coaching and camps
questions for frankie
2002 Tour de France
July 5, 2002 - Pre-Prologue
Happy belated 4th of July. And if you think your fireworks caused some excitement, just wait until the Tour gets underway. July only means one thing to fans and supporters of cycling and that's the Tour de France. Lance and the US Postal Service team are going for their fourth consecutive Tour de France win.
A win in 2002 will catapult Lance to the title of greatest American cyclist by passing Greg Lemond's record of three Tour de France wins. More impressive is that Lance's wins have been consecutive.
The question remains that if 2002 goes according to plan, then what next? Does Lance try to tie the record of Miguel Induran and Eddy Merckx of five consecutive wins? Does he continue on to win six Tours and break the record? At what point does he stop? Do you wait until you falter and get defeated as happened to the past record holders? These thoughts are in the air, but on July 6, when Lance takes his first pedal stroke on the start ramp of the 2002 Tour, they will be put on the back burner.
Lance also has put his portable computer back on the shelf. It's been a tradition that during the Tour, Lance hangs up the keyboard for three weeks of computer abstinence. Oh, he still has his cell phones and those usually keep him plenty occupied. The security issue is covered also with the return of a bodyguard to help Lance get back and forth through the crowds for sign-on and the start.
Most riders have been in Europe for a couple months fine-tuning their fitness to get ready for the Tour. On the opposite extreme are the thousands of journalists who are flying to France from all over the world to cover the Tour. There are about 5,000 vehicles traveling with the Tour de France. I now fall into that latter category and you would think there would be less anxiety then when I was riding.
I find it to be exactly the opposite. I believe I'm more excited and more nervous this year than when I rode the Tour. I believe it's because when I rode the Tour I knew I was completely ready and prepared for what lay ahead. Add to the fact that after nine times I knew what to expect. This year I have no idea what to expect in my new role with OLN. I also don't know what to expect in the bike race. I get butterflies when I start thinking about the start.
This year there is one huge favorite and that is Lance. He has everything to lose and only the Tour to win. Every rider realizes this and they will make Lance and the team sweat for every second gained and every kilometer covered.
The Tour also sees many Americans spread out on different teams having their shot at glory. Specifically, Levi Leiphiemer, who will have a huge amount of pressure on him to perform to what his new team, Rabobank, is expecting of him. With less pressure but just as much potential are Kevin Livingston and Bobby Julich on Telekom. With Jan Ullrich out of the Tour because of knee problems, the overall classification is wide open for Kevin and Bobby. The factor that might hurt them will be if they are needed early on to help Eric Zabel in the sprints.
Then there is the "other climber" that many have forgotten about. Jonathon Vaughters has had a quiet start to the season and will definitely try to get a result somewhere during the three weeks for his Credit Agricole team. If Jonathon makes it through the entire three weeks that would be an accomplishment in itself compared to his luck in previous Tours.
On the sprinter side is Freddy Rodriguez who, depending on which legs he brings with him, will have plenty of chances to get in the breaks and fight for the sprints. There also is Tyler Hamilton, a justifiable challenger to Lance in the time trials and in the mountains.
And last is the US Postal Team that only has three Americans riding the Tour. Lance, George Hincapie and the rookie Floyd Landis. Except for Lance, the only time you will see these guys is when they are on the front of the peloton chasing. They have one goal in mind and don't let anyone tell you that you can have the best of both worlds. It takes completes sacrifice from all the riders to have a successful team.
On July 28, we will have the answers to many of our questions. The rock band "Scorpions" was the opening act for the team presentation. Maybe since next year is the 100th anniversary of the Tour they were checking out music groups that were just as old. On the opposite front is the publicity caravan that actually has a MIB 2 (Missing in Black 2- the movie) vehicle driving in front of the race.
There also is a website for the Tour de France that allows the blind to follow the action. The website, www.handicapzero.org, has a reading aid for the partially sighted and a Braille guide that can be printed out. Or if a blind person prefers, he or she can just have my diaries read aloud.
The Tour also has an equivalent to a 900 number - you call, you pay, and you get to listen to live Tour de France reports. BUT the best of all is the Tour de France Play Station 2 video game. You train, you rest, and you fix your bike to develop into one of the greatest bike racers of all time. Even I can win the Tour now!
Word of Advice. If you are flying into Paris CDG, you will have to go through customs (where they check your passport) before you collect your luggage. The last few times I've flown into CDG, the line at customs has been crazy long.
The CDG airport is a large circle. If when you arrive the line is spilling onto the running walkway, then my advice is to walk past customs and go to the second customs gate on the other side of the circle. Just follow the hall way until you reach the customs control, wait for the one person who might be in front of you and then take a comfortable seat at luggage claim. You might have flicked the customs line but there is nothing you can do to speed up the slow baggage delivery. I'm still working on that.
July 6, 2002 - Prologue
The riders are relieved, members of the press are relieved and the fans are happy. The Tour de France has started.
The publicity caravan made its rounds this morning, sprinkling everything from candy to rain jackets on all the spectators. This morning also saw the skies open up, making a very technical course very slippery and wet. The course has everything from hairpin curves to screaming descents and a short gut wrenching climb.
