coaching and camps
questions for frankie
Friday, the day before
Don't quote me on this because I don't have a research department but this might be the first time that the Tour starts without someone wearing the Yellow Jersey. This year because the "prologue" is not a "prologue," meaning under 12 kilometers, it is considered a time trial. Because the first event is a time trial, 15 kilometers, the previous year's winner can not wear the Yellow Jersey. The rules state that the previous year's winner will wear the Yellow Jersey in the "prologue" of the following year. Since this years first event is a time trial Lance will not be in Yellow at the start. Maybe a first, I don't know.
Lance has two time trial bikes, a new one that he loves and a new, new one that he hasn't been able to test out yet. Lance likes to stick with a sure thing so I doubt the new-new one will get ridden during the Tour. What's the difference between the bikes? I'll tell ya: one is a little stiffer in the bottom bracket but that's about it.
When the Tour rolls around so do the goodies. I can't deny it; I still get excited when I receive new stuff. This year's Tour we got new Nike polo shirts, warm-up suits, tennis shoes, casual shorts, Dri-Fit T-shirts, and a Nike watch that does everything under the sun. I can keep track of the weather, my time, which direction I'm going (compass), how high I've climbed (altimeter), and how long it took me to get there. Pretty much everything I would need during a Tour stage. We also got new short sleeve jerseys with our new sub sponsor on the sleeve, Bristol Myers Squibb Company. Vetta supplied the team with new heart rate monitors and cyclometers that tell the temperature. The new Giro helmets are awesome looking! They are way cooler, in looks and airflow, than anything else out there. Carnac set George, Christian and I up with some new riding shoes, different colors for George. Oakley set me up when I was back in America so pretty much I'm ready to go.
Wednesday we went and rode the TTT course, it's going to be a drag race. There are no turns except in the last five kilometers where they turn a great and safe course into a tour of downtown. We, along with other teams at different times and different days, had a police escort to see the course. This was a good thing since the first fifteen kilometers are on the highway.
Thursday was our medical testing. Before we were allowed to go to the medical testing the organizers of Futuroscope wanted us to go and see their new attraction. Futuroscope is like Disney Land but without the rides. It's a bunch of interactive movies, skits, and games. It's a bunch of funky looking buildings that each have a different attraction inside. Their new attraction that they wanted us to see was an animated IMAX film. We sat on a sled with seats; we had to wear seat belts, and as the movie played the seats reacted to what was on the screen. The movie was only four minutes long but all of us had upset stomachs once it was over. They asked us if we wanted to watch it again but before the guy finished talking we were already out the door.
If I thought the casino last year at medical testing was bad it didn't compare to this year. When Lance walked in there were journalists and camera crews from every country waiting for him. They were all wrestling with each other for their ten-second news flash that would appear that evening. Tyler even got mowed down. Tyler was signing an autograph and the journalists who were running backward filming Lance plowed right over Tyler, it was like watching a tank roll over a bunch of parked cars.
On Thursday Lance also did a press conference. It was mandatory that he does a press conference before the start of the Tour, it's demanded by the Tour organizers. It was a relatively normal press conference with one stupid question that pissed Lance off. A little while ago L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper, wrote that Lance would only do interviews if he were paid $100,000. Anyone who knows Lance, or has an ounce of a brain, would know this was not true. Lance has done plenty of interviews since last years Tour and he emphatically told the reporter that asked this question that it was one hundred percent not true. "Interviews have been free, are free, and always will be free."
During today's TTT training we were almost ran over by a France 3 car. We were all in line when we came upon some barriers and at the same time a France 3 television car decided to pass us. It was a very close call with the car skimming a few of our handlebars. It happened so fast all we could do was let out a yell, we didn't have time to take our hands off the bars and "wave." Lance was furious, and with all of us in tow, we sprinted up to the car to have a few words. The guys first remark was, " sorry, but my horn didn't work!" We went off yelling at the guy, which accomplished nothing, but it made us feel better because he was totally in the wrong.
We have had to adjust our TTT lineup a few times. The main reason, which hurts us a lot, is that Christian is not going to be able to take the start on Saturday. After breaking his collarbone in May, suffering on the Turbo for three weeks, coming back to the races very fit, and riding well in Catalonia Mother Nature is taking him out. His legs are good, his head is good but his butt is not so good. Three nights ago Christian received a spider bite while he was sleeping. The bite was infectious and immediately became a very painful open inflamed wound about the size of a half-dollar. All the creams and potions and lotions couldn't help in the short period of time before the start. Now Christian's priority is not about riding the Tour but getting this serious spider bite taken care of before it spreads anymore. Christian is returning to Boulder where his condo will officially be open for summer fun, all CSW (compassionate single woman) please feel free to call. Christian's replacement is Steffen Kjaergaard from Norway. Steffen was on the original selection list for the Tour but Benoit, who is riding great, was selected instead. July 1, stage 1
At the Tour, each rider receives a bag containing information that is needed for the next three weeks. The most important is the race bible, a yellow book that describes each day with a map, profile, and shows the finishing kilometer. The second most important are the profile cards, these are laminated cards that show at what kilometer mark the mountains, mid-race sprints, feed zone, and finish are. They also have the profile of the race on them. Also included is a rules and regulations book that has the general rules of the Tour, prize list, and elimination time cut for each stage. It's actually a complicated schedule they have for the time cut, it changes depending on the difficulty of the stage and it also changes depending on what the average speed is for the day. There is a history of the Tour book that lists previous winners, stage starts and finishes, and how often each mountain has been in the Tour. There also is a cultural book that lists each village we will be visiting with their attractions. We get a book with a list of all the hotels each team will be staying at for the three weeks. And lastly, included in the bag is a Tour de France medallion. The medallion has an engraved picture on the front of some cyclists sprinting and on the back an engraved picture of the race route for that year. It used to be that we only got the medallion at the end of the Tour and only the finishers received it. The last two years we have gotten it at the start.
