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Tour de France News for July 27, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones & Chris Henry

David Millar: "Keeping it cool"

By Gabriella Ekström in Nantes

David Millar
Photo: © Olympia

The heavy rain at the start in Pornic kept the riders in the buses for as long as they possibly could, and just before the start they were seen clustered two and two under the roof over the start ramp. The 49 kilometre course to Nantes was flat and open and the riders were fully exposed to the hard wind gusts that frequently caught their disc wheels. The last 10 kilometres in the surroundings of Nantes were a technical challenge and gave the riders a large number of white markings and tram rails before they could seek shelter at their hotels.

The most spectacular crash of the day came when Ullrich's wheel slipped while riding equally to Lance Armstrong. Another crash that was never shown on TV was when David Millar went down while approaching Nantes. Just like Ullrich, Millar got up and continued, but unlike Der Kaiser, Millar went on to win his third Tour de France stage, nine seconds behind Tyler Hamilton who put in a heroic performance, and 14 seconds ahead of Armstrong who now looks likely to be the fifth rider to join the club of five-time Tour de France winners.

Click here for the full interview.

Post stage comments

Lance Armstrong (USPS-Berry Floor, 3rd)

In his element
Photo: © J.Devich/CN

"I'm very happy for David - the victory will do his heart good. I knew I had to start calmly, not too energetically. I rode my own pace and didn't want to take any risks around these corners in the rain: I had a lead of a bit more than a minute. When I heard Jan had fallen, I said "Calm, Lance" and I slowed down. The stage today wasn't important, but the Tour was."

"I reconnoitred the parcours this morning and I knew it was very dangerous, especially in the last 10 km. Hincapie, Ekimov and Peña also informed me very well about their time trials."

Johan Bruyneel (USPS director)

"It has been a stressful Tour. It hasn't always unfolded as we expected, the stress factor was new. But Lance has showed he is a fighter, also in difficult situations he was very ambitious and wanted to attack. He hasn't stolen the Tour. It was a very nice Tour for the TV spectators, but I prefer a less exciting one. Though the victory tastes a bit sweeter now."

"I never doubted Lance for one minute. In the Pyrenees I saw a few times on his face it was OK. Lance wasn't bad this year, but not super neither. He was just good. And next year he is going for his sixth victory."

Dirk Demol (USPS director)

"We had confidence in a good finish, but now we are glad it has finished. The stage wasn't important, we only wanted to make the Tour win safe. We had reconnoitred the parcours. And we had some men along the parcours to measure the time differences. Small things have caused trouble in this Tour. In Cap Découverte we feared the worst, but Lance recovered well in the next stages."

Jan Ullrich (Team Bianchi, 4th)

Gave it everything...
Photo: © J.Devich/CN

"Unfortunately there are no rain tyres in cycling like in Formula 1," said Ullrich after his unfortunate crash with 10 km to go. "I don't think I took too many risks, I just slipped away. You need to have some luck sometimes."

"I won't win the Tour this year, but I can be content," he continued. "I'm still second in the GC and I've been very close to the yellow jersey. I lost a lot of time in the Alps and I made it up in the time trial. Today I'm disappointed but overall I'm satisfied."

Rudy Pevenage (Team Bianchi director)

"Lance has deserved his fifth Tour victory and Jan is back," said a slightly disappointed Pevenage at the end of the stage. "We didn't expect Jan to win the Tour. The rain was to his disadvantage and the parcours was very dangerous. But everything went off well."

"Jan wanted to win the time trial very much. It's too bad he hasn't managed to. Because of Armstrong's 1'05" lead and the technical finish, which Lance is better at, he had to take risks. He started very fast and it looked OK. But then he crashed in the corner."

McEwen ready

Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) has declared himself the strongest sprinter in the race, and appears ready to defend his green jersey, wrestled from the shoulders of compatriot Baden Cooke on Friday's stage 18 from Bordeaux to Saint-Maixent-L'Ecole. McEwen got the better of Cooke in the first intermediate sprint, which he won, and in the bunch sprint for 17th place at the finish.

"In my career I've always sprinted aggressively, but [the stage 18] finish was very stressful," McEwen said after the stage. "I obviously don't feel stronger than I did at the beginning of the Tour, but I feel stronger than the others."

With a slender lead, but the jersey on his shoulders, McEwen will leave the aggressive riding to the others on the Tour's final stage into Paris. "Sunday I'll ride with a defensive strategy," he said.