The first riders had damp roads and I'm sure the thoughts in their heads were more to the tune of staying upright then going hard. Sure enough, many riders had problems. Benoit, the local boy, crashed. Levi skipped a few pedals, and more then a few riders blew their legs. But Lance was incredible. After Bottero came in over 10 seconds faster then his next rival I thought he would be hard to catch. Then gradually riders started picking each other off for the top spot.
The final straw was Lance setting a blistering pace and beating Jalabert by two seconds. What was unusual was not seeing Lance wearing Yellow at the start of the prologue. Tradition has it that the previous year's winner usually starts in Yellow. Well, Lance won't have the problem of breaking traditions any more because now he doesn't have a choice. Lance may be in Yellow but the Postal team will let control of the race fall into the sprinter teams' hands. The sprinters have the most to gain as they only have 10 days to show off their stuff.
The US Postal Service guys have some new skinsuits - some very fancy ones at that. It's a new material that first came on the market four years ago when Nike was trying to develop a faster body suit for track and field. It was then used by almost every speed skating athlete at the winter Olympic games in Salt Lake City.
The new skinsuits are dimpled and that creates a small turbulence of air that the following air skips over, thus making less resistance. Also, all the seams on the skin suit are hidden on the bottom of the arms or the back of the shorts, making for a smoother surface. Who's to know how much faster the suits are, but every little bit helps.
Last night was the team presentation and it was a sold-out event, literally. They had to stop selling tickets at the door because the indoor stadium was filled to capacity. One might think that they were there for the Scorpions concert but from the outburst of the crowd it became obvious that they were there for only one reason, Benoit Joachim, the US Postal Rider, who lives in Luxembourg.
The place went completely berserk when Benoit was introduced to the crowd. By far, he had the largest response of any rider. I kind of felt sorry for George, who was introduced after Benoit. I think the fans were trying to catch a breath after all their screaming for Benoit. We always had a nickname for Benoit, "The Prince of Luxembourg." And now we might have to change it to "The King of Luxemborg."
I spoke with Eric Dekker (Rabobank) today about how he is feeling and how his chances are for the Tour this year. Eric broke his femur early this year and has been slowly bringing himself back to race condition. He said that this year's tour will probably not be as easy as his last two. Last year and the year before, Eric rode around with fingers in his nose making it look easy to win stages. This year he admits he will be suffering, but also admits that being smart plays a more important role in his success than being strong. There is a noticeable difference in Eric when he is off the bike. He walks with a limp. I'm not talking about a slight hiccup in his step, I mean a serious limp. It's easier for him to ride the bike then to walk. I guess that's a good thing if you're a professional cyclist.
There is one team here whose staff must really hate to work for. ?????? has been trying out a new technique for helping riders recover. I've seen all sorts of stuff over the years, like a vacuum that sucks your muscles, electrostimulation, and all sorts of gels and potions. But ????? has brought the idea of waterbeds to cycling. Each night the staff has to set up portable waterbeds for the riders.
Changing hotels, which normally takes a couple of hours, now has a whole process of removing hotel beds, setting up the waterbeds, and connecting a water hose to all the rooms to fill the beds. I just wonder how they empty the beds each morning.
I have the vehicle that will be my traveling companion for the next three weeks. Mark, my producer, and I will be partners during the Tour as we rush around trying to cover the start of the race and the finishes. The van is a Mercedes Vitro van from 1999. I would have thought a Mercedes would have been nice, but this thing is like a transport truck. There are no windows in the entire back area and there are more dents on the van than my garage door at home after playing baseball off it.
Already the oil light is on. That will probably be my next assignment, keeping the van running. It also has a whole editing tape room rigged in the cargo area, complete with a generator, air conditioning and lots of video screens, templates and stuff I have no idea what the name for it is called.
Tomorrow is the first stage of the Tour de France. The 193 km stage from Luxembourg to Luxembourg is one big circuit with a dangerous little 14% hill only 10 kilometers from the finish. It will be difficult to see if the real sprinters will make it over this hill with the main group and get back to the front of the group for the sprint.
It's more a sprint for a strong speedster like Fabio Baldato, Oscar Friere and possibly Zabel ( I know Eric is a real sprinter). There are no real challenges tomorrow - a couple of cat. 3 climbs and a couple of cat. 4 climbs. The most dangerous part of the day will just be staying on the bike.
The first few days the peloton are very, very nervous and edgy. Everyone is trying to fit into a space and they are all trying to stay in the front. Also, the dream is still alive. Anyone possibly could get the Yellow Jersey if they can get in the right break or get lucky. No one wants to miss that chance.
July 7, 2002 - Stage ONE
What a surprise.
What a turn of events today turned out to be. Armstrong led in Yellow at the start. Jalabert placed second in the first bonus sprint to take the Yellow Jersey (on the road) by two tenths of a second over Lance, and Reubens Bertogliati ended up flicking Eric Zabel to jump on the podium and sleep with the Yellow Jersey. No one would have guessed this but maybe his teammates.
