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July 8 stage eight

You might have gathered I didn't feel like writing much yesterday. Besides that, not much really happened. This becomes a more common occurrence as the weeks go by. At this point days are meaningless, I don't know if it's a Friday, Tuesday, or Sunday. I just know what stage it is, and when the mountains are coming.

This morning when I walked into breakfast Johan Bruyneel asked how I was doing, I responded, "okay." He said, "Okay? Okay is not good enough, you have to be good."

I told him that at this point if you asked the guys that walk into the room how they felt they would all say "okay" and none would say "good" except Lance who has been sitting on the wheels.

Sure enough Lance answered "good" and some of the other guys said "okay." When George Hincapie walked in he answered "Molto, molto bene." That means very, very good in Italian.

Johan gave me glance meaning I told you so. When I got back the room George told me that Jimbo, our soigneur, warned George of the upcoming test when he was walking to breakfast. He told George that no matter what he does don't answer "okay." It was a conspiracy and I still have to get even with Jimbo for flicking me.

This morning there also was a small panic with Willy our chef. It seems the restaurant couldn't turn on their stoves because they didn't know how to turn on the gas.

That meant no pasta or omelets for us and Willy just didn't know what to do. Finally the restaurant called up their chef and woke him up out of bed to come over to turn on the gas. Problem solved but for a while it was going to only be a cereal and coffee day.

Each Tour you usually have a day that can totally ruin the outcome of the race if a major decision or chase is not made. Today was that day when 18 riders escaped at very start of the race.

Last year we also had a day like this in the first week when the whole team had to hit the front to chase down a 20-man break.

This morning started with an all out, flat out, drag race chase to try and catch this 18-man break that we had no rider in. Who should be in the break? We have the team right now split up with three guys always around Lance, four guys to go in the break, and one guy was supposed to take it easy to nurse his leg (Benoit Joachim).

The gap when we started chasing was only 27 seconds. We knew it was bad and we reacted immediately. Everyone chased and at first I didn't think we were going to catch them. It took us 15 kilometers to catch these guys and it took 100 percent of everything the team had.

Once we caught them the others and I were cooked but the race only kept attacking. We did 100 kilometers in the first two hours, and this was over some very rolling terrain.

After following a few attacks I found myself in a break of 15, this was the break that went to the end. This was great for the team because we had someone there and now we didn't have to chase.

It was shit for me because for 100 kilometers I'd been riding as hard as I could and by the end of the race I was cooked. I got dropped 20 kilometers from the finish. My legs just had no more power.

Once I got dropped from the break I rode easy for five kilometers before the peloton caught me and then I rode in with them.

Eric Dekker won the race mainly because he was much stronger than the rest of the group. Early on in the race he was sprinting for the mountain jersey and then he was in two breaks before the final break went. He was on a mission and it paid off with a stage win.

I guess back in the group was no easier than being in the front. Mercatone Uno, Farm Frites, and Kelme led the charge to keep the break from gaining to much time. The maximum time gap at one time was 10 minutes.

ONCE had no one in the break but they didn't do any work. Telekom who has the jersey with Alberto Elli had Guerinni in the break so they got off free also without having to do any work to defend the jersey.

I can't really tell you much more because since I was in the break I don't know what was going on in the back and since I got dropped before the finish I can't tell you what was going on in the front. I was in no man's land.

The quote for the day came from Viatcheslav Ekimov after the race when were cleaning up in the bus. Steffen, one of our helpers, came into the bus and asked if everybody was okay and if anyone need anything. Eki looked at him and said, "yeah, a gun with one bullet." I guess the race was hard for everyone.

The night before this race Cedric Vasseur was having some wine and we were all talking about the race. He kept telling us how it was going to very up and down and that it was a very hard course. Kevin joked, "that the more wine Cedric had the hillier the race was getting." Cedric just laughed and said, "you'll see." Those words were ringing in all our ears today.

The French love to serve flan or crème caramel for dessert. We get it almost every night and Lance hates it! Every night after dinner Lance will tell Willy, "let me guess what's for dessert..uhh crème caramel!!" Willy just laughs because 90 percent of the time Lance is right.

Today Lance saw a fan whom he had met the year before. It's a young French boy who is in a wheelchair. The boy had Lance's number from last year, 182, on his wheel chair.

