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2001 Tour de France

PreTour

Saturday, July 7, 2001

Like Heinz Ketchup

It's just been dripping and dripping waiting for the start of the Tour. The months of training, the weeks of planning, the constant phone calls, and now it's finally time.

You've studied the Tour maps, you hounded your local cable company to get OLN, and you have your VCR set to record every morning for the next 21 days.

Finally, the juices of the Tour are flowing. The riders experience the same anxiety leading up to the start of the Tour as you do. The days before the Tour there is so much sitting around and resting and waiting it drives the riders crazy. Add to that eating three meals a day and by the time the Tour starts you feel like you lost any advantage that you might have had beforehand.

All the riders arrive for the Tour a couple days before the start of the prologue. This is for two reasons. One, because the UCI tells you to do this, and two, if there are flight problems or strikes, which happen all the time in France, then you won't miss the entire race.

The other reason is that the UCI does mandatory medical testing on all the riders the day before the Tour starts. If you think this is some sort of physical or health check to see if the riders are healthy, think again. I get a better check-up from my wife. It's a gimmick for the press to get funny pictures of riders blowing into plastic tubes and lying around with their shirts off with funny tan lines.

In most cases, there are funny tan lines. A couple of years ago, George Hincapie took off his shirt and while the rest of us looked like zebras, George didn't have a single tan line. His stomach was as tan as his legs, which had been overcooked from hours in the sun.

Again, these "tests" were more opportunities for the photojournalists. It becomes very obvious who is in medical testing and when. Sometimes the place is empty, but last year when we showed up with Lance, all hell broke loose. Lance could barely walk into the building because there were 20 photographers all battling each other trying to get "the" photo.

Cough! Cough! Cough! that's the sound riders make as they pass the finish line with their legs burning and their mouths full of lactic acid. Cough! Cough! This is what happens after a week of sitting around resting for the start of the Tour and then racing an eight kilometer prologue going so hard that your brain shuts down as your body seems to turn itself inside out.

This year's course, a twisty eight-kilometer circuit, will be more a speed test then a strength test. Finishing with the fastest time today was Christophe Moreau (Festina) with Igor Galdeano (Once-3") and Lance (4") and Ullrich (7") close behind.

All the favorites are within 30 seconds and the seconds lost today will look unimportant after the first mountain day. What is important is that three sprinters, O'Grady (CA-13"), Kirsipuu (AG2R-15") and McGee (FDJ-15") are all within striking distance of taking the yellow jersey. Festina will defend the jersey tomorrow, but will be very relaxed about it. Festina knows AG2R and Credit Agricole will control the race for their chance at getting the coveted Yellow Jersey.

A big surprise is that the first CSC rider in the standings was Laurent Jalabert in 28th at 22". Not a good start for the wild card selection team. The first Mapei rider finished 26th and the first Fassa Bortolo rider finished a horrendous 47th.

Tomorrow is the first road stage of 195 km. from St Omer to Boulogne sur mer. The first few days are sometimes the craziest of the entire Tour. Every rider is still in contention for the yellow jersey and every rider is dying to race because they have been sitting around for a week waiting for the Tour to start.

The sprinters are going to be the ones to shine. The hardest part for the rest of the riders will be staying on their bike instead of on the ground. The nervousness of the peloton makes it feel like a Cat 5 peloton. Everyone is squeezing into small gaps, diving up the gutters and trying to stay in the front of the peloton. I expect to see many crashes in the next few days especially when we head into Belgium on Monday. Usually, by the end of the day it's the riders' necks, and fingers that hurt more then their legs. This is just because of the constant straining and stress of trying to stay out of trouble.

Tomorrow will also be the first chance for riders to get the polka-dot mountain jersey. Because of this the riders will be attacking from the gun trying to get a head start on the small climbs. It's always easier to win a sprint from a small group then from the entire peloton. You're guess is as good as mine who will win.

I see Kirsipuu taking the yellow jersey by the finish tomorrow and hanging on to it through Monday's stage and then losing it on Tuesday's stage from Antwerp to Seraing. The three Cat 3's at the end of this day will be too hard for him to handle.

Watch the swarm around Lance on TV. At no point will the team leave his side. The team's job will be to protect Lance from the wind, the crashes, and keep him near the front all day long. Whoever has this role, possibly Jose Rubiera, Christian, and Eki, are in for a difficult three days of riding in the wind. George will be in charge of helping Lance in the final 30 kilometers when the speed and the danger accelerate toward the finish.

Finally, the anticipation is over. So far, so good.

Sunday, July 8, 2001
Stage 1, A Gambler
The French favorite was at it again. He's not one for the overall, he won't be there in the sprints and he won't be in the front group over the mountains. Yet, the people love him and they beg him for autographs at every stage start. He never stops attacking and his aggressive style is what sets Jacky Durand apart from the other 189 riders in the Tour.

Each day, there is a "most aggressive" award given out and there is an overall classification worth some big money at the end. Each day, a rider is awarded the "most aggressive" prize. The following day, he will wear red numbers, instead of white, signifying he's the most aggressive from the previous day. Jacky has won the "most aggressive rider" award in past Tours and he is up to old tricks again, trying to score some early points in the early stages. He knows he can't stay away, but that's not the point of his attacks. Jacky's aim today was to get some points and to try to get the mountain jersey. He accomplished both. Jacky will step up to the podium today and receive the polka-dot jersey. He also will be able to sleep easy knowing that he does not have to defend his jersey tomorrow.

If there is rain, there is wind. Especially when racing in the North of France. Today's stage saw many riders struggling trying to stay in the first group. The most active early on was Jan Kirsipuu, who picked up some bonus seconds along the way moving him closer to the Yellow Jersey. At the finish, AG2R controlled the race, but the constant attacks turned the final into a free-for-all. Kirsipuu needed to finish in the top three to have a chance at the Yellow, but at the end, and by himself, Eric Zabel came out of nowhere to take the win. This is Zabel' ninth victory in the Tour de France. This one was probably the most rewarding, after he was shunned any help by his Telekom team.

More importantly, the pressure is now off. Eric can sit back and play off the other riders, who will be scrambling for stage wins. In the previous years as the stages wore on and Eric didn't have a stage win, he kept making mistakes trying too hard. He would either start his sprint too early, too late, or miss the right gap. Sometimes when you are relaxed, the results come easier. Eric will win another stage! Kirsipuu may have come close, but Moreau keeps the Yellow Jersey by the skin of his teeth. At this point in the game the Yellow Jersey is of little concern to him, his bigger concern is not getting caught up in the crashes.

The Postal Service's wild card this year is Steffen Kjaergaard. He was a surprise selection to the Tour team, and he got it because of his strong ride at the Tour of Switzerland. Steffen was on last year's winning Tour team, so his experience in protecting Lance and reaching Paris in Yellow will be very valuable. On the other hand, Cedric Vasseur, who was not selected to the team has been raising a big stink. He even held his own press conference to talk with the press to say he felt he was slighted. In any selection someone has to lose out. I'm sure the decision did not come easy for the team management.

The omission could have been because Cedric was not riding well or maybe because he has already signed with another team. If the Postal Service knew of some intention that Cedric was going to leave the team then that would be a reason they didn't select him.

Today is the first day the Tour riders transfer hotels. This means packing up anything that isn't needed during the race. The riders will make a dead bag and won't see its contents again until they arrive in Paris. The good part is that as the days pass, the riders can start getting rid of the daunting stack of profile cards that they received at the start. The profile cards are laminated 3x5 cards that show the details of each stage. They contain the kilometers of the stage, the course profile, the bonus sprints and the feed zone.

I spoke with Kevin Livingston a couple of days ago. He is in good form and says, "I'm as good as last year but I actually believe I'm better prepared." The Giro was the perfect preparation for him but mainly because of his team focus. Telekom gave him total control to race the way he wanted. No pressure for results, no pressure to stay in the front, and no pressure to not be in the grupetto. In fact, the grupetto was why Kevin was able to finish.

Just after the start, Kevin got bronchitis and had to try to race and recover at the same time, no easy feat. Kevin said, "the relaxed atmosphere of the Giro let me gain the fitness I needed and continue to build toward my goal of the Tour." I believe Jan Ullrich is also better off from riding the Giro, and with his weight in control, should be a close match to Lance. The problem is still how Jan can beat Lance. Being close doesn't put the Yellow Jersey on his back.

Tomorrow is another day for the sprinters to flex their muscles. The sprint should be more aggressive as the sprinters who lost by a wheel length try to make up for their mistakes today. Jimmy Casper (FDJ), who was third today, will have gained a lot of confidence knowing that he has the speed to compete against the best. As a youngster, he will take some chances to try to get to that line first. Again, the 218 km stage from Calais to Antwerp will see the sprinters control the end of the race. This stage is a freebie for Jacky Durand who doesn't have to defend his mountain jersey. He should consider it a gift to return to the podium.

Again there are three bonus sprints tomorrow. If I were AG2R I would control the race the first 40 km until the first bonus sprint. After that the breaks will take a chance at making it to the finish, but look for another exciting field sprint. The finish will be critical, 20" bonus, in seeing who will end up with the jersey. The sprinters will be showing their aces tomorrow.

Monday, July 9, 2001
Stage 2 - The Diamond Heist
You can bet your bottom dollar that the Lotto team director woke up this morning and told his team to be in the front of the race. You could also bet your bottom dollar (the one in your other pocket), that Blijlevens will be their man for the finish in Antwerp. What I wouldn't bet on is Blijlevens winning. His lack of results all year wouldn't warrant him finishing even in the top three.

The race was pretty much out of control today. The first couple of hours had speeds hovering around 50-52km/hr. The last part of the race turned into a free-for-all, perhaps because of the earlier efforts in the day. I couldn't believe that no team could control the race. To have 15 riders go up the road on a totally flat stage and stay away is rare. I wouldn't have guessed it.

Of the 15 riders there were only eight teams represented, so why didn't anyone chase? You can't expect Telekom with two riders, like Guerini and Heppner, to bring back a Jens Voigt Credit Agricole freight train. AG2R had the most to gain and they put in their work, but they couldn't even bring back the break of four before the final bonus sprint. It seems like teams are weaker than usual and the riders are going to sense this. This will cause more havoc in the final kilometers as each rider takes a chance for glory. Maybe what is missing is the Saeco train. If Cippo and his Saeco boys were here today there is no way that group would have finished 22" in front.

Credit Agricole did a great job today and double bonuses go to Bobby Julich for hopping in the break and picking up some easy bonus seconds. You could read the plan of Credit Agricole from 20 kilometers out: ride flat out and set up the sprint for O'Grady. Things were going great for them until one kilometer to the finish. When Wauters attacked, Credit Agricole was already maxed out. O'Grady did the right thing and went right away but there was still 900 meters to go and when he pulled off everyone just sat there.

So, the next question is what in hell's day was Lampre doing? Seven hundred meters from the finish, Lampre's Hunter motioned to his teammates to come to the front and give him some help. With three Lampres in the group they should have been doing the final kilometer, regardless of what was happening. Hunter has a wicked sprint and definitely lost out on a huge golden opportunity for a stage win because of the laziness of his Italian compatriots. I'm sure the moment they stepped into their team camper, Hunter let them have it.

Wauters stayed away for the win, picking up a 20-second time bonus and a diamond worth $20,000. He "flicked" O'Grady for the Yellow Jersey and stole the diamond right out from under everyone's noses. O'Grady was 11 seconds from the jersey yesterday and today he is 12. A great day turned into a shit day in less than one kilometer.

The battle for the Green Jersey starts to heat up. The Green Jersey is just like the Yellow Jersey -- there is no reason to worry about it until after the mountains. Zabel knows as long as he picks up some points he will be fine. Zabel is so much stronger than the other sprinters in the mountains that when most sprinters are picking up zero points, Zabel will continue to collect them. Jonathon Vaughters lost big time yesterday and Tyler loses out today. Tyler must have crashed and when the pack is going 60km/hr catching back up to the group is impossible. I would say a rule of thumb is that if a rider crashes or flats with anything less than 20 kilometers to the finish, he might as well take his time. There is no way he'll see his teammates again until after the finish, when they're sipping Cokes, wondering, "What took you so long?"

