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Photo ©: Sirotti

Tour de France News for July 24, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

Broken bone blues

By Tim Maloney, European editor in Pau

Never say die for Hamilton
Photo: © Sirotti

Tyler Hamilton, the winner of Stage 16, must have one of the highest pain thresholds in the pro peloton. In his seventh Tour de France, Hamilton has called this his "hardest ever. The first week it was just brutal. Both on and off the bike, I was suffering and I wasn't sleeping well and just took it day to day the first week. My goal then was to just make it to the TTT on Stage 4 and help my team. So after that I felt OK and now here I am! But it's been a hard fight and without the support of my team I wouldn't be here now."

Hamilton was philosophic about the overall impact of his cracked clavicle. "I had a couple of off days the first two days in the Pyrenees, not bad days, but off days. If I had been a little bit better on those two days, I'd still be in the hunt for the podium. So I think in the future, the podium could be a possibility."

Regarding Telekom director Walter Godefroot's comments calling his injury "a cheap American PR gag", Hamilton responded that "Walter has the right to his own opinion. We welcome him to come and take a look at the X-Rays. It's unfortunate. It's also a disappointing that Godefroot is calling me and my team liars."

Tour de France race doctor Dr. Gerard Porte confirmed that Hamilton had not been faking it, saying that "Hamilton has some scarring where he broke his collarbone, and there was a small new fracture but only a crack. Luckily for (Hamilton), his collarbone remained aligned and that he can continue in the Tour. The morning of Stage 2, Hamilton told me he would start the stage but would abandon if he couldn't continue. We saw Hamilton do a good team time trial, make it over the Alps when he couldn't even get out of the saddle. Since then, Hamilton was able to race in the Tour De France and his bravery has been extraordinary."

Tyler's Haven, the woman behind the man

Photo: © J.Devich/CN

Tyler Hamilton's spouse for the last four and a half years, Haven, has found herself in an important role during this Tour de France, supporting her husband as much as possible after his crash in Stage 1. "I'm here in the Tour for Tyler and only for Tyler," she told Het Laatste Nieuws. "If he hadn't fallen, you would only have seen me here a few times, but since his terrible injury he really needs me. He didn't even have to ask it. We know when a close presence is necessary. Tyler and I are a team, you see. It has always been like that and it will always be. Since we were married, we have both gained a lot in maturity and responsibility. Taking care for each other, that's love."

After seeing Tyler crash in the first stage, Haven packed her bags immediately and left together with their golden retriever Tugboat for the Tour de France to bring Tyler back home. "But Tyler is a fighter," she said. "I don't know anybody else with such a willpower and character. Where does he get it from? He always says that Tugboat and me are his driving forces, but there is more of course. As a teenager Tyler often went for skiing in one of the most barren and dangerous ski resorts in North America. Even if his nose froze off. That made him tough, I think."

"He is also very close to Armstrong, admires his fighting mentality. That's the one and only way, he always says. I know it's useless to try to convince him: he wanted to continue anyway, so I put up with it. But it hurts to see him suffering - everything shows it. I'll stay in the Tour all the way to Paris. I'm staying in the same hotel, but not in the same room. Tugboat does. He calms down my husband and relieves the pain. He has a therapeutic influence on him."

"Myself, I stopped my career in the publicity world five years ago for Tyler's career, so that he can devote himself optimally to his passion. And believe me, I could only do this because I know he would do the same thing for me. And will do. After a few years I'll continue my career and he will be refreshing the nappies of a baby or two. That's for sure, yeah."

Ullrich or Armstrong?

Photo: © Sirotti

As expectations solidify concerning a Tour de France duel between just two men, Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich, the prognostics begin over which one will take top honours. Many believe Armstrong set the stage for victory with his stage win in Luz-Ardiden, but the deal is not done and few are willing to count Ullrich out with one more individual time trial to come. For his part, Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc is not one to reveal his prediction, lest he appear anything but impartial.

"An organiser shouldn't guess at the winner," he told l'Equipe. "The big day for the two will be the 49km time trial, which is perfectly flat. There are 67 seconds separating them, and I don't know who will win."

Five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault rates the chances of the two leaders as equal, and still shows his aggressive side in encouraging an attack. "If I were sure that I were stronger, I'd wait for the time trial," he said. "But why not go for time bonuses before the time trial, like I did in 1979? Having seen what Armstrong did at Luz-Ardiden, he's not as far off (his form) as people thought. Ullrich might have regrets for not having attacked at the Plateau de Bonascre; he had a lot to gain there."

Given Armstrong's show of force on Monday, another five-time winner, Eddy Merckx, thinks the American is now in the power position. "I would say Lance Armstrong now," Merckx said of his final prediction. "After the time he took the other day, Jan Ullrich is still the favourite for the time trial, but I think it will be difficult to take that sort of time again at the end of the Tour."

Photo: © Olympia

As the leaders watched each other on the final mountains of the Tour Wednesday, it became clear the time trial would be the final showdown. Even if Jan Ullrich is able (and willing) to fight for time bonuses on the flat stages, he will need the ride of his life Saturday to take back more than a minute from Armstrong between Pornic and Nantes. Anything is possible, as Ullrich's impressive display this year has spurred him to think of victory in the final week rather than his more modest Tour ambitions at the beginning of the month.

"I had really dreamed of finding my best form once again, but I never thought it would come so quickly," Ullrich commented during the Tour's second rest day Tuesday. "It's true that I came to this Tour with the goal of preparing for 2004, but today it's this Tour, the centenary, that I really want to win."

Armstrong's fortunes improved with his stage win Monday, but the American has always insisted - as most riders do - that the Tour is not over until Paris. Following his win in Luz-Ardiden, Armstrong said the surge of adrenaline from his crash was so strong, he told himself, "Ok Lance, now you're going to win the Tour." He may not have put enough time on Ullrich to do that yet, but his confidence is back and he will look forward to the time trial showdown.

McGee uncertain for track world's

By Chris Henry in Bayonne

Brad McGee winner of the 4000m individual pursuit at the 2002 World Track Championships, remains uncertain as to whether he will contest this year's event in Stuttgart, Germany. The Australian pursuit specialist, who entered the Tour de France in excellent form and claimed the prologue time trial victory in Paris. After his three day stint in the leader's yellow jersey, which included leading teammate Baden Cooke to victory in stage 2, McGee suffered in the mountains and found his best form eluding him in the subsequent two weeks.

As the Tour heads into the home stretch, McGee is uncertain about whether he will be in fighting shape for Germany. "It's still up in the air," McGee told Cyclingnews after stage 16 concluded in Bayonne. "It's just that the state of my health is not the best right now."

McGee expects to speak with the Australian selectors in the coming days before finalising his decision.

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