Today in the race, 205 kilometers, Lance threw off one of his waterbottles and by chance of all the places on the course the bottle landed right in front of the boy. The boy and his parents came to the hotel tonight to tell Lance their story and get him to sign his book.

Lance signed the book, gave the boy one of his Credit Lyonnais lions, and gave him a new number to cover up the ratted out old number of 182. Now the young boy has number 1 on the side of his wheelchair.

July 9 stage nine

Today is a flat day and I hope it's a head-wind as they predict. I need some rest and after tomorrow comes the first mountain day of Hautacam. They predict nasty weather, everything from rain to snow. It should be great to watch on TV.

Tomorrow will be the first test for the contenders. It's not going to sort out the winner but it will eliminate some hopefuls. This will be the first time since the prologue/time trial that the strongest will flex their muscles again. The Yellow Jersey may remain safe in Alberto Elli's hands after Hautacam. I think it will take a few days to eliminate him. If there was a day when I looked forward to seeing the results at night, tomorrow will be that day, more so to see who thought they were a contender, but turned out to be a pretender.

My wish for a head-wind was half-true. We had a cross head-wind and at this point I'll take it over a real side wind. The riders were nervous, you could tell by the way the pack was compacted from one side of the road to the other. There was no length in the peloton; everyone was trying to stay in the front. We rode easy for awhile, maybe an hour, and then when a few riders went to relieve themselves the attacks started. I don't know who attacked first because I was in the back taking a pit stop also. I guess the unwritten code of conduct just gets thrown out the window with the Tour.

These first attacks started the fireworks, immediately a break of eighteen guys went up the road. We had Tyler Hamilton and Cedric Vasseur there, our morning plan was working so far. At our morning meeting we decided, at all costs, to have someone in every break over four guys. Ideally, we wanted Tyler, Eki, or Kevin Livingston in the break. If these riders gained time on anyone in the group then it would be a very big bonus for our team.

It's always an advantage having a few dangerous G.C. guys than just one. This first break contained no Mercatono, again, or Francaise des Jeux. They led the chase for fifteen kilometers trying to close the thirty second gap. Right after a twenty man group went away. We had Kevin and Eki. AG2R, Lotto, and Rabobank worked to bring this group back. The rest of the way there were many attacks but always someone or some team brought it back straight away. The way the day was going it was definitely going to be a field sprint.

Meanwhile during all these attacks the battle for the Green Jersey continued. There were three bonus sprints and Wust took the first, Zabel the second and nobody important won the third. This meant whoever placed in front of the other at the finish would wear the Green Jersey for the next five or six days. Because we are hitting the mountains the winners of the mountain stages are new in getting points towards the Green Jersey. If the same person won every race it would take them four days to catch up and we know that isn't going to happen.

As the race neared the finish we had to go over a cat. 4 climb, the sprint for the mountain points is what caused the next break to form. The three riders that sprinted had such a lead they just kept on going. Oh yeah, they got a big lead because Festina was riding tempo trying to keep the group together for a sprint finish for Marcel Wust. When the acceleration on the hill started there was no way the Festinas were going to keep up.

So, the break went up the road at 20 seconds and Festina continued to chase. They were closing in but then Steffen Kjargaard, my teammate, attacked trying to bridge across the 20-second gap. He didn't make it but what he did do is launch from his wheel a couple of ONCE guys, a Kelme guy and a few other guys. I was so pissed, he not only screwed up Festina but he made things complicated by making us chase down ONCE and Telekom.

When I got done chasing a few of the other guys I had to remind him, in a nice way, that it's not our job to attack and we want four or five guys to go up the road. That was the whole point in the morning meeting!!

It took awhile but eventually Festina got organized again along with some help from Farm Frites, AG2R, and Polti, and started a wicked fast chase the last 20 kilometers. The riders in the break were Paolo Bettini (Mapei), a Lotto rider, Kelme rider, and Didier Rous (Bonjour). Coming to the line the break was hanging out there at 20, 15, 10, and five seconds. I thought they were goners but they managed to stay away with Paolo Bettini taking the win. The peloton was so close to catching the break that everyone got same time, there was no time gap.

Zabel won the field sprint with Wust nowhere to be seen. The Green Jersey leaves Wust and now rests on the man who has won the Green Jersey in the previous four Tour's, Eric Zabel.

