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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
2003 Tour de France journals
John Eustice: Commentary On The Centenary Tour
Last year, New Yorker John Eustice hosted the Tour de France's 2002 International Show, broadcasting to over 30 countries world-wide, with play by play by Phil Liggett. Eustice has covered nine Tours de France, mainly with ESPN and ABC Sports. In cycling, the 47 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 Tour of Connecticut and the Univest Grand Prix.
Tour de France entries
The images of Tyler Hamilton's (again, reach for the thesaurus with this man) victory yesterday were particularly striking. The cameras really caught the level of effort being put out by both the hare Hamilton and his Telekom hunters, who were flat out trying to save Vino's podium spot. Beppe "Turbo" Guerini in particular, blowing air out of his cheeks, made the efforts seem very real and intense. It was pro cycling at its best.
If you wrote a Hollywood script about a Tour de France, you would not dare come up with the actual scenario we are currently seeing for fear of being labeled melodramatic and corny. It's a Tour to be treasured and, I can tell you from the interest we are getting stateside, it's even cracked the nuts and bolts sports fans and general public. Yesterday I went on a real Philadelphia sports show (Comcast SportsNet) right in the shadow of Veteran stadium and followed "Chocolate Thunder" former Philly 76er's star Daryll Dawkins onto the set. Now that's really reaching the beer drinking sports guy. And the Comcast SportsNet hosts were completely enthralled by the Tour.
I, in turn, am completely enthralled by the idea of what Tyler might be able to do on Saturday in the TT. The four minutes to Vinokourov seem out of reach and he has yet to beat Zubeldia in a TT in this Tour, so the Basque's two-minute cushion would seem safe as well.
But Tyler's broken collarbone has forced him to change his riding style, and I think we saw some of the benefits from that change during yesterday's stage. Unable to pull at all with his upper body, Tyler had his CSC mechanics fit a 36 x 52 on his bike (instead of the normal 39 x 53) and Hamilton has taken the Lance Armstrong fast pedaling style on the climbs to a new level.
One of the techniques I use in my coaching is to have my riders go up hills with their hands barely touching the handlebars while keeping perfect form. To a rider, they have to use 2 to 4 teeth more in the back and find that new muscles come into play. A few weeks of this really improve climbing speed and overall pedal action.
Tyler has been doing just that. Not using his hands, employing tiny gears, he's been (I think anyway) isolating all of his power into his legs, hips and lower back, and eliminating any upper body power. This has had the effect of perfecting his pedal action, and adding power to his lower body that is compensating for the lack of help up top. All of those long cols with the small gears have made him fit and fast, and the smaller gears have allowed him to recover very quickly from intense efforts.
He certainly had power yesterday, it flowed out of him and allowed him one of the most epic stage wins in Tour history. Tyler, as is obvious to everyone, can suffer like nobody's business. Couple that with fresher legs and a perfect application of power, and we might be seeing a breakthrough TT from the New Englander on Saturday.
Armstrong pulled out the ride he needed yesterday. With his back to the wall, with both media and the other contenders smelling blood, Lance successfully hid his strength until the last crucial climb of the Tour, and lashed out with a ride that has most likely won him his fifth consecutive Tour de France.
But, as has become the norm for this Tour, there was drama. Lance crashed while attacking, hooked by a spectator, got back up and had trouble with his pedals and almost crashed again. In an age of cynical, anything for a buck, "bottom line" mentality, some old fashioned chivalry came to Armstrong's rescue.
Jan Ullrich magnanimously threw away his chances for victory in the Tour by waiting for Lance, and honored an old, unwritten rule of cycling: you don't attack the Maillot Jaune when he crashes or has a mechanical.
Lance, full of adrenaline, came charging up the climb, and relaunched himself on the attack that he knew, deep in his soul, that he needed. For, despite the confident talk in the previous days about being able to match the German in a time trial, Lance knew that he needed a time cushion to hold him off. And perhaps, some cooler weather.
Ullrich, less at ease on the constantly changing gradients of the Pyrenees than he is in the steadier Alps, found one mountain too many in this eleven-col, three-day Pyrenean test. Ullrich also, by my reckoning, lost his rhythm on the climb to Luz-Ardiden waiting for Lance, as opposed to the adrenaline-fuelled desperation of the American, and that is where Jan lost his time. Once Ullrich got that big diesel motor of his going again, he started taking time back from Lance, but it was too late. Mayo, sprinting for second, took away the precious seconds that might have made the difference in the end if the final time trial goes the way I think it might do.
Ullrich has changed his approach to the sport of cycling, finally jettisoning his former East German style menu of eating kilometers upon kilometers that was the basis of their road training system. He's finally caught up with the rest of the peloton in working on intervals, watching his weight and improving his speed.
Now, with the last time trial being wide open and fairly straight and flat, a better speed/power course could not be found for Jan's talents, especially the newly-evolved talents of the German. He has, in short, a track rider pedal action and is able to move very, very fast.
