fashion, French rider Cédric Vasseur was fifth among the eight US Postal Service team riders who took part in the race and was placed 42nd overall on GC.
While he wasn't a main protagonist or stage winner, he finished nearly all the stages ahead of two or three of his USPS teammates.
He had one seemingly poor day on stage 7 where he came in last of all the Posties, but no means last of the peloton. That was stage 7, a day when it seems the Posties had to do a lot of chasing to catch the huge 15+ minute break built up by the Mapei duo of Stefano Garzelli and Michele Bartoli.
The following day, Vasseur backed up and was third of the Posties in the mountain TT (behind Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton) and well ahead of Ekimov and George Hincapie.
To recap, Armstrong won the leader's jersey on stage 1 in the TT, and at the time he said of US Postal's performance: "It's a great team and a great group of guys. I know that this is an important time of the year. This is our time. Today they showed that they are focused."
But by the end of stage 3, Armstrong had lost 2.35 to Gianluca Bortolami who attacked and got away on the relatively flat stage, compared to the climbs that were to come in following stages. No need to panic, it would seem.
When the peloton headed into the mountains on stage 4, Cyclingnews reported that "US Postal did a lot of work during the first few kilometres for Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton, who were both well positioned". After stage 4, Armstrong had cut over two minutes from the deficit - he was only 25 seconds down on GC.
Stages 5 and 6 saw the Posties work to protect the 25 second gap Armstrong trailed the leader, Wladimir Belli (Ita) of Fassa Bortolo. Armstrong was in third on GC, while Gilberto Simoni trailed Belli by only second.
However, the seventh stage was made harder by a major and dangerous break. Stefano Garzelli (Mapei) won the 7th stage from Locarno to Naters with a sizeable 4.23 margin in front of his teammate Michele Bartoli, who in turn finished another 3 minutes ahead of the main peloton containing all the favourites.
Earlier, Garzelli reached a maximum lead to the peloton of 15.24 by kilometre 86. At this point, the chase started in earnest and the gap came down. The field had split into several groups on the 50km+ climb of Nufenen Pass. "US Postal was driving the front group along with Armstrong and Hamilton well placed," was the Cyclingnews report of the stage. Their efforts kept Armstrong's deficit to 25 seconds and Belli and Simoni ahead of him, while Garzelli leapt up the leaderboard.
The following day Armstrong won the 25.1km mountain TT in convincing fashion, with Hamilton in third place 1.26 behind, and Vasseur third-best of the Posties a 6.09 down.
Using his superior his climbing ability, Armstrong had regained the lead and then held it until the end.
Quoted at the finish, he said: "The team had to ride fairly hard but we never panicked." He reiterated that US Postal was a "strong team, a well balanced team. We have guys for the flats, guys for the climbs and guys for the time trials. You saw in the prologue we had three in the first four."
It may be that a key phrase here is "first four", because the first four of the USPS team on GC in the Tour de Suisse did make it through to the Tour de France. Presumably, Hincapie and Ekimov did not have to show their credentials in the Suisse race, given their seniority in the team. Both would be picked for the TdF on any squad.
Final general classification 1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service 35.00.06 14 Tyler Hamilton (USA) US Postal Service 7.23 34 Christian Vandevelde (USA) US Postal Service 25.30 39 Steffen Kjaergraard (Nor) US Postal Service 28.28 42 Cédric Vasseur (Fra) US Postal Service 30.01 48 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service 33.54 66 Matthew White (Aus) US Postal Service 46.35 76 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) US Postal Service 51.37 Teams classification 5 US Postal Service 19.22 US Postal Service team for 2001 Tour de France 1 Lance Armstrong (USA) 2 Roberto Heras (Spa) 3 Viatjeslav Ekimov (Rus) 4 Tyler Hamilton (USA) 5 George Hincapie (USA) 6 Steffen Kjaergaard (Nor) 7 Victor Hugo Peña (Col) 8 Jose Luis Rubiera (Spa) 9 Christian Vandevelde (USA)
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