Twice today there were big crashes that took out the back half of the peloton. That's why we bust our butt to stay in the front and to keep Lance right along side us. The first crash happened 40 kilometers from the finish and the second crash happened only 15 kilometers from the finish. The second crash Tyler and Eki got caught in.

Eki said he had his front break locked up and was starting to do an endo but released the break in time to land upright. He said right when he landed upright he got plowed into behind sending him over the handlebars anyway. He planted his face on a wheel; he has a nice bright plump black eye. He wore sunglasses to dinner, we thought that was funny.

Tyler also got tipped over, he said he didn't even have time to touch his breaks, he just plowed into whomever was in front of him. Hell, it might have been Eki. Tyler didn't get much road rash but a good amount of bruises ranging from his back, hip, and shin.

I don't know what the deal is but all week the breaks have been very large breaks. Each day there have been breaks containing 10, 15 and even 20 guys. I never see this during the season and I can't explain why it's happening here. Maybe after another week it will become clearer.

Cedric said tomorrow is St. Ullrich day. Each day in France they have a Saint day that they celebrate. I think he is putting one over on us because I never heard of no Saint Ullrich. Speaking of Ullrich, they predict very bad weather for tomorrow. For sure it will rain and maybe even more. Telekom is worried because the last time Ullrich did the Tour in bad weather he lost the jersey to Pantanni. I know one person who isn't worried about tomorrow, quite the opposite. Lance is excited and can't wait to start the real race. I, on the other hand, am in no rush to ride the Maire-Blanque, Aubisque, Soulor, and Hautacam.

July 10 stage ten

Just so I can give you the news, why don't we start with reading the last page of the book: Lance killed everyone and now he is in Yellow. There, now I feel better. Now I'll try to tell you how it happened.

I'll start with the morning wake up call, 7:45. Everyday we have started at noon or one and today for the big mountain day they decide to start a little after ten. When I opened the curtains it was no surprise to see it raining, that's what they were predicting up to four days ago.

Johan told the soigneurs to give all of us our rain bags so we could organize them for today's mountain day. The rain bag is a bag containing winter wear or rain wear that goes in the team car during the race. Most of us prepare two rain bags, one for the first car and one for the second car. I'm sure Lance only has one rain bag.

In my first bag I have winter gloves, light weight gloves, a wind vest, rain jacket, clear pair of Oakley's, arm warmers, booties, and my spare cycling shoes.

In my second rain bag I have extra arm warmers, rain jacket, winter gloves, winter hat, thermal vest, and a spare pair of cycling shorts, jersey, socks, and gloves. You can never have too much in your rain bag, I learned that lesson a very long time ago. The morning meeting--yes, every morning we have a meeting. The plan for today was that no ONCE or Telekom go up the road with out Tyler Hamilton, Cedric Vasseur, or Eki (Viatcheslav Ekimov). If a break went up the road we needed someone who could make it over the climb with the riders without getting dropped. Kevin Livingston was supposed to stay with Lance till the final climb at Hautacam.

The rest of us were to stick with Lance and keep him in front before the climbs. If everything was still together after the first climb, Marie Blanque, then we were to take charge of the race and control it to win. The first 30 kilometers the rain stayed away enough for everyone to put away their rain jackets.

The first attacks came from riders hoping to get a head start into the mountains. Can you guess who wanted that head start, good 'ol Jacky. The break formed with Jacky Durand, Nico Mattan (Cofidis), and a Kelme rider. That was fine for us and I guess it was fine with the rest of the pack because they built up a lead of 17 minutes before the first climb.

Cedric crashed right at about this time, he was going back for bottles and when he was grabbing the bottle his handlebars clipped the side view mirror tipping him straight down. He wasn't hurt, just a couple of bloody knees.

With the climb coming up I worked my way up to the front before the feed zone, the climb was 10 kilometers after the feed. In the feed, just as I was going to grab my bag an ONCE rider came by right in front of me. I looked at him and said, "What the heck are you doing?" Now, I had to go all the way to the back of the group to the car to get my food. Right at this time Banesto decided to start chasing, stringing out the group to one line. I couldn't believe it; I had to start the first climb in the back. The first climb was Marie Blanque, a 10-kilometer straight-up, steep climb which I used 39x23 the whole time. The downhill was tricky and there were a few crashes, one of them was Jonathon Vaughters who hit his head and didn't realize where he was, he had to stop.

