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July 15, stage fourteen

I'm writing this paragraph the night before because I know I'm not going to want to write when I get done with this epic stage. We have three huge climbs that will cover 250km's; they predict eight hours on the bike. Tyler and Kevin have their work cut out for them, normally I would say Lance also but he is riding so well I don't know if it will trouble him much. This day also has the earliest start of the Tour - 9:30AM.

OK, I'm done with what was probably one of the hardest days of the Tour, it only took me 8:45 to finish that's including the neutral zone. Don't laugh the first guys finished in eight hours. We had one hundred kilometers of rolling terrain and then three killer climbs of ten, thirteen, and thirteen kilometers. Since the stage was a ridiculous 250km's everyone was content to roll along easy. We all knew it was going to be a long hard day so there was no reason to make it harder than it had to be. The morning meeting- today Steffen, Benoit, and I were in charge of the first one hundred kilometers and then I was to pull as long as I could on the first climb. I was also ordered to make it over the first climb with the group so I could help in the valley before the next climb. Cedric, George and Eki were to ride tempo at the start of the second climb and ordered to make it over that climb to help in the next valley before the last climb. Kevin and Tyler were to stay with Lance and take care of things on the last and hardest climb. I did my job and pulled two-thirds of the first climb and then blew. What a nightmare it was after being red lined and having to try to get back in the group to make it to the valley. I was in the cars, about ten deep, but caught on the descent. More amazing was that when I was dropped riding next to me Laurant Jalabert, he must have had a really bad day! In the valley I pulled to the bottom of the next climb, I was already spent so I figured save everyone as long as possible. At the start of the next climb I pulled off and Steffen did a hard tempo that disintegrated the pack. He was awesome today. Eki pulled next and then George and then the three of them stayed in the group over the second climb. At this point we had eight guys at the bottom of the last climb, most teams maybe had three or four. It was a good situation. On the last climb Tyler was setting tempo when Pantani attacked hard. Lance immediately went after him and then when Pantani pulled off Lance pulled through. Pantani went so hard in his attack that he couldn't stick with Lance. All of a sudden Lance was in no mans land and the final descent was 25km long. Lance decided to wait and ride the rest of the way in with the group. All the main men finished pretty much together, there was a hard two-kilometer climb to the finish where a couple guys got a couple a seconds but other than that there were no changes. Bottero (Kelme) won the stage from an early break of six guys. He soloed up the last climb and stayed away till the end, he also took the KOM jersey from his teammate Ojaxa. Now Virenque is in fourth place in the KOM competition and it looks like he might not win the polka-dot jersey this year.

The night before the race we were talking about what a killer day this was going to be. Cedric had the profile card and we were talking about all the different climbs. All of a sudden Eki chimed in and said, "see, look tomorrow's not so bad." He took the profile card and turned it upside down so that it looked like a straight line

After the race it took our souigneer over one hour to get back to the hotel. It was complete grid lock and the hotel was only two kilometers away.

The descent today were very technical, scary fast and super twisty, more than a few guys crashed. In my group chasing on the descent from the first climb Bilevens crashed. It wasn't really his fault. Every time he would apply his breaks his wheels would lock up. He locked it up on the previous two corners but I guess he didn't figure out that it was dangerous. On the third corner he locked it up again, straightened up and went right for the guardrail. He got up and finished. In George's group, after the second climb, Wesserman (Telekom) was descending like a mad man. One of the many corners twisted to tight on him and he crashed hard. He is out of the race.

Canada used his bike for the mountains today; you know the one with the small wheels. He was in the second group when he flatted but his first car was in behind the first group and their second car was way back with me behind Laurant Jalabert. He tried to get a spare wheel from the Mavic neutral support but because he had 26"wheels it wouldn't work. He borrowed a blanket, from a spectator, to keep warm and sat on the side of the road until the next group of cars came past. He waited ten minutes and then Dirk, our second director, gave him a bike to ride. The problem was the bikes we had have Shimano SPD pedals and Once uses Campagnolo pedals. He didn't care he still took the bike and I don't know how he pedaled it to make it to the finish.

Dave, our souigneer, had a bit of a discussion with a fan at the finish. Some guy out of nowhere came up to Dave and said, "What does Lance think he is doing." Dave not knowing what the guy was talking about just looked at him like he was crazy. Then the guy goes off for a couple minutes that Lance is crazy thinking that he can attack Pantani in the race today. Dave turned and told the guy he was crazy because on Mt. Ventoux Lance let Pantani win. That was the final straw, the guy started hollering and telling Dave he was crazy and knew nothing and that Pantani killed Lance on Mt. Ventoux. Whatever!