The best part of the whole race was watching Paul Van Hyfte (Lotto) go off the front of the peloton to wave to his family and friends in his hometown. Normally, a rider will take off and then stop to kiss his family; Paul was waving and saluting everyone for five kilometers. If there hadn't been a bike race following behind him, I'm sure there would have been a ticker-tape parade.

One of the many casualties from yesterday's crosswinds was Credit Agricole's Jonathon Vaughters. No, he didn't crash, but he somehow lost his chain. I've always tried to tell him that riding in the small ring at 60km/hr isn't possible. He ended up losing about six or seven minutes. Now, what does this do for his chances in the overall? It doesn't help, but it certainly isn't the end. If Jonathon is smart, he will concentrate all his efforts on the uphill time trial. He should try to stay as fresh and ready as possible for this one day. His best chance for a result will be during the uphill T.T. and if he can pull off a top three result there, then his Tour could be considered a success. Plus, if he does pull off a top three, then it will become evident to him that he has the ability to climb and beat the best. This confidence boost alone will shove him up the mountains with the leaders and the minutes he lost yesterday will seem like nothing.

The other Credit Agricole rider all over the TV screen trying to stay out of trouble is Bobby Julich. Bobby has the right thinking -- by staying in the front, he is staying off the ground. This type of riding can be a double-edged sword. The other big guns have help staying in the front of the group. If you look at Lance, he always has a few Postal guys around him. If you look at Ullrich, it's the same thing, and right now it's the same way with the Yellow Jersey wearer, Moreau. Bobby is isolated and taking it upon himself to stay in the first 10 guys.

The energy that it takes to always stay in the top 10 is very draining. Cutting through wind at 50km/hr, battling for the wheel, and sprinting to stay in the front repeatedly will sap the legs. This is especially true if you are doing it without any help. I've seen riders bust their butt trying to stay in the top 10 during the first week, only to see themselves exhausted by the time the first mountains show up. Everyone has his own idea of what works, and the results at the end of the race will show if the right decisions were made during the Tour.

Tomorrow is another 200 km stage from Antwerp to Seraing. This will be the third 20 km stage in a row, and by now the riders will start feeling a little better, as their bodies start to get into the rhythm of racing. At the same time, the nervousness of the race, the crashes, and intensity will start taking their effect on the riders legs. Fatigue will start it's natural decay and it only gets worse from this point out.

The final 40 kms tomorrow are very hard, as we go into Leige. There will be no rest for Jacky Durand if he wants to keep the mountain jersey. There are three Cat. 3 climbs in the final run in and the sprinters are out of luck because of the uphill finish. Look for a strong man to win tomorrow, possibly Museeuw, Baldato, or Vainsteins. Tomorrow also is a day where riders will lose time, either by crashing or just simply not staying in the front group.

The Postal boys are all riding well. A couple of them have been taking turns crashing and losing time, but it's really not important considering all they have to do is worry about Lance. I do hope they are taking turns protecting Lance, because the efforts they are putting out now will come back to haunt them next week if they are not careful. In their minds right now is the TTT. It might be three days away but they all are quivering as the get ready for one of the hardest days of the Tour.

I can't wait.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001 Stage 3 – Who's your buddy? Today's headline in USA today read, "Julich passes besieged Armstrong in Tour." I suppose you could say that some of the other riders are finally getting some press. I mean Bobby's name is mentioned. To think about the constant and increasing pressure that Lance has to deal with at the Tour is mind boggling. It's not enough to just race your bike. It's not enough to race faster than the other 189 guys in the Tour. With Lance, every little detail that he does or does not do is scrutinized. What he eats, what he talks about, what he's wearing, what he's thinking. And the press want to know it all. Racing your bike faster than anyone else may make you a champion, but dealing with the huge pressure and constant distractions are what make a Tour de France champion.

Yesterday's breakaway success seemed to pump many riders up. They are all thinking that if it happened once, it can happen again. I'm sure their directors are telling riders that the flat stages are starting to run out and that means for many teams their opportunities are running out. Today's stage of 200 kilometers from Antwerp to Seraing finished with three Cat 3 climbs that took the snap out of many legs. The biggest casualty was Yellow Jersey wearer Marc Wauters, who lost the Jersey to Stuart O'Grady. O'Grady managed to stay in the front group. The final climb on the profile was the same climb that the riders do in Leige-Bastogne-Leige after La Redoute. On this final climb, many thought about doing something, but at the top of the climb Telekom took things into its own hands.

The Telekom train roared into town, squashing any ideas of riders attacking on the rolling terrain. The final two kilometers were uphill and as they entered the final kilometer, there were only a handful of guys thinking about going for the win. At one kilometer to the finish Kevin ramped up the pace with Alexandre Vinokourov taking the next three hundred meters and Jan Ullrich, the man himself, doing the final leadout for Eric Zabel.

Eric now has two stages under his belt and as his nerves relax, watch for another couple stages to come his way. There was a lot of talk about how Eric was upset at having his leadout man, Fagnini, left out of the Tour selection. While Eric is increasing his value, showing everyone that he can win on his own, Fagnini is sitting at home cringing. Without his even doing anything, Fagnini's value is going down. It would have been in Fagnini's best interest if Eric had a Tour like he had last year or the year before, meaning no stage wins.

The first couple of days have been hard on the riders. When I asked George Hincapie how the days have been, he replied, "Crazy as usual and very windy." Every day the team has been plowing through the wind trying to keep Lance as fresh as possible. The stronger than usual winds will have an effect in a couple of days when the guys have to give a 100 percent effort in the TTT. If you've seen a big ol' guy hanging around Lance at the starts and finishes then you have seen the "Rock," as the guys call him. He's Lance's bodyguard and is responsible for shuttling Lance back and forth through the crowds. The Rock always wears black and doesn't speak any English. I'm sure by the end of the Tour, though, he will speak a little Texan. So when you see a big Chinese guy, all dressed in black, hovering around Lance, don't fret. That's Lance's buddy. Tomorrow, we return to the scene of Lance's first stage win in the Tour de France. The stage from Huy to Verdun is again over 200 km long and is where Lance beat Raul Alcala for his first Tour stage win. The start of the stage is the most difficult, with four categorized climbs. The group should stay together and O'Grady will keep the jersey without much difficulty. It's a good stage for Kirsipuu to win so he can make up for not getting the Yellow Jersey earlier.

This stage is especially dangerous, because the TTT is the following day. Every rider and every team is thinking about the TTT. No one wants to do a suicide move, except possibly Jacky, and no one wants to do a chase. All anyone is thinking about is conserving energy for the TTT.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001 Stage 4 – Everyone's involved When the riders sat at the start line this morning they knew this was not going to be a usual flat day. The tents were swaying, the flags were swinging, and the trees were bending. The wind was blowing something fierce and that meant that they were racing toward crosswind city.

The main difficulties of the 215 km stage that went from Huy to Verdun came at the start of the stage. There were three Cat 4 climbs and on one of them, as the riders contested the mountain sprint, they just kept going. A break of 10 formed that included Bobby Julich. The break built up a maximum lead of 10 minutes before Postal and Once started to ride tempo. At this time, Bobby was the virtual leader on the road. As the peloton continued to chase, it was evident that there were many riders struggling to stay out of the wind.

In a situation like this – strong crosswinds – many times it's easier to pull on the front of the peloton than to try and do battle in the back. At about 120 kilometers to the finish, an opportunity presented itself to tear the group apart. Once and Postal went flat out and separated themselves from the peloton with about 40 other riders. Most of the main men were there but when there is a selection someone always misses out. In the back you could see full teams chasing, including their leaders. For example, Axel Merckx with Domo, and Michele Bartoli with Mapei, Nico Matten and David Millar with Cofidis, along with the Fassa Bortolo team. In the front, Telekom, Once and Postal were driving and the drag race had started. At first, I thought the front group was gone but because the second group never gave up they eventually made it back. For those who were in the second group, they can count their blessings, because their race was almost finished at only the fourth day.

For a flat day it sure was exciting. At times, the peloton was in five to six groups and once the front two groups came back together, there wasn't a dull moment. The attacks started. With 25 km to the finish, a break of three got away – Francisco Mancebo (Banesto), Ludo Dierckxsens ( Lampre), and Laurent Jalabert (CSC).

These three built up a minute lead quickly and Jalabert, who was only 39" down, became the virtual leader. Stuart O 'Grady was trying to keep things going, but the only other riders in his group were Julich and Jens Voigt. But Voigt was spent by chasing all day from the second group.

As things got more dangerous, Bonjour hit the front. They started chasing for their sprinter Damien Nazon, because Erik Zabel got caught napping and ended up in the third group, which finished around 18 minutes back. Disappointing for Nazon but, thankfully for Jalabert, the field didn't catch the break. Laurent won the sprint easily, finishing in front of Ludo. The field arrived a measly five seconds behind, with Nazon winning the field sprint for third by a tire tread from Freddy Rodriguez (Domo)

So far – after four days into the Tour – I've noticed I'm not watching the same Bobby Julich from years past. This year, Bobby has been aggressive and responding to opportunities that present themselves. The past two years, he would wait and rest and then try to contend with the leaders. This year is Bobby's contract year and knowing that the last two seasons he has not performed up to Credit Agricole's expectations, he has to get some results to get noticed again. Things are starting off well for him, but it remains to be seen how fresh Bobby will be when the big mountains arrive. As for Jonathon Vaughters, he lost another 18 minutes today. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Jonathon should forget about the overall and concentrate on doing well in two or three stages. I guess now he will have no choice.

The Postal guys look fantastic. They are all working well together, they look strong and Lance is never left alone. The weak link right now is Jose Luis Rubiera. After suffering from knee problems a couple months ago, he still needs to find his racing legs. Hopefully, he will find them before the mountains.

It was a day like today that saw two North Americans get their chances in yellow many years ago. When Alex Steida got the yellow jersey, it was on a long breakaway in the morning stage of a Tour double day. The second stage was the TTT and the caution that teams felt in the morning stage played right into Alex's hands. The same scenario happened when Steve Bauer took the yellow jersey. Steve made it a point to try and get in the break because he knew what would happen – lack of chasers. A break will go up the road and no one will mind because the teams and the directors are all waiting to stay fresh for the huge effort of the TTT. Steve took the yellow and held onto it for 10 days. That was about nine days longer than Alex. But, hey, at least Alex took a chance and got to slide his arms through the sleeves of that silky yellow jersey as he pulled it over his head standing on the very top of the podium. Oh yeah, I've dreamed of it! One of the most exiting races and hardest cycling events is tomorrow, the TTT. After today's stage, it will be interesting to see how the riders feel. I'm sure there will be many tossing and turning in bed, thinking about tomorrow's TTT. I get nervous just thinking about it and I'm not racing. Nine guys all in a row riding as hard as they can go and relying on you to ride even harder. When we finished the TTT last year, not one of us could walk. Literally, we hobbled off our bikes and I must have sat in the bus for 15 minutes before I could get my shoes off. I see Postal placing well, but I see Once winning the TTT. I think O' Grady will lose the jersey. But the question is, to whom?

Thursday, July 12, 2001
Stage 5 – "The TTT"
The letters TTT stand for triple times the torture. This has got to be one of the hardest events in racing. It's also very tactical. Do you go flat out from the start? How do you pace yourself? If you start off easy, will you be able to make up the lost time later on? Do you do a single pace line or do you ride a double echelon? In what order do you put the riders? Do the strongest riders go next to each other, or do you spread them out? The list goes on.