On the downhill I managed to catch back up with the first group. Lance hadn't broken a sweat yet. Since the group was together we were getting ready to set things up for the next climb. At this moment Lance radioed that he wanted his vest because it was freezing on the downhill of Marie Blanque and it was still pouring in the valley. I went back to the car to get his vest and that's when Johan told us the climb started right away. Since the climb started right away, Lance decided he didn't need his vest now.

I was at the back again, and the team was starting to put the hammer down in the front. I just sat up, I figured if I'm starting the climb off the back there is no reason to suffer and still end up off the back. I found a good group and rode the rest of the way in.

Now comes the hearsay part, because I wasn't there. I was sort of there because I could hear Johan talking to Lance, Tyler and Kevin over the team radios. Tyler and Kevin set tempo up the Aubisque, they both didn't feel very well because of the bad weather. The rain can make your legs feel like wood and no matter how hard you go they never work right, this was the problem.

The attacks started over the top of the Aubisque with a break forming with heavy hitters: Richard Virenque, Jose Maria Jimenez , Fernando Escartin, Manuel Beltran, and Roberto Herras. Before the top of the Aubisque the Yellow Jersey, Alberto Elli, was dropped along with Laurent Jalabert and Laurent Dufaux, early departures for the three of them.

Since Tyler and Kevin were gone, Lance was in a group of twenty by himself and Telekom was setting tempo, mainly Giuseppe Guerni. Guerni pulled to the top of Aubisque and the whole valley before the finishing climb of Hautacam.

The lead break was two minutes up at the bottom of Hautacam. On the Aubisque, when Lance was isolated, Johan was telling him repeatedly to wait until Hautacam. Lance did just that and attacked at the bottom of Hautacam to catch the leaders.

When he went, Pantani and Ullrich followed, but they didn't last for long. Lance rode them off his wheel! When Lance caught the break of Virenque, Herras, Jimenez, etc. he said they were spread out across the road looking at each other cross-eyed. Johan told him to wait a little, rest and recover a bit and then see how it goes. Lance sat there for 500 meters and then said, screw this, and took off.

He took another two minutes of the guys and almost caught the Kelme rider who was away all day. The other big boy's of the day lost some big time also, around two minutes. Check the results and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Our new Vetta computers have a thermometer on them. The top of Aubisque was 46 degrees Fahrenheit and pouring rain. The bottom was 50 F.

Late starts, late finish and I'm tired, it's eleven at night. We have a big day tomorrow. Lance is in Yellow and the question mark is do we want to keep it? Do we give it to someone else for a few days and then take it back? Do we hang on to it from now to the end? It's a long way still to Paris. Lots of questions and maybe some answers by tomorrow.

July 11, stage eleven

The longest day of the Tour so for, 219 km's, and the first day for the team to have to work to defend the Yellow Jersey. It will probably be only one of many days to come and the memory of today will soon fade as we suffer in the following days. As for know the suffering is still fresh and the relief of the day being over very satisfying. The day wasn't a mountain day but you couldn't call it a flat day either. It's one of those middle days that have three and four kilometers climbs all day long. It's a day where no one gets dropped because everyone suffers beyond their limit to stay in the group because it's the only choice you have. Today was also a day where the wind, as usual, was our enemy and the rain just wouldn't stay away. All in all I will call it a hard day but for George, Steffen, Cedric and Eki it was a killer day.