Michael Rogers reflects

Michael Rogers (Quick.Step-Davitamon) is on the verge of finishing his first Tour de France, and will presumably keep his 42nd spot on GC, 1:37:43 behind leader Lance Armstrong. Rogers' debut Tour has given him confidence for the years to come when, according to his team boss Patrick Lefevre, he will be a contender for overall honours.

"It's going to a good three or four years to maybe be able to look at running a podium position," said Rogers." I always knew this is my style of racing as I've most of the qualities necessary for a good tour rider, but I didn't know my level coming into here. Now I know where my level is and how much work I have to do to ride onto the podium."

Rogers came into the tour on the back of three straight stage race victories. He won the Tour of Germany, the Tour of Belgium and the Route du Sud in France. Rogers has an impressive record in individual races against the clock, including a victory this year in the time trial stage of the Tour of Germany, where he claimed the stage win 1'11 ahead of Jan Ullrich, and in the process took over the race lead which he held to the end.

But he admits that this far into his first three week 'grand' tour he is feeling the effects both mentally and physically.

"The legs just turn around on memory because you haven't got any more strength left, they just turn around because your brain tells them to turn around and thank God there was tailwind today otherwise I'd be still out there," Rogers laughed. "The last 15 kilometres were pretty technical and I didn't really want to line up tomorrow with no skin left so although I didn't take it easy, I didn't take too many risks.

"(Overall) I'm really happy (with my Tour) and I surprised even myself," he said. "I came from quite a heavy period of hard racing but...I'm really happy with what I've done (this year) and the team's really stoked.

"I've gained a lot of experience here at the Tour de France and I think I've taken a really big leap physically as well."

Hans De Clercq, the Lanterne Rouge

"I'm safe, I won't lose my title anymore. I have a 'lead' of 21 minutes to the next-to-last rider (Alessandro Bertolini), or 'arrears' if you prefer," said Hans de Clercq to Het Laatste Nieuws today. De Clercq is the last rider on the general classification, also known as the Lanterne Rouge, a title that carries some notoriety.

"I have this title now and I'm not giving it to someone else," he continued. "Nobody dreams of being the very last rider in the Tour, but once you're there you've come to like it. Conquering the title is easy, keeping it is much more difficult: the ideal Lanterne has to finish every day on time, but not earlier than strictly necessary. I really want to reach Paris, only to prove that the so-called 'kermesse riders' can do it."

"It is only my second Tour and I love riding it, but I always have to feel useful. I told Marc Sergeant that I was candidate as long as he would go with a sprinter like McEwen, but if he went with a top climber, he could better leave me home as I am useless at climbing. Working for Robbie, that's why I'm doing it for: Robbie in green on the Champs Elysées and my Tour is a total success.

De Clercq told of how he had suffered through one of the toughest Tours in recent years. "I was dead after the first stage in the Alps. I rode 150 km on my own on the way to Morzine, had a heart rate of only 140 but couldn't ride any faster. Panic! I thought it was over, but I finished 20 minutes after the last but one rider, just on time. Abandoning in the Tour, that's something you never do. It was here where I took a serious option for the Lanterne Rouge. Starting a final climb and knowing that your chances to finish on time are zero, is much worse: like Axel Merckx on Luz-Ardiden, that's terrible.

"On the cols I was constantly calculating, not only riding with the legs but also with the head. That makes the difference between abandoning and surviving. A bad climber has to be smart. I'm never going faster than necessary on the climbs, always riding my own pace. It's stupid to follow the 'gruppetto', the bus of the non-climbers: sooner or later you have to pay for it. In five of the seven mountain stages I finished solo, of my own free will. In the other two I knew I had to stay in the bunch, if not I wouldn't finish on time.

"The spectators know me very well, I was surprised by that. Climbing l'Alpe d'Huez, surrounded by half a million of people, was one of my dreams when I was young. I managed it in my 34th year, but I still enjoyed the Pyrenees more. Thousands of Basques scanning your name as soon as they see you, that's fantastic. In Belgium they only recognize you when you've already passed. And if you're two minutes behind in a kermesse race, they call you a sluggard."

"Also Lance knows me. He said twice 'good morning' to me, in Dutch. But I never talked to him. My respect is too big and I know my place.

"I'm riding two criteriums, in Aalst and in Peer, for exactly the same prize as last year. Don't believe that the Lanterne Rouge gets a better contract!"

Medical communique

The Tour doctors noted that a number of riders crashed today, including Jan Ullrich. However the worst off was Uwe Peschel (Gerolsteiner), who was taken to hospital in Nantes with thoracic trauma (possible punctured lung). If that is the case, he will not start tomorrow.

Also Marzio Bruseghin (Fassa Bortolo) has a contusion on his right hip.

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(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2003)

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