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
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
"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
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
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
"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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