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Tour de France News for July 17, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Stage 11: Narbonne-Toulouse

Thursday July 17 / 153.5km

It was a hot early July day a century ago when the original Tour de France started Stage Three, a 423km slog from Marseille to Toulouse. Even then, the Tour De France was brutal, as only 33 riders were still in the peloton from the original 60 that took the start line in Paris. They were "fou" (crazy), those original Tour de France pioneers, but they were hard, hard men as well. Stage winner in Toulouse was a Frenchman, Hyppolite Aucouturier who posted the fastest time of 17h55m, with the last man finishing 10 hours later. The 1903 Tour was won by Maurice Garin, a Frenchman of Italian origin, nicknamed "le petit ramoneur" (the little chimney sweep).

Thursday, after a well deserved rest day, the peloton of the Centenary Tour heads from ancient Roman city of Narbonne on the Mediterranean coast to northwest to Toulouse, center of France's aviation industry. With only one climb at Stage 11's midpoint, and Friday's all important Stage 12 47km time trial on the cards, sprinters or a small break as on Stage 10 will likely be seeking another shot at glory in Toulouse.

The hot temperatures of the past week are expected to continue, and riders will likely face a strong northwest headwind as they race toward Toulouse.

Stage 11 profile

Armstrong sur l'herbe: Raymond Poulidor appreciates Lance

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Narbonne

We sat down with Tour De France eternal runner-up Raymond Poulidor on the Tour de France rest day to chat about his view of the 2003 Tour De France.

Photo: © CN

"We've seen that the racers in this centenary Tour are in excellent form and Armstrong is being attacked from every side," Poulidor commented. "I don't know if his adversaries have sensed a small weakness, but we can also see that he is in control of the race. When we look at the 'film de la course' on Monday, the bad luck crash of Beloki, who attacked every day and was one of the most dangerous adversaries on Armstrong... Well, we saw the mastery of (Armstrong) to manage the situation and it was fabulous. He did 200 or 300 meters of cyclocross, avoided obstacles, calmly got off his bike to jump over that big ditch...I mean, he could have gotten caught up in the bushes or something!"

"But that's bike racing, that's the Tour De France," Poulidor continued. "There are so many dangers; one can crash at any moment. At this point we've done half of the Tour de France and there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome."

We asked Poulidor about the tragic story of Roger Riviere, who crashed out of the 1960 Tour de France, tumbling into a deep ravine in the Cevennes Mountains which ended his career. Poulidor told us "Oh, Riviere was going to win that Tour... He was a great rider. There were four great French riders of my generation; Riviere, Gerard Saint, who was killed in a car crash, Anquetil and Poulidor. If Riviere and Saint had not been killed, Anquetil would have had three (French) adversaries, not just one."

When we discussed the historic cover shot of Armstrong going off road with Beloki lying on his back that was on the cover of French sports paper l'Equipe, another image came to mind: that of Poulidor and Anquetil battling shoulder to shoulder on the ascent of the Puy de Dome in the 1964 Tour.

"That will be an image that will stay around... and with the image of Armstrong riding through the fields, that image would even be appropriate for the 1903 Tour De France since the riders went on roads like that!"

Tour tough Totschnig

Cyclingnews spoke to Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Georg Holczer on the rest day about Austrian champion Georg Totschnig, 5th in the Giro d'Italia and riding well so far in the centenary Tour De France.

"Georg came into the Tour not in the best shape because he had a real break after the Giro," Holczer said. "I hope as in the last two years of the Giro, he'll get better every day. Totschnig likes the hard mountains and in the Pyrenees, where it gets more difficult with steeper climbs every day, Totschnig likes this terrain more that the Alps."

Dario David Speaks

Likeable Italo-English rider Dario David Cioni also chatted Cyclingnews on the rest day. The Fassa Bortolo man, who we've known since he was a talented young mountain biker in Italy ten years ago, was asked to describe the difference between doing it in the dirt and riding a grand tour.

"Mountain biking is tough, but it's just one day and then you have a week's rest," Cioni explained. "At the Tour de France, every day is just so hard and it's day after day after day. For Fassa Bortolo, our focus now is to work for Basso. Our tour started well with Petacchi winning 4 stages, but whe had a lot of bad luck and lost nearly the whole team. Now it's just me, Marzio Bruseghin and Ivan (Basso)."

"Ivan's riding very well and me and Marzio will help him as much as possible by staying close to him on the climbs. That would have been our job anyway even if the whole team was here, so for us, not much has changed. Ivan is riding well since the beginning of the Tour; he's very confident and I think he can do even better this year at the Tour."

George Hincapie on cruise control

Hincapie on form
Photo: © CN

Cyclingnews was there when an agressive wire service reporter cornered USPS-Berry Floor rider George Hincapie on his way to sign-in on Stage 10.

Wire Service: "Everybody is taking it to you this year, mate, aren't they? More so than before."