Robert Hunter had predicted this was a very good sprint for Reubens, but who would have really believed him. The Postal team rode strong and smart by keeping control of the peloton when it mattered, and sitting back when the peloton took care of itself.
The team that really, really screwed up was CSC-Tiscali. Just after Jalabert took the virtual Yellow, a break went up the road with three riders. They gained an advantage of four minutes, but CSC chased very hard right away. Too hard, because they ended up bringing back the break with over 30 kilometers to the finish.
Of course, the peloton went haywire, as breaks took turns flying up the road. At the end, Jalabert was nowhere to be seen in the sprint and the Telekom train slowed down to a chitty-chitty bang-bang as they couldn't finish off Reubens before the finish.
Tomorrow, we enter Germany and I see Eric Zabel taking the Yellow Jersey in one of the early bonus sprints and hanging on to it, possibly with even a stage win.
Yesterday I was in a rush and in my haste I forget to change a few question marks that I left in my article. So the answer to all of your questions is: Lotto.
Now that that mystery is solved, let's go on to the next problem of the day. After Lance's win he is mandated by the Tour to have a press conference to talk about his win. At the press conference, Lance had a translator but the translations were not exactly correct. Lance, because he knows French, recognized that right away. And so did the Tour officials. So, the first day of the Tour for the translator was also his last day at the Tour.
The Chinese are covering the Tour and arguably they have the longest day of anyone. They call the Tour from start to finish every single day. Even in France, Italy and Belgium, the hotbeds of cycling, they only cover the last three to four hours each day. The Chinese are talking all day long and about what, only God knows.
The behind-the-scenes production of the Tour de France is unbelievable. The amount of press here is also remarkable and if you could see the number of satellite trucks, cables, TVs, video monitors and graphic boards, it would blow you mind. The technical are is a sea of cables, wires and plugs laying everywhere. You can't walk without tripping over something. On top of that is these guys have to tear down and set up this mess every day.
Since during production the crew can't leave their posts, every station has catering trucks that prepare meals for all the crews. Stations and networks share the catering expense but they all get lunch that does not just consist of a sandwich. And these catering units are mobile. They actually have kitchens and ovens and cabinets in the back of their small trucks that allow them to prepare everything. That's an example of a world I never knew existed in the Tour and it's a world that I'm still discovering every day.
If you want to check out the coverage of the Tour before the live OLN broadcast starts, you should check out the OLN website at www.olntv.com. They have a direct link to live reports from the Tour de France of everything happening from kilometer 1 to the finish.
Tomorrow's stage is 181 km from Luxembourg to Sarrebruck. This means we are heading into Germany and it means we are heading into Zabel country. Today was Zabel's birthday, and tomorrow as we go into Germany, I'm sure we will see one very, very motivated Telekom rider. There are 2 cat. 4 climbs tomorrow, nothing that will pose a problem to anyone in the peloton.
The battle will start to heat up for the polka-dot jersey and for the green jersey. The glory of being able to get on the podium at the Tour de France will keep the riders attacking each other until they drop.
July 8, 2002 - Stage TWO
This was the first hot steaming day of the Tour, only one of many more to arrive. The riders baked today as I saw them going repeatedly back and forth to the team cars to load up on water. Stuffing them everywhere they could find a pocket and then filling up the back of their jerseys and the front. On a day like this, more is always better.
Reubens Bertogliati (the Yellow Jersey holder) probably didn't even feel the heat, he was such on a high from wearing the Yellow. The sprint at the end saw all the favorites at the front, including the wearer of the Yellow Jersey.
The Yellow Jersey was setting up the sprint for his teammate Jan Svorada. At the end, the Telekom train was in full strength and full speed. What went wrong was that at 250 meters to the line there were still three riders left in the train. Hondo, Fagnini and Eric were still lined up and no one was moving.
Robbie McEwen took the first initiative and it almost paid off, but on his wheel was the World Champion, Oscar Freire. Robbie admitted he saw Oscar's shadow coming up on him, and he admitted he thought about putting him into the barriers. If you watch the replay he did give a little bit of a hook but nothing more than a poke check. Robbie knew that if it was anything more drastic he might have been disqualified not only from the stage but also from the whole race.
With the demise of Mapei at the end of the year this only gives Oscar some more chips to deal with. Not that he really needs them. The rest of the team is another story and I'm sure that they, along with every rider on Lotto and Domo, will be out to make marks for themselves. Next year there will be at least 75 riders without contracts when Mapei folds and Lotto merges with Domo. Only 25 can survive, and performing well at the Tour is always a qualification.
The finish in Germany was nothing to be surprised at. Thousands, and thousands of people lined up and most of them were wearing Telekom pink. They had pink t-shirts, hats, foam hands, Ullrich flags and bells. It was a shame that Mr. Ullrich couldn't have been here to see all of his supporters. On the other hand, Eric Zabel was King.