July 16, stage 15

Today's start was at the same place where the finish was the day before. That meant coming out of our hotel we had to ride up the steep final two kilometer climb to get to the start. I started to ride the climb in my 39x23 but even that felt big, my legs were dead. My only choice was to hail down a car so that I could hang on to the top. It happened to be some Italian family and they were asking all sorts of question in Italian about the bike race. I caught George and Tyler near the top and they were mad that they hadn't thought of my idea first. We had our morning meeting at the start in the bus as usual. Today as long as the peloton wanted to go slow we would go slow. The most important thing was that the whole team got over the first climb Col Galibier. After that we would decide what to do and Tyler and Kevin had to make it over th seond big climb, Col Madeline, with the first group to help Lance towards the final climb up to Corchevel.

Every one in the peloton knew that it was important to make it over the fifteen kilometer Galibier with the main group to make the time cut. This wasn't even a question, if you got dropped here you were doomed. Before the climb the riders formed a wall, it went from one side across to the other side of the road. No one was supposed to break through. Zannini (Mapei) was the boss of the wall. Every ten of fifteen pedal strokes he would sit up and give a glare to anyone who dared attack. He was the mafia boss of the peloton today and he did a good job keeping the peace. Eventually, the peace was broken, Laurant Jalabert attacked. I saw him go, and since I wanted to keep the peace, I chased after him right away. Once he saw there were three or four riders on him he sat up and order was restored. We did the whole climb at a reasonable pace except the last five kilometers. The fist to attack was the green and white Kelme's. You can always expect them to attack on a climb. Near the top the group got strung out and Ullrich attacked to break the group apart even more. This was no problem for Lance, Tyler and Kevin but for the rest of us it was a tooth and nail fight to stay on the wheel in front of us. I came over the top of the climb just thirty seconds off and flew down the descent with my group to catch the leaders. I clocked 95km/hr somewhere on the way, that was my max speed when I checked after the descent. At the bottom we had the whole team and we started to ride tempo through a howling head wind to catch a break of seven guys that went away. Their was nobody too dangerous so we were able to control things by riding slow. It wasn't really a choice because the head wind was so strong we couldn't have ridden fast if we wanted to. At the bottom of the twenty kilometer Madeline Festina and Telekom started to do some work. They were worried that the guys in the break would take to much time and move ahead of their guys on G.C. Telekom pulled most of the Madeline and over the top before the last twenty kilometer climb to Corchevelle we still had Tyler and Kevin there with Lance. Mercatone Uno no took up the chase to help close the gap to the break so Pantani could go for the win. The mountain top finish suited him. As the group got smaller Pantani attacked and Kevin got on his wheel immediately with Lance in tow. Kevin pulled up next to Pantani and told him to wait a little and that he would do the work. Pantani hesistated a little then put the hammer down again. Kevin knew he couldn't stay with Pantani the whole way so he wanted to set a tempo that he could maintain. Kevin stayed a few kilometers longer but Pantani never slowed down. Leaving Ullrich, Virenque, Moreau and company behind Pantanni kept the screws turned with Lance and Herras (Kelme) in tow. Lance was working with Pantani because he knew Ullrich was struggling so he wanted to take some more time out of him. Herras was sitting on the whole time. Near the top Pantanni accelerated again and Lance looked at Herras to close the gap. He told Herras he can't just sit on the whole time he has to help. As Herras sat there the gap to Pantani grew from ten meters to twenty, thirty, fifty. Then Herras started to ride so Lance just rode with him to keep it steady. At the top Pantani won by forty seconds over Jiminez (he was in the original break but got caught) and then Herras and then Lance. Almost two minutes back came the other riders such as Virenque, Ullrich, Moreau etc.

Lots of guys crashed today. The descents were very twisty and fast but especially if you were in the grupetto trying to make it back up to the first group or any group for that matter. At the top of the Madeline I was in a good grupetto with George, Benoit, Steffen, and get this, Olano, Zuelle, Salvodelli, Baranowski, and Jalabert. I could have pretended it was the first group with those names here. The point is that just below us was another grupetto group about two minutes behind us. We did the descent of the Madeline fast, not all out, but fast enough. At the bottom of the descent the second grupetto had caught our group. In their group were four riders that were scratched and torn up. They went so fast on the downhill guys were crashing because they were on the limit. At least I remember that I'm on a skinny tired bike and not a fat tired motorcycle.