Then there is the equation of who wants the jersey. Some say if a team takes the jersey now, by winning the TTT, it will hurt their chances later on. An example would be ONCE last year, which during the first week did well but in the following weeks fell flat on its face. Can you time it to get second without losing many seconds? No! Every team will race flat out, because any seconds they gain here will be valuable. If a team takes the yellow jersey by winning the TTT, then it's up to them to decide what to do with it the next day. Remember that it's easy to lose the yellow jersey. If a team doesn't want it, which happens very seldom, they just have to figure out to whom to lose the jersey and more than likely it will be to a non-climber.

After today's TTT, that won't be a problem. Probably surprising themselves as much as the rest of us, Credit Agricole with Stuart O' Grady in the yellow jersey pulled of an amazing win. My prediction of ONCE was close, but they finished second, followed by Festina, U.S. Postal, Kelme, Rabobank, Telekom, Cofidis and so on. Cofidis had the best time for a while, but that was no surprise because they were the first team to take off. They were the first team to depart because they didn't have one rider in the 80-man group who finished 18 minutes in front. Alain Bondue, the general manger for Cofidis, should have fired every one of them right then and there. No matter what, there is no excuse. I mean, this is the Tour de France.

On paper, Credit Agricole did not look the strongest, but the power of the yellow jersey puts all the critics to rest. The team finished with five riders including, Bobby and Jonathon. Many teams, including CA, had their problems today. CA suffered a puncture with Bobby, Telekom suffered a puncture with Zabel and finished with seven riders, and the worst was U.S. Postal, which suffered a crash with Vande Velde and Heras.

What was amazing was that rider #6, Steffen Kjaergaard, didn't crash. He was right on their wheels. They probably only lost as much time as a puncture, even though the crash looked spectacular. Afterward on TV the announcers were saying that it was Lance's decision to wait for the riders. There are two reasons that this was a good decision. One to keep Roberto dangerous in the G.C. when we hit the mountains.

He knows he is working for Lance but to have two cards to play is always better then relying on one ace. The second reason was to keep Roberto in good spirits and part of the team as a leader. If no one waited and Roberto lost five or six minutes, you might as well have kissed his motivation goodbye. I'm sure that tomorrow the guys will laugh about Christian crashing. I'm also sure that every person Christian meets for the next two years will tell him how they saw him crash in the TTT.

The Postal guys started off steady and immediately rode a double echelon. Most team were riding a single pace line, alternating pace at the front every thirty or forty seconds. In a double echelon the rider swings off immediately after hitting the front while the next rider comes to pass. The double echelon is faster, but it also is harder. The start order for the team was George, Lance, Eki, Pena, Rubiera, Vande Velde, Heras, Tyler and Steffen. The team, except for George, rode the new carbon time trial bikes; they don't make a big enough size for George. Everyone rode rear Mavic disks with front Mavic Cosmics.

Tomorrow, the 211km stage from Commercy to Strasburg, contains the first notable climb, the Cat 2 Col du Donon. Although it looks frightening on the profile, it contains little danger for many of the riders. The climb is almost 60 kilometers from the finish, plenty of time for all the sprinters and anyone tired from the TTT to catch back up to the front group. The 1200 meter long straightway should make it a perfect drag race for the sprinters. As for the yellow jersey staying on O'Grady's back, I believe that it will stay with him until Saturday when the race has it's first medium mountain day. I see the lead changing on Saturday and it's very possible that it would go to Julich. All Bobby has to do is stay with the lead group and the yellow jersey will fall into his lap.

stage 6
2001-07-13 Stage 6-
A medium mountain can cause so much more pain then a large mountain. The days that have rolling climbs, the days that are categorized as medium hard, these are the days that the riders suffer the most. On big mountain days the group will split up early and everyone will ride a good tempo to make it to the finish. On the transition days, that contain cat 2, and 3 climbs, the group doesn t split as easily. Everyone thinks they can stay with front group so they kill themselves to stay in contention. This makes the peloton go harder and then everyone has to stay in the group or you risk being dropped by yourself and not making the time cut. Today is one of these transition stages. I m sure at the start the riders had plenty to talk about, all sharing their horror stories from the previous day s TTT. Today was Friday the 13th and from the looks of it that didn t hinder today s winner. If I was racing I wouldn t have worried about today s date but I d sure be weary of tomorrow July 14th. This is the French holiday Bastille Day and every year the French go crazy attacking each other. It s every Frenchman s dream win a stage of the Tour but it gets better if you do it on July 14th. The race today turned into a sprinter s battle. The Cat 2 climb barely made a dent in the peloton because of the five-rider break that was up the road. Early in the race a break with Bartoli (Mapei), Merckx (Domo), Verbrugghe ( Lotto), Brochard (Jean Delatour) and Bessy (CA) got away and built up a four-minute lead. At the time Bartoli was the virtual leader and even though the four worked together, Bessy had a free ride, it was only a matter of time before they got caught. CA had to pull most of the day and on the Cat 2 climb they seemed to slide to the back. Even though the pace going up the climb was easy there were riders getting dropped. Tom Steels came off the back and they sent a teammate back to help him try to stay with the group. At the same time there were two Mapei riders, Bettini and Leysen, ridng on the front trying to control the tempo to give their sprinter a chance to stay with group. Over the top of the climb all the sprinter teams put a guy on the front to bring back the break. There was Lampre, Bonjour, Mapei, Telekom, Domo, and still CA leading it out to the finish. There were team trains passing each other every five hundred meters along with a lot of bumping and shoving. It looked completely crazy as they flew into the final kilometer. At the end AG2R did a perfect leadout for Kirsipuu. Their last rider dropped off two hundred meters from the line and when Kirsipuu took off Zabel, Steels, and Nazon could only come as close as his bottom bracket. It was a great sprint to watch on TV. It s one of those sprints that every time you watch it you see something different. For example, when Nazon started his sprint he was behind the World Champion Vainsteins. Nazon just went right around him and dropped him from his wheel. O Grady, who has the Yellow Jersey, did the right thing by just hanging back on the outside of the group and doing the sprint by himself up the right side of the road, he got 4th.

Kevin Livingston had a hard ride yesterday in the TTT. The Telekom lineup put Kevin right behind Jan Ullrich for the TTT. This is the hardest position being behind a very strong rider. When Jan accelerates and does a huge pull Kevin has to maintain that speed and power output. If you are as strong as the rider in front of you then it s not a problem but if your weaker then it s a huge problem. You ll end up redlining yourself after only a few pulls. After the race the Telekom director, Rudy, came up to Kevin and apologized, he realized his mistake but by then it was too late. After watching the Postal Service crash yesterday I thought it happened because Christian overlapped a wheel. That night I called George to see how things were going and he told me it was the slippery white line in the middle of the road that caused Christian to crash. Sure enough, this morning all the television stations were showing replays of yesterday s stage and you can see Christian slide out on the paint. It still amazes me that no one behind him crashed. George told me he is feeling better, he said he definitely wasn t one hundred percent at the start because of the stitches in his hand. He told me the first week has been tough because of the high winds every day. <> George said he is feeling better but that protecting Lance everyday in the wind has taken a lot out of him. I told him he ll be happy when he hits the mountains, he finally be able to get some rest.

Tomorrow, Saturday the 14th is going to be a starter test for things to come. I believe CA will set things up for Julich. I don t thing O Grady can hand with the big guns when they take off on the climbs. An early break will work in favor of CA because they can ride tempo all day and control the race. If the race is still together at the first Cat 2 climb, the Col d Adelspach, at kilometer eighty then the riders will be busting out their turbo s. This is where Julich has a chance to take the Yellow Jersey by staying with the first group. The pressure is on CA to keep the jersey, if another team takes the jersey it will be because of the weakness of Julich. Whoever has the jersey after the stage tomorrow will carry it going into L Alpe de Huez two days later.

Saturday, July 14, 2001
Stage 7 – "What an explosion!"
The explosions of Bastille Day are usually limited to the nighttime fireworks. That is unless you were riding the 162-kilometer stage 7 of the Tour de France from Strasbourg to Colmar. The race started off with a bang and the intensity of the explosion practically tore apart the peloton. The danger in such a short stage is that the riders will be relentless in attacking, add to that is the fact that it's a French Holiday and the racing becomes more spectacular.

CSC were the early aggressors trying to set something up for Jalabert. Eventually, they succeeded, with Laurant Jalabert forming a break with five other riders. The other occupants were Roux (J-D), Basso (Fasso), Voigt (CA), and Cuesta (Cofidis). This was only possible after a relentless number of attacks on the first two mountains. The speed broke the peloton in three or four groups and the suffering was evident all over the back of the peloton.

Eventually, some of the groups were able to come back, but only after CA dropped from pulling on the front of the group to hanging on in the middle. At this point, Bobby and Yellow Jersey O'Grady were sitting comfortably in the peloton. The break built up a lead of 5:45, making Voigt, who is second overall on G.C., the virtual leader.

The virtual danger, however, was from Jalabert. The object for CA today was to keep the yellow jersey within the team. Who kept it was inconsequential. As the leaders built up a lead, the chase fell on U.S. Postal. Steffen Kjaergaard was the workhorse, setting tempo for Lance and the guys, keeping the break at a reasonable distance. In the final 20 kilometers, George and Rubiera then took control. Staying hidden, and rested, were Heras and Lance.

When the break reached a dangerous 5:32, the Telekom team took over the chase, attempting to bring down the time even more. At the top of the last climb, 20km to the finish, the gap was around 3:45, ensuring that the break would not get caught in the remaining 15-kilometer downhill section to the finish. On the descent, Jalabert, who has been descending like a mad man all day, continued to show off his crazy skills in the rain.

Half way down the mountain, Basso, who was on Jalabert's wheel, crashed and hindered the riders behind him. Voigt, Cuesta, and Roux all had to come to a standstill as Jalabert continued on at 50km/hr. By the time the other riders started again, Jalabert had 15 seconds and they never saw him. Laurant Jalabert won his second stage of the 2001 Tour and for a second time on July 14th, Bastille Day.

Jens Voigt, who was in the break, suffered incredibly all day. He was dropped on the first Cat 2 climb but managed to come back to the break before the top. Jens, known as a time trialist and workhorse, was by far outclassed as a climber, but the inspiration of the yellow jersey flowed through his veins instead of the building lactic acid.

To no fault of Bobby Julich or Stuart O'Grady, the yellow jersey transferred to their teammate, Jens Voigt. Normally, a teammate won't ride in a break if the yellow jersey is behind, but in this case, I'm assuming the CA camp had an agreement.

In the early explosions of the peloton, Christian Vande Velde found himself in the second or third group. On the descent of the 2nd climb of the Col Fouchy, Christian overshot a corner while chasing and crashed heavily. Christian had to abandon and the Postal Service is down to eight riders.

This was a very tough day for the mountain leader Halgand (J-D). There were five climbs with points and as the categories of the climbs increase so do the points. A first--place finish for a Cat 1 climb is worth the same amount of points as about 10 Cat 4 climbs. Today's stage contained three Cat 3 climbs and two Cat 2 climbs.

Starting today, the second team car starts to play an important role. As the group splits up, the riders have to rely on the second team car for information, food, water and clothing. As we reach the large climbs, the second team car will become many riders' new best friend.

The stage was live on TV from start to finish. I watched every minute. I rode nine Tours and yet I feel like a junkie, I can't bare to miss any of the action. So far, this has been the most exciting stage of the Tour. On the hard climbs it was evident where the favorites were, in the front. This teaser of a mountain stage only gave light to what fireworks might go off when we reach the high mountains.

Tomorrow's stage should be no problem for Jens to keep the jersey. The team might have to rely on another team to help, because the CA boys are definitely starting to fatigue. The 222-km stage is perfect for a long breakaway and it's possible that it will succeed. After today's stage, everyone, including the sprinters, is going to be tired.

