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89th Tour de France - Grand Tour
France, July 6-28, 2002
Tour de France news for July 27, 2002
Edited by Jeff Jones
Stage 18 wrap up and post stage comments
Stage 18 was over almost as it began, when a group of 10 riders escaped after 4 kilometres and stayed away over the rest of the 176.5 km between Cluses and Bourg-en-Bresse. The 10 became three as Jakob Piil, Thor Hushovd and Christophe Mengin escaped on a downhill stretch with 15 km to go, to fight out the stage win. Despite the obvious strength of Mengin, Hushovd won the sprint clearly to claim Norway's second ever TDF stage win after Dag-Otto Lauritzen won in Luz Ardiden in 1987. It was also Credit Agricole's first win in this Tour, and a much needed one.
Lance Armstrong finished in the main peloton, 11'42 behind the winner, and safely kept his yellow jersey in preparation for tomorrow's final time trial, which he hopes to win.
Robbie McEwen gained a slight edge on his rival Erik Zabel for the green jersey, beating him for 11th place in the bunch sprint and increasing his lead in the competition by a solitary point.
Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole, 1st)
"It's a good feeling. It's a stage win for the whole team not just for me. We had so much bad luck - not just in the Tour but since the beginning of the season. Today was the U turn."
"Yesterday [Stage 17] I had a good day - I spent a whole day in front with the best riders on the climb. I climb better now that I've lost two kilos [Thor is 183 cm tall and weighs 80 kg]. But it is in the sprint that I win races - I want to work on that."
"In Norway, they can't tell the difference between Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Brussels, that does not mean anything to them. The Tour de France is the only race which you hear the Norwegians speak about."
"I started cycling when I was 10, following my brother, who was three years older than me. In winter I did cross-country skiing, in summer I cycled. When I was 15 or 16, I stopped cross-country skiing for good."
"My number 1 objective is to win Paris-Roubaix, which I've already won as an espoir (U23) rider."
Jakob Piil (CSC-Tiscali, 3rd)
"[Christophe] Mengin was very strong today, but I didn't think he was very fast. When I started the sprint, there was only 200m to go. I was coming from behind with momentum, so there was a good possibility for me to win."
Unfortunately for Piil, he pulled his foot out of the pedal when he started to sprint, and had to settle for third.
Lance Armstrong (USPS and Maillot Jaune)
"Today we thought it could be a tough day but Bonjour helped us chase for a while. It wasn't that hard. The racing was very controlled. There was only one attack and we were able to ride relatively easy and so it was a good day for us."
"I wanted to test my legs for tomorrow's time trial, so I was using a bigger gear."
When asked about the favourites for the time trial Armstrong thought that Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano was the man to beat, despite the fact that Santiago Botero won the first time trial on Stage 9. "Gonzalez de Galdeano has revenge to take and to me, he'll be the man to beat. It's important that the yellow jersey holder rides the best he can and I intend to honour the jersey I'm wearing."
"It could be difficult, we go through a lot of vineyards and I like wine, I might get distracted," he laughed.
As to the rest of the Tour, Armstrong has only one worry. "All I have to do is be careful and hope that an accident doesn't happen. I've got to keep my head up, watch out for traffic islands and people and hopefully things will be okay."
Thor Hushovd and the other Norwegian stage winner, Dag-Otto Lauritzen actually come from the same place, Grimstad on the southern tip of Norway, which has 18,000 inhabitants.
"The cycling club in Grimstad and Dag Otto Lauritzen has been very important for Thor. With Dag-Otto they had a fine activity when Thor started cycling and that made its mark on him," said daddy Per Hushovd to the local newspaper Grimstad Adressetidende.
"He had a dark start of the season. He he is really worth respect for managing to come back. A worthy winner," said the other Norwegian winner Dag Otto Lauritzen.
Courtesy of Tomas Nilsson
McEwen wins 'most important sprint'
By John Trevorrow in Bourg-en-Bresse
There might be only one point in it, but if the body language is anything to go by then you can give the final green jersey to Robbie McEwen right now. After decisively beating Erik Zabel for 11th spot into Borge-En-Bresse and gaining a vital point, McEwen shoved his hand in the air on the presentation podium as if it was a stage victory.
"That was the most important sprint in a while," McEwen said. "We were both full gas and I was able to beat him by a bike length."
Zabel on the other hand looked anything but a man who is only one point behind in the race for green, and spoke of losing his first Maillot Vert since 1996. "Seven years is a long time to be on top," a dejected Zabel said. "Sooner or later someone will come along who is quicker. Last year was very very close with O'Grady and now McEwen has made it just as close."