Watching the highlights on TV after the race they showed Pantani win and then, of course, they showed Virenques group crossing the line. In back of Virenque's group you see a rider in a Yellow Jersey sprinting up along side Virenque and raising his hands in victory. In the back ground you see a guy in a polka dot jersey sprinting up behing the group. It was two imposters that hopped onto the course and rode to the finish just behind Virenque's group. The guy with the polka dot jersey got tackled about one hundred meters from the line, he went down hard. The guy in the yellow jersey sprinted up next to Virenque, who looked at him like who the hell are you, and then started raising and waving his arms in victory. It was funny to see on TV. I don't know what happened to the yellow jersey guy after he crossed the line.


July 17, 2nd rest day

I'm sitting here on my hotel balcony looking out at the ski slopes of Corchevelle. At the very top of the mountains perched on the ridge are the ski gondolas and small outhouses. It amazes me how they could build anything at such a high height. This area is packed with tourists, because of the Tour and also normal vacationers. I guess that even if the Tour weren't here you would still run into many hikers, cyclists and campers. Because the Tour is here it's even more crowded. Since our hotel is perched at the top of the climb, at 2,000 meters, we had to drive down to the valley to go for a bike ride. This proved no easy task because of the amount of cars going up and down the mountain. When we did make it to the bottom we piled out of the cars and started to get dressed. No sooner than we stopped other cars had stopped and were checking out the scent. Pretty soon we had our own traffic jam because of people walking and crossing the road to get to the team. I should say to get to Lance, his draw is might powerful right now. We rode for an hour and half and it was just the right amount of time. Any less and the legs would not have felt right and any more I would have gone mentally crazy. At the start of the ride we had a couple guests with us. One was the Prime Minister of Belgium and the other was his friend who is a Minister of Belgium. You could tell neither looked very comfortable on a bike but it became pretty evident the Minister really didn't know what he was doing. I was a little late taking off from the cars and as I played catch up I approached the back of our group where the two guests were riding. The Minister had on cycling shorts and a cycling jersey that for some reason looked too small. There was a gap between the jersey and the shorts and he you might as well said he had a plumber's crack showing. As I got closer I noticed the emblems on the side panels of his shorts were upside down. I thought he must have gotten a deal on a pair of bike shorts that were misprinted. As soon as I thought that I realized he was wearing his shorts on backwards. The drawstrings were in his back and his chamois came up to his belly button. I sure wasn't going to tell him!

Remember the imposters that jumped in the race yesterday. Well they were Spanish, from the Basque country to be exact. I still don't know what happened to the yellow jersey wearer as he crossed the line but the polka dot jersey guy had to be helicoptered out. When they grabbed his handlebars to tackle him to the ground the guy broke his hip. At the time it happened their was still over an hour left in the race and after the race it would have taken many hours to drive him down in an ambulance. That's why he got the helicopter ride.

Lance had a press conference today. I guess there were some interesting words said about Pantani, I don't know what was said but I'm sure that if you do some searching you might find the news somewhere.

For the Tour the team hired a public relations guy to handle all the press requests. It's mainly for Lance because the amount of requests for interviews and such are huge. The guy's name is Luc and but I've nicknamed him 'the hovercraft.' That's because whenever he has something to say or do he always hangs around us after he his done. If he brings a newspaper to Lance he will stand around just over our shoulders waiting for us to talk with him or something. If he has to give me a message he will hand it to me, and then 'hover,' over my shoulder for a few minutes. At first it didn't bother me but that's because I didn't notice it.

My legs have been very sore and dead these last few mountain stages. I remembered a few years ago, while on Motorola, that when my legs were super sore someone suggested an ice bath. I tried it then and it seemed to work so for the last few days I've been doing ice baths. Sometimes I add ice and sometimes the water from the faucet is so cold I can barely get in. George was also doing ice baths every few days and one time he added so much ice he couldn't even get his feet in, he chickened out. I don't know if the ice baths help but I certainly don't think it makes my legs worse.

Our hotel today is situated at the bottom of a long line of stairs. At the top of the stairs is a security guard in charge of only allowing people staying at the hotel in. This means all of the reporters and newspaper people that thought they could mingle around all day and get photos and stuff couldn't. It was tons more peaceful than our previous rest day. I even snuck in a nap, first one since I started the Tour. I'm sure I'll catch up with my quota of naps once the Tour is over, that's if my wife lets me.


