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Photo ©: Schaaf

Tour de France News for July 18, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Flecha hits his target

By Gabriella Ekström in Toulouse

Juan Antonio Flecha
Photo: © Olympia

With the patron teams of the Tour tired and reluctant to chase, a nine man break could finally ride clear in the strong head winds on the road to Toulouse. Among the riders sat Stuart O'Grady, short of a stage win so far, and hungry to win at his home away from home, Toulouse. But iBanesto.com rider Juan Antonio Flecha, who became known for his aggressive riding style when he started his career with the Fuenlabrada team, had no desire to come into the airport runway in Toulouse together with the Australian champion.

"I knew the last part of the stage very well, because my girlfriend Lourdes lives in Toulouse, and I often visit her here. I had a strong desire to win today, and knew that I had to continue to attack if I wanted to win. My victory today comes from the heart, because for every meter I rode in the break, I got closer to her."

Approaching the line, Flecha sat up and looked behind, and when he saw that he wouldn't be caught he reached behind his back and picked up an arrow. With a smile of satisfaction he aimed and shot. "My name Flecha means arrow, and I picked up that gesture after my friend made a pun about my name," he said. "I used it for the first time when I won the Vuelta Aragón, and after that I haven't had an opportunity to do it again. I really enjoyed doing it today, and I think and hope that my friend saw it on TV."

See the full interview here

Stage 11 quotes

Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo, 2nd points classification)

"I had a puncture and after that I didn't have good legs anymore. It was impossible to bring the break back... who won anyway?"

Belgian TV1: "Flecha."

McEwen: "Ha, that's really good!"

TV1: "Strange to hear you say that as there were two Australians in the front group too!"

McEwen: "Yeah, I know, but Flecha is a friend; we train together in Spain."

Michael Rogers (Quick.Step-Davitamon, 8th on stage 11)

"I had the feeling that they were all watching me; it was impossible for me to move. It's a pity, I felt really good."

Belgian TV1: "Did you talk to O'Grady about working together?"

Rogers: "This is the Tour. We are good friends off the bike, but in this race there is no room for friendship."

Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom, 2nd GC)

"To beat Lance in the time trial... phew, that's heavy. Tough my form is really great and the area (of the time trial) suits me. Plus 47 kilometers isn't too long. I will have to try to limit the time losses and then attack again in the Pyrenees."

Jan Ullrich (Team Bianchi, 6th GC)

"Today the race was not very hectic, a good day for rolling easy. We didn't have to work at all which is a good base for tomorrow's time trial. Time trials are always important, but this year's Tour will be settled in the Pyrenees. Anyway, the top men of the GC will have to give their best tomorrow."

Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo, 7th GC)

A smiling Ivan Basso spoke to Cyclingnews in Narbonne this morning. "I had a good rest day," said the Fassa Bortolo ride who is 7th on GC at the moment. "I want to do well in the upcoming stages in the Pyrenees. This is the most important moment of the Tour now. I really want to win a stage but I'll see what happens in the race."

Christophe Moreau (Crédit Agricole, 12th GC)

"Jens Voigt had been really ill for two days. The rest day didn't help him at all. He appeared very pale already in the start area, so it was clear to us what was to come. It's a great pity since he is the big motor of our team, especially for me. I'm really sorry, our thoughts are with him."

Daniele Nardello (Telekom, 40th GC)

"I've been suffering from stomach problems in the last few days, but I'm happy with the way that Alexandre Vinokourov is riding. We'll see what happens in the time trial and then decide our strategy."

Floyd Landis (US Postal-Berry Floor, 83rd GC)

"The rest day went well," Cyclingnews diarist Floyd Landis said at the start in Narbonne. "I hope the others are not too rested though!"

Jens Heppner (former Telekom pro and German Eurosport commentator)

"Vinokourov has a very good chance in tomorrow's time trial. It's a good area for him, since it's not flat but runs continuously up and down. That's more a goal for him than for Armstrong."

Heras relaxed and ready

By Jeff Jones in Toulouse

Once the race hits the mountains again on Saturday, Maillot Jaune Lance Armstrong will be relying on his Spanish teammate Roberto Heras to shepherd him as far as possible up the climbs. Heras has had a bit of a slow start in the Tour, and still bears the marks of a crash in stage 8 where he injured his knee. However after the rest day he was looking a little more relaxed in Narbonne, before the start of stage 11.

Heras told Cyclingnews that he and the US Postal-Berry Floor boys trained for "only two hours" on the rest day, just enough to keep the legs ticking over but not overdo it. He missed seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger at the team bus this morning, as he was out warming up and signing on.

Roberto remained non-committal about what stage he was looking forward to in the mountains. "I don't know," he said. Maybe after tomorrow [time trial] we'll see."

Stage 12: Gaillac - Cap' Découverte, TT, 47 km

Starting in the tiny Tarnois village of Gaillac, Stage 12 finishes in the theme park of Cap 'Decouverte, converted from an open-pit coal mine that has become a popular vacation destination in Europe. The 47km test is crucial to Armstrong's success in this year's Tour De France. Lance has focused on his time trialing this year, as he and team director Johan Bruyneel have developed a strategy designed to gain maximum time against the watch in the Centenary Tour.

"I've seen the course and I know it pretty well," Armstrong said. "I'll see it again the morning of the race... we'll see. I've been focusing a lot on the time trials this year in terms of my training and I had a good TT this year at the Dauphiné." Armstrong will be seeking every advantage to gain time on his rivals, riding a new lighter version of his Trek time trial rig and a special high-tech Nike Spin Cycle skin suit.