There are a few things to pay attention to during the race so you will know what is happening better. The first is to pay attention to the spare bikes on the cars for each team. Figure out what is the difference between the spare bike and the race bike. That way you will know when something happened earlier in the day or if the rider crashed or something. This year both the spare bikes and race bikes are white, a beautiful white I might add. The difference in the bikes is that the spare bikes have a darker handlebar tape than the race bikes. The water bottle cages are all also different. The spares have black cages and the race bikes have red cages. Lance and Kevin also have grey bikes that you will probably only see during the mountain stages. They are made from a special carbon fiber, which is lighter, and have titanium parts on them. Along with special wheels, only twelve were made from Mavic, and titanium skewers and cogs and magnesium hubs the bike weighs 1.5 kilograms lighter than Lance's bike last year. Some of the other teams will have special bikes also, mainly with 26" wheels, teams like Once, Credit Agricole and Polti to name a few. On Polti each rider's bike is a different color.
Yesterday George, Eki and I went over to look at the new Rabobank bus, only nine thousand kilometers on it. Talk about plush, leather captain's chairs, satellite television, two leather couches on each side of the bus, four or five showers in the back, and of course a nice big coffee/espresso machine. The inside looks like a rock bands tour bus more than a cycling teams bus. I'm sure you won't hear any complaints from the riders.
Serguei Ivanov (Farm Frites) won the Russian National Championships and along with the title he also received a car. He won a Lada, what else, that gets 20 km's/liter. I think that equal out to something like 48 miles/gallon. Second place was a refrigerator for Tonkov and third place was a television. The remaining top ten got CD players.
As usual the Fiat cars provided by the organization needed to be jimmy rigged with the usual team radios and television. Stephen Devries who has been in charge of this for the last three years has it dialed now. It used to take him one day for each car in figuring out, tearing out, installing, and connecting all the right wires and cables for everything. Now he knows the right tools to bring to dismantle the dash and since the cars are always Fiat's he knows what every wire is supposed to do. What used to take him four to five days he can accomplish in half the time. It's still time consuming but much less a headache without all the mistakes that happened the first time he attempted this project.
Lots of American's are here this year, I'm talking about racing. We have five guys, Credit Agricole two (Bobby and Jonathan) and Mapei have two (Chann and Freddy). Speaking of Mapei, if you get a chance, check out Bartoli and Bettini's hair. Right now their hair is laced with green die and Bettini looks like PeeWee Herman. I hear they also have red and blue die in the suitcases for later in the Tour.
Last night was the team presentation, nothing to write about there. Something that is still amazing after nine years are the amount of vehicles, satellite trucks, press caravans, etc. It's a madhouse out here, what a discrepancy from all the other races. There are 3,600 people running around with the Tour, 180 of them are cyclists. There is something like 1500 cars and some ridiculous amount of press. You have to remember that without the press there is no "Tour de France."
The vampires came out this morning to test all 180 riders before the start of the Tour. The start of the Tour will have three riders less than what was planned. Ivanov (Farm Frites), Brasi (Polti), and Hauptman (Vini Caldirola) all were deemed unfit to start the Tour. This is the second time this year for Vini Caldirola to fall into trouble with a hematocrit test. Berzin, from the same team, was deemed unfit at the start of the Giro.
I can reveal my plan now that the time trial is over. About a week ago I decided to go for the Mtn. Jersey in the time trial. I saw that there was a small cat. 4 climb, one kilometer in length, on the course and who ever went up it the fastest would have the jersey for about three days. After the time trial there was not another climb for three days. That's a lot of free publicity. When I hit the climb I started sprinting as hard as I could, I went great at the bottom but died at the top. When I crossed the line at the top of the climb I had so much lactic acid I could taste it. I had to coast for a kilometer to recover and then try to finish the rest of the time trial. That stinkin' sprinter Marcel Wust ended up getting the jersey, he beat everyone by about ten seconds.
In the end my plan failed. The time trial was windy! It was held out in the open farm fields and the flat and long course took its toll on many riders. Lance rode a great time trial, he used a 55x11, but was beaten out at the end by David Millar, a young 23 year old who rides for Cofidis. I used to be on Cofidis with him and his specialty is time trialing but I'm sure he never dreamed he would take the Yellow Jersey so soon. The rest of the team did a great ride also, Eki finished 7th and Tyler 9th and Kevin was up there also. I'm not exactly sure about the results but they were up there. Because of their great rides the Postal Service will be on the podium tomorrow morning for the prize of best team in the team classification. That means a little Credit Lyonnais lion for the each of us.