It's been remarked on more than a few times that sometimes the most dangerous part of the Tour is the spectators. The fans just don't realize how fast the peloton is going and because of so many people watching the race, the excess tends to spill out on the road. Yesterday, Benoit Jaochim nailed a spectator but somehow managed to stay up. The spectator was like a pinball with the riders behind Benoit nailing him over and over. This was the cause of the second crash yesterday when Christoph Moreau got taken out and eventually lost three valuable general classification minutes.
France 3 is the main television station that carries the Tour live in France. They have adopted the American mentality to try and make a buck every chance they get. Ever so often, at least once an hour, they will flash a French 900 number at the bottom of the screen telling viewers to call in. The viewers are supposed to answer the questions that are presented to them on the screen. Such as, "What do you think Lance Armstrong's plan for today will be?" or "Who do you think will win the stage today?" The questions are letting the viewers become armchair directors and for only 40 cents each minute. Not once did I ever see a result or a poll from any of the questions.
There is a very intense protocol to the controlled chaos of the television motorbikes. Every day during the race there are up to 40 motorbikes carrying TV journalists, still photographers, and VIP's. There is no control to the order that they drive in so they are always quacking each other trying to stay near the front of the back of the peloton.
At least the team cars are given an order that they have to stay in. When a motorcycle wants to try to get to the front of the race he first has to ask permission from the motorcycle control guy and then he has to get permission from the race commissar.
As you can imagine, just because the commissar tells the motorcycle its ok to go ahead the cyclists don't always agree. I would have to say the motorcycle journalists have just as much a war going on to get the right picture as the cyclists do in the race itself.
To opposite extremes. Last year Lance had a bodyguard who could rip your heart out and kill you just by looking at you. He was a champion Tae-Kwan-Doe dude who used to work with French Parliament and had scars all over the place. I guess if you're in security and protection and you have that many scars, you must not be doing a good job in the first place.
Anyway, the new guy is like the cartoon character Mr. Magoo. He looks like a gentle guy who would be sitting on a bench in a grassy park enjoying the morning paper. In other words he doesn't look dangerous.
But, I've heard from a good source, (Lance) that, in his case, don't judge a book by its cover. The new security guy is from Texas and was part of President Bush's Gubernatorial team. He is trained in everything from A to Z. At least the new guy recognizes and smiles when I approach the team bus. Last year I went through nine lives just trying to talk with Lance during the Tour.
For his first Tour, Floyd Landis is handling things remarkably well. His usual crazy outgoing self has been calm and quiet. A sure sign of nerves that he is covering up very well. If his nerves are a little frazzled, his legs are just exactly the way he wants them. Yesterday he almost found himself in the winning move coming toward the finish. Floyd made a break of eight and the beauty of it is that he didn't even have to pull once because Lance was sitting in back in Yellow. Those are the best breaks.
Tomorrow's flat stage of 175 kms from Metz to Reims is relatively short for a Tour stage. The flat course and the direct course west shouldn't prove very challenging for the field. It probably will be a head wind, making it more difficult for a break to succeed. The Telekom boys are still missing their win and until they get one I'm sure they will be the ones leading the chase and driving it home toward the finish.
Days like tomorrow are very dangerous. The following day is the TTT and on this stage that is all anyone is thinking about. No one wants to waste any energy unless they have to and a chase is the very last thing a team would want to do. Again the sprinters will battle at the finish.
I have to pick Zabel, the odds just keep increasing that he will finally win.
July 9, 2002 - Stage THREE
Way to go mate.
For starters, I don't know what Telekom was thinking. A very long and hard day could have been made easy if they would just pay attention to the start. At today's start, Eric Zabel was only two seconds out of Yellow. All Telekom had to do was control the peloton until the first Bonus sprint and then their job would be done. Eric for sure could place in the top three in a bonus sprint.
Instead, they let a break go up the road with the ever present and dangerous Jacky Durand (FDJ) along with Franck Renier (Bonjour). Instead of working for 20 kilometers, the Telekom boys, along with some help from Lotto, had to ride for over 100 kilometers as they tried to bring back an 11-minute gap on the break.
In case you forget, the TTT is tomorrow and riding for 100 kilometers on the front the day before a TTT is not the best idea. At the same time, when you don't come ready to fully attack the overall classification and only care about stage wins, then what's the difference. Telekom couldn't really think about tomorrow's TTT because today was the last chance that Eric had to grab the Yellow. After the TTT, the minutes lost by Telekom will end his chances for a Yellow Jersey.
Telekom and Lotto, the two teams that worked today, gained rewards for their efforts. Telekom put Zabel into Yellow and Green while Robbie McEwen, of
Australia, who has a second- and a third-place finish, finally got the top spot. Robbie mentioned that the foam hands that are given out at the finish area have been a hindrance to him. He showed me the cuts on his arms from going 70km/hr and running into the foam hands that the spectators are waving all over the place. While Eric didn't get hit by the foam hands he knows his time in Yellow is limited. The Postal Service had a very rested day as they just followed the leaders. Tomorrow is the first real test of the race as the difference in strength of the teams will become very evident.