This first week has been a very hard one for the riders. The constant crosswinds never allowed a free ride or a day to take a rest. The efforts of this first week will become very evident when riders start to abandon at the end of next week and the third week. The efforts of the Tour are cumulative. Every day takes a little away from their legs. It's not so much day to day, but it's the work that is done at the start that comes back to haunt you in the second and third weeks. The Tour has only started, and the real excitement is still to come.

Sunday, July 15, 2001
Stage 8 – "Gone for a day"
A July in France doesn't mean summertime. It just means that it's time for the Tour. This year, the rain has been more a part of the Tour then the sun has been. The rain fell today on the riders from the start to the end during the longest day of the Tour since the start. The 222-km stage from Colmar to Pontarlier was dead flat and the biggest obstacle for the riders was the cold, wet rain. As they have in each of the previous stages the crosswinds presented themselves early in the race.

As the attacks started, a crash split the peloton and Armstrong found himself in the rear group. At that point, the Postal boys dropped back to help bring Lance back up to the first group. At the same time that the Postal guys were chasing in the back, a break of 15 riders were going off the front. When the Postal team caught the peloton, they got the news that Vinokourov (Telekom) was in the break, which was going away, at 20 seconds.

This was not the news that they wanted to hear and immediately they started to chase. The entire team went on the front and rode flat out, trying to bring back the 15-rider group. The gap stayed at 30 seconds for five, 10, 15 kilometers. You have to realize how hard it is to bring back a group of 15 motivated pros trying to win a stage of the Tour. The gap stayed at 30 seconds and 25 kilometers. Later, it looked like it was going to be a very long hard day for the team. Some say you make your luck in the Tour, and some say to take it when it comes.

After 25 kilometers of chasing, and the gap not coming down, Vinokourov flatted and returned to the peloton. The chase was over! As the peloton rested, the break started to build up a monumental lead. As the minutes increased so did the tactics. The U.S. Postal Service was tired of being relied on to bail everyone out of trouble when something serious was happening. They didn't chase, Telekom didn't chase, ONCE didn't chase. Of course anyone with a rider in the break wasn't going to chase. Credit Agricole, who has the yellow jersey with Voigt, had O' Grady in the break. It was another win-win situation for them.

As the game continued to play, the minutes continued to build. The lead built to 40 minutes at one time and it only came down a little at the end because Credit Agricole pulled the group in during the final kilometers. Finishing 35 minutes in front of the peloton was the winner, Erik Dekker (Rabobank). The same Erik Dekker who won three stages last year.

The break contained 14 riders of which the most dangerous rider toward the overall was Kivilev (Cofidis). This is a good thing considering Cofidis has done jack since the start of the Tour. Two weeks before the Tour, Kivilev won a Tour de France warm-up race, the Rut du Sud. His fitness is not a question, but his experience racing a Tour is. Kivilev could have been the leader on the road and in a more dangerous position in the overall if it wasn't for losing 18 minutes in Stage 4. The race now begins to become a race of catch-up.

If we abide by the Tour rules, the peloton should be eliminated because of failing to make the time cut. Of course, the Tour organizers can't have a 14-man peloton with two weeks left in the Tour de France. I'm sure their generosity toward the peloton will change as soon as we reach the Alps and the Pyrenees. Christian Vande Velde, who broke his arm yesterday, caught a flight back to Chicago early this morning and now will have to endure the pain of watching the Tour on TV.

Is Laurant Jalabert the surprise of the Tour? So far he is. It's amazing watching a true champion tactically pick his way through the peloton to win a stage. Yesterday's win was by no means lucky, Laurant attacked early on and continued to push the pace the entire race. At times the peloton was only 20 seconds behind, but he knew a 20-second lead on an uphill is worth double one on the flats.

Every descent he attacked, dropping riders from his wheel as he expertly carved out the turns. It was amazing watching him outclass every rider that tried to stay with him. At the finish luck did play a part in his win. If Basso hadn't crashed on his wheel, breaking his collarbone, it might have been a different story, but I doubt it. Will he be able to climb alongside Ullrich and Armstrong? It's possible. He's done the big climbs in the past. We might even see a green jersey or yellow jersey on his shoulders. Now that would be a surprise!

Don't let the tomorrow's profile deceive you. The terrain is very rolling, and although there are only three small-categorized climbs, it's the type of day that will hurt the riders. The constant up and downs will make it important to stay near the front to avoid splits in the peloton. As each day passes, the riders are growing more fatigued and the peloton is able to spit them out more easily. It's days like this that having the yellow jersey will kill you.

Chasing on a course like tomorrow is a no-win situation. As soon as you catch a group, the riders slingshot from the back and continue to attack. At the same time, this stage is very similar to a stage before the TTT. The first big mountains come after tomorrow and everyone wants to conserve energy. The peloton could be willing to let a break of riders with no threat to G.C. go up the road. One thing for sure. This will be Stuart O'Grady's last day in the yellow jersey.

Monday, July 16, 2001
Stage 9 – "Ivanov the savoir?"
The sprinter teams are not having their way during this Tour. Other than the first couple of stages when speedster Eric Zabel crossed the finish line first, the peloton has not been able to contain itself. The riders are stage hunting, attacking early on and succeeding in what is normally impossible in the first week. The first week the riders are so fresh they are able to power back any group that goes away before they reach the finish.

This year, there has been success in the early breaks. Because of this more riders are taking the risk of going out early to try and give their team an early win. The earlier a team can post a result, the earlier the team can relax knowing that they have achieved what every team is trying to accomplish – a Tour de France stage win. In today's, relatively short, 185 kilometer stage from Pontarlier to Aix-les-Bain, the peloton was aided by a much-deserved tailwind instead of the usual crosswinds. When the break formed with three riders – Ivanov (Fassa Bortolo), Etxebarria (Euskatel), and Mcgee (FDJ) – the race was on to try and catch them. The problem was the strong tailwind and the final gradual 20 kilometers of downhill towards the finish. There was nothing to wear down the break as they sped along in their 53x11 and 12. In the peloton the final chase was propelled by the Bonjour team. Again they came up short for their sprinter Nazon. This is the second time the team has failed to give their sprinter a chance for the win. This also is the second time that Nazon has proved himself worthy of the effort by winning the field sprint. But what good is winning the field sprint when the winner of the race is up the road? Have they learned their lesson by waiting to long? Perhaps, but this was probably their last chance for a field sprint until stage 15 which is almost a week away. More than likely, Nazon won't still be in the race because it's now time for the Tour de France to give its climbers a chance to shine. Ivanov put on an impressive display of power and speed by distancing himself from his two companions in the final kilometers of the race. In 1998 Ivanov was part of the TVM team that protested the Tour stage that finished here in Aix-Les-Bains. In 2000, he was also thrown out of the Tour before the prologue because of elevated blood levels that were deemed unhealthy. He may have a tainted past but, today he was the savoir the Fassa Bortolo team which has not ridden to it's potential. After losing their leader Casagrande, and Basso, who broke his collarbone, the team has not been able to put together a result. Even their wicked speedster Pettacchi, who came on to the scene winning stages in last years Giro, has been a ghost. The so-called spell of Ferretti, who propels his riders to success, has been less than successful in this first week of the Tour. For Fassa this could be their only result. What was noticeable about today's race was that for a flat day the peloton didn't finish in one group. This is a sure sign that there are some serious hurting units out there. If the group is becoming separated on flat days then the damage that will be done on the mountain days becomes even greater. Tomorrow is the race that everyone has been waiting for, the first mountain day. Tomorrow's stage will cover three Hors Category climbs, the hardest category, finishing with the prestigious 16 kilometer L'Alp-d-Huez. The attacks will start immediately in the stage with riders looking for a head start before the climbs. The real racing will start on the first climb, the Col de la Madeleine, followed by the very difficult Col du Glandon. The climbers are not going to wait for the final climb, including the Postal Service. In the past, Lance Armstrong has made it a point to show that he is the strongest in the race on the first mountain day. He did it in 1999 on Sestriers and again in 2000 on Hautacam. In 1999, I believe Lance held back from winning the stage finish at L'Alp-d-Huez, I don't believe he will make that mistake again. This climb is the most prestigious win for any climber and no one will hold back anything. As for the huge 35 minute time gap that fourteen riders took yesterday, no worries. In one day most of them will lose that much time or more. Tomorrow is so difficult that of the fourteen I see only three or four riders staying in front of the main climbers in the G.C. classification of the Tour. Look for Kivilev (Cofidis) to hang on, the Kelme rider will stay up there, and on a very outside guess, maybe Simon (Bonjour). In the race for Lantern Rouge, the last placed rider in the Tour, Bart Leysen (Mapei) is winning – or losing. He took over last spot today from David Millar (Cofidis).