July 2, second stage
I want to start by saying that I hope Christian is feeling better. It must have been crazy hard for him hanging around here while everywhere he looked the Tour de France hit him in the face. We were all getting ready for the Tour, getting our team clothing, it was always on TV, and Christian even got booted from his room to make room for Steffen. The whole time Christian stayed in good spirits but that was only because of Christian's good nature, I'm sure he was dying inside. I do hope he got his business class ticket for the way home. Christian deserved a break by having a comfortable flight home- I don't think that's asking too much.
Yesterday I stated that I got my butt kicked in going for the mountain jersey. I wanted that Polka-dot Jersey. Come to find out I actually did pretty well, I still got beat but just by a little. Marcel won, I was second, and Francois Simon (Bonjour) was third. I almost wish I did get beat by a lot because now I think of how I died near the top and I should have done this or that, like it would have made a difference? Watching the highlights of the time trial I noticed something on almost everyone in the top ten. They all had rainbow colors on their jerseys, it was not a slack bunch of guys. Zulle, Lance, Eki, Olano, Ullrich, Jalabert, that's off the top of my head. Having those stripes on your jersey looks very, very, cool. It used to be only Pro's who won a Pro worlds would get to wear the stripes. Nowadays you see the stripes everywhere; guys who won as amateurs in the road or track now wear the stripes as a Pro. I don't think it's quite the same. The guy who really milked a logo was Pascal Richard, he wore the Olympic Rings on his jersey for four years, and in those four years I think he only won one race.
Our team has a huge crew with us to keep this Tour de France project running smoothly. There are the nine riders, the chef Willy Balmat, the mechanics are Julian DeVriese (head mechanic who goes back to service course after the TTT), Jeff Brown, Alan Butler, Juan Lujan, Dave Lettierri (in charge of Lance's bikes), the soigneurs are Freddy Viaene, Dave Bolch, Jim Dougherty, Richard Kielpinski, our doctor Luis Garcia Del Moral (how 'bout that for a Spanish name), our chiropractor Jeff Spencer, our trainer Jose Marti, the director Johan Bruyneel, the second director Dirk Demol, the manager of the team Mark Gorski, the public relations person is Dan Osipow, the Postal Service liaison is Margot Myers, the accommodations coordinator for the guests is Louis Donald, the bus driver who is also in charge of getting Lance around the start and finish areas safely is Stephen DeVriese, and we also have a Belgian guy who is in charge of dealing with all the press that want to talk or interview or see Lance, I forget his name. I probably forgot someone but this pretty much covers everything.
Lance finishing in second yesterday actually is good for the team. Cofidis has the responsibility to chase and control the field; not us, like last year. This means if a break goes up the road they have to control or chase until the sprinter teams take over. It used to be a sprinter team would take over sixty or seventy kilometers from the finish but nowadays they like to wait until thirty kilometers or so. The other factor for the sprinter teams is that instead of having two motivational goals to chase the break they only have one. The time trial was so long that it put all the sprinters out of contention for a Yellow Jersey, this is a very big motivator. Now all they have too ride for is a stage win. The first day always is a poker game waiting to see which sprinter team will do the work. No one knows who is going fastest so they want to save their cards until later. There is nothing worse than doing a bunch of work and then not winning. Once a team has proven they have the fastest sprinter the duty of chasing will fall on their shoulders for awhile. Once a team has more than a couple wins then the role will switch to teams that are in need of a win before the race hits the mountains.
Cofidis made a hard day for themselves today. To start with the first day was by no means easy. The wind played havoc on the nervous peloton making the fight to stay in front more intense than usual. Our morning meeting made clear what our goal, singular, for this race is that Lance wins in Paris. Cedric, Eki, and I were in charge of staying around Lance as much as possible and keeping him out of the wind. George and Benoit were in charge of following the breaks if a large group went up the road. Kevin and Tyler were to float and try to conserve energy, and Steffen had a free day to try and find his legs after replacing Christian at the last moment. The start was tranquil but once we hit some of the crosswinds the riders started attacking. At this moment there was one crash, about six riders, and Tyler got caught in it. He plowed into it from behind and fell over, nothing serious. Eki went bike surfing in the ditch; he had one hand on the handlebars and one hand with a water bottle. After cruising through the ditch and finagling his way back on the road he still had his waterbottle in his hand, he was all proud of this. A break escaped with Dekker (Rabobank) and Jacky Durand (Lotto). Cofidis started to ride while the break went up to six minutes. It was windy so by no means was it easy on the front or in the back. Cofidis rode hard enough to catch the break with about forty-kilometer to go and thus had to keep riding. The sprinter team that took over didn't hit the front until four kilometers to the finish; Cofidis rode the entire 190 kilometers themselves. What they should have done was let the break stay at four or five minutes and then eventually a sprinter team would have taken over to do the final kilometers. Telekom was the team that took the initiative to do the leadout for Zabel. Fagnini, Zabel's leadout man, did it perfect and he even managed to get in Steels way. It didn't matter; Steels, who took a huge detour to get around Fagnini, still beat Zabel who had a straight line to the finish. O'Grady (Credit Agricole) even managed to come around Zabel for second. It looks like it could be a long Tour for Zabel.
Memory Card/Jack and Jones are having loads of trouble after switching bike sponsors before the Tour. They are now riding Look aluminum bikes. They used to ride Vitus and I guess Look and Vitus are owned by the same company. Anyway, they have been breaking bikes like mad before the start and today had all sorts of mechanical problems. The mechanics on their team are going to be fried before they even leave their first hotel.