The morning meeting was a bit longer than usual as we talked about the Yellow Jersey and what our new tactics for the following weeks would be. The standard defend the jersey was a given but it was figuring out how many riders to let up the road, who would work, and how to accomplish this. We knew from last year, as every day from now on will be, the first forty or fifty kilometers are critical in controlling the race. Our plan was that we would ride on the front, everyone except Lance, and stick together covering attacks until a break went. Two riders made it a little easier for us, Dekker and Botero, got away immedialty. We then had to ride tempo behind a little slower pace to let them go up the road. Of course all the riders know what we are doing so they keep attacking trying to bridge the thirty second gap, that's when we try to hop on their wheels and just sit there. Banesto was very keen on attacking to get a guy up to the break; they are very concerned with trying to stay in touch for team G.C. Finally, after forty kilometers the riders slowed down but not until Banesot did a horribly hard last gut effort to catch the break at forty seconds. For ten kilometers they went to the front and hauled butt at sixty km/hr in a tail crosswind to see if they could catch the group. Finally, after pulling for ten kilometers Zulle made it to the front and started screaming at his teammates to stop chasing. He was mad, very mad. Just after he was seen having a heated discussion with his director in his team car. I felt sorry for him because if he had a radio he could have just told his teammates to stop pulling instead of killing himself for ten kilometers to get to the front. Now, it was tempo time on the rolling hills heading towards Revel which was the finish city. Johan told George, Cedric, and Steffen to ride medium tempo and only let the two man break get up to ten or twelve minutes. The break gradually picked up time to where they finally leveled off at thirteen minutes. At this time it started to rain so we went back for rain jackets, then the sun came out so we went back to drop off the jackets, then it rained again, then it was sunny. I swear the weather changed on us ten times. You would look up the road and just see blue skies, Johan would call ahead to the feed zone and they would say it's bright and sunny, then we would get poured on five minutes later, and it was hell. George was like a motorbike the first part of the race pulling up all the climbs. It was obvious he had good legs today. After putting everybody in the gutter for 180 km's the peloton was cross-eyed. At the end of the race, thirty kilometers to go, Banesto hit the front again to try and limit the damage on their team G.C. Rabobank has the G.C. but Banesto is six minutes out and they know they can get the lead in the mountains. When Banesto hit the front the pace went to warp speed and the group was scrambling for cover. Masses of riders were getting dropped over the last hills and the cross wind sections that had everyone suffering on the side of the road. In the end the break stayed away by only five minutes and Eric Dekker (Rabobank) took his second win and the team's third win. Mapei also has three wins. Dekker has now ridden approximately 800 km/s in break aways this Tour. That's a lot of time off the front.

George did it again, this time to Kevin. George found out we were staying in a Novotel so he called Kevin on his cell phone after the race to inform him that he called the "big bed." I told him that was cheating, the same as last time but he got away with it again. I'm going to have to bust out the hotel list pretty soon so I can plan my attack.

On the front dash of the Rabobank bus are all the Credit Lyonais lions the team has won for their lead in the team G.C. They cover the entire front end of the bus and I'm sure in the next few days they will have to start doubling them up. It would make a great picture.

Yesterday certain riders brought out their climbing bikes to tackle the mountains. The day before the mountain day Ullrich, Lance, Tyler, and Kevin all rode their mountain bikes to make sure everything was working properly. Lance, Kevin, and Tyler and all have the light carbon grey TREK bikes. Ullrich had aluminum Pinerallo with round tubes instead of diagonal tubes like on the other bikes. The tubes were double butted down near the bottom bracket. Once busted out their light bikes with 26" wheels. Credit Agricole decided against their small wheeled bikes because of the rainy weather.

Frank Vandenbrook quit on the wet mountain day. This guy is a lost cause. In the race he was up to his usual stunts, riding up and down the next to the pack in his 53x11 showing off how strong he is. When I was suffering on the hills Frank would always start in the back and come sprinting past everyone to be in the front. He always wanted to show everyone how strong he was and how fit he was. The problem is he just doesn't always feel like bike racing. If I were paying all the money that Frank gets I would be very pissed at his Tour performance.

Tomorrow is the firs rest day. We have a 300km transfer in the morning and then we will go for a ride after lunch.

Just so you know I'm not able to check my mail from the bike.com website. I will get to it but not until after the Tour is over. So if there were any questions or comments that I've obviously ignored that's because I never saw them.

July 12, stage rest day

This morning everyone was late with their suitcases. The relaxed no rush anticipation of the rest day carried over into a time schedule that no cared to pay attention to. The suitcases were due before breakfast so the mechanics and souigneers could get to the hotel at the same time we did. The riders all went in the team cars to make the trip as fast and easy as possible. The team Once tried to alter the plans and make the transfer after the stage yesterday. That would have been a great idea, that way we would have had all day today to relax and ride. The Tour organizers said no way, you must stay at the assigned hotel and make the transfer along with everyone else. Teams are not allowed to change accommodations on their own and all transfers are mandatory for the riders. I mean that if they had a plane transfer, or later as we do a train transfer, all riders must take the plane or train. You do not get the option to go by car if you are afraid of flying or just think it would be easier.