Although the Stage 12 profile appears moderately easy, the heavy, narrow winding roads, hot conditions and about 50% of the parcours going uphill will render the Tour's first time test more difficult than it looks. Look for the final climb of the day to make the difference. Coming after 39km, the road rises from 218m at the village of Monesties up the 2.5km climb up the Côte de Bascoul to 335m.

Armstrong will be looking to put major time into Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Alex Vinokourov (Telekom) and Tyler Hamilton (CSC). But once again at the Tour de France, Armstrong's key adversary is emerging as German powerhouse Jan Ullrich (Bianchi), who is determined to ride an excellent time trial on Stage 12. With temps expected to be in the upper 90's and a windy afternoon predicted, Lance will need to ride an exceptional time trial to solidify his lead at the 2003 Tour de France.

Friday's weather

The weather for Friday's time trial between Gaillac and Cap' Decouverte is expected to be hot and sunny, with temperatures expected to reach 35 degrees Celsius by 17:00, when the last rider is due to finish. The wind will be mainly from the north east/west, between 10 and 20 km/h, meaning that it will be a cross/headwind for much of the day.

Roche slams Hamilton

Feat or folly?
Photo: © CN

Former Tour de France winner Stephen Roche may not have any doubts that Tyler Hamilton's collarbone is fractured, but he pulled no punches in saying that Hamilton's insistence on soldiering through the Tour is a discredit to the sport. Hamilton has become one of the biggest stories of the Tour, not only surviving with a cracked collarbone from his stage 1 crash, but remaining one of the principal contenders in the general classification, even daring to attack on the fearsome climb to l'Alpe d'Huez.

What many see as an incredible display of determination and perseverance is seen by Roche as poor judgment on the part of the American and his team directors.

"If the doctor says it's broken or fractured then he shouldn't be racing," Roche said in an AFP interview. "It's as simple as that. And if he falls off the bike then his shoulder could be severely damaged."

Ever under the cloud of doping scandal and questions about propriety in the professional peloton, cycling's image could be tarnished by feats such as Hamilton's, according to Roche.

"People watching what's happening are going to be asking themselves, 'is this guy for real' or they are going to be saying 'what kind of shit [drugs] are they giving him?'," Roche quipped. "Sitting in the saddle with a fractured collarbone is hard enough, getting up out of the saddle is even harder, and attacking is almost impossible."

Roche added that the race's passage near the holy city of Lourdes could help Hamilton's chances, which he still rates as being quite good for a top five finish, despite any misgivings. "We'll be passing nearby Lourdes soon," Roche added, "so maybe he should light a candle."

Communique medical

Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto-Domo):Wounds and contusions to the forearm and the right knee
Anthony Geslin (Brioches la Boulangère): Superficial contusions and a bruised little finger on right hand
Evgeni Petrov (iBanesto.com): Sore right Achilles tendon
Grischa Niermann (Rabobank): Breathing problems
Remmert Wielinga (Rabobank): Sore right Achilles tendon
Matthew Wilson (FDJeux.com): Breathing problems (finished outside time limit)
Tobias Steinhauser (Bianchi): Breathing problems

The Terminator meets Lance

By Jeff Jones in Toulouse

"I know who you are."
Photo: © Olympia

Movie mega-star Arnold Schwarzenegger came to the Tour de France today to promote his new movie, Terminator 3, which hits theatres in France this summer. The movie has floats in the publicity caravan, and today Arnold himself appeared to promote it in Narbonne. At the village depart today, he was the subject of considerable attention. Once he left the safety of his campervan, Schwarzenegger strode down right through the centre of the village in his typical imposing manner, surrounded by a mass of minders and media, all eager to get a comment from The Terminator. His target: the US Postal-Berry Floor bus.

After he made the "walk of fame", Arnold eventually gained the sanctuary of the bus, where he greeted the boys in blue. The presence of Lance and Arnold in the same vicinity made the usually fanatical public outside go completely wild as they tried to get a glimpse of the two big stars together.

Lance Armstrong greeted Arnie with a polite, "Hi, I'm Lance" to which Schwarzenegger replied, "I know who you are."

Cyclingnews spoke to George Hincapie shortly afterwards about the 'visitation'. "That was cool man!" grinned Hincapie. "Really, to see a superstar like that... Arnie said he was a big cycling fan and a big fan Lance's. He chatted to us for a couple of minutes in the bus."

After posing for photos with the Tour's Maillot Jaune, big Arnie left the Postal bus for his next appointment. He might have even said "I'll be back", as he returned after the stage to present Lance Armstrong with the Maillot Jaune. The mountains at the speed of a motorcycle?

Tour organisers defend themselves

Aside from Jimmy Casper's seemingly superhuman feat of climbing Alpe d'Huez with the 55th fastest time, suspicions have been raised in the French press about the speed of the riders in the Alps. "Les Alpes la vitesse d'une moto? Bizarre..." was the title of an article in French daily "Libération", written by former Festina trainer and now outspoken anti-doping activist Antoine Vayer.

The direction of the Tour de France reacted with a statement that the speed of the race has been slower than in previous years, pointing to times ridden by the fastest riders up the big climbs:

Time taken for the Galibier:

49'52 by Pantani in 1998, 52'14 by Garzelli in 2003.

Time taken for l'Alpe d'Huez:

37'46 by Pantani in 1998, 38'01 by Armstrong in 2001, 39'06 by Mayo in 2003 (Armstrong in 41'20).

Overall leader's average speed after the first rest day:

43.737 km/h in 1999
41.621 km/h in 2000
41.568 km/h in 2001
43.845 km/h in 2002
41.409 km/h in 2003

The statement added that "As M. Vayer is not present at this year's Tour de France, his 'observations' are consequently without serious foundation, since they cannot take into account the context of the race: the wind, the climate, the strategies of the teams, the road quality and so on."

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

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