Tonight is the final of Euro 2000, France vs Italy. Yesterday the cameras were going around asking riders who they thought would win. All the French said France and the Italians all served up Italy. When they asked Cedric what he thought about the game tonight he said, "what game?" He doesn't care one way or another - he sounds like me.
Tomorrow will be interesting. The TTT is the following day so no one wants to kill themselves the day before. No one wants to go in a break because it's too much work and no one wants to chase because it is too much work. If I remember correctly when Steve Bauer got the Yellow Jersey it was because he took advantage of this situation in the peloton. He went up the road in a break, the day before the TTT, and gained valuable time and either that day or after the TTT he had the Yellow. The day before the TTT is always a sticky situation.
July 3, stage three
Today we changed hotels, it's seems like we have been in the same place for a long time. When we switch hotels there is a whole process the staff goes through. The soigneurs get split up into who does the race and who does the hotels. The soigneurs in charge of doing the race meet us at the start and make sure we have everything we need before hopping on the bike. Then they go to the feed zone to hand up our musettes and then race, literally, to the finish area. The soigneurs who do the hotel pick up our suitcases in the morning and travel with the mechanics who are also doing the hotel. They also race to get to the hotel first; it's a priority to get good parking. We have six cars, two trucks, a bus and a camper. If you have more than one team at a hotel you can imagine the parking disappears quickly. The other priority to getting there early is so you can be close enough to hook up to the hotel's water and electricity. The water to wash the bikes and the electricity for everything from keeping the refrigerators running to running the washing machine. The hotel soigneurs have to unload all the suitcases and place them in the right rooms. They have to prepare food and drinks for after the race and set up all the soigneur tables including the soigneurs who are at the race. This also includes harassing the hotel staff to get extra sheets and towels to do all the massages. The mechanics are split up the same way; the ones that do the race ride in the car all day. The ones that do the hotel work on the bikes, glue tires, and repair everything until we finish the race. It's a bit more complicated and intricate than this but you get the idea.
The other day before the time trial I noticed some people walking around wearing black T-shirts that said, "It's Millar time". On the back they said, "Tour de France 2000." David's sister made them up and passed them out to her friends that were going to the Tour start. It turned out that it was Millar time. I also found out, from David, that he did a seven-minute warm-up before his time trial, that's short! Boardman is known to have a 24-minute time trial warm-up program, that also is short.
After cruising along for only ten kilometers the attacks started. The first hour was wicked fast while everyone kept trying to escape from the group. As much as Cofidis would try to ride on the front to calm things down guys would keep jumping right around them and keep attacking. Finally, Michael Blaudson (Memory Card/Jack & Jones) and Jens Voigt (CA) went up the road and everyone was so tired from attacking they were content to let them build a quick gap. Cofidis rode a steady tempo until thirty kilometers to go when Bonjour started to help a little. Why Bonjour? Good question. It's because Pascal Deramae (Bonjour) lived five hundred meters from where the race passed. The last fifteen kilometers were crazy, not only from the riders all fighting for position for the sprint but because of the road obstacles that kept popping up everywhere. For about five kilometers there were these long small islands that would pop up in the middle of the road intermittently. There were no warnings, no cops, nothing to warn the riders. To count the number of riders that crashed each time these curbs popped up would be impossible. Finally, as the line grew closer and the riders got more aggressive and crazy there was a crash. It was partly the fault of the riders and partly the fault of the road. In the last five kilometers there were these parking spaces with huge flowerpots lining the road. They alternated from the left side of the road to the right side of the road. As everyone went flying up the right side of the road we would all have to lock up the brakes and shoot to the left. Once we shot over to the left the next huge flowerpot would show up and everyone on the left would have to lock it up and shoot to the right. Eventually the left side of the peloton and the right side of the peloton collided. The crash even took out the Yellow Jersey with another four or five guys. David Millar was able to catch back on in the final kilometers to keep the Yellow but it wasn't by much. We were all riding next to Lance in the final kilometers and we also got gapped a bit but were able to catch back up to the main group for same time. Our strategy for today was the same as yesterday, everyone had the same responsibilities. Steels won the sprint for his second win in two days; I would venture to guess he will probably get another one soon. The Thursday and Friday before the Tour started Steels didn't ride because he was sick, he had a temperature. He rode the prologue time trial and easy and now has two wins under his belt.
Early in the race when all the attacks were going Eki broke his stem. When he hopped off his bike he grabbed his waterbottles to put on his spare bike that they were taking off the spare car. Immediately a spectator saw Eki had two bottles and ran over to ask for them. Eki, told the guy to get lost.
We all carry radios in the race; these allow us to talk with each other and with our team cars. Steffen had to go back to get bottles and Johan was telling Steffen through the radio to wait for Benoit who was also getting bottles. As Johan repeatedly told Steffen to wait he could see him sprinting up the outside of the pack. After five shouts into the radio finally Johan yelled, "Steffen put the damn radio in your other ear." Steffen has one bad ear and he had the earpiece in his bad ear so he couldn't hear anything.