Hincapie replied laconically that "We're in the yellow jersey; that was the main objective. There's a lot more competition next year; we knew that coming in and Lance is getting better every day. The Tour de France is never easy. If you think it's easy, you're going to have problems."

We also caught up with US Postal climber Manuel "Triki" Beltran. "I'm feeling good...a bit tired, though as we're doing a lot of work out there," Beltran told us. "But overall, it's good. We've gotten the 'treno' (team order) fixed; we've been on the front riding well together... I think that we're all in good form and our team has been able to control the race."

Bruyneel "very satisfied" with team performance

By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Narbonne

On a busy rest day in Montpellier, US Postal Service-Berry Floor team director Johan Bruyneel made some time in his busy schedule to talk to Cyclingnews.

Cyclingnews: Did you see the Beloki crash and Lance's off-road adventure when you were in the stage?
Johan Bruyneel: The last image I saw on the TV in the car was that Lance was in 2nd position and Beloki was on the front; I was at 5km and they were at 4km. Then I heard that Beloki crashed on the radio and my first reaction was 'Lance is probably down also.' We didn't have any reception on TV at that moment, but right away, the race radio said that Armstrong was going through the field, then I asked if he was OK and the radio said yes... But it was a scary moment.

CN: When you actually saw it on TV later, what were your thoughts?
JB: Well... I think that Beloki crashed because he was going way too fast on that downhill. He was definitely riding for his GC behind Vinokourov. The leaders all calculate (time splits) and they know that if a rider wins a stage he'll get a 20" time bonus. So Beloki was way too fast and there was no way he could make it. You know, that's an accident and it could happen to anybody. It's too bad that Beloki is out.

CN: What's coming after rest day? The word is that everyone will keep attacking Lance this year.
JB: Until now, we have the yellow jersey and we didn't attack one single time. The Tour is still very long and still very hard. I think the situation is good...We didn't have to make any efforts except the team time trial, which was a great effort. Up until now, we've had control and been riding a smart race. Stage 9 was proof of the tactics of the team, that we have a very solid team.

I get questions all the time at this Tour about how good our team is... I don't understand why! They probably come from cycling journalists that don't understand cycling. Like after Stage 9, I got these questions like 'what happened to the team, is the team still strong?' and I don't know what these cycling journalists want. We had nine guys together on top of the Izoard, we had the break under control and there was not another team that had nine guys together.

You can not work and chase breaks down and still have all your guys together. I'm very happy with the team's performance up until now.

The team time trial is great and the final Alps stage was... I'm very satisfied with that. After the race Monday, I felt a major satisfaction because the team rode smart, they stayed calm and thought about each other and didn't think about the breakaway. At the end, in the final, we thought about the break and that's always the good thing to do. As long as the situation with a break doesn't get completely out of control, and we can keep the team together, that's the best. People who really know cycling see that and for the next two weeks of the Tour de France, that's a good thing to know.

Marc Sergeant uncovers strategies

In an interview with Belgian television, Lotto-Domo directeur sportif commented on the team's state of affairs, saying that Robbie McEwen's cold is getting better, but McEwen's faithful lieutenant Nick Gates is still coughing, and Leon Van Bon is suffering from blocked sinuses as a result of some kind of allergy.

The team's orders remain clear, however. "McEwen has to go in every sprint, even if it's for tenth place!" Sergeant said. "For sure he'll have to try to win the intermediate sprint on Thursday. McEwen has one tough opponent in his battle for green, that's Baden Cooke. He's leading with nine points." Zabel is in third position and has 28 points less than Cooke, posing less of a concern for Sergeant. "The tour is only a success when you take a jersey or win a stage," he said. "Until now McEwen wore the jersey for five days; let's say it's a bandage on the wound"

"The tour will be good if we can take the green jersey home, but I prefer a stage win," Sergeant revealed. "I think Leon Van Bon or Rik Verbrugghe should be able to do that. Van Bon has won two stages in the Tour already, another one has to be possible. And Verbrugghe is getting better and better as the race goes on. Twice we have been able to notice that, now it's a matter of being there from the word go."

"We all slept in a bit this morning," he said of the team's rest day activities. "After that all the guys went out on the bike for a couple of hours. This afternoon is spent resting and on the massage table."

Leblanc braces for more protests

Following a disruption of stage 10 by protesters, rallying for the cause of imprisoned radical farmer José Bové, Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc issued a stern warning that further disruptions would not be tolerated. The Tour has traditionally provided a stage for protests on the both the local and national scale, but Leblanc says there is a proper way and an improper way to get the message out during the grand boucle.

"If [a protest] is a matter of a declaration before a start or the distribution of leaflets, there will be no problems," Leblanc explained. "If on the other hand protesters get physical with the riders or try to impede the passing of the peloton, we will offer no response. Those charged with security, the police and gendarmes, will do their jobs. I think you know what I mean."

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