July 18, stage 16

The plan for the day almost worked. Today we had our last big mountain day, five mountains in 120km's. Our morning meeting was a little vague because a lot of what happens depends on what the other riders do. One thing was made clear, that Lance wanted to try and win the stage so we couldn't let any break get too far up the road. The start of the race started on a 20km downhill section. The start was very relaxed but nevertheless there was a crash at kilometer one. A few guys went down including Pantani and the worst of the bunch was Serrano (Once) who broke his collarbone. At the bottom of the descent Lance decided to relieve himself. I stopped with him on the side of the road in front of the bunch. We made a point to move up to the front so everyone would see the Yellow Jersey had stopped. Do you think they cared? The pestoso of the day goes to Robbie McQuewen (Farm Frites) who attacked. He knew what he was doing and what the heck is a sprinter attacking at the start of a mountain stage for? Lance was pissed but he couldn't find Robbie in the pack to tell him so. We had the whole team at the front for the start of the climb and it looked like we were going to be allowed to make tempo over the climb without any attacks. As soon as I had those thoughts Pantani attacked. I couldn't believe it. It was a very long way to go and the team decided to set a tempo so as not to catch him but just to let him sit out there and fry. Because of Pantani's attack the first climb exploded the peloton. There were guys everywhere and by the top of the first climb there were three groups. That is the way it stayed the whole day. Whatever group you were in over the first climb was your fitness level and since all the climbs were back to back no one could catch anyone. Lance, Tyler, and Kevin were in the first group. George, Steffen, and Eki were in the second group and Benoit, Cedric, and I were in the third group. Each group, up until the last climb, was about five to seven minutes from each other the whole day. Cedric told me how he was so tired and that he didn't feel good today. I told him that's because he went hard on the day to Corchevelle instead of sitting up and resting like he should have. He didn't like that I said that to him, but it's true. After completing two of the mountains my group was flying down a descent. The group was all strung out in one line and at the bottom of the hill the road shot straight back up for the start of the third climb. I was sitting in the middle of the group and as I looked up the road I saw this brown blur cutting across the fields in front of us. We were going sixty km/hr downhill and this blur, which I thought was a dog, was sprinting at about twenty km/hr. All of a sudden the brown blur, like an arrow, shot straight into the group and hit Guesdon (Francaise des Jeux) on his bike and leg. That's when I saw it was a deer. Amazing as it sounds Guesdon didn't crash but the deer was messed up . When I passed the deer it was on the ground having convulsions, I think it broke it's neck. Guesdon later on had to do a bike change but other than that he was fine. One last thing about my group, on the last climb Ritssel (Mercury Card) looked like he was in a huge gear. I looked at his rearwheel and I swear it was only a 21 instead of a 23. I asked him, why he was riding a 21? He looked at me in shock, he thought he had a 23 and couldn't figure out why he felt so bad.

Ok, now the first group of only thirty riders. Kevin and Tyler saved the day for us. They were incredible, their job is to be there in the mountains and today they did just that. All day every rider that could attack attacked, even if they couldn't go anywhere because they were dead they still attacked. Tyler and Kevin set tempo all day after all this junk so Lance could stay rested for the last climb. Early on I mentioned that Pantani attacked, just behind him were many groups all trying to bridge up to him. Ullrich and Virenqe attacked and even Escartin attacked on the first climb. The team rode tempo and was incredibly strong all day controlling every move. At the bottom of the last climb, the hardest, all the main men were together. This is where Pantani finally cracked after being away all day, he lost thirteen minutes by the end. On the last climb Virenque attacked and Lance and Ullrich went with him. For the bottom half of the climb Lance was flying and at one point dropped Ullrich. At eight kilometers from the finish things changed, Ullrich, Virenque, and Herras dropped Lance. Slowly but surely Lance lost distance to the first guys, Lance had bonked. Lance said he bonked big time, he was cross eyed, rubber legged, and couldn't even think straight. Since there was less than twenty kilometers to the finish he couldn't take a feed from the car because he would have gotten a time penalty. He said he had one gel that lasted about ten minutes and then it was back to crisis time. Johan had to calm Lance to make sure he didn't freak under the circumstances. He just told Lance to keep it steady and don't panic, he had seven minutes to waste. As Lance got more and more cross eyed riders started catching him from behind. As each rider would go by Lance hewould swing on to their wheel but only to watch it pull away from him. After the race Lance said, "that was the hardest thing I've ever had to do on my bike." He lost 1:30 Ullrich, not bad considering the circumstances. Speaking of Ullrich, he did a bike change at the top of the last climb. He had special light weight carbon wheels and he wanted to switch to wheels with better braking for the final ten kilometer descent. The race was won by Virenque solo, only because the other rider that was with him crashed with one kilometer to go. Herras (Kelme) took a turn to fast and crashed into the barriers and Virenque was able to salute number one at the finish.