The last two days we have had the lead in the team classification. Each morning we go up on the sign-on stage together to get a small lion and a medal. I gave my first lion to Willy our chef. Last year I gave Willy a lion at one of the starts and he lost it before he even got back to his car, he left it on a curb.
The TTT is tomorrow. I'm nervous and so is every other rider in the peloton. I took bets to see who we thought would get last tomorrow. I picked Saeco; others picked Bonjour and Francais des Joux. We'll have to wait and see. Lance, at dinner, warned us of what was to come, "You guys better be nice to me tonight, tomorrow's the TTT." Now you see why I'm nervous!
The Spanish rider that crashed in the time trial was David Etxebarria (Once). It looked horrible and when he crossed the line there was blood everywhere. It looked like he was really messed up but all the blood was coming from a small head cut he got from the crash. He looked fine in the race the next day.
The new Giro helmets we received are called "PNEUMO". All the teams sponsored by Giro got the new helmets. You should see some of the helmets out there, large and ugly. I saw Jean Cyril Robin wasn't wearing a helmet and I asked him why, since the first days are so crazy. He pointed and said, "you see that helmet over there, that's why". He pointed to an ugly and big all black Bell. It's amazing how the same company can be so opposite.
July 4, stage four
Today was the long awaited TTT. It's a race that was long awaited by the spectators, fans, and the organizers of the Tour. It was not something we, the riders, longed for. Since our start time was not until four in the afternoon we went for a small ride in the morning. We rode around easy but in our formation to get used to the positioning and how the rider in front operates. The order for the race was me, I started, Benoit, Kevin, Tyler, Eki, Lance, Steffen, Cedric, and George. We all had radios inside our Giro TT helmets. Each one of us could hear the car behind us but this time we couldn't talk back, not that we would have been able to. In the TTT three cars are allowed to follow the race. The race turned out to be completely different than what any team expected. The wind was howling - it was a very, very strong headwind. If you look at previous TTT's you will notice the average speed is usually 54, 55 km/hr, this year's average was under 50km/hr.
If you had to pick an event that was the hardest to do, the TTT would be the event. We started off well with each rider taking his turn in the front. After the first checkpoint, we were 15" down on ONCE, we started to ride a double echelon. Johan came on the radio and told us to do a double echelon and then was telling us "very, good. Very, good. This is much faster." All of us were thinking, "yeah, and much harder." The double echelon allowed us to go three or four kilometers faster but the effort is harder. After rotating like this for awhile we got tired and went back to a single line.
Just before the bridge, the hardest part of the whole course, we went back to a double echelon to try and gain some time back on ONCE. The plan at the start was to sacrifice a couple guys before the bridge, this is why Benoit took a huge pull at the bottom and then pulled off. The problem was that he brought the speed up so high that when the rest of us hit the bridge we were already red lined. The ascent up the bridge didn't go as well as we hoped, we lost time and couldn't reorganize until just before the top. It sort of seemed like we were all individually time trialing up the bridge; it was the best we could do. Coming down the bridge we had gale force winds. I, with all my might, was hanging on to the bars to keep from getting blown over. We all had to separate and get away from each other because the wind was whipping us a good three feet from side to side. It was crazy. George thought he was going down when the first gust hit him and he was in his aero bars.
We finished with six guys and after the race none of us could walk. Our hamstrings and butt muscles completely locked up. We had to sit around for ten minutes before we could bend over to take off our shoes. We couldn't move!! ONCE beat usus by forty seconds at the end but they had a little help.
ONCE ended up getting a twenty second penalty because on the bridge, where it was very windy, the team car came up on the side of one of their guys that was getting dropped to give him protection. A total cheating move. It will be interesting tomorrow to hear everyone's stories about this hell day. I know one thing; everyone is relieved it's finally over. It's a shame we didn't win because we had some extra motivation. Margot Myers, our Postal liaison, promised she would sing the National Anthem on Eurosport and Danish television if we pulled it off, maybe it was better we got second.
AG2R woke up at eight in the morning to go and see the course. It paid off with being the second French team to finish in the classification behind Credit Agricole. I lost my bet as to who was going to get last. The last two spots went to Bonjour, dead last, and Francaise des Jeux who was second to last. I want to know what their excuse is tomorrow in the paper. The day before the TTT Frank Vandenbroucke (Cofidis) announced that they would win the TTT, it didn't happen.
After the finish there were people everywhere. They were all asking us for our bottles, glasses, or whatever they could get their hands on. You had to practically beat them back. Benoit had his bottle stolen off his bike and just figured, "oh well." Two minutes later some other guy came back with Benoit's bottle and returned it to him, the guy went and got the bottle from the person that stole it. Benoit said the guy was all-proud that he got Benoit's bottle back, like Benoit cared. After the finish most of us went straight to the bus and somehow managed to make our legs move to get us into the bus. Eki went for a little spin, about five kilometers, down the road to cool off, he said the whole time he was riding he had a line of kids running after him yelling for his waterbottle.
Now, ONCE has the jersey, they have the responsibility, they have to work. This is good for us. As much as we wanted to win, and gave everything to win, coming in second is a better outcome when looking down the road two more weeks. The question will be how well is Jalabert climbing? Our main concern the next few days is to not let an ONCE rider go up the road, because then they won't have to chase and we will. We also have to keep Lance as fresh as possible before we hit the big climbs. Tomorrow is a good chance a break will go up the road and stay away. Everyone is tired so the idea of chasing does not sit well with any teams and the time gaps now are big enough to let riders go without the danger of losing the jersey.