Amazing as it seems, as least to me, when we walked out of the hotel this morning for our nine am departure the television cameras were there. They always seem to be everywhere. It actually has become out of control in the race. Yesterday, while we were riding on the front, we had to constantly move from one side of the road to the other to let the press motorcycles pass us. On top of all the press and television in the race there are many VIP cars that run back and forth on the course. There are also all the commisaries cars that run back and forth on us also. Just like when I'm training at home and I have to avoid all the traffic it's almost the same way in the race, vehicles are always around.

Our afternoon ride felt like it was race, not because of the pace but because of the damned motorcycles again. First I signed some autographs for the VeloSports Vacations group and then Lance came over and it got a little crazy. The vacationers were trying to take pictures while the professional journalists were trying to take photos. You could see them battling for position and the pros telling the vacationers that, "this is my work!" The problem was that the photo was meant for the vacationers and not the "workers." When we left for the ride we had six motorcycle journalists, and three cars all around us taking pictures of Lance. Johan gave them ten minutes and then they had to leave. It's amazing how cut throat these guys are, swerving and cutting each other off to prevent the other from getting a good picture. After their ten minutes were up Johan made the leave and then we rode in peace. It was peaceful but boy was it windy. Very, very windy and the whole time all I thought about was what tomorrow's race would be like with this wind. If it's as windy as today riders will get to the bottom of Ventoux completely spent. We will have to wait and see.

The press motorcycles are allowed back into the pack one at a time once the race starts. If all the press came back to take pictures at the same time there would be a twenty deep motorcycle motorpacing caravan in front of us. Throughout the day each press agency would come back and try to get pictures of Lance. Since Lance sat ninth in line the photographers would order their drivers to drop back all the way to the back of the line to get a picture. Then they would get in our way because we wouldn't be able to get a draft because the motorcycles were in the way. This would reoccur the entire way to the finish, every newspaper, or magazine or whatever taking turns taking pictures. One time George who was riding on the front got his handlebars clipped as the motorcycle who didn't feel like hitting his breaks tried squeezing between George and the side of the road. George was pissed, flipped the guy the bird, and that was about all we could do about the situation, they were gone. Then there are all the VIP cars, these guys transport all their customers or guests to different parts of the course for viewing. Sometimes the same car would try to squeeze past us five or six times during a stage. Having a car go through the peloton, either fast or slow, is dangerous. It's time the Tour made a change and cut back on whom is allowed in the race.

We are a bunch of kids; at least that's what the souigneers tell us after cleaning out the bus after each stage. They say that when we step out of the bus it's a disaster zone inside, especially after the mountain stages. I can understand why. When you have nine guys inside a bus freezing cold from the rain trying to clean up, change, get dressed, and eat at the same time manners get tossed out the window. It's a lot of demands, "through me a water", "where are the towels", " where are the sandwiches", "let's get out of here." The bus does have a few small garbage pails inside but with the amount of food and drinks consumed most of the litter gets left on the floor. Boxes of cookies, fruit, Gator Pro (Gatorade carbohydrate replacement drink), amino acid packets, and Coke, Fanta, Aquarius, and Sprite cans. Then littering the walls are everyone's sticky number that we peeled off so we can put our jerseys in the wash. The old race food gets dumped out of the pockets as well. Lastly are the left over towels and washcloths that everyone used to get the grime from the road off our legs and arms. If we were to make a pile of everything that was left in the bus after a stage it would be a pretty impressive pile. I will say that before the stuff hits the floor we do fill up the trashcans first, at least we make an attempt to be civilized.

Tomorrow is Mt. Ventoux, nothing more needs to be said. There are three cat. 2 climbs leading up to the finishing climb and Mt. Ventoux is a 20km steep road to hell. Actually, I meet hell on the way up and when I reach the top I try to figure out why I sold my soul to the Tour de France for this pleasant experience.

July 13, stage twelve

The first day in the Pyrenees found a few riders looking for their mountain legs, this wasn't the case today for Mt. Ventoux. Tyler and Kevin had received some grief from the press about their sub-average showing in the first cold mountain day. The day following that mountain day there was a lot of talk about how our team this year is not as strong as last year. I believe Tyler and Kevin today made those critics eat their words. The morning meeting it was decided that Steffen, Cedric, Benoit, and I would have to set tempo and take care of the first 100km's. George and Eki had to stay fresh to make sure Lance, Kevin, and Tyler had good position at the bottom of Ventoux. Tyler was in charge of the first part of the climb; he was to pull steady and as long as possible. Kevin was in charge of the second part. Part of this plan was to prove to the other teams that we do have a strong team and that we are a force in the mountains.