Tuesday, July 17, 2001
Stage 10 – "No contest"
Today Lance showed the world he is capable of winning a third Tour de France. The 209km stage from Aix-les-Bains to L'Alpe-d-Huex (AH) had many riders sweating bullets at this morning's start. If they had known what was going to happen they probably wouldn't have been worried - there was nothing they could do about it. Early on, even before the climbs started, a break formed with Roux (J-D), Jiminez ( Banesto), and Tauler ( Kelme). Two of the three were climbers so this break did pose a threat, the non-climber was Tauler and he was tossed from the duo on the very first HC climb, the Col du Madeline. At the bottom of the Madeline the Postal boys rode tempo, specifically Tyler. The team knows he is not feeling well so they wanted to get something out of him before he got dropped. Tyler has been suffering from stomach problems because of the medicine he has been taking for his problematic elbow. As Tyler started to fatigue the pace slowed and almost immediately the Telekom boys took over, pushed the tempo up and drove the rest of the way home. Kloden, Heppner, and Vinikourov rode the Madeline and when they hit the Glandon Kevin rode on the front from the start to just before the top. Meanwhile, Lance was sitting very comfortably in the back of the group with Heras and Rubiera. The Telekom tempo destroyed the peloton. Thirty riders were left after the first HC climb and pretty much it was the same thirty that came to the bottom of AH together. While all this was going on in the peloton, Roux was going up the road by himself and holding on to a six-minute lead at the bottom of AH. I thought it was very hit or miss if he was going to hang on for the win. At the bottom of the climb Johan gave the order, like he always does, for Rubiera to sprint as hard as he could for as long as he could. You have to remember that no matter how hard Rubiera goes he is not going to drop Lance. You could see the strain on Rubiera's face as he sprinted into the climb and tried to keep the pace high. Immediately a gap opened on Jan and he tried to close it while Rubiera was still sprinting. Under normal circumstances this would have been a mistake but, because of what happened next it didn't really matter. Jan made it up to Rubiera and Lance right when Rubiera dropped anchor. At that moment, Lance took a couple of pedal strokes, looked behind him directly at Jan, and took off. He literally took off like a rocket flying up AH like I've never seen before. I wouldn't doubt that whatever the old record was at AH, Lance broke it today. The other riders were leg-locked and brain-locked trying to figure out what had just happened. Lance caught Roux, who was off all bleeding day long, and passed him with only one thought, take as much time as possible. Lance finished two minutes in front of Ullrich with Beloki, and Moreau just behind. This impressive display, which really is no surprise, makes me want to predict that the order of the finish today will be your podium in Paris. One good thing did come from Laurant Roux's escape all day even though he didn't win. The KOM is now his to wear with a twenty-one point lead over Laurant Jalabert. Jalabert is not going to give this up. He sprinted for the top of every climb trying to gain valuable points. In two days Laurant will have the Polka-Dot Jersey. Today was not a good day for Julich. Early in the race, his form seemed promising and he talked about a stage win and possibly taking the Yellow Jersey. After today, I think he knows all dreams of that are exactly that, dreams. On the second HC climb Bobby cracked. Jonathon waited for Bobby to try to help pace him up but the gap kept getting bigger to the front group. You could see Jonathon looking back waiting for Bobby; he was doing the right thing because the orders were that Bobby was the leader. It wasn't until the CA car came up and told Jonathon he could move ahead that Jonathon chased and rejoined the first group. I know Jonathon is thinking about the uphill time trial tomorrow and just maybe he will be able to sneak into the top five. If the Postal Service was complaining before about having to control the race when they didn't have to, just wait for the next two weeks. It will only get worse. And, I guarantee Telekom will not do what they did today. Every day from now to the end will fall on the Postal Service's shoulders. Bonjour, who now has the Yellow Jersey with Simon, can count its days in Yellow on one hand. All the favorites are going to wait for the Postal Service to chase, attack and ride until the team cracks. They have to do this to destroy the team. If the team stays intact it will be impossible to dent Lance's armor. Today was spectacular! I've been hanging with the VeloSports Vacation groups and today we took the coolest ride up L'Alpe-d-Huez in the morning before the stage start. I saw a French guy riding up the climb on a fixed gear bike with a tubular wrapped around his shoulder and goggles on his head. He was in a time warp. I ran into guys I used to race with like Brian Holm, Frank Hoj, Steve Bauer, Phil Anderson, Sean Kelly, Pedro Delgado and more. Everyone was out walking around and checking out the sights - it was like a school reunion. After we rode up the mountain, we had lunch at a hotel overlooking the racecourse at the one-kilometer banner. We watched TV all afternoon, watching the guys suffer, while I had a beer. Then we walked outside to see Lance fly by. Just after that, a bunch of us walked a couple kilometers away and instead of taking five to six hours to get off the mountain we took a helicopter off the top of the mountain. We were back at our hotel half an hour after the stage was over. These VeloSports guys know how to do things right. Tomorrow is the Chamrousee time trial. There really isn't much to say especially after today's show. Lance will win and the battle will be between Beloki, Moreau, and Ullrich for the scraps. It will be interesting to see how much time Kivilev will lose. It's now time to start figuring out how to chip away at his lead.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Stage 11 – "It's not about the bike."
Lance is right. It's not about the bike. In the Tour de France, it's about the legs. And, the legs may power the rider, but the bike can mean the difference between winning and losing at this high level. Today was the Chamrusse TT. There is no point in teasing you and making you read to find out who won. Lance killed everyone again and took a minute from Jan Ullrich. Considering how much time Jan lost yesterday on just L'Alp-d-Huez, he is probably pretty happy. Lance used his TREK climbing bike and had it all tricked out. He had titanium cogs on his light wheels. He had the left shift lever changed to a normal one to save weight. Lance started with his TT helmet on, but tossed it as soon as the climb started. No, some fan did not get a free Lance TT helmet. The team car stopped and grabbed the guy who picked it up, and as he was starting to leave, asked for the helmet back. I saw most of the team before the start today. The other days have been very hectic. Sometimes the team hotel is around the corner, or the bus is five kilometers away, or something. Mostly, I've just waved and let them go on their way. I remember how it is. After riding for six hours, it's difficult to stand with someone and have a conversation. Today, there was no pressure and lots of time for the guys. I talked with George and saw the cuts in his hand from dropping the plate. He's lucky he didn't loose a couple fingers. He said he feels normal tired and that yesterday's stage wasn't too bad. Steffen told me the same and mentioned that he is getting better with each day. Heras' knee is a little hurt, but also each day it's getting better. Finally, I saw Lance. He was the last to depart from the team so he was the last to show up. I missed Eki and Tyler because they were the first to go off. I walked onto the bus and told Lance, "I guess I don't have to ask how you're feeling." He said, "Nope, things are going great." We laughed at the bluffing thing that he did yesterday on the earlier climbs. I told him how the coolest part of the whole race was when Lance turned and looked Jan right in the eye before taking off up L'Alp-d-Huez. I got a couple things signed for the VeloSports client and took off to watch the television. I asked Johan, the director, how things went and he just grinned. He said France television kept coming up to his car every five minutes asking how Lance was. Johan kept telling them that Lance was OK and that the team hopes he will feel good. They all knew better than that, Lance was feeling fantastic and they were just waiting. I told Johan, "You must have had fun yesterday in the car." He said, "I didn't enjoy it until the final climb, it's too stressful." I can imagine that it is, especially on that thirty-five- minute day. I talked with Axel Merckx. He was happy with his ride. I couldn't find the Credit Agricole camper anywhere to talk with Bobby or Jonathon. I talked with Kevin Livingston who was happy with how he rode and said that they are not giving up yet. Francis Moreau knows he is riding for third or fourth and is out to give everything to keep that position. I ran into the Bob Roll and Neil Stephens and we exchanged Tour stories for a while. We mostly exchanged stories about what was different from the outside than from being on the inside. Simon lost some huge time, but it wasn't enough to knock him off the top block. Kivleiv lost some huge time, but it wasn't enough to knock him from second. O'Grady lost some huge time and it was enough to knock him out of third where Lance replaced him. Actually, O' Grady didn't even try. He just rode fast enough to make the time cut. As it stands, Simon will keep the Yellow Jersey on the rest day. The fanfare will follow him, but I'm sure the chaos of the Press will also follow Lance. On the rest day the riders are catching a plane at 10:00 AM and flying over towards Lourdes. There, they will eat and then rest.

Thursday, July 19, 2001
"What rest day?"
The rest day isn't really a rest day for the riders. They had to catch a plane at 10:00 AM, then catch a bus to the hotel, get something to eat, and go for a ride. On a rest day the riders have to train at least two to three hours and probably with a small climb. It's important to keep the body working to keep it ready for tomorrow. If they were to take the whole day off, meaning no riding, they would be hard pressed to finish the stage tomorrow. In the Tour you can't allow the body to shut down because then it will go directly to full rest mode. The rest day is not a rest day for the staff and mechanics either. The charter planes carry all the riders and two staff members. Normally the director will fly along with one seigneur. The rest of the staff leave early to try and get to the hotel before the riders so they can set up the hotel rooms with water and food and have the keys ready for when the riders arrive. For the mechanics today is a time of catching up with all the work that has to be done. They have to replace the tires from the previous week on most of the bikes, make sure the bikes are working properly and set up the gearing for tomorrow. The amount of time it takes to peel and glue tires is very time consuming. They have to glue most of the tires today to give them enough time to cure as we enter the last set of mountains. Yesterday there were tons of fans hanging around the Postal bus. There were many Americans as well as Europeans all trying to get a glimpse of Mr. Armstrong himself. When I was there I signed a few autographs and there was this one French lady, holding Lance's book, yelling at me, "Madam Armstrong, Madam Armstrong." I saw she had the book and there was no way I was going to take the book over to Lance to have him sign it. That just wouldn't work. She was persistent in getting my attention and yelling, "Madam Armstrong, Madam Armstrong." Finally, I figured out what she wanted. She knew she probably couldn't get Lance's signature so she was trying to get me to take the book to Lance's wife Kristin to sign. After figuring this out, I looked at her for a few seconds. Should I take the book to Kristin for her to sign? After what felt like five minutes I decided that it would be too weird if I went up to Kristin to ask her to sign Lance's book. I didn't want to make her uncomfortable. The next time I suppose I might see someone holding crayons yelling, "Luke, Luke." When Lance showed up before the TT, he walked over and signed some flags and autographs for the fans that had been waiting. I don't know if he made it over to the women with the book. Maybe she turned him away since she was yelling for Kristin's autograph. The drive to Lourdes took pretty much all day. We arrived to pouring rain as a huge storm had hit the area. Lourdes is a peculiar place. It's kind of like the Vatican meets Vegas. There are tons of tourists and the shops are lined with Jesus trinkets, medallions and statues. There must be a thousand shops all selling the same stuff. Tomorrow's stage is a "Danger" stage for many of the riders. The 166km stage from Perpignan to Ax-les-Thermes is relatively short. This means that the time cut also will be short. The danger comes from the Col de Jau, a 1st category climb, that starts at kilometer 54. You can figure out what this means. If a rider gets dropped here his race is probably over. Riders will have to kill themselves to stay with the group over this 1st category climb if they want to make it to Paris. For the leaders, the first climb should see some attacks as teams try to dethrone Lance and his team. We probably won't see much of a shakeup in the overall because the climbs are not hard enough to break the strongest. The final should be exciting because this is the third uphill finish. The 9-kilometer climb averages 7 percent and it's tough enough to spit out the first two riders on G.C. It's not out of the question that Lance will take the stage, but don't expect to see him in Yellow yet. It's possible that both Simon and Kivilev will stay with the front group but they both will crack on the final ascent. Lance could move into second but it's more possible that Kivilv will have the Yellow tomorrow and Lance will have to wait for the finish of stage 13 to kiss the Credit Lyonnais podium girls.

Friday, July 20, 2001
Stage 12 – "Is it that obvious?"
The two rest days must have done the body good. The Postal guys all looked great pulling in the front of the race the entire day. Stuart O'Grady, who was fried two days ago, made the break in this mountain stage with a couple of climbers. Bettini was on the jazz by going off the front all day and only getting caught five kilometers from the finish. And Lance looked as fresh as a daisy. As the Belgians would say, "fingers in the nose..ehh" Today's race contained something like three races within the race. There was a break up the road with Bettini who was trying to win the race. There was a chase group with Etxtebarria, and Cardenas and O'Grady trying to catch Bettini. O'Grady only worked so that he could make it to the bonus sprint and pick up some Green Jersey points. As soon as he crossed the sprint line he sat up and left Cardenas and Etxerbarria on their own to finish the chase. At the bottom of the final climb Bettini was 45" ahead of the chase group and the chase group was two minutes in front of the peloton. At the bottom of the final climb, in the peloton, Ullrich attacked and Lance and Kiviliv followed. Ullrich started to ride because Beloki was missing. Ullrich didn't even hesitate, as soon as Beloki was not present Ullrich started time trialing with Lance sitting on his wheel. Was Lance concerned? No, this just confirmed that Jan is trying for second place. Jan didn't even care about Lance sitting behind him and did nothing to try to make him ride. In the back of the group was Kivliv trying to limit the damage after he got shelled from Lance and Jan. Then there was Simon who was trying to keep the Yellow. Simon did his job, hanging on to first and, amazingly, so did Kivliv by hanging onto second place. Beloki also hung onto his placing, but by only one second in front of Ullrich. That will change tomorrow, but if Ullrich fails he will move past in the final TT without a second breath. At the top Lance attacked Ullrich and left him glued to the road. Lance gained on the leaders, but Cardenas, a real climber in his own right, had to large a gap and took the win. Besides the race for the Yellow, this Tour is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in a few years. The mountain jersey will change hands tomorrow to Lance who is sitting in second. The White jersey is still very close between Sevilla and Mancebo. If they don't separate themselves in the next two days, the time trial will shed the thirty-eight seconds that separates them. The Green Jersey is shaping up into a real battle with Stuart O'Grady finally giving Zabel a race for his money. As it's shaping up the Green Jersey will come down to the final flat stages and maybe even the final sprint on the Champs in Paris. After winning a Tour stage, Serguei Ivanov, talked about possibly finding the form to win another. He must have had second thoughts on the rest day, as he was one of the DNF listed today. Not in the DNF pile yet and hanging on for dear life is Freddy Rodriguez. Today, after getting dropped on the first mountain, Freddy had to put in a huge effort to finish in the time cut. With tomorrow's mountains that arrive back to back and very quickly, Freddy will have to do his utmost to stay in the Tour. If Freddy makes it to Paris, it will be one incredible achievement on his part! Bobby seems to be out of his haze of disappointment after L'Alpe-d-Huez. Early in the race Bobby was actively following some breaks as he did early in the Tour. Today, he only lost four minutes and maybe his legs are returning. While on the other hand Jonathon just entered his haze after his disappointing uphill time trial result. Hopefully it will only last a couple days because the Tourmalet day is a good stage to get in an early break and try for a result. Don't forget Jonathon is a good time trialist so there is still a chance on stage 18. That is, if he decides he wants it. This year Jeff Spencer, the Postal Service's chiropractor, keniesielogist and healer has been busier than ever. Right from the start, he had to work on Rubiera's knee. His days got longer when the first crashes started. Christian dumped it. Tyler hit the deck. George had the problem with his hand. And, Steffen crashed just three days ago. Add to that the usual every day sprains and strains of trying to finish a Tour stage and Jeff Spencer's sessions can last a long time. Sometimes it's impossible to have nine guys on the table after the race. Jeff works on Lance each night, usually in the evening, stretching and working out his tight spots. Since Lance likes to go last, it's kind of a free for all to get on Jeff's table before the late evening. For the Postal guys who had to pull all day, the race was far from easy. Again the winds made an easy tempo day, a very hard one. Tomorrow's longer stage, 200km from Foix to Saint-Lary-Soulan (Plat-d'Atet), is the toughest of the Peyrenees stages. Lance's team will have to look to Heras and Rubiera and possibly Pena for the help it will need. Telekom, if they are out to still try and win this race, will have to attack as early as possible to spit out the rest of the team. Bonjour will be of no help tomorrow, as they were practically of no help today, putting only one rider in the Postal line to help chase. The final climb tomorrow will again see the entire front runners time trialing against each other. The ten-kilometer climb at eight percent is the sixth climb in the stage. There might be only 10-15 riders at the bottom of the final climb. I'll bet money that Simon won't be one of them. With only two mountain days left, it's time to book your ticket if you're thinking of coming over to Paris to watch Lance win his third Tour. I think it's pretty obvious he will win. And, I believe the other teams have accepted this as they battle to stand alongside him on the final podium.