We didn't get back to the hotel until eight at night. These late starts for television totally suck. Tomorrow we don't start again until one in the afternoon. This means that massages are later, dinner is late, and your reports are going to be late. You'll get them back don't be in rush to read them, they can't come any earlier.
July 5, stage five
The publicity caravan in the race is huge. It is a procession of cars that leave two hours before the start of the race and drive the entire race course giving out goodies to all the spectators that are lining the road.
The cars consist of small go-karts, girls on motorcycles, big cars, cars shaped liked balls and all of them have speakers in which to blast music out of. One of the vehicles even has a live band playing in the back of their truck.
The caravan drives in a staggered order alternating one car on the right side of the road and the next car on the left. This is so all the journalists and dignitaries who leave right before the start can drive through the caravan on their way to the finish. The bad part is that they all drive like idiots.
The caravan drives slowly so they can toss out goodies to the fans and kids along the way. When the kids see the stuff they get all excited and run into the road to get it. This is where the idiot journalists, who after many years of doing this know what to expect, still go flying in and out of the cars without a care in the world.
The television caught all of Tyler suffering and trying with everything he had to get back on to our group. It wasn't funny at the time but that night watching it on the television and seeing Tyler squirm and ride so far forward his saddle was in the middle of his back and pointing to the front for Johan to tell us to slow down and so on and so on and so on was funny.
Everyone in the group came up to me to talk about it. First they said how funny it was but right away they said they couldn't believe Tyler hung in there and made it to the finish. If it was anybody else they would have sat up and gave up. I can tell you this, Tyler knows how to suffer!
I don't think there is such a thing as an easy day anymore. I knew guys were going to attack but I didn't think it would last all day and I didn't think they would go so damn hard at the start. The first hour we averaged 48km/hr over the rolling course, that turned out to be no big deal because at the finish we still had a 48km/hr average for the 209-kilometer race.
ONCE had the jersey and the work definitely fell into their lap today. At the start everyone was attacking and as hard as ONCE tried to slow it down or control the race it didn't work. After the first hour of chasing down breaks at sixty km/hr ONCE was looking ragged. Instead of having all their riders on the front they were scattered all over the group hanging.
Finally, it seemed to take forever; a break went with five riders. The danger man in the break was Jens Voigt; he was only 1:30 down on G.C. At this point looking back it would have been better to not let such close G.C. rider go up the road. I think ONCE was just happy to have something up the road and they would take what they could get at that moment.
Because they couldn't lose more than 1:30 to the break we never went slow. All day was in the gutter and raging up and down the many small hills on the course. ONCE pulled and pulled and pulled, the sprinter teams didn't even try to help until maybe twenty kilometers to go. Bonjour, Festina, AG2R, Mapei all had a few guys on the front to bring the group into a bunch finish.
The battle staying in front was as hard as ever. The speed was high, the road was undulating and everyone wanted to stay out of trouble. Fresh in everyone's mind was the second day when a crash caused a nine-second gap to appear. Coming into two kilometers to go the break had fifteen seconds, they were dead ducks. In the last corner the ill-fated crash happened, only one guy (Vini Caldirola) but it was enough to split the group.
Coming out of the last corner there was about one kilometer to the finish. Lance was just behind the crash and when he saw the gap that was there started sprinting immediately. George and Eki were on his wheel but immediately Eki sat up, Lance was going too fast. George said he wanted to come around Lance to help him bridge the gap but he said he couldn't even come up next to his back wheel.
Lance caught the first group four hundred meters from the line. In front the sprint was happening. The lead out was Telekom (again) and the line up behind was Zabel, Zannini, Steels, Wust..and whoever, it's not important after that. When Telekom pulled off Zabel went straight down the left side of the road. Zannini with Steels on his wheel went to the left side of the road. Wust followed Steels, smart move to stay with the fastest guy the last two days.
All of a sudden Zabel was pulling away and looked like he had two bike lengths in front of Zannini. Wust realized that Steels was going nowhere so he jumped past Steels to the right side of the road made up the two bike lengths in about two seconds and came right passed Zabel. It was a beautiful sprint and Wust was amazing. Instead of going up to the podium for a Mountain Jersey he now was on the top podium as a stage winner, how sweet it must be.
After the finish there was a ten-second time gap given between the first group and the second group. I think only Ullrich was there, Olano, Zulle, and Jalabert all were in the back. ONCE must be fuming after all the work they did all day long. The perfect quote for this day came from George speaking to me, "How happy were you that we didn't win the TTT yesterday?" The answer to that is very happy.
During the race Stephen DeVriese, our bus driver, went in the second car. His mission was to find the frequencies the other teams are using. He had four scanners with him and the whole day they would drive next to the different teams to try and pick up on their conversations and then write down the channel and frequency. The found a lot of team's channels but not the most important ones, ONCE and Telekom are still a mystery.
You might notice that some of us have put a flag sticker on our helmets. Eki started it; he took his race number and peeled off his name and country flag and the attached it to his helmet. We all thought it looked good so we copied the idea. Keep an eye out for it.
Tomorrow is a little flatter but I don't think it will make much difference. The wind has been playing havoc on everyone and wearing us down. My legs are ok but my hamstring and butt muscles are still like piano wires. That TTT played some serious havoc with my legs.