Lance is a fighter and if the Lance of old is back, then he should have no problem defending his position in the final TT. But remember, Ullrich took one, then two seconds per kilometer out of Lance in the prologue and first time trial. To win, Jan needs to take 1.4 seconds a kilometer - a very tall order, but not completely out of the question given this Tour so far. So the Postal team cannot rest yet, there are challenges ahead. And of course, there is that last pesky mountain stage on Wednesday, coming after the rest day with all of the difficulties right at the start. Wild and wooly - this is a Tour that will go down in memory.
It was more than we could have hoped for.
Lance looked bad in the starting house. His eyes were going all over the place, he almost seemed frightened to me. It was a good Lance, still second in the TT, but the overwhelming imperial Lance of the past four years is not present at this year's Tour de France. A true dog-fight has begun and it will take place in the Pyrenees, which have served as the stage for so much incredible drama over the 100 years of the Tour.
Ullrich is back like never before - his overwhelming victory in the TT, coupled with his prospects in the final TT - has made Jan the focal point of the race. Anyone with ambition for this race knows that he must be dropped in the mountains. The Bianchi team is much better than people give it credit for. Plaza, Garcia-Casas and Casero know the Pyrenees and will now be hyper-motivated. Don't forget, this "lowly" team got third in the TTT to everyone's surprise (and the dismay of many).
The German now has only to follow, gauge the distances lost in the mountains to the true climbers (as he did on l'Alpe d'Huez to perfection) and keep the top five in sight. Lance has the yellow and the responsibility of the race. His team must defend him from the Spaniards and try and kill off the German. Lance must have at least two and half minutes in hand on Ullrich before the last TT.
The Texan's morale has taken a hit - he was very defensive in the post race press conference today. When a super champion's conviction of invincibility is pierced, as it was today, a fairly rapid decline often follows. That special mental state that they have seems to evaporate - Lemond in 1991, Indurain in 1996. Will Lance fight tooth and nail to the very end ala Bernard Hinault? The next days will tell.
One thing is for sure: no one is talking about six straight wins anymore. Vinokourov is the Cinderella story of the Tour. Like a good soldier, he stepped into Botero's shoes and is performing like a champ. The ITT has to be the great ride of his life so far. Watch for an alliance of sorts with Ullrich. Vino will ride to win, but if he sees that it's not possible, better to lose to Ullrich than to Lance. Why? A German win is good for all of German cycling. In every race there is a moment to chase or not to chase with no true reason to take either tact. When that decision comes up, and the choice to either hurt Lance or to hurt Ullrich, which way do you think he'll go?
What more can we say about Tyler? Courage, pluck, what ever words can come out of the thesaurus. Podium looks tough for Hamilton unless a great "defaillance" occurs - a complete collapse in the mountains by one of the above. But again, in this crazy Tour, who knows?
Zubeldia and Mayo are providing great entertainment. Little team, giant heart. A quite a bit of power as well. Zubeldia's TT was excellent, and he is now a very marked man. Mayo may have a bit of room for maneuvre; another stage win is a real possibility.
For me the big question is who will be the first to take up the chase when Richard Virenque goes berserk on Sunday in his quest for a sixth straight mountains jersey. Richard went purposely slow on l'Alpe d'Huez, yellow jersey notwithstanding, in order to lose time on the favorites. He's now almost 12 minutes down, and free to fly in the Pyrenees. Richard, despite his past, is considered by all in the business as a great and true professional and could be the catalyst that explodes this Tour into pieces.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews, it going to be some weekend!
Is Armstrong truly less powerful than in the past, and is his team really beginning to fatigue? That is the question du jour as we approach today's individual time trial.
This Tour is the hottest since the blast furnace versions of 1957 and 1976. The roads are melting, teams are going through 200 water bottles per stage; Aquarel the water sponsor, has doubled their deliveries to the teams, and the peloton is becoming exhausted. They're starting to drop like flies. Armstrong needs his team and perhaps, just perhaps, he has been bluffing his way through the first 10 days in order to save his team for the brutal second half of the race where they will become key.
Why would Armstrong bluff? Well, to begin with, Lance is a man of routines; he likes things that work and uses them over and over. Whether it's his carefully timed build-up to the Tour, which has barely changed in format over the past five years, or his position on the bike (once set for the season it never changes), he just has his ways of doing things. And he's bluffed before. On the stage to l'Alpe d'Huez in 2001, Lance looked like death warmed over on the bike, breathing hard, grimacing, riding at the back. Telekom fell for it hook line and sinker, riding at the front of the stage to set up Ullrich for the win. Well, we all know what happened - the famous "look" from Lance before his explosive attack for the win.
The top riders now feel that Lance can be beaten. Beloki, Vino, Hamilton, Mayo, all got religion in the Alps. And so they feel (past tense in Beloki's case) that they had responsibilities in the race and took initiative themselves, riding their teams at the front, attacking Lance on so on. This proved to be poor Beloki's undoing - with D.S. Saiz screaming in his ear piece "stop, stop, make Armstrong chase!!!" Beloki crashed himself out, racing like a contender for the Maillot Jaune.