Saturday, July 21, 2001
Stage 13 – "A great domestique"
While watching TV, I couldn't believe the amount of people on the final climb. They were lined up three, four, five deep the whole way up. The climb that the VeloSports group and I watched the Tour from was the climb before the last one, Val Louron. It was no different there – people everywhere. When I raced, I realized there were a lot of people, but I never really knew how many turned out to line the course. I also didn't realize what happened after a race, when 500,000 or a million people try to head home. And add to that the fact the last three mountains all empty into the same national road. I'll tell you what happens – a "grand buchon." That's French for traffic jam. The traffic was stopped completely trying to get out of the valley, and there was only one road out. After sitting in traffic for an hour, some of the Tour caravan came by and I told my driver to hop in the line. We must have passed 500 cars all waiting to inch closer and put the 40 kilometers to the highway behind them. After passing the first chunk of cars, we became dead stopped again. Since I had time to kill, I was looking at the map to see what we could do. We spotted a small road that climbed 1,500 meters but then went toward where we were heading. We did a U-Turn and headed up the road. I soon found out that I was not the only one looking at a map. Soon after we started, a cop car passed us with lights flashing and we hopped behind him and rallied up the rest of the climb. The race ended at five and I got back to the hotel at nine. The sad part is that I know I was one of the lucky ones. Do we question it or do we accept it? Telkom and Jan Ullrich are turning out to be Lance's best domestique. But domestique or not, Lance has repeatedly shown he is the strongest and that the rest are fighting for second. Today is arguably the hardest stage of the Pyrenees. The six climbs are short – 10 to15 km's long – steep and back-to-back. Propelling the French into a frenzy again, was Laurent Jalabert, who all day showed off his climbing and descending skills. Early in the race, Laurent separated himself from the peloton, and as chase group after chase group failed, he remained the rabbit for the leaders who were thinking of the stage win. Stepping up a notch, as they seem to do on big mountain days, was the Postal team. Victor Hugo Pena pulled the first hundred kilometers practically by himself, saving the rest of the team for the long haul to the finish. The whip didn't crack until the peloton hit the third-to-last climb, the Col du Pyresourde. The Telekom train attacked the Postal riders and attempted to drop everyone. At the top of the Pyresourde, a rare sight happened, Ullrich attacked. Lance and Beloki responded immediately but as Ullrich kept the pressure on, Beloki cracked. Ullrich continued to press on, with Lance sitting on his wheel, until the top. On the descent, Beloki caught Lance and Jan and as the trio slowed, the danglers latched back on before the second-to-last climb – the Val Louron. On this climb, Ullrich and Beloki took turns throwing daggers at each other. As each attacked, and got caught, the other would counter attack. Lance just followed Jan. On the last climb, again Beloki put in a strong attack but as Jan pulled him back he didn't stop. Beloki's legs locked up and Jan went into his usual time trial mode until Lance decided it was time to drop him. Near the top, Lance went to the front, the first time the whole day, and accelerated. Jan couldn't respond and groveled behind Lance, trying to the limit the loss. As the leaders battled, in front of them was Jalabert, who was tiring fast but trying to hang on for the finish. It was inevitable, Lance gobbled him up four kilometers from the finish and took the stage win easily. In the back of the peloton, Simon was trying to limit his damages. Before the last climb even started, he was seven minutes back and in his head he knew his glory days were over. The entire day, Jean-Cyril Robin paced Simon – on every climb and through the valleys. Jean-Cyril rode a great race trying to help his teammate. Ullrich did remain in front of Beloki and now the final G.C. is starting to look pretty set. Was there a bonus for Jalabert's efforts? Yes, he won the mountain jersey. Jalabert may be able to climb, but his most impressive skill is his ability to go downhill. Every descent, Jaja would put 40-45 second on his pursuers. He is almost impossible to follow because he is able to handle corners at speeds we wouldn't do in a car. Today, he crashed, at the bottom of the climb, because he cut a corner too sharp, losing the front wheel in some dirt. Ullrich also crashed on the Val-Louron downhill and luckily came out unscathed. You may have noticed in today's race that Jaja would touch his rear brake every once in awhile. What he was doing was loosening and tightening his break's quick release. On the uphill he would loosen it to make sure the wheel didn't touch when he was pushing out of the saddle. At the top of the climb he would tighten it back so that he had good control for the downhill. Normally, if you have decent wheels you don't have to touch anything. The race has been Lance's to win or lose. This seems to be something that Telekom has not figured out. If Telekom wanted to try and upset Lance, why did they continue to set tempo up the last climbs. It wasn't for Telekom to take eight minutes from Simon, it was for Lance to take the eight minutes. When Livingston and then Jan attacked on the Peyresourde, they shed the rest of the Postal guys except for Lance. Why then did Jan continue to pull? Because of Beloki? He is as good as dead in the last T.T. It's up to Lance to force the pace but Jan felt comfortable doing it. Lance needed to gain eight minutes; Jan had already dealt with the fact that he was going to get second. Jan was a great domestique these last few days. Tomorrow's stage 141-km stage from Tarbes to Luz- Ardiden is the last of the big mountain stages. It won't decide the difference between the big guns, but it could shake up the placings from 10th down. The rolling start will put pressure on the Postal guys again as they try to control which breaks are allowed up the road. That decision is made easier by the fact that many guys are 20 or more minutes down. These are the perfect Postal candidates to be in a break. The first major climb is the Col d'Aspin, followed by the Tourmalet, then the final climb of Luz-Ardiden. This final uphill finish will be the fifth ascent in five race days. Every rider knows this is the last main obstacle to making it to Paris. These survival riders are praying for a slow start. A break should stay away tomorrow as the Postal guys ride a steady tempo and control the damage. It's a stage for an opportunist.

Sunday, July 22, 2001
Stage 14 – "Let the little man shine"
These are the types of days that when the TV comes on you've missed a lot of the real action. That wasn't exactly the case today, because a lot of the real action came on the last two climbs. But early on, it was a scorcher of a race. The Postal Service's ideal situation is to have a group go up the road that is between 20 and 30 minutes down, making them no threat to the G.C. This way, the team can just ride an easy tempo while chasing. The hard part is finding the right riders. Sometimes the selection will take a couple of hours to figure out. Stuart O'Grady started off the attacks today as he went for a flyer for one of the PMU Green Jersey sprints. That set off the fireworks and the Postal guys had to try and control a peloton that was out of control. No one was willing to sit on the wheel. Everyone wanted to be up the road. Every time the Postal guys got in formation to ride, more guys would attack. A couple times there were groups of 12 to 15 riders up the road. After two weeks in the Tour, you can imagine the pain it took to pull those groups back. The real animation came when an eight-man break formed just before the Col D' Aspin that included Julich. This was a great move on his part to try and stir up a result. The Postal guys rode tempo and George did an incredible job leading up to the Aspin and Tourmalet. Then Tyler and Eki rode almost the entire Tourmalet until finally, there were only the climbers left. The break remained at the front with Belli (Fasso), Moncutie (Cofidis), and Aerts (Lotto). Bobby almost hung on, but when I saw him pass me about four kilometers from the top, he was suffering. At the bottom of the last climb, Luz Ardiden, the break only had a minute and Belli attacked immediatly. At almost the same place on the course, Laiseka (Euskatel) attacked Lance's group. No one responded to Laiseka's attack and the hunt was on for Belli. When Laiseka was at about a minute Rubiera and Heras took over from the Telekom riders and lifted the tempo. Everyone got shelled except Ullrich. At the top, Ullrich attacked and Lance followed easily as Jan continued to take time out of Beloki and to limit the time that Laiseka was taking. Laiseka rode a great race and took his first Tour win. This was one he deserved after showing early on that he is a climber to be reckoned with. Crossing second was Belli, then Ullrich and Lance. After the finish you saw Jan put his hand back and shake Lance's hand. The question is why? I figure because Lance didn't attack the heck out of him again. Jan knew Lance could take off again, but what would have been the point? Jan knows he is going to get second. It also shows some class from Lance. If you are winning a football game 40 to zero, what's the point in running up the score to 70 to zero? I think Jan appreciated Lance not taking off again and showing off Jan's weakness. Only a guess. Today it hit me a little harder than usual. I've been fine watching the Tour, but when the guys came up the Tourmalet today, it really tugged on my emotions. The people yelling , the riders straining, and I was standing on the side only remembering what it was like. It brought a tear to my eye. I can remember so many times suffering, trying to make it to the top with a good group. It was amazing all the people yelling for the riders as they put on the best show they could. When I raced, I never realized how much people love the riders. I also never realized how, in a way, the riders are stars. They are a special group of people doing something no one else in the world can do. I never felt that. I was just doing something I loved doing. I was able to give a good yell to Axel, Bobby, George, Sven , Tyler, and Eki. I couldn't get near Lance to yell. When his group showed up, the people went crazy. It was beautiful to see. After riding up the Tourmalet and watching the race pass, a bunch of us with the Tour group walked across the street to a local hotel to watch the race on TV. There were two rooms with TV's and our group occupied one. Euskatel Basque supporters were in the other. On the final climb, the Telekom guys were riding tempo and when Laiseka (Euskatel) attacked, the place erupted. It was like watching a football game when a crowd goes crazy after a touchdown. Instead of touchdowns, the Basque supporters screamed like fans possessed every time Laiseka was shown on TV. They were dying for him to win, and when he crossed the line first the entire place shouted. Even I got caught up in the action. The sea of orange that you saw on TV is the Spanish supporters for their countrymen. The orange Euskatel team consists all of Basque riders. Basque is a region of Spain that for a long time has tried to separate themselves from Spain and exist on their own. At the bottom of the Tourmalet, there was a huge truck passing out orange t-shirts and hats to anyone who wanted one. That's why there was so much orange lining the route today. After the race, we had to ride down to avoid the traffic blockage that happens with every mountain stage. On the way, we ran into some Basque fans who were waving at us to slow down and wiggling their fingers back and forth. They had set up a slalom course using their free orange hats and wanted us to weave back and forth through them. Anyway to kill time to get off the mountain. Tomorrow is a rest day. Amazing as it seems, there is still one week to go and even though the mountain are over these stages are nothing to sneeze at. The transitions that bring the Tour back toward Paris are very hard. The never-ending rolling climbs will attack the rider's legs as they weaken with every effort from now to the end. Hopefully, the rest day will start them off fresh for a week of stage hunting.