ONCE will have their work cut for them again; if they are lucky the right break will get away this time. Tomorrow maybe, just maybe, a break will stay to the finish. Actually, I doubt it, the sprinters only have a few more days left.
July 6, stage six
Yesterday Johan got a phone call; it seems someone was not very happy with the ten-second-time gap that the peloton received. It seems that this person also thinks it was Eki who opened the gap on purpose. This person was also so mad that he threatened not to take one pull on the front tomorrow. This person was Manolo Saiz, the director of ONCE.
Just so you know, Eki was the one who pulled for two hundred meters trying to close the gap and then finally said enough. Jalabert was the one who was sitting in twenty-fifth position or something and was out of place to suffer the consequences. It will be interesting to see if they play their bluff.
Have you ever wondered why each year we always return to Futuroscope? The place is a dive so if you saw it you would wonder why we keep going back. I found out that a large company owns part of the Futuroscope enterprise. This same company owns L'Equipe, France's largest sports newspaper and this same company also owns the Tour de France. It's all connections.
The Tour is sponsored by Fiat, has been for twelve years. Fiat owns Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and of course Fiat cars. The race cars are always Fiat's and last year the head commissaires cars were Lancia's. This year the head commissaries cars are new Alfa Romeo's that have 245 horsepower. That's plenty of pulling speed to get around any group.
Yesterday a reporter/journalist went to the feed zone to see what it was all about. He was from Austin, Texas and came here to report on the race on Lance. When he got to the feed zone he went up to Freddy, our soigneur, to ask where all the riders stop? Just after that statement he said that it was his first bike race, who would have known?
The feed zone is marked by signs reading 12km to the feed, start of feed zone, and end of the feed zone. The riders are not allowed to call the cars up from the 12km's before the feed zone to 12km's after the feed zone. In the feed zone we have two soigneurs, Dave and Freddy. They are always at the end of the feed zone, we like it this way.
On the other hand Credit Agricole are always the first in the feed zone. In the feed zone we always take the musettes from the right side of the road, it's not allowed to feed on the left. It's mayhem when we enter this zone; riders from the different teams trying to move over to the right while others are trying to move left.
This is all happening while the soigneurs inch further and further out in the road narrowing the path to one lane. Then if we were going fast bags are dropped, bottles get dropped and food goes everywhere, it's chaos.
To add to the excitement this is where many fans congregate to pick up all the leftovers. They know we throw the musettes and extra waterbottles off just before or after the feed zone. Then they all rush into the road to get whatever might have fallen out making the riders dive and swerve to miss them. Most of the time we try to launch the bags as far away from the road as possible. This is a regular place for crashes.
There were some not so happy riders this morning, mainly Laurant Jalabert who has the Yellow Jersey. We started off slowly and when Laurant stopped to relieve himself the first attack went. It was Magnus Backstead from Credit Agricole. To explain how much of a no-no this is would not be possible. It's the worst thing you can do to a bike racer.
After Magnus attacked everyone yelled and an ONCE rider went up to the front to yell at everyone that Laurant stopped. It didn't matter, Jacky Durand (Lotto) took off. He is more of a pestoso than Magnus because he knew Laurant stopped where as Magnus didn't see him stop. Jacky's attack caused a break of ten riders to go away.
By the time the ONCE riders went to the back of the group to get Laurant and chase back up to the front the group was already thirty seconds up the road. This doesn't sound like much but thirty seconds at sixty kilometers an hour is a good amount of road. Laurant was fuming and after having his team ride on the front for about ten kilometers he called them off. He said screw it.
The danger man in the break was Elli (Telekom) at 2:30 from the lead. As we sat there riding 25km/hr the game began. Who was going to work, who wanted to win, who would wait the longest before reacting? The gap grew to ten minutes in about ten kilometers. Finally, Polti went to the front and started to ride, then Bonjour joined them and then we put two riders (Cedric and Steffen) on the front also.
We were not worried because in the long run Elli wouldn't make it over the big climbs with the front guys, but we couldn't give him thirty minutes either.
The team that didn't help right away, who didn't have a guy in the break, was Mercatone Uno who has Pantani. The break got up to thirteen minutes but then stabilized around twelve minutes for most of the day.
Polti was looking at the overall like we were but Bonjour had to work because their director was furious that they missed the break AGAIN. It didn't matter what happened Bonjour had to pull all day. To say they were not pulling easy would be an understatement; it was fast and hard. Of course we had crosswind to deal with which didn't help matters.
Going through the feed zone the Bonjour riders told Cedric and Steffen not to take a feed, they were going to give everything here to try and break up the group. Sure enough it worked, the peloton split into three groups each one minute behind the other. We had everyone in the first group and pretty much anybody important was also in the first group. It's a good thing the heavy hitters were present because we were on the radios to see if anyone got flicked because we were going to put the hammer down to try and eliminate a contender.
Just after the feed zone during the chase a large crash happened taking out a bunch of riders, the worst of the bunch was O'Grady (CA) who broke his collarbone. The crash happened because on the side of the road were some kids banging on some drums, the noise sounded like a bunch of bikes crashing. When the back of the peloton heard this some riders panicked hitting the brakes and thus having the riders behind them run into each other.