I spoke with Victor Hugo Pena today and he has been suffering the first couple days. He always takes a while to get his engine firing on all cylinders. Last year was the same way, but after four days he was flying. Benoit, on the other hand, has not been able to stay off the ground. Yesterday he again got caught up in a crash. The way I figure it, he has already used up his three crashes for the Tour so it should be smooth sailing from here to Paris. George fell over yesterday but only because he was coming back to the group after a wheel change and he caught the group right as a crash happened and he had to lock it up.
Bobby and Kevin are feeling good and Levi said that he has just been hiding out and really feels like he has good legs. Pretty much after three days, the Americans seem ready to light it up!
The Village Depart has changed a little in the last couple years. Gone are the haircut booth and the free phone calls from France Telekom. Now there are free video games, free Internet access, free newspapers, and of course free coffee. These freebies are not only for the riders but also for everyone that gains access to the Village.
Yesterday we had a small problem with the telepeage sensor that we were all given so that we could blow through the peages on the freeways. The peages are like tollbooths, and we have a sensor that can automatically pay the toll. Well, we didn't know where to put the sensor and when we (Mark, my producer, and I) pulled up we were waving this thing all over the inside of the car to make the barrier raise. That didn't work, and the cars behind us started to stack up and, of course, they started honking.
We then started waving the sensor all over the outside of the car. Finally, out of frustration, some old lady ran up to our car and started yelling at us in French how stupid we were and that you needed to put the sensor right at the top of the windshield. Little did she know that we had done that already about five times, but lo' and behold when she did it again, the gate popped open instantly. Live and learn or as the French would say, "ce la vie."
The number of ex-Tour riders who work at the Tour is amazing. Working for Societe Tour de France this year I've seen Pascal Lino (Yellow Jersey wearer), Laurant Desbiens ( Yellow Jersey wearer), Francis Moreau, Eros Poli, and, of course, Bernard Hinault. Other ex-pros that are either working for television or print media include Thierry Marie, Fredric Moncassin, Hennie Kuiper, Sean Kelly, Pedro Delgado, and, I even saw the great one: Eddy Merckx. The same is true of the directors of the teams: all of them are ex-pros.
Last night, I got to watch about two hours of old footage from the Tour de France. Starting off with Eddy Merckx's stage and Tour wins, and continuing with Bernard Hinault's run of success. Seeing these old tapes was inspirational. Someone should take the show and just re-air it at home in America. No need for translation. Listening to the French is half the fun.
Tomorrow is the TTT. It is by far the most nerve-racking event of the race. The prediction is for rain and there is nothing worse than being on the tip of your saddle, on your aero-bars with your nose on the wheel in front of you and having rain spattering on your glasses as you suffer more than you thought you ever could. Add to that the danger of curves, white lines, and the exhaustion of your teammates and it can make for a disastrous day. If it's dry, you can take away the rain-in-your-face part.
July 10, 2002 - Stage FOUR
The Team Time Trial is one of the most exciting events in the sporting world. Nine riders all in formation, all riding the same bikes, wearing the same clothing, going as fast as they can as though they are one. It also is the most dangerous. The speeds are constantly around 50 kilometers an hour, the riders' wheels are inches apart, the are on their aero bars, and they are suffering. It's a recipe for disaster, but the teams at the Tour make it look it easy.
Today's course of 68 kilometers is very windy and twisting compared to the courses of the last two years. There is a small climb right at the start, which the riders will use their small ring to get over. There also is a small three-kilometer climb in the middle of course when the riders will use their small ring again. The Postal Service riders used a 46 small ring, with either a 54 or 55 big ring, and the usual 11-21 in the back.
The race went back and forth, as Once had the leading time over the Postal Service at the start. By the first checkpoint, CSC had jumped ahead and they were still leading 30 kilometers from the finish. But that was when disaster struck when one of their powerhouse riders flatted. The order over the team radio was to wait for Sanstod because they had already lost Arvis Piziks from a mechanical. For some reason the radio order was either not heard or ignored and CSC gradually lost time all rest of the way to the finish.
Once continued its lead over the Postal Service by keeping a steady 14- to 16-second lead. It was almost like clockwork how the Postal Service managed to stay as close as possible to the Yellow Jersey without taking it. I talked with George and he said the race was extremely hard and that they had given everything to win the stage. Maybe in the long run, meaning looking at Paris, it's better that Once has the jersey for now. This is deja-vu to the 2000 Tour when the Postal Service placed second and Jalabert, on Once at the time, took the jersey.
It was amazing to me to see Tom Steels and Eric Dekker finish with their teams. Both of these riders have been getting dropped every day in the Tour. I thought for sure that they would have been shelled very early in the TTT. Dekker actually led the Rabobank team across the line at the finish and Tom Steels finished with his Mapei team in front of Andrea Tafi who got shelled. It just goes to show, you never know.
There are rules for everyone, and during the TTT there is a reason why you only see the riders from behind. They camera motorbikes are not allowed to pass the third rider from the back in the TTT formation. They don't want to take a chance that anyone gets a draft or that anyone gets in the way of the teams.