Going to the start we got so lost. We ended up driving all over the place; there were no signs or anything. We arrived only twenty minutes from the start. I was stressed because today was the first day my family was going to be here. I had not seen lil' Frankie and my wife Besty in five weeks. With only twenty minutes to get ready, sign on, and etc. I was only able to give a quick kiss and good bye instead of hanging out in the Village like was planned.

Jens Voight graced us with the first attack only ten kilometers into the race. It was very, very windy today and immediately we went to the front to set to tempo. This didn't hamper the efforts of the other riders; they kept attacking right around us. At one point there was a twelve man group and I knew that was too many riders to let go so early in the race. We rode as hard as we could, the four of us, to pull this group back. Our effort and the hard crosswinds had the peloton in five different groups after only twenty kilometers into the race. It was crazy. On the next climb a group of eight went up the road, it contained the right guys for us to let it go. Nico Matten(Cofidis) was nine minutes down and with Mt. Ventoux coming up that was as good as having no lead at all. The break built up a lead of only three minutes while we rode tempo behind. We had already covered two cat. 2 climbs and we still had one more cat. 2 climb, cat.4 climb, and Ventoux at the end. On the last cat. 2 climb Banesto came to the front to take over the chase. One reason was to get the team G.C. they were after and the other reason was to keep Zuelle at the very front for the start of the climb. At the bottom of Ventoux the break only had one minute. The Banesto train blew up and Tyler took over pulling till the group was down to only ten guys. He destroyed the peloton. Kevin was next and he stayed on the front until there were just a few guys left with Lance. The main point of Kevin riding was to set a tempo where no one would attack. Pantanni even got dropped while Kevin was pulling. Once Kevin was done it was a group of five or six with Pantanni, Bilouxi, Lance, Ullrich, Virenque, Bottero and couple others. Pantanni was having trouble staying a few times but once the front group went to a slower pace he started to attack. Not once or twice but probably six times. Finally Ullrich went to the front and set tempo. Probably so as not to get dropped, he could pull at his threshold and not someone else's. Also to secure his second place in G.C, he knew he wasn't going to drop Lance from his wheel. Once Ullrich started to tire Pantanni started attacking a few more times and finally got away. He got a bit of a gap and then Lance jumped up to him without even taking a breath. Lance pointed to his rear wheel signaling Pantanni to get on and then Lance had to slow down, not once but twice. At the finish Lance put on his brakes so Pantanni would take the win. Lance did this to keep relations friendly but he embarrassed Pantanni by having to wait for him more than once. Pantanni didn't raise his arms, smile or anything, he wasn't exactly happy. I asked Lance why didn't you just let Pantanni go up the road (he is ten minutes down) take thirty seconds and think he won straight up. Lance said that when he bridged up to Pantanni, and Ullrich didn't follow, he had to keep pushing to take more time out of him. Makes sense to me.

George managed to almost crash three times but he managed to cause three crashes. I don't know what he was doing but he kept overlapping wheels and having to clip out to prevent falling. Of course when this happens he goes all over the place and takes out the guys behind him. Speaking of crashes, Chann Macrae (Mapei) was involved in a bad crash early on in the stage. I don't know what happened but he had to stop the race. There also was a car crash; Mercatone Uno totalled their team Fiat. Remember I told you the team cars have TV's installed in between the passenger seat and the driver seat? When the car crashed the mechanic in the back seat nailed his head on the television cutting open his forehead, nothing a few stitches can't fix.

Tomorrow is July 14, Bastille Day. French National Holiday. The French are going to be attacking like mad men. Watch for Jacky Durand, I know I will.

July 14, stage thirteen

When traveling for three weeks in the Tour you have to adjust to your roommate's habits. Some guys sleep in, some guys like to stay up late, and others go to bed early. Some guys use earplugs or eyeshades or melatonin to help them sleep and some guys use all three. The roommates are picked out by the staff, at the start of the Tour I just show up and whoever is my roommate I can count of being with them for the rest of the time. Sometimes we switch, for a change or pace, or if someone is sick. Since we have nine guys here that leaves an odd man out, that's Lance who takes the single room. This Tour I'm with George, Kevin with Tyler, Benoit with Steffan, and Eki with Cedric. I hope it stays this way, meaning that no one quits the race and we keep all nine guys till the end.