July 19, stage seventeen

Ok, its time you realize how everyone is feeling - dead tired. Tyler was saying that today felt harder to him than yesterday's all out effort. That's the fatigue catching up, well it's probably not catching up it has already passed us. I'm stuffed, I can barely walk up the stairs of the hotel to get to my room. It takes me five minutes to roll out of bed. My face feels all drawn, my skin feels heavy. I'm not sure how I'm still pedaling the bike. On the flats I can go ok with a few efforts but once I have to really push for more than one kilometer my legs cave in. It feels like I'm pedaling more with my hamstrings than my thighs. I believe I'm more tired than last year. I think it's because I had to do so much the first week. The first week with the bad weather and constant cross wind made it very difficult to keep Lance in the front of the peloton. Not once did we ever sit back and just watch the race take place, we were always involved in the race. Efforts in the first week always come back to get you in the third week. Our team is counting the days to the finish. We especially are aware of the two days of 250km still left. At this point in time these races are going to feel like forever.

Today the big news was that Pantani didn't take the start. That didn't surprise us but it kind of pissed us off. He totally blew his chance for podium in the Tour just to screw with us and then bails, real cool. The other even that happened this morning was that the Vampires came knocking to test four of our riders. It's supposed to be random who they test but when Lance, Tyler, Kevin, and Eki were on the list you know it's about as random as a stacked deck of cards.

Yesterday was supposed to be the last mountain day, everyone keeps saying that. They told me yesterday the hill were not so bad, and of course they told me the same thing today. How can an 18km hill not be hard, it's not possible. The race started off flat and at kilometer zero the attacks flew. I was caught at the back after stopping to relieve myself. It took me five kilometers passing the pack, in one line,at 60km/hr to make it to the front. When I got there their were people attacking everywhere, it was a free for all. We tried to control it but everyone wanted to be in the break. At kilometer twenty-five we turned left into a very, very hard cross wind. We lined it up and put everyone in the gutter for the next five kilometes. We didn't drop anyone but we at least stopped them from attacking. It seems no one is our friend, at the bottom of the climb a Cofidis guy attacked and just after that a Lotto guy attacked. This turned the ignition on in the pack. We rode tempo chasing down all the garbage that was going up the road. When the climb got steeper I got dropped, literally. I was with maybe three guys hanging on in the back for awhile, Zuelle was one of them. I had to go slow for awhile to recover and then I attacked my group to make it back to the cars to try and attempt to make it to the first group again. When I attacked I cracked Zuelle, he pulled over and stopped the race. At least I take credit for making him stop. In the front the race was going ballistic, in the back the stragglers were ridng as hard as they could to maintain contact. The last three kilometers, I was in the cars, as far as I could see everyone was motorpacing. Anyone off the back was sitting on the cars trying as hard as they could to get back to the first group. I was Fagnini (Telekom) for awhile behing the Saeco car. The Fiat's have rear windsheild wipers, Fagnini practically ripped it off the car he was hanging on so hard. Once I reached the top we were maybe a minute behind, I bombed the descent as fast as I could on and off the cars. I caught up to Frank Hoj and the two of us were maxed out behind the cars at 80km/hr around the corners. It was all or nothing. Finally, I caught up to the first group and when I got there I found out there was a break up the road. I couldn't pull, I had to let the others do the easy tempo. The first guy was like an hour down. When the break got up to two minutes Telekom took over the chase to try for a win for Zabel. George, Eki, and Steffen were helping for awhile but when it got hard I reminded Johan we had 250km/s tommorrow and it would be better if everyone could rest. Telekom rode the last forty kilometers of the race. In the final there was a cat. 3 climb that was supposed to be two kilometers long, it seemed like three or four. Dekker attacked on the descent and got a gap, Telekom was pulling like mad to bring the small gap down. When Zabel started sprinting he took off and came right up to the side of Dekker but he didn't pass him. Dekker won his third stage, an incredible feat. Overcome with emotion Dekker had a few tears on the podium.

Johan took a small chance today. In the race there was a cat. 3 climb at the end and a lot of riders, including myself, sat up to take it easy to the finish. When this happened the front group rode away from the back markers but the cars were not allowed pass us. After waiting for a minute Johan just gunned it around the commisarie car to go up to the front group so that he could be there if something happened. As it was if Lance had flatted or something all the cars were over a minute behind stuck behind the last group. As soon as Johan crossed the finish he called the commisaire and told him that if there was a fine for him in the results he refused to pay it. Johan knew the commisarie had overstepped his boundaries by keeping the cars in the back longer than what was necessary.