After Bonjour's effort through the feed zone the team started to blow up. With fifty kilometers to go, finally, Mercatone Uno came to the front with ONCE again. I'm not sure why ONCE because the jersey was for sure lost to Elli, the gap was still seven minutes.
At one point I went back for bottles and was having trouble getting back to the group. I came over the top of a small hill and just as I crested it I caught the back of the group. When I looked up all I saw was one line of guys and it was so stretched out I couldn't even see the front. I just thought to myself, "oh shit." I wanted to go back in the cars but I couldn't because I just came from there so I just had to suffer it out.
It was hell until finally they slowed down and the group bunched up. This was the first time the finish was not an all out crazy fight. That's because the winner was up the road by seven minutes. Van Bon (Rabobank) won the race, they had three riders in the break. Elli did take the jersey and this is his eleventh Tour de France.
Now with the G.C. the way it is I don't know what to expect. I don't know if Telekom wants to defend the jersey and I don't know how one of the other teams will attempt to get the jersey. Tomorrow will be very interesting, it could be a free for all or maybe Telekom will control the race.
The battle for the Green Jersey is heating up before we get to the mountains. Each sprint is becoming critical in gaining valuable points. The battle is between Wust, Zabel, and Steels who is still wearing the jersey.
Like everyday we went to a new hotel. Last night George was flipping through the book that lists all our hotels and he noticed that we were staying at a Novotel. All Novotel's are the same, they have a big bed and a small bed and the restaurants are identical. George decided to "call" the big bed. I said forget it, you cant "call" the big bed the day before we go to the hotel. That's like calling "shotgun" the day before you take a trip in the car, no go! Then this morning as soon as he cracked his eyes the first thing out of his mouth was, "I get the big bed." What can you do?
Yesterday I was right about Stuart O'Grady breaking his collarbone. What I didn't know is that after the crash he rode to the finish. Even worse was that the guys in the group he was in was yelling at him to pull through.
Stuey said that if he wouldn't have been in so much pain he would have pounded them. The one yelling the most was Xaiver Jan (La Francaise des Jeux) and he caused the whole crash.
Put your tray tables upů
On arriving toward the finish, the Tour has signs marking 25, 20, 10, 5, and one kilometer. The finishing straight has makings from 500 meters down to 100 meters from the finish.
The finish line has a huge clock above it showing the amount of time the race took and a clock showing the amount of time elapsed since the winner crossed the line. Sometimes in a fast finish I'll see one minute on the clock but still be in the peloton. It's just that the group is one long line.
I can sometimes watch the sprint on the big television that is set up next to the finish or even hear the commentator announce who won the race when I'm still at 500 meters to go.
After the line there are Coca-Cola people standing around trying to pass out product to the riders. Everyone stops to grab a cold Coke, Fanta, Sprite or Aquarius. I like Aquarius the best; it's a little carbonated and not as sweet or sugary as Coke. I don't think you can find it in America.
When everyone stops to get the drinks it totally clogs up the area. The next blockage I run into are all the journalist running around trying to find certain riders to interview. Here again a lot of the riders stop in the middle of the road causing a traffic jam.
Finally after getting by all the obstacles you enter into a funnel that narrows everyone down to one line to exit the secured finish area. You have to have passes to enter into the finish area, outside this area is a free for all.
Here the mugging by the general public for your bottles, hats, or glasses begins all the way until you reach your team cars. The best thing to do is to get rid of your bottles before you enter this zone so they will leave you alone.
Wind, wind and more wind
The mystery before the race was if Telekom would try to keep the jersey and with how much effort. The wind, like it's been every day, was howling. The direction we were heading today meant crosswind all day.
I was so nervous the first 50 kilometers. Everyone was waiting for someone to attack and at the same time hoping no one would attack. Then the rain came, hard rain that hurt as it hit you. That's when the attacks started.
It took forever to get a group away; everyone wanted to be in the break after yesterday's break stayed away. On top of that whatever team missed the break yesterday had extra pressure from their manager to make sure they made it today.
Eventually, Christophe Agnolutto (AG2R) got away by himself. What a ride he did, building up a lead of seven minutes and hanging on to win by one minute. Telekom rode tempo in the back but by no means was it easy because of the high winds.
All day we rode from the middle of the group to the front of group with Lance on our wheels. It was a never-ending process of keeping him in the front. The finish was on a gradual uphill so it was critical to keep Lance in good position for the final kilometer.
Finishes like this kill the group and when riders sit up time gaps happen. To not take any chances our team pulled the last five or six kilometers to keep Lance in the front and out of trouble. Once I hit the last kilometer mark I sat up and rode in easy. I didn't feel like suffering more than I had to just to stay in the group.
We have finished one week. I thought coming in that the first week might have been an easy week. I figured I could sit back watch the attacks, let them go, and just sit in the peloton with Lance and everything would be fine.
I didn't count on the wind to screw things up. I also didn't realize how much work it is keeping Lance in the front. Not because of any fault of his, It just takes a lot to ride in the wind and be at the front always throughout the whole race.
Before when I did go after the attacks, I would go all out on day and then rest the next day, it didn't matter if I got dropped or missed a split. Now, it matters every moment of the race to be in the front and to keep Lance out of trouble. Maybe it will get easier when I get to the mountains but I know that won't be the case.
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