The horrendous climb we did yesterday was Mt. Ventoux. It's a long steep climb, 39x23 for me, 39x21 if you're racing. There is about five kilometers of climbing before you actually hit the real climb. The first part of the climb is in the trees but as you climb higher and higher the green vegetation starts to disappear. At about six or seven kilometers from the top the climb becomes very exposed. The sides of the road are covered in rocks, there is no green anywhere. They say it looks like the moon. The wind picks up since it comes off the valley and flies up the side of the mountain. The temperature drops a good ten degrees and with the bite of the wind it's cold on top. I wore my rain jacket the last five kilometers to prevent from freezing. On the very top you can see a weather tower, or radio tower. It looks so far away as you climb the top but as you keep going you soon realize you will pass right by the tower. The road doesn't take any short cut; it goes all the way over the top of the mountain.

Today was one of those transition days, the ones that are supposed to not be so hard but always are a killer, especially if you're the team riding on the front. It didn't help that today was July 14, a French national holiday. As predicted the French were aggressive, very aggressive. The worst part of the day was that it took forever for a break to finally go away. We were chasing down breaks, riding tempo, catching riders, accelerating after guys all day. We were trying to ride a fast tempo to prevent riders from attacking but no matter how fast we rode they kept attacking. After many kilometers of doing this we started to get pretty tired. When we the hit the first cat. 4 climb the group went up it in a frenzy. I ended up in the back hanging on along with Cedric, Benoit, and Steffan. It was one of those roads that twisted all over the place and I could see the guys about one kilometer in front of me attacking. It was a horrible site to see. The group split into three groups and after another ten kilometers of hanging on they finally slowed down. Jean Cyril Robin (Bonjour), who was on our team two years ago, was got in an eighteen-man break. We chased the group down and Lance told him that he wasn't allowed to go in the breaks, we were not going to let him go up the road. Jean-Cyril looked and said, "huh..why?" Lance told him because he owed us money from two years ago and that once he paid up then we would let him go. We had to chase down the group anyway but Jean-Cyril didn't know that, maybe now we will get our money. Half the race was gone and now a break finally left the peloton containing ten guys. I was in the break sitting on and the guys behind were riding tempo. We built up a lead of six minutes and then my break started attacking each other. Marc Wauters was in my break; he was the highest place G.C. guy at 12 minutes so I made sure to keep him with me. Eventually, the group split with four guys in front and four guys in back. I was in the back group with Wauters and once it became evident that the front group was going to stay away I was told to sit up and wait for six minutes for the peloton to catch me so I could help the guys set tempo to the finish. The team rode on the front from the start to the finish; it was not an easy task. At five kilometers from the finish Virenque came flying past the whole team, he attacked! I don't know what the hell he was doing, immediately George chased him down and caught him in about one hundred meters. Virenque is such a dork, everything he does is for television. If the cameras are there then he goes to the front, a perfect example was on Mt. Ventoux. Near the top the cameras were all over the first group so Virenque, who was already suffering, went to the front and started pulling. Two kilometers later he was dropped. Back to the race, after we caught Virenque the team stayed on front pushing towards the finish. A Banesto rider won the race and the group came in six minutes down. It was pretty much an uneventful day while all the main men are waiting for tomorrows epic 250km mountain stage. It's going to be nasty!

There were a few abandons today. Bartoli who made our morning a living hell by attacking every chance he could and Dufaux who was on the same mission. These two guys were attacking all the time at the start and then they quit, thanks a lot.

There were two bad crashes in the race today, not with the riders but with one of the caravan cars and with a television camera. The caravan car struck a spectator and the television camera crashed with Simon (Bonjour) crashed right in front of it and the motorcycle locked it up to avoid hitting Simon. I don't know the outcome from either crash.

Finally, today I got to spend some time in the Village. I got to hang with my wife and kid and see some names from the past. One of the best sites for my sore eyes was seeing Steve Bauer. I hadn't seen Steve since he stopped racing almost five years ago. He looked great and we shared a couple of funny stories from the past. Steve taught me so much that I can't even begin to explain the difference he made when I first turned pro. It's a shame that after everyone's cycling careers teammate's paths don't cross more often.

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