For the TTT, the Postal Service brought almost every piece of equipment they have to the Tour. They have both buses, both trucks, and all their team cars here to handle the complexity of the race. They need both trucks to be able to carry all the equipment necessary for the TTT. They need the second bus because it's not possible for the bus at the start line to make it to the finish before the riders arrive.
Yesterday, Stuart O'Grady had a frightening experience. He had an episode of an elevated heart rate that soared out of control. He said that for one hour during the race his heart rate skyrocketed. He said it hit as high as 225 beats/min and stuck there for awhile. Stuart mentioned that is was bad for about an hour in the race and then at the end he started to feel better. He must have felt a lot better, because at the finish he placed 10th.
There is always talk about how many calories the riders consume each day during the Tour. Here is a small list of what the Postal Service entourage carries with them to feed the riders. Chef Willy, who now has a Nike chef outfit, brought 20 liters of olive oil from Tuscany, Italy. He also brought 45 pounds of Parmesan cheese. The team has 160 liters of soy milk and the riders go through almost 10 boxes of cereal a day. Also, during the race, the Tour delivers 2,000 water bottles to each team.
Tomorrow is a 195-km stage from Soissons to Rouen. It's another stage for the sprinters, but I don't see Telekom taking charge as they have in the past. Once will have to contain any big groups from going away along with the help of the Postal Service. Lance may not be in yellow, but everyone knows he wants it. I see Lotto and maybe Lampre trying to do some work at the end for the field sprint. The French will be attacking, teams like Bonjour and Jean Delatour, because they don't have a chance in the field sprint.
Generally, the stage probably won't be exciting until the last three kilometers when the race takes a series of turns. This should string out the pack but the chances of a crash are probable. The sprinters might not be able to grab the Yellow but they sure are going to try to steal the Green from Eric Zabel.
July 11, 2002 - Stage FIVE
That's the way!
There were some tired, but very relieved, faces this morning. The relief came from the TTT stage finally being behind them. The talk of the Village was how Laurant Jalabert missed out on wearing the Yellow Jersey. The bad luck of CSC with Sandstod flatting and the race radios not working properly was a recipe for disaster.
On the other hand, the US Postal Service and ONCE rode like clockwork. The question for today was if ONCE would defend the jersey. No one wants to use up their riders this early in the Tour, especially if you believe you can win it.
Well, if Sandstod flatted yesterday he was trying to make up for it today. He managed to place himself in a break of six and had a great chance for the win. The problem was one of the riders he brought with him into the break was one of the fastest men in the world, Jan Kirsipu. The six riders worked very well together all the way until one kilometer to go. They knew that if they started messing around before that all of their chances would have been blown.
The peloton was charging but it became obvious with five kilometers to go that they would not have enough force to catch the break. The final kilometer was one of the most exciting of the race so far. One by one they attacked each other and Jan took it upon himself to chase each and every rider down. He was incredible. He knew that they were going to look to him to bridge the gaps, so instead of waiting, he neutralized the attacks immediately. One after another the riders attacked and Jan chased and chased. It was amazing that he still had legs left for the sprint. I'll tell you, that's the way to win a race. With authority!
If you wonder what powers the Tour de France you probably think the riders. But I'm talking about what really powers the Tour - meaning provides the electricity to run all the satellite link-ups, video screens, TV coverage, microphones, etc. The monstrous Tour caravan doesn't pull up and start plugging into homes that are lined along the course. Rather, the Tour provides it's own energy. They have four enormous trucks with generators that run the entire technical park. It's a very complicated process, because trucks have to be plugged into the same generator. If they are plugged into two different generators they won't be synchronized, and this wrecks the television footage. It's something that is double-checked and triple checked once they power up the generators. Usually if something goes wrong the power people are the first ones to blame. To try and protect themselves, they run around all morning with voltage meters making sure things are flowing smoothly.
There are two things you always see at the start of the Tour. The first is the helicopter formation that flies over the start area. There are four helicopters that follow the Tour. Every morning before the start they fly in formation over the crowds. They also have portable filling stations located along the route to help re-fuel the helicopters. They are only allowed to fly for two to three hours at a time before they are required to land.
During the race the motorcycles beam the images to the helicopters, which are responsible for sending the images to the trucks, which then in turn send the pictures to you at home. During the mountain stages it's not always possible to send the signal through the mountains. So the Tour has an airplane that flies in circles above the Tour to receive the signals from the motorcycles and helicopters and send them from the airplane to the trucks, to the satellites, to your home. There are a whole lot of video waves going through the air during the Tour.
The second thing that you will see is a ramming vehicle at the start. It's a big truck with a large wedge-like grill on the front bumper. This is to move vehicles, or protestors who try to block the race from starting. It's also used to move vehicles that may have parked in such a way so as to block a row of cars from getting out. I have never seen it used, but there are others who swear they have seen the plow move cars right off the streets.
The teams' power needs are a little simpler. They just run electric plugs through the windows in their hotel room. For water they do the same. They just try to find an outside faucet, or they run a very long hose to the kitchen. Either way, they always find a way to get electricity and water. What does happen is that when they stay in a small hotel they usually blow the hotel's fuses. With the refrigerator running, the laundry going, the lights on, the power washing, and all the riders watching TV, the hotel's circuits get overloaded. You can imagine when more than one-team stays at the hotel, you dine out at night.