Monday, July 23, 2001
Rest Day II
I was sitting having a cafι when I saw a Lampre rider coming down the road. This was strange because it was four in the afternoon and because there are no teams staying in the city of Lourdes. He was just cruising through the streets, dodging all the tourists. Somehow, in spite of all the people standing and walking around, he saw me and stopped to say "hi." It was Robert Hunter, the South African sprinter on Lampre. This was Robert's first Tour and his ended two days ago when he had to abandon. He said he was feeling good but he got caught behind a crash and when he got going he couldn't rejoin the group. He sat out in no man’s land for a long time and by the time he reached the Col de Peryresourde, three climbs before the finish, he was already 10 minutes down. He knew he would never make the time cut with three 15-kilometer climbs left in front of him. We laughed about how crazy the first week is. He said that he figures every team director tells their riders to stay in the top 20. Try fitting 200 riders in a space for 20 and you can see why it's chaos. Robbie said it's also crazy how everyone thinks that they're a sprinter in the first week, including the climbers. He was happy with his Tour and is looking for a team. His Lampre team have been so-so with him in dealing for next year. I'm sure after a bit of recovery he will be flying in the races that come after the Tour. This might help in his negotiations. Today we went to the Postal hotel to check out the team bus, the bikes and see the riders. There were five other teams staying at the hotel, but it seemed everyone was standing around the Postal cars. I saw the guys at breakfast as they pounded coffee as though it would breath new life into them. I asked Lance about Jan's handshake at the top of Luz-Ardiden. Lance said he has been asked about that 80 times and that Jan said nothing. My curiosity still got the best of me so I called Kevin to see how he was doing and asked about the Jan handshake. He said Jan didn't say anything, so maybe my theory was the right one. At least no one can dispute it. When the riders came out, all the press were there as though it wasn't a rest day. It was crazy as the media tried to get photos of Lance. They only go after Lance. The rest of the guys live in peace compared to him. We, the VeloSports people, had to have our own battle with the press as we set up a picture with the entire Tour group and the entire team. The whole team was patient as we tried to set this up. Lance even made a few jokes to help speed things up. We made it short and right after, the guys headed out for a bike ride. Even for the people involved with the Tour, the mountain days can turn into long drawn-out ordeals. The race ended yesterday at five in the afternoon. The gridlock the Tour causes is overwhelming, because usually there is only one road in or out of the place. James Starrt, a famous journalist and photographer, didn't get back to his hotel until one in the morning. On top of that, instead of sleeping in, we dragged him out to take photos of the team early this morning. A big thanks goes to James. A little background on Lance's bodyguard. This guy is the real deal and he worked before protecting some higher ups in the French political scene. He was a Thai kickboxing champion. He competed in Thailand and has done the World's in Thai kickboxing. He was knocked out in the finals, so he got second. Not bad. He also was European champion numerous times, has some nasty gun-shot wounds on his knee, and had a brush with death from a knife fight. This is a perfect criterion for dealing with the press at the Tour. The next three days are the start to the end of the Tour. The stage hunters will be out in full force and the Postal guys will have a hell of a time controlling the race the first three hours of each day. Tomorrow's 232-km stage from Pau-Lavaur will not start off easy. In the first 70 kilometers, there are four climbs and one PMU sprint. This is more than enough to animate the field. Add to that the long distance of the race and anything gained from the rest day will end up being thrown out the window. A break will go away and the winner will come from the break. A sprinter team will not control the race unless the break remains only a couple minutes in front. This won't happen tomorrow. Now it's up to whoever wants the win the most. All they have to do is make the break.

Tuesday, July 24, 2001
Stage 15 – "KO'd"
It's amazing how things can go wrong when you feel like it's time to coast. The Tour is a third over and with the mountains behind them, the riders are all thinking about Paris. They have covered over 2,000 kilometers, ridden down dangerous descents and suffered over multiple mountain passes. They have survived the battles among themselves and had more close calls than one could count on both hands and feet. What a rider can't control is just plain bad luck. Last year Christian got a spider bite on his butt two days before the Tour started. He had to withdraw because the infection spread through his whole body. This year Christian fell in a crash and broke his arm and had to abandon. Yesterday the bad luck plague struck again, this time to Jonathon Vaughters. Jonathon has had trouble finishing the last two Tours he has ridden. In his first Tour, he crashed on the water causeway and split open his chin. Last year, he crashed on a descent in one of the first mountain days of the Tour. This year he didn't crash, something much more stupid which was no fault of his. Yesterday was a rest day and Jonathon left early and went training on his own. While he was out riding a bee flew under his glasses and stung him in the eye. Yep, a stinger right in the 'ol eye ball. I can't imagine the pain. Anyway, Jonathon went to the hospital because his family has a history of allergies to bee stings. Right away, Jonathon's face started to swell. The team doctor had to call the Tour doctor to get permission to give Jonathon a cortisone shot to reduce the swelling. Cortisone is on the banned medical control list of the UCI and the Tour de France. Some time passed and by the time they got the return call, with permission to give the cortisone, Jonathon's face was the size of a melon. The cortisone shot helped, but it didn't bring down the swelling enough and this morning at the start Jonathon couldn't see out of his eye. It was still swollen shut. Of all the luck, after staring Paris down with both eyes, Jonathon had to quit with six days to the finish. This morning I rode with the Tour group the last 50 kilometers of the race course. The course was on small winding country roads with lots of ups and downs. Nothing hard enough to take it out of the big ring, but enough to make the legs hurt by the top. The last six kilometers were on a gradual downhill and very fast. When the race came on television, there was a group of 25 riders 10 minutes up the road. I can imagine the difficulty for the Postal boys trying to manage the peloton before the group went away. Normally 25 guys would be too many to control, but the best placed G.C. rider was Boogerd at around 30 minutes. This worked perfectly into the Postal plan. They rode tempo on the front of the peloton and gradually let them take time. The break was no threat to Lance. If you've ever seen a bike race then you know 25 guys don't work together very well. There are always guys sitting on and gaps opening up. Near the end of the race a Lampre rider attacked and less than five kilometers later Ric Verbrugge bridged up to him. At this point I knew the race was over because I had ridden the course. The last six kilometers were downhill and even though the gap was 30 seconds to the leftovers of the break, they were not going to be able to catch them. The sprint wasn't even a sprint. The Lampre guy started the sprint, but Verbrugge went around him quickly and then adjust his glasses, twice. I don't know what he was doing but he did win so he did something right. After the race, I saw the Postal guys. Tyler said the race wasn't bad, just a little long. The break was perfect for them and it turned out even better when Kelme stared chasing at the end to save their team's G.C. spot. Tyler said he is feeling a lot better and can't wait to get to Paris. The Postal Service is starting to plan their final party in Paris. It's a tough assignment because you can't start too early since you don't know what will happen. Which riders will make it, what will be the final result, and depending on the results which sponsors will want to attend. Louise Donald is in charge of all the organizing, booking of reservations and making up the seating charts. Her sleepless nights are just beginning as the Postal Service enters into a world of a third Tour de France win. After the picture-taking with the team yesterday, many guests were surprised at how tired and skinny the guys looked. Some of them said that they thought I was skinny until they saw the gaunt figures of the team. I have to admit the guys looked tired and they were skinny. I also have to admit that I must have looked like that at sometime or another when I rode the Tour. Lance held a press conference yesterday. He had promised this press conference since the start of the Tour. The usual media were there and the usual questions were asked. Usual , meaning doping questions. Eighty percent of the questions were directed toward doping. I'm sure Lance wasn't happy after the interrogation. Tomorrow sees another 230-km day. The Tour hits you when you're down. This stage from Castelsarrasin to Sarran cuts through the middle of France, winding its way around to find many small climbs. The finish of tomorrow's stage should be exciting, with three climbs in the final 60 kilometers. Just because the stage is 230 kilometers long doesn't mean it's not stage hunting time. The hunters will be out in full force, especially the Italians. The Italians have not won a stage this year - that's unheard of. Is it because of the fiasco from the Giro? I hope not. Time is running out and the Italians need to show their colors before it's too late. They have two days left because the last two days the battle for the green jersey will overshadow everything else. The tactics for the Postal team will be the same as today. They want a break to go up the road so that they don't have to chase. Even better is if a rider goes up the road who is 15 minutes down. Then the other teams will chase to protect their overall G.C. rider. This is especially true for Cofidis. This is a huge result if Kiviliv stays on the podium and they will do whatever it takes to make this happen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001
Stage 16 – "The secret ingredient"
The Tour never seems to fail to let Mother Nature show her talents. In the first week, she kept the wind blowing and kept the riders on their toes trying to avoid crashes. At the end of the week, she brought out the cold and the freezing rain. This week she has shown her full beauty, shining down on the riders during the Pyrenees. As the race turns through central France, Mother Nature has turned up the heat. The skinny framed riders are only getting skinnier as the heat helps eat up calories they so badly need now. The average amount of water a rider will use during a six-hour day as hot as today will be 10 to 15 bottles. After the race, they will drink a high-carbohydrate drink to get some quick calories and then follow that up with some cereal. From the end of the race until dinner, the riders will slowly snack on fruit, cookies and cereal. Then at dinner they will load up on Willy's pasta, some type of meat and vegetable and then a dessert. I bet after tomorrow, they will start to add one more ingredient to the meal – beer. It's almost time to celebrate! These long days after the mountains may be boring to watch, but for the riders they are very important, especially if you are going for a win. Many guys haven't had a chance yet for a result, so as the days dwindle so does their dream of a Tour stage win. For television viewers, it probably can't get much more mundane then these last few stages. Today a break of seven went away from the peloton and finished 25 minutes in front. Jens Voigt (CA) won the race. If only we could see the first 70 kilometers, instead of the last 70 kilometers. This is how long it took for the final break to finally form. Jens said that he was going with every move during the first part of the race. He attacked and chased after the small groups and the big groups. He wasn't going to be left behind. His East German blood wanted a Tour win. After the race, the France 2 TV crew asked if this put him up there with the ranks of his fellow Germans, Zabel and Ullrich. Jens said it didn't put him at the same level, but it brought him one step closer. That it did! Again for the Postal Service a job easily done. I'm sure the start was hard but that's the key. If they ride hard at the start and make sure only the right guys go away from them then the rest of their day can be very easy. If they slack off at the start and the wrong guys go away then they can have a very long day. It's their choice. Near the end of the race there was a huge crash taking down what looked like 30 riders. There were riders all over the road. Besides the usual scrapes, four riders were brought to the hospital for broken collarbones. Wauters (Rabobank) a stage winner this year, Pozzi (Fassa), Heppner (Telekom), and Sven Montgomery (FDJ) were all victims of an unexpected crash. That's the thing with the Tour. Almost when you think you've made it, the race stands up and slaps you in the face. Or you could say, "stings you in the face." (Bad joke) Look what happened to Jonathon yesterday, after making it through the toughest part of the race, he got a bee sting on his eye. What gets me is that even if the cortisone shot would have worked and his swelling had been reduced, the Tour was still going to make him stop. This is because cortisone is banned, and according to the rules, Jonathon took a banned substance, so he would be thrown out. I think it's time they add a paragraph for some special circumstances. I mean Jonathon was trying to live. Many people die from allergic reactions to bee stings. You have been watching the finishes every day and have you noticed who gets the best seat in the house? It's the photographers who can stand all over the road about 20 meters after the finish. Just after the finish there is a painted line in a 45-degree angle going from the side of the road back toward the middle of the road. The photographers are required to stay behind this line for the finish sprint. There are three colors of bibs the photographers get depending on credentials and whom they work for. There are yellow, orange, and green. The yellow bibs get priority to stand where they want. The orange and green get to duke it out. There also are two ladders just after the line for the photographers to stand on to get a better shot of the finish. The TV crews wear white bibs but normally you won't see them until a ways past the finish. Tomorrow is technically the last day for the Postal Service to have to do any work. Don't think for one second that they don't know this. They can already taste the beer tonight, but they will wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow's 194-km. stage from Brive to Montlucon will see the last chance for the stage hunters. After tomorrow's stage the sprinters will rule the roost in the races. The deciding factor tomorrow will be each rider's legs. Many guys are just riding to pedal the bike to make it Paris. Many have no agenda and don't care who even wins the day. While that may be the case for some riders, others are hoping for once last chance. The question is, who will it be?

