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89th Tour de France - Grand Tour
France, July 6-28, 2002
2002 Tour de France journals
John Eustice, Tour de France International Show host
New Yorker John Eustice is the host of the Tour de France's 2002 International Show, broadcasting to over 30 countries world-wide, with play by play by Phil Ligget. Eustice is covering his ninth Tour De France, his previous eight with ESPN and ABC Sports. In cycling, the 46 year old Eustice was the first-ever USPRO Champion in 1982. Originally from Ivyland, Pennsylvania, Eustice competed in the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a Espana and World Cycling Championships. When he's not at the Tour de France, the father of two runs his sports event promotion company Sparta, organizers of the Housatonic Valley Classic and the Univest Grand Prix.
It's great to be back at the Tour after missing it in 2001. It gets into your blood and just never goes away like a lover you cannot forget. The Tour is always dramatic. I've done eight of them as a journalist and seen death, resurrection, scandal, triumph against all odds and tragic defeat. It brings you to a range of emotions that are just extraordinary and you become so deeply involved that the return to normal life requires a sort of detox period to straighten out and readapt.
I'm racing for a French team again. That's what it feels like anyway. A couple of weeks ago my cell phone rang and a voice said, "Allo? This is ASO-Tour de France calling. We need a host for our international broadcast." I promptly replied, "Shut the @ &*@ Tim!" (I thought it was a friend playing a cruel joke). "No, no it's us !" And now I'm here, plucked back into the "Show" through the efforts of some wonderful friends.
The first day at Le Tour is always spent saying "Bonjour, ca va?" and shaking hands hundreds of times, but also catching up on the gossip and vibes, getting the real feeling of the peloton and who's hot.
Tour Impressions: Armstrong is cool, confident and has a super team. Team directors are desperately searching for chinks in his armor with statements like, "He's slower in the TTs - Gonzalez-Galdeano beat him at the Midi Libre." or, "He's not climbing as well as before, look how he had trouble in the Dauphine!" Problem is that he won both races. Robocop is looking very good and was even being friendly with the journalists which is really scaring everyone. The one danger point for the USPS team is the fact that they will have the entire responsibility of controlling the race, especially during the first 10 days. They're strong, but will have to be. Their workhorse Pavel Padernos is especially intriguing - he should be a giant locomotive on the front for them.
There's talk of an American podium - Armstrong, Hamilton and Leipheimer - and it's not a crazy idea. Lance with three Tour victories, and Tyler second in the Giro with a broken shoulder. Anyone ever heard of Iron Man Reggie MacNamara? A cycling hero of mine, MacNamara was an Australian Six Day rider of the 1920s who crashed a lot and kept racing. The press used to keep box scores of his injuries: six broken collar bones, three smashed whatevers Tyler must be the new Iron Man. And then Levi, who gets third in his first Grand Tour and then comes into form just at the right time and wins the Route du Sud. All of them supported by super killer pro teams.
The Spanish Armada is marshalling its forces and getting ready for an assault. Look for a coalition - "unofficial" of course - of Kelme, iBanesto and ONCE to make life as miserable as possible for the USPS team. And look for Euskaltel to set the race on fire - big things are expected of Mayo.
The Italians are without any real aspirations for the moment, maybe some action from Frigo and an interested eye on the performances of Basso. CSC Tiscali have a fantastic director in Riis who salvaged Jalabert last year, and then got Hamilton onto the podium in the '02 Giro. Watch him work his magic on Carlos Sastre, too.
The French? Moreau crashed while motorpacing at 75kph a few weeks ago and says he's okay, but we'll see. Love his team though; the spirit of the old Peugeot and Z squads and the most expert directors in the business. And Fdj.com has their Australian speedsters Cooke and McGee and the ever-attacking Durand.
As always, there are hundreds of stories to follow in the Tour. I'll try and get you some interesting ones. It's now 3:00, the first rider goes off at 4:00, and the great adventure of the Tour de France will begin. It's raining and the course is hilly and twisting. A tough start to a tough race.
Dateline Saarbrucken: July 8th
The Media Center
It's hit me that I'm actually working for ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) the owners of the Tour. It's like being a member of the Royal Court. My blue badge gets me everywhere and everyone smiles at you, even the ex-secret service types (don't ever ask them what they used to do) heavies they have guarding the entrance to the podium area.
Our TV production truck doubles as the center for all TV and Radio accreditations and rights management and there is constant stream of TV/Radio producers trying to get vehicles in the race, interviews scheduled with the winners and, in general, access to the race - which is becoming ever more difficult. It turns out as well that I'm an official interviewer for the world feed (surprise to me) and found myself whisked past the hordes of cameras to center stage for the Lance Armstrong interview after his prologue win.
Lance was super friendly and I honored the situation by blowing the first question - which started out pretty well - something about being back in France in Yellow. Lance being Lance, he reminded me, on the world feed you understand, that we were actually in Luxembourg.
The rest went better. I've never seen him so warm and friendly. He was very, very happy and proud to have won and let us know it. Beautiful. His family was there and there are some terrific pictures of his son Luke handing him a water bottle while he was warming up on the trainer before the prologue.
French TV is convinced that Levi Leipheimer is going to win the Tour. They were a bit concerned that he didn't go faster in the prologue, but still feel that he's in a perfect position - no real responsibility for the race - That's the Postal problem - but able to pick the right moment to attack after Lance and the Spaniards have killed one another off with their fighting. We'll have to see on that one, LA is awfully good now, he's at the summit of his powers now, physically perfect, having absolute confidence and a deep knowledge of the Tour. What's more, Levi was caught out when the race exploded on the Category 3 Cote de Wormeldange. Lance attacked at the top and headed a group including Miller and Botero. It all came back together but that's the sort of thing you have to keep under control if you are going to win.
Botero is my favorite rider in the Tour. I see him being on the podium in Paris; Colombia is due. He was 4th in the prologue and made the split with LA yesterday. We know he climbs, of course. Can he corral that wild Kelme team of his is the question? The Kelme's are always exciting and race with a wonderful spirit.
Botero is known as the most virile man in Colombia. He has an exceptionally high natural testosterone level (it got him into doping trouble a couple of years ago until they were able to prove his natural levels to the UCI - like Vaughters' naturally high hematocrit readings).
The Colombian tabloid press has translated this into the human sex machine and so Botero has become a national sex symbol - beefcake photos on the covers of magazines and papers - women literally chase him on the street.
He's trying to find the right physical balance for the Tour. In 2000, when he was the Tour's best climber, he'd spent six months preparing in altitude in Columbia before coming the race. Last year, Botero began his European racing season much earlier and felt that the sea level preparation made him gain muscle mass. He was powerful that's for sure - 2 TT wins in the Vuelta, the podium at the World TT Champs, and 8th in the Tour after all - but his climbing suffered.
So he's now spent 7 months in Colombia training at altitude in the mountains and motor pacing on the track. He's in the mode of Martin "Cochise" Rodriguez, if any of you out there remember the great Colombian of the ‘70's. A complete racer, full of class, power and speed.
The Tour really starts today when we finally leave our "Grand Depart" hotel and the road trip begins. Everyone is itching to get going and find the real rhythm of the Tour. Off to Deutschland and Saarbrucken and the mad Zabel fest that awaits us there.