Last night I went to a Japanese restaurant called Tokyo's with part of the OLN crew. Most of us had eaten sushi before but for J.J., who is French, it was his first time. After waiting a little while, a tradition in France, they finally brought our food. As we all started to eat I noticed J.J. was sweating like a pig and it looked as though he was crying. Not knowing any better, J.J. ate the hot green wasabi and his bald head looked like it was about to pop off. At least now J.J. can say he's tried sushi.
Tomorrow's stage will see the riders going wild. The precedent now has been set that a break can stay away and everyone will want to be part of that group. I'm sure from kilometer one until the riders blow a gasket, the race will be full throttle. Today, Telekom had a bit of a break and by the way Eric is sprinting I don't see them working on the front anymore. I believe Eric will mostly be on his own from now on. On the same note, the Lotto team will be full force. Robbie McEwen has shown he has the speed to win and I'm sure they will try to get as many stage wins as possible before he possibly leaves the race.
July 12, 2002 - Stage SIX
I'm sure in the morning meeting today, every manager told their riders to get in the break. Different teams have had their time on the front chasing and over a period of time this will start to tire the riders. Early on this is not the best thing to do. Ideally, you place a rider in the break and then because of that representation the rest of the team can sit in.
Early today the breaks were active as many riders escaped but they kept coming back as the peloton tried to decide which group could go. George was very active, as he was yesterday. Yesterday he told me he must have gone with 20 groups trying to get up the road. The moment he relaxed was the time the break went. He couldn't believe it. Today he did manage to get up the road but Telekom didn't like the look of that group and rode on the front to return it.
Later in the day a break of six, which turned out to have no one dangerous, was allowed to gain a two-minute advantage. As the sprinter teams organized, the time gap gradually started to come down. Credit Agricole was very much present at the front for Stuart O'Grady along with Lotto for Robbie McEwen. Only in the final five kilometers did Telekom have to hit the front. This was in part thanks to Fagnini and Wesemann being in the early breaks giving the team a chance to sit instead of ride.
The last five kilometers were crazy as the teams all battled, trying to take control of the leadout. With one kilometer to the finish Zabel again had his boys on the front. This time Aldag, Hondo, Julich and the bunch did a perfect job for Eric as he was able to finish off a job that came up short every day up until now. You could see the excitement on Eric's face as he raised his arms in victory. After Eric jumped off his bike to make his way back toward the podium, he was bombarded by the media. The resulting fracas was not funny. Eric was pushing and shoving everything that was in his way. Cameramen were falling, radio people falling over themselves, and I was able to just stand back and watch the pins topple. It wasn't a pretty sight.
The French have a favorite part of the Tour de France and it's not even the bike race. One of the most watched sections of the Tour occurs after the race is finished. It's a post Tour talk show about the Tour with riders as guests called Velo Club. The idea of the show is to bring riders on to the set to talk about how the race is going and how they are feeling. They also have special guest speakers, anyone from ex-cyclists to TV stars, to other sport stars. The host is Gerald Holz and he has been doing the show forever. A long time ago Lance had a run-in with him. I don't remember exactly what happened but it was more than just one item. Anyhow, Lance has refused to go on the show for many years now. I'm sure Gerald never realized what a mistake he was making when he got on Lance's bad side.
Lance may not go on the Velo Club set but I visit there daily. Not when the show is on but beforehand when they are setting everything up. The set is right after the finish line on the side of the road. It's a covered stage with four huge flat screen TV's and plush movie theater chairs. Each day during the last part of the race I go sit on the Velo Club set, in a big comfy chair, and watch the end of the race. Then when the riders finish I hop over the guardrail and try to find some riders who are willing to talk.
Then there are the photographers and souigneers. These guys go out and stand just past the finish line when the riders still have 30 kilometers to race. I mean what is the difference if you stand there for 10 minutes before they show up or 30 minutes before they show up. All you have to do is be present when the riders arrive, but these guys go stand on the finish line all day long. It's crazy. The best arrangement of the Tour is what Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen have arranged. They do the color commentary for OLN, but many nations pick up their Tour de France talk. Anyone who takes their feed has to pay them. That means they are double dipping or triple dipping of even 10 times dipping. Only Paul and Phil are able to keep track. On top of that, each of them also do an article for OLN and Phil writes up to three different articles for different people every day. Busy, busy, busy.
I talked with many of the riders today and all of them said the same thing. Yesterday was the first real day of the Tour. Meaning, it was flat out at the start, flat out in the middle, and flat out at the finish. George Hincapie said the first 1.5 hours yesterday was non-stop as every team and every rider attacked. No one was sure what Once was going to do so they decided to test them out. Levi, Kevin, and Bobby all told me the same, that yesterday was hell.
The big crash yesterday saw one rider, Marco Pinotti (Lampre), get taken to the hospital. For a long while he didn't move on the ground and the worst was thought. At the hospital he was diagnosed with a broken nose. I've heard conflicting stories that his nose was almost completely shredded off and others just say that it was broken. The way he was lying out on the road and not moving I would assume it was more than just a simple broken nose.