The finish was crazy, no control anywhere. There were so many people we couldn't find our bus at first. Then there were people everywhere checking everything out. It may be cumbersome sometimes but that's the beauty of our sport. Anyone can approach the cyclits, ask for autographs, and take pictures. It's a very hands on sport with it's fans.


July 20, stage eighteen

In the last few days you might have seen or read the little rivalry that went on between Pantani and Lance. No, they don't like each other. What's interesting is that anytime Pantani talks about Lance he won't call him by his name. When Pantani talks about Lance he always says, "El Americano." Now Lance always refers to Pantani as "elephantino." This is the nickname the press and people gave him a few years ago. Pantani decided to change his nickname to the "pirate," no one picks out their own nickname-do they?

The race couldn't have been any better for our team today. The only way possible was that they would have cancelled the stage and we know that isn't going to happen. The day was sunny and the attacks started in the first two kilometers out of the blocks. A small group of five got up the road immediately and the resulting chase and bridge attempts proved fruitless. This was thanks to a very strong head wind; it was our savior today. Once the group was away it was easy to follow the wheels, the wind was so strong it would stop the riders in their tracks and it was very easy to sit on. Nevertheless it still took an hour for the peloton to figure this out. Once we sat up everyone waited for us to start riding tempo. The first guy on G.C. was at forty minutes, Vinikourov. We were in no rush to ride. As the time grew to 10, 20,25,30 minutes guys were getting nervous. Veinsteins (Vini Caldirola) asked Eki when we were going to start to pull. Escartin (Kelme) asked Lance when we were going to pull. Lino (Festina) asked Cedric when we were going to pull. The answer to all their questions was were not! When the break was at about fifteen Johan got on the radio and explained what would happen. As the break grew the other teams would grow nervous because Vinikourov would move up into 15th, 13th, and then 10th place on G.C. He would flick Kelme, Mapei, Lotto, and Polti just to name a few. Also because Vini is a good time trialer the other teams didn't want to take a chance. Sure enough Kelme, Polti, and Festina did the chase. Farm Frites had one guy in the chase because their director was mad they missed the break and ordered them all to the front, only one guy listened. The whole day we sat on the wheels, protected Lance from the wind and stayed out of trouble. It was a nice refreshing day, even though it was 250km's long.

The amount of people on the road today was incredible. There would be no way for me to guess how many. In Switzerland we had a lot of people on the road and the start was a mad house. Nothing compared to when we crossed into the German border, the place erupted. There were people everywhere, standing, hanging, and clinging, whatever they could do to see the race. I've never seen so many people along a bike route before. At times it was dangerous because there wasn't enough room in the road for us to pass. One time some guy carrying a big forty ounce beer bottle came running out into the middle of the road. He got so excited when he saw Lance he decided to come after him, I almost ran into the guy. Tyler yelled at him to get out of the way and sprayed some water on him; it was like trying to keep a dog from chasing you. The entire last ten kilometers there were rows and rows of people six to ten deep watching us fly by. The last time I remember so many people watching a race was when the Tour started in Holland. The riders couldn't race and we self imposed a neutral race until the final twenty kilometers. Today even tops that!

In the feed zone I saw Nicholas Bo Larsen screaming and yelling at someone on the side of the road. I couldn't figure out what the heck he was doing. All of a sudden he turned around and rode back down the road where we had come from. Later when I saw him I asked what had happened. He said that after the feed zone he threw his waterbottle to a small kid standing on the side of the road. As the boy picked up the bottle a man took it from him. Nicholas saw this and was yelling at the guy but the guy didn't drop the bottle. So Nicholas turned around, went back to where the boy was, and took the bottle from the guy and gave it back to child. I'm sure he added a few curse words towards the man as he returned to the bottle to its original owner.

Since we were in Switz. last night, Willy's home country, the television people hanging around were for him instead of Lance. Willy had to do a couple interviews and they wanted to film him while he cooked and served us. He was as always very entertaining. Each night Willy, our chef, cooks two kilograms of pasta for dinner. He says we always go through it. When he cooks risotto he uses two kilograms of rice but there is always some left over.

We are now the only team to have nine guys still in the race. When Zulle quit yesterday Banesto dropped to eight guys. I believe Kelme and Bonjour still have eight also. Once has only four riders, if one more drops out each rider could have a whole bus to themselves since Once has three buses here.