Thursday, July 26, 2001
Stage 17 – "A care package"
Even when the riders are tired, they somehow manage to outperform everyone's expectations. The stage today averaged 46 km/hr. To make this meaningful, remember this wasn't on a flat day. Today had many rolling hills, and it wasn't in the first week when the riders are rested. This was on a day where many are just trying to make it to the next day. Early on, a break got away with 16 riders. The dangerous rider was Vinokourov. Vini has managed to get in many breaks, but the danger today was not to US Postal but to Simon and Kiviliv. The danger was for the riders in the 6th to 10th range on the overall G.C. Teams like Bonjour, Big Mat and Mapei didn't want to see their best-place rider slip down a notch because of another long break that took 25 minutes. That is what happened yesterday when Boogerd jumped from about 20th to eight in the overall G. C. He landed right in front of Kelme's man, Botero. When the break formed, it gained a gap of four minutes, but instead of letting them go, Bonjour, and Big Mat started to chase. The Bonjour riders were in trouble for not having a rider in the break. They were ordered to bring back the front group. The chase lasted about 100 kilometers, with the group hovering at two minutes for a long time. Near the end, three riders escaped from the break. They were Lelli (Cofidis), Serge Baguet (Lotto), and Jacob Pill (CSC). The three riders hovered at one minute during the last 10 kilometers of the race going 50 km/hr. Telekom even went to the front when it became evident that the other teams pulling were not going to be able to finish the job. The trio finished just 10 seconds in front of the group, with Baguet taking the win over Jacob Pill. This is at least the third time that Bonjour has failed to bring back a group for their sprinter Nazon. This also is another failed attempt of the Italians trying to win a Tour de France stage this year. Lelli may ride for a French team, Cofidis, but I guarantee that if he had won, the Italians would have been singing his praises. I talked with George and he said it was one of the hardest days of the Tou,r not counting a mountain stage. He couldn't believe how fast the group was going and when they hit the large rollers, his legs were hurting. On a good note, George and the Postal guys did not have to pull all day. The teams that are hurting for results and wanting a win were the ones trying to take the initiative. At the start today there was a circus of photographers away from the Postal bus for once. The attraction were two VeloSport Vacations clients that had bikini tops on that shaped like the Texas flag. The photographers loved it and the two eventually got press passes so that they could enter into the restricted area where the teams were. Everyone took photos of them, including Sports Illustrated, L'Equipe, and the television France 2. They were instantly famous. Every year that I have done the Tour I never received an official Tour T-shirt or hat unless my wife bought me one. That means I only have four Tour de France T-shirts from the Tour organization. This year, Tony Doyle, the representative between Nike and the Postal Service set up all the guys with a T-shirt and hat from the Tour. This might seem insignificant to you, but to the guys it means a lot. It's something they can remember the Tour with. It's not like they have the time to go out and buy their own. Tomorrow is the final time trial. Many of the riders consider this one last rest day. Many will just be riding their bikes to make the time cut. Those who will be going flat out will be the top 20 on G.C. There is still plenty of movement available but this is the last chance. To prove his strength and reconfirm that he deserves to win the Tour, Lance will win the TT. A surprise result may come from Postal's Ekimov. When I was in the bus this morning, I stumbled upon his brand new TT helmet. GIRO painted a new helmet for Eki with the Olympic Rings on front. He is Olympic TT champion, and on the back it says, "EKI." It looks awesome!

Friday, July 27, 2001
Stage 18 – "The lure of Paris"
For many, the idea of finally making it to Paris overshadowed the idea of going to see the race. Many of the VeloSports guests decided to skip watching the stage live today and instead opted for going directly to Paris. I'm sure many of the riders would love to have this option. They could just skip the time trial, hang out and shop for a day, and then jump back in for the last day. Well, that's not how the inside of the Tour works, but on the outside, everything is possible. Today I went to the Eurosport cafι to watch Lance put the final seal on his yellow jersey. The bar was crowded, but the 10 televisions allowed plenty of space to watch the final 60-km time trial from Montluηon to St. Amand Montrond. The battle is always to win the stage, but when a rider like Lance is on the start line the question of who will win isn't really that exciting. The exciting part of this race was seeing who would make the podium. The early check points showed Bobby Julich did a very good ride. He must have been saving his legs the last couple days in his back pocket. As the big guns came out, with their classification on the line, Bobby's place started to drop. He did stay in the top 10. Soon enough, as expected, Lance had the fastest checkpoints. Ullrich had the second fastest and then the surprise — Beloki. The fight was on for the podium between Kivliv, who occupied third before the time trial, and Beloki, who occupied fourth before the time trial. As the checkpoints came in, Kiviliv was losing time to Beloki. In the race, Ullrich, who is a great time trialist, caught Kivliv. But after he caught him, he couldn't drop him. The reason was that Kivliv was drafting Ullrich the entire last part of the race. Is this legal? Hell no. Kiviliv had nothing to lose. His whole Tour de France and career came down to finishing on the podium. Beloki was beating him and he knew it, so he took a chance and drafted Ullrich. If there were penalties, then so be it. If there were no penalties and he finished faster then Beloki, so be it. All Kiviliv wanted to do was finish on the podium at all costs. It didn't happen. Lance killed everyone, averaging 49km/hr, and Ullrich got second. Beloki finished sixth in the TT, but more importantly is that he moved on to the Podium. Kivliv got crushed in the TT and I'm sure is having a hard time sleeping tonight. Simon (Bonjour), who had the yellow jersey and a 35-minute lead at one time, got bumped down one place to finish sixth in the G.C. Yesterday's stage saw Lelli (Cofidis) sit on a 16-man break all day. Then he attacked and started the break. Then he sat on his two breakaway companions all the way to the finish while the duo tried to keep a slim lead on the charging pack. Lelli then started to sprint only to get his doors blown off by the two guys who did all the work the whole day. What's embarrassing is that he is going to have to show his face in the group tomorrow and try to explain himself. This incident reminded me of another time involving Lelli. It was the Tour of Spain and the stage was neutralized by the riders because of a dangerous course and the pouring rain. It was a stage in Barcelona. Technically it was a stage because the officials didn't neutralize it. The riders all agreed to the decision. Well, Lelli with two laps to go attacked the group and started racing toward the finish. He wanted to add a Tour of Spain stage win to his results. When Lelli attacked, Fabio Rosciolli went after him,. Fabio caught Lelli and the two time trialed away for one lap until the sprint. Lelli lost! I was so happy that he lost. Tomorrow's 149-km stage is made for the speedsters. There is no way a break will stay away, unless it contains 30 riders and one rider from each team is present. This never happens. Anyway, look for a very fast race and a very exciting finish. The battle for the green jersey is on the line. Every place counts, and Zabel, O'Grady and Nazon will be fighting it out. Don't forget the missing pieces to the puzzle. There is still Pettacchi, Svorada and a host of other sprinters who will get in anybody's way if it means they can cross the line first. As tradition has it, and I'm not going to change now, tomorrow will be my last article. I've enjoyed writing the stories and I hope I've explained the Tour so that you can understand what is happening and why. The last day is for celebration, so hoist your glasses for a toast. Congratulations, Lance.

Saturday, July 28, 2001
Stage 19 – "The start or the end?" Every time I think the peloton can't go any faster, they turn the gears up a notch and try and rip each other's legs off. Maybe they are in more of a rush to reach Paris then we are. We've been sitting back and watching some great bike racing on OLN and if it was like this everyday, we would watch every day. These guys just want to get the race done with and it seems to show by their racing speed. Today was again a very fast stage and from exactly kilometer zero, the first attacks started. There was no sitting around, no chatting about yesterday's time trial, and no warming up the engine. The gauntlet was thrown directly by Rabobank and the pain didn't end until the finish. In fact things got so out of hand, with riders constantly attacking, that in a stage where the Postal Service shouldn't have to do anything, they had to ride. It became too difficult to keep chasing everything, so the team decided to ride on the front instead of worrying about the attacks. Now, this isn't easy either. When they ride on the front to control the peloton – under these circumstances – they have to ride at 50 km/hr to discourage attacks. If they slow, and the peloton senses the speed decrease, then the whole process starts again. The first half of the race was controlled by Postal and Telekom. Telkom helped because they wanted to keep the group together for the chance for Zabel to win the bonus sprints and pick up points to catch O'Grady, who has the Green Jersey. After two sprints, the real sprinter teams took over. Bonjour, Festina, Lampre and Telekom all drove the speed faster and faster as they headed toward the finish. Today's flat stage was meant for a field sprint, and that is exactly what the teams delivered. The teams took turns doing the final leadout until the last 500 meters, where Vinokourov took over to lead Zabel toward the line. Sven Teutenberg (Festina) did a great sprint coming off Vini's wheel but it was no worry for Zabel, who flew by. O'Grady looked like a Ferrari without a driver. You could see him swerving and taking chances everywhere in the lead up to the final sprint. Zabel won, while Stuart got second and now the two-point difference for the green jersey will come down to tomorrow. As Eric Zabel put it, "Tomorrow is the showdown." One rider who abandoned today was number 23, Galdeano (Once). You could see he didn't want to stop, but he was having problems with his leg from the crash. The doctor would look at it, he would hang on to the car for awhile, and he even stopped a couple times and then got back on his bike to continue. This, while the group was raging in front at over 60km/hr. It was inevitable that he would have to stop. Even if he continued, he would have finished way off the time limit and been eliminated. The tears in his eyes showed that the Tour de France means something to all the riders. In a way they grow attached to the race. The process of getting things ready for the last day of the Tour started a long time ago. The VeloSports Vacation clients will have a great viewing area overlooking the race on the Hotel Crillon's balcony. This is the hotel that flew the Texas flag last year in honor of Lance's win. It was the first time in the history of the hotel that they flew a flag other than the French national flag. This is usually the hotel where Lance will stay the night after the race. The Postal supporters get treated to a covered viewing area, out of the sun, right across from the start/finish area. They will see the race flying past up front and close as the peloton passes two feet from their tent area. During the Postal Service's victory lap, team members will stop and say "Hi" to everyone who has cheered them on since the start. Last year the simple greeting turned into a champagne pouring and spraying debacle. I loved it. Tomorrow's stage will be another fast stage, at the end. That's the beauty of the final day. It's a time for celebration and having fun during the race, for a change. All day, the riders will cruise, talk, sip champagne, steal each other's helmets or hats, switch bikes, and entertain each other. The whole day is a day of fun until 15 kilometers before the race hits the circuits. Then the clown faces come off and the boxing gloves get put back on. After 10 laps of the Champs, the 2001 Tour will finally be over. Pay attention to what goodies the riders will have during the race. In years past, Lance has had the Yellow Giro Helmet, with Yellow Mavic Ksyriums, and the team had yellow socks and gloves. Two years ago we had yellow handlebar tape and yellow socks. Since I'm not writing an article tomorrow, I wrote something in honor of tomorrow instead: There is a race in July That we have all come to rely It's called the Tour de France The star is a man named Lance He just won this race With no strain on his face The Tour de France 2001 Was only a sign of things to come Look for Lance next year At least that's what I hear Lance will try for number four The question is will he want more? Three times at the end of July Lance has come out on top It looks like he can't be stopped The Yellow Jersey covers Lance's shoulders But now this race is in the history folders The US Postal Service has delivered again But I have the feeling this won't be the end! See you next year. Frankie Andreu

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