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Tour de France News for July 23, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

Bruyneel happy with situation

By Tim Maloney, European editor in Pau

Photo: © Olmypia
Click for larger image

Rest day for the USPS-Berry Floor squad was relatively uneventful. The team went for a two and a half hour spin north of Pau from 10:30 to 12:30, then returned to their hotel where Lance Armstrong fine-tuned his position on his TT bike. After lunch, Armstrong and his eight teammates returned to their rooms to kick back for the afternoon. Lance took his usual rest day nap, then had a massage, and afterwards a smiling, confident Armstrong was clearly pleased with his win on Stage 15 and his re-found sensations of strength and power on the bike.

Dinner was at 8:00 pm and chef Willi Balmat told Cyclingnews that he had prepared a "special dinner for the guys for their rest day repast." Instead of the usual pasta and grilled meat, the USPS-Berry Floor squad chowed down on a mixed green salad, chicken and rice sauté and a apple tarte for desert.

While his team was relaxing, team director Johan Bruyneel was meeting with the media to discuss the situation in the Tour De France with just five stages to go. After Armstrong's Stage 15 win, Bruyneel characterized the team vibes as "excellent...it was something we needed."

Bruyneel said Armstrong was suprised when he saw the images of his crash, but he was happy the way things went afterwards. With Stage 16's climbs too far from the finish for a decisive attack, Bruyneel expects the final time trial to be crucial for the outcome of this year's Tour.

When asked about the various problems that Armstrong had referred to in this year's Tour, Bruyneel explained, "I think that there were a lot of little things, starting with (Lance's) crash in the Dauphiné Libéré, after this crash Lance had to take antibiotics and then had a few stomach problems before the Tour. His stomach wasn't ok with the antibiotics, then there was the crash in the first stage, an almost disaster with the crash of Beloki, the dehydration of the time trial and his crash yesterday (Stage 15). There are a lot of little things this year that we are not used to."

"We knew before the Tour De France that it would be difficult this year, and it has been and we're still not at the finish yet. But I am confident that we can win the Tour and I think a difficult victory probably tastes better."

Bruyneel also discussed the game of "bicycle poker" he was playing with Team Bianchi and Team Telekom in the last few stages, tactics that Lance Armstrong described as "brilliant" after Stage 14. "We thought that sending Rubiera and Beltran out in those long breaks was the best strategy you can do, especially the stage to Loudenvielle, which is a very difficult stage for one team to control."

"In the morning before Stage 14, we decided in the team meeting that small groups could go and in big groups, we had to have somebody in there. Better if it was Beltran because he was 13th on GC. The day before with Rubiera it was the same. He was the best guy in the break on GC and the best climber, so two stages in a row it was a smart move for our team to have someone in the break. You can't ride a three week stage race with only one team controlling the race. So we created a situation where other teams had to ride to protect their interests. Each time we were in a great situation."

Cyclingnews then asked Bruyneel why Roberto Heras hadn't performed well on the mountain stages. "Roberto is having difficulty breathing for several days and we think it's be beginning of bronchitis, but we don't have a clear diagnosis yet," he said. "This morning, we went to the hospital in Pau for chest X-Rays but they didn't reveal anything new. But the fact is he cannot breathe and when that happens in the TOur De France, you'll have a problem. Although I don't think Roberto can be a big help to the team right now, he absolutely wants to keep trying to help the team because we have the Yellow Jersey. Normally, he's not in the gruppetto."

Sergeant praying for sprint finishes

Lotto-Domo team director Marc Sergeant is praying for sprint finishes. "Light a candle," he asked the Belgian press today. " A big one, that burns well!"

"Robbie had his best chance for a win in the first stage, but he couldn't beat Petacchi. The next day, when Cooke won, he fell...if not, maybe he would have worn the Green right now."

With Petacchi out of the picture Marc Sergeant is afraid no-one will be interested in sprint finishes any more. "In theory there's us and La Française des Jeux, but the reality is different. FdJ.com has all interest in initiating as many attacks and breaks as possible. Then McEwen can't take any points in the intermediate sprints and most of the points in the finish will be gone too; the difference between the amount of points for the first ones to finish is big, but from fifth place onwards it is a matter of one point difference. Robbie needs more than that. I can't see the stages finishing in a mass sprint the coming days. We will be on our own. Everyone with some legs will attack. I hope that we have a few men with those breaks."

Sergeant thinks that "Baguet and Brandt can do that. But with Axel and Rik gone the chances are down to those two. Until now this was a Tour for climbers or sprinters. Only Piil and Flecha escaped that rule. I think it will be different from now on though."

Eddy Merckx on the Tour

"I think Lance Armstrong has got his fifth Tour win in his hands," five time Tour winner Eddy Merckx commented to the Belgian VUM newspapers today. "It is not a hundred percent sure yet of course, but I think that the American already took a solid option on the win on Luz-Ardiden. He can say a big 'merçi' to Ullrich though! I don't understand Ullrich's way of handling things. For someone who is only 15 sec behind Armstrong and who has proven to be a better time trialist, it was not him who had to attack. And, if he really couldn't hold back, he surely shouldn't have attacked on the Tourmalet but on the last climb."

Merckx added that he has enjoyed the Tour so far, "We have seen a beautiful battle, the Tour was one of high standard in the top ranks. Armstrong wasn't his usual self, which I think had everything to do with the heat, he doesn't like that. Opposite to him is Ullrich, for sure doing great. And Mayo. And Vinokourov, don't forget him. What a terrific season that man is having! He won Paris-Nice, the Amstel Gold Race, the Tour of Switzerland and now has the podium in Paris within arms reach. Who said again that it is impossible to combine those races? Well, the Kazakh is proving the opposite to be true."

"Of course I think it is a real shame what happened to Axel," said papa Merckx of his son's elimination from the race. "I admire the strength of character with which he struggled to Luz-Ardiden. He didn't want to have bad feelings about himself, how hopeless the assignment he gave himself was. I think that everyone will confirm that this is not his real level. Axel is not the top world class rider, but he has got a lot more in his power than what he has been able to show in the Tour. I think it is best that he wasn't able to continue, something is not right."

Axel said he would get his blood analysed as he feels something is wrong. "There are no physical injuries, so there must be another reason why I feel like this," he said after coming in HD in the stage on Monday.

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