Something to be aware of. Tomorrow's TT is 60km long on German roads. The second place rider in the Tour is a German, the first is Lance. Extra precautions are being made to try and prevent anything from happening to Lance in the TT. Hopefully the worry will be all for nothing.


July 21, stage nineteen

First off, sorry about the delay in yesteday's report. The hotel we stayed at I couldn't get the phone to work and my cell phone had no reception bars so I couldn't talk with anyone. I guess Germany is not up to pace yet or maybe they are so far ahead I'm not up to pace yet. Either way I'm back in France and the problem is solved.

Today was the last showdown of the Tour; it was the 60km time trial. The course was very flat, with a tail crosswind making it a very fast course. I cruised at an eighty percent effort and I used my 54x14 and 13 all day with no problem. The riders going for it will use the 11 and 12 a lot today. The amount of people out watching were typical for a final Tour time trial, it wasn't as overwhelming as the day before. Ullrich will nonetheless get a boost from the hometown crowd in Germany and hopefully Lance will bet a boost when he finishes in France. Tyler's job today was to do a good time trial so that he could provide time splits along the route that Lance could use. Tyler is the only one good enough to be able to provide the time splits for Lance. Besides the big battle between Lance and Ullrich there is an important battle for 2nd through 7th place on G.C. There are a couple time trial specialists, Moreau and Bilouxi, and a few climbers who will try to hang onto their place like Escartin and Virenque. Virenque even pulled out all the stops using double discs for the T.T, I can't remember when the last time I've seen that.

Lance, in an all yellow skin suit, won the time trial by twenty -five seconds over Ullrich. The average speed was in incredible 54km/hr. This was the second fastest time trial in Tour history, I think the first is when Lemond beat Fignon on the Champs, that time trial was much shorter. This IS the fastest time trial over fifty kilometers in length. Tyler put in an impressive fourth place finish and that was without pacing himself. His orders were to go out the blocks all out and keep going as hard as he could so Lance could have the fastest split times- it worked perfectly. Bilouxi just held on to the podium by thirty seconds from Moreau. I wonder now if Moreau is thinking of attacking tomorrow or on the Champs to try and gain those valuable thirty seconds.

In this last week more than a few journalists, including Paul Sherwen, asked Lance if he was nervous because he only had a five minute lead for holding on to the jersey? They also asked if he thought Ullrich could take five minutes out of him? Lance was shocked at the question and asked if this was the journalist's first Tour? Then he said that the last time he checked he had won the last three time trials and he was planning on winning again. He proved that to everyone and to the journalists' whose questions that had offended him.

Yesterday I think was a first in Tour History. It was the first time I didn't hear fans yelling, "Virenque, Virenque" or "Richard, Richard." That's because we started in Switzerland and we finished in Germany. I did see lots and lots of signs for Jan. He must be huge in Germany, I don't think he can just walk around town.

The riders who did the Tour might get a break but for some of the souigneers there isn't much of a rest. The team has a race scheduled in Belgium four days after the Tour ends. The riders at the Belgian race will be for the riders who didn't do the Tour and it will give them a chance to start getting their race legs back. The riders who did do the Tour our first race back will be Tour of Burgos and then the World Cup San Sabastian.

Tomorrow will be my last article. As tradition I don't write on the last day. Hopefully when I write my last article tomorrow nothing will have changed very much. I'm not too worried because I figure if anything happens we can just put Tyler on the front for the last sixty kilometers and only three guys will be able to pass him and they will only gain twenty or so seconds. We could put Lance on the front and then nobody would be able to pass him but for some reason people don't like to see the Yellow Jersey work on the front.

I'm also hoping for a traditional last day. They changed the circuits this year for the final in Paris. This year we start under the Eiffel Tower, that's cool, and we do two twenty-five kilometer laps through downtown Paris. I'm worried the French guys are going to get all excited and attack before we reach the traditional circuits up and down the Champs. I want to line up the team, as tradition always has, and ride in formation with the Yellow Jersey in tow. That feeling is hard to beat and I hope I don't get robbed of it on the last day.