So far, it's all worked out perfectly for Mr. Armstrong. He's got the Yellow Jersey, Simoni and Botero are out of contention, unwell Ullrich was distanced on l'Alpe, and Mayo is being kept in some sort of check by the attacks of Beloki and company that day. And Armstrong's Postal team has avoided the "steamroller" tactic of the past and are, in theory, in some sort of fresher state.
But, there are signs. Landis, Pena, Padranos and Ekimov were lost from the action quite early on the last Alpine stage to Gap. Heras, who has hardly been used at all so far, was not terribly effective on l'Alpe d'Huez. Ullrich seems to be getting stronger by the day, and the Spaniards and Basques will be wild in the Pyrenees.
Today is the "race of truth" and the truth about Lance's form will be told. As will the truth about Ullrich. No more games, no more guessing. The last 10 days of the Tour will have begun and the real race will unfold. The more exciting it is for us, the viewers, the more terrible for the riders. It's very, very exciting.
Hello Cyclingnews Readers,
I'm home this year, for only the second time since 1992, and I'm sad to miss the Centenary Tour, but happy to be with my wife and children and having a fine summer. So this year, Cyclingnews asked me to share my impressions of the Tour De France from afar.
What a terrible shame that World Champion Mario Cipollini was not in this Centenary Tour De France race - I really feel cheated out of a spectacle that would have been riveting: The old lion, at the top of his form with the one dedicated sprinter's team in the race, fighting off the new lion Petacchi. Two big powerful racehorses hitting the front in their unique manner and galloping down the final straight at 70kph+
It would have been magnificent. Cipo in his World Champ jersey in the 100th year of the Tour.
What the hell were they thinking in not letting him in? Ever heard of something called TV ratings? And Cipo would have finished the race. Don't forget, Cipo can pull like Hincapie when he wants to - just ask Ivan Gotti who was pulling him all over Italy during his Giro win. Crashes and illness pulled Cipo out of his last participations, not lack of will. Anyway, that's over but it's still a big blemish on what is turning into a "grand cru" event.
Armstrong's performance in the opening prologue raised eyebrows. Certainly it showed a lack of focus that was astounding in someone of his dedicated character. The team then came through with major performances and saved the day - setting a theme that may very well be carried on for the next two weeks.
Sunday's stage to l'Alpe d'Huez was a key moment in Tour history, similar to stage 13 of the 1991 Tour. That was when Miguel Indurain saw that he could beat LeMond and gained the confidence to do so. Lance turned from RoboCop into a human being on Sunday's stage. A very strong and willful human, but human never the less.
And they are after him.
Tyler (did any of you wince out loud the way I did every time you saw him stand up?) on the attack! He is the story of this Tour. Beloki - more later on that tragedy - was feeling confident. And Mayo. He has clearly studied Lance's approach to climbing, batting out the pedals at 95 rpm on the climb - what speed!
A great rider of the 70's was Belgium's Lucien Van Impe. "The sprinter of the mountains" and a model for the Armstrong fast pedaling style. Lucien was content to win the KOM jersey until Cyrille Guimard got a hold of him and turned him into a Tour winner in 1977. I remember Van Impe finishing third in the final TT, with perfect souplesse on the flats after all of the mountains climbed in his signature small gears.
Mayo may be able to do the same. He's two years older that when he won his Midi Libre in 2001 (where he did a pretty good TT), second at LBL '03, winner of the prologue at the Dauphine Libéré, ahead of David Millar and Lance thank you, all signs to show he's got the goods.
The Joseba Beloki tragedy is a shame for the Tour but part of its legend. Takes a lot to win - you can never ever make a mistake in three weeks of riding. Look how Lance handled that situation - talk about sang froid. That ability to keep focus under the worst situations is a trait he shares with Miguel Indurain.
Lance needs to keep that focus now, and use his team carefully. Monday they tried to kill USPS: ONCE, Bianchi, all of them out there forcing the Postal men to chase. This will continue for two weeks, and the men in blue will have the challenge of their lives ahead of them. They are alone unless some alliances can be made. Plenty of alliances against them - but that's for another commentary.
Watch out for Ullrich. I thought he did a great ride on the l'Alpe, even if he was sick. Only lost a minute in his first real alpine test in two years. Ullrich just keeps getting stronger, sitting on Lance's shoulder like a tough vulture. A mental war going on there, giving back what Lance has been the master of in the past. Don't forget, there are almost 100k's of individual TT left in the race.
If Lance has another day like the one on l'Alpe (where he of course still took third and the Yellow. Oh to have ever had such a "bad" day in my career!) and Ullrich fulfills the promise he is showing so far - the two minutes could disappear quickly. Vino, Tyler, and on and on.
It's a fantastic race, not over by any means whatsoever and truly a fitting event for the 100th year.