"But McEwen has shown he is the fastest and will be hard to beat on Sunday. "But I am still only one point behind," Zabel said.
With the Saturday individual time trial almost certainly not producing any points for the two super sprinters, the battle for the Maillot Vert will again come down to the final stage in Paris. Again it will be German power house Erik Zabel versus an Australian as it has been for the past four years. O'Grady finished second in 1998, 99 and 2001, with McEwen finishing second in 2000.
McEwen was ecstatic to get through the final tough stage of the tour.
"We knew this was a very dangerous day," McEwen said. "The team put everything on the green jersey today and did not send any guys up the road. We needed everyone to help me get through what was expected to be a worrying day. But it's all turned out good and I've taken another point."
"I was worried about the cat 1 climb but the peloton went over at a steady pace, nothing much happened and I actually felt really good. The further we went the better I was feeling and it wasn't such a worry in the end."
"I've shown each time since Alencon that I can beat him in each sprint. But it's not going to be decided until the end of the Tour on the Champs Elysées. I will follow Erik on Sunday and the responsibility is on him and the Telekom team to go for the sprints. If he does not then it will be decided in the final sprint of Le Tour."
"Most of the field are giving us a bit of room because they all know that it is between Erik and I. The only one who got in there and made it difficult was Jan Svorada who said earlier that he was too tired to sprint and then went so fast that he almost pulled the sprint for Zabel."
It will take a major catastrophe for Lance Armstrong to lose this year's Tour de France. He has little pressure on him and will be enjoying the final stage into Paris, unlike his peers racing for green. "It's very hard for those guys," Armstrong said. "Everyone else is putting wigs on and having their pictures taken and all that, but for those two guys and their teams, the race will go all the way to the end - that’s hard."
When quizzed over who he thought would come out on top for the battle for the Maillot Vert, he said. "McEwen has proved himself the fastest man in this year's tour and nine times out of ten he will win."
Stuart O'Grady jumped clear from the main peloton in the final six kilometres of Friday's stage, only to be caught two kilometres from the finish. "I decided to try and get clear before the sprint and get some vital points without the hustle and bustle of the mad dash for the line," O'Grady said "Once they caught me I thought I had blown it. I had one kilometre to recover, actually ten deep breaths, and then it was head down again. I was surprised to finish so fast and nearly caught Erik on the line."
O'Grady was euphoric over his team-mate, Thor Hushovd's win. "The team has been under so much pressure because of our great year last year. Things been magnified because we hadn't won a stage but now all is OK," O'Grady said.
Baden Cooke has survived pressure of a different kind with the large cyst on his rear end nearly causing him to withdraw on Thursday. "The mechanic decided to enlarge the hole I had cut in my seat and that made it much worse," Cooke said. "I had to change bike and ride with a normal saddle. I tell you without my teammate Brad McGee helping me I might not have made it."
But Cooke is looking a realistic chance for a final stage win in Paris. With McEwen and Zabel likely to be entrenched in their own little battle, both Cooke and O'Grady look strong possibilities to win on the Champs Elysées.
"I felt great today," Cooke said after the finish in Bourge-En-Bresse. "I got stuck between Robbie and Zabel but felt I could have beaten both of them if I could have gotten out. The team is ready for Sunday and Brad is back in form so I reckon I can give it a real shake."
Monaco wants to host a Tour stage
Prince Albert of Monaco, who visited the Tour de France for the Alpine stages, has expressed interest in hosting a stage in Monaco. A total of six stages have finished in the tiny city-country, the first time being in 1939. The last time that Monaco played host to a finish was in 1964 when Jacques Anquetil won.
Stage 19 preview: Régnié-Durette-Mâcon Individual Time Trial
By Tim Maloney, European editor
Vineyard owner Paul Cinquin and former French Champion Henry Anglade have brought the penultimate stage of the 2002 TDF to this tiny corner of Beaujolais, just north of Mont Brouilly for a stage start on this time test through the famed vineyards of Burgundy. The first rider departs at 10:45, to finish just in time for lunch, while the final rider is off at 16:20.
Maillot Jaune Lance Armstrong is looking to make up for his TT flop in Stage 9, where he narrowly lost to key contre-le-montre rival Santi Botero (KEL). The Colombian has showed that he's finishing the Tour with a bang, not a whimper and could threaten the American as both riders go for more stage wins at this year's Tour De France.
A major moment of truth tomorrow for American Levi Leipheimer. The Rabobank man has ridden a smart, conservative Tour, with only a team mistake by not riding behind Botero on Stage 15 costing him 5th place. With a good time trial, Leipheimer should move into 6th place on GC and with a great ride, the Montana man could possibly ride past Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE) into 5th.