July 22, stage twenty

He did it; Zabel finally won a stage of the Tour after almost a three-year drought. As incredible as it is for him to win the green jersey again he very much wanted to win a stage. Today he had his team chase the break with the help from Polti and Zabel had the dream leadout from Fagnini to get his dream win. The stage started very tranquil today, a first. Everyone was on the front line waiting for something to happen but the field was very relaxed and in no rush to race. Besides we had 260km's to figure out when we wanted to start racing. The first attacks came after the first bonus sprint at kilometer 50; our old teammate Frank Hoj had the honors. The man who was on the mission today was Francoise Simon (Bonjour); we finished in his hometown. Watching him go with every attack and every move was impressive. He never was out of the top ten all day and it paid off when he finally made the successful break. The break started with four riders, Simon, Gwaidweski (Francaise des Jeux), Hinault (CA) and Vainsteins (Vini Caldirolo). We started riding behind letting the break take time gradually. There was still over one hundred kilometers to go so the sprinter teams didn't want to start chasing that early in the day. After about ten kilometers Vainsteins sat up and came back to the peloton. He knew eventually the break would get caught and he wanted to save his legs for the final sprint. The break only made three minutes on us and with forty kilometers to the finish the Poti, Farm Frites, and Telekom started a very fast chase. The fast speed made it hard to stay in front but the wind was what was hammering the group. At different times small groups would get dropped out the back after battling in the crosswinds. We had everyone in the front helping Lance stay just behind the chasers and out of the wind. With ten kilometers to go we came upon a series of roundabouts. At each roundabout there are signs signaling if you can go around on both sides or just one side. At the second roundabout I was trying to move up in the peloton and I decided to take the right the side of the roundabout, the peloton took the left side. As I flew around the roundabout the people who were standing on the right side of the road started to run across the street to get a closer look of the peloton flying down the left side. I had to slow down and I tried to jump back across to the left side of the road but there was a median in the road that went for four hundred meters. As I kept riding down the right side of the road people kept running across the street in front of me to see the race. I just slowed down and took it easy till I found an opening to get back into the safety of the race. By the time I could get back over to the left I was off the back of the group. I definitely took the wrong route. When I finished Dave, our mechanic was talking about the idiot that went up the right side of the road and got trapped by the people. I told him, "that was me." He started laughing so hard I had to start laughing also, it must have looked funny on TV. The sprint finish was a duel between the three fastest sprinters, Zabel, Mc Queen, and Bilevens. They finished in that order but Bilevens looked the fastest, it will be interesting tomorrow.

Tomorrow we take the TGV, someone said it was the Orient Express, to Paris for the final on the Champs. We have to get up at 7:30am and leave on a bus at 8:15 to the train station. We arrive into Paris at noon and the start of the race is at 2:00pm. The race is 130 kilometers with, for the first time ever, the start and finish in downtown Paris. The start is below the Eiffel Tower and the finish is on the Champs like usual. After the race I have a pecan pie waiting for me, my wife brought it over. George has ordered some Magnum ice cream bars for right after the race. I'm sure we will all dip into those. It's going to be nice! After the race we do our victory lap and then we go back to our hotel, Concorde Lafayette. It's always the same hotel. That night we have our after Tour party with all the sponsors, staff and riders. As you can see the last day is also a busy day, but I don't mind.

In the race I was talking with the Polish rider Gregory Gwadiswski on the French team Francaise des Jeux. We were speaking French together and he was telling me about his new Nissan S2000 car that he bought. Pascal Lino came up and commented that it was funny that an American rider and a Polish rider were speaking French. The Lotto guy next to Pascal commented that he couldn't understand anything we were saying, our French isn't something to write home about. I told the Lotto guy that was because we were speaking special French that only we could understand.

As you know Virenque has been riding a polka-dot Coppi bike. I figure he has to get off that thing since he didn't win the mountain jersey this year. Elli (Telekom) thought the same thing and told Virenque that he is going to have to retire that back,, Virenque got all mad. Cedric is going to tell him something tomorrow if he still has the polka-dot bike.

Since it's the end of the race we get our dead bags back. These were bags that we made up at the start of the race with all the extra stuff we wouldn't need for the three weeks of the Tour. For example, the nice clothing for our party. Most teams do this also. Yesterday, someone broke into the Telekom truck and stole all their dead bags. Telekom has a party for Sunday night but more importantly they have a big meeting with all the riders on Monday in Hannover or Grenoble, I can't remember where. In everyone's dead bags they had their team suits, now they will have to go shopping. I'm sure their wives won't mind.

Tonight Lance cancelled all interviews and anything dealing with the press. He got burned out yesterday and I could see it. He was so stressed and uncomfortable the whole evening with the constant pulling and stretching he had to go through with the press. If anything after three weeks he deserves a night off.

Hope you enjoyed the daily articles on bike.com. I enjoyed providing you with the information that you can only find from inside the Tour. Thanks in advance for all your e-mails. As you can imagine these last three weeks have been very busy and I hope you understand that I cant answer all your inquiries. My weekly updates will continue next Tuesday. Oh yeah, Lance says "hi."

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