Tomorrow's stage, the 176-kilometer run from Bagnoles-de-l'Orne to Avranches, starts to tilt upwards a little. Not enough to split the peloton, but enough to make the riders suffer much more than they like. Stages like tomorrow, with repeating undulating climbs, inflict the most damage on the rider's legs. This is because in a hard mountain day the slow group will form and everyone can ride at a comfortable pace in the rear group. In tomorrow's stage, no one will want to get dropped thus making everyone fight for every kilometer to make sure they stay in the group. If a rider gets dropped tomorrow, the chances are he won't make the time cut. If a rider gets dropped tomorrow he will have a long ride by himself. I see a break getting away and making it to the finish. It's not an ideal course for the sprinters and I think Once will end up having to do more work than they anticipated. If it were a strategist for Postal, I would send a Postal guy up the road to drive the break to try and get Once as tired as possible. It would be a way to tire them even more before the race hits the first time trial or mountain day.
July 13, 2002 - Stage SEVEN
It's in the water!
A short stage today meant a very fast stage. The last two days, the race has finished faster then scheduled and today was no exception. The late start, 1 p.m., is a gift and a curse for the riders. Starting late allows them to sleep a little longer, but the after race ritual just gets more hectic. Finishing at 5-6 p.m. and then driving to your hotel will, if your lucky, get you there at 6:30 p.m..
By the time the riders shower, the first massages start at 7 p.m. and each souigneer usually does three riders. Even with short rubs of 30 minutes each, this would mean dinner would be, at the earliest, 8:30 p.m.. With one hour for dinner, a little organizing of the suitcase to get ready for the next day's race and it's time for bed before the guys can even sit down to relax.
On the same page is the nightmare for the souigneers. After doing the massages and trying to sneak in some dinner, they have to prepare all the water bottles, the race food and the food for after the stage that night. It would not be uncommon to see the souigneers out working under the lights of the truck at 11 p.m..
All in all, the Tour starts the stages at a time where the finish will arrive around 5-6 p.m. for prime time television. They want everyone to have time to make it home from work in order to see the finish of the Tour. The schedule was not made for the people who come and watch the Tour in person. For them, it's a vacation day. Entire towns shut down to allow everyone to go out to the Tour and either watch the start or even just watch a section of the course. Either way you look at it, the race is made for the people to watch it and enjoy it.
What a finish. Today had an uphill sprint and a winner that only the guy who finished first could have predicted. The short 175-km stage all came down to the last three kilometers after the Once train pulled back a three-man break during the day. The final kilometer saw all of the sprinter trains blow up and the sprinters coast to the back of the group. In the front were riders willing to lay it all on the line and take the chance of winning by risking losing. One by one the guys attacked and one by one they blew up.
At the end, Bradley McGee was the most patient and the strongest. He told me he sprinted in the 54x11, uphill! For awhile Pedro Horillo (Mapei) looked like he was going take it but near the top his legs completely stopped working. Bradley came up much faster and Horillo, when he put his hands upin victory, got passed right at the line. In fact Kirsipu passed him at the line also. Now, if this tosser raised his hands before the line, I'm sure his director will kill him and his riders will kill him. But what will eat at him the most will be the sleepless nights as he replays in his head over and over how he lost a chance of a lifetime, winning a Tour de France stage. The excitement at the finish was only topped by the shock at the bottom of the hill. Lance during the sprint got tangled up with Roberto Heras. Someone pushed Heras during the sprint and Roberto fell into Lance, who got his handlebars tangled in Roberto's wheel. As the riders flew up the road Lance was untangling himself, knowing seconds were passing at every moment. The team stopped and waited and immediately Lance started sprinting, passing everyone. At the top he finished by himself 28 seconds behind. In the realm of things 28 seconds is not very much but morally this is a little bit of a blow. Lance has never had any problems in the Tour and if anything, he will be even more motivated to kick Galdeano's ass in the time trial.
Last night, we got a little lost trying to find our hotel. Only a little lost because I stopped some local guy to ask directions and he was kind enough to hop in his car and escort us to the hotel. Last night our resting-place wasn't exactly a hotel, but it was a Chateau built in the 16th century. It was a very ornate three-story castle that was a bed and breakfast. The Chateau was huge and the rooms were just as big. I don't know what the style or the period that the furniture was from but it was old. I was afraid to open anything. This setting wasn't my style, but it was very nice for one night.
At the races, I work with a crew of three people. There is Mark, our producer, whose job is to stand around and tell us what to do, or to do it again for whatever reason. He has been great to work with. There is Denis, the cameraman, and this is his first Tour. Normally Denis does a lot of fashion shows, like the catwalk for Parisian models. Then there is Nick, he is the soundman, who has done the Tour 10 times. He is a veteran and has been giving us advice how to get around. It's all new to me to figure out where to park, which badges access what parts, the best way to do transfers, how to the finish and etc. It's been a great help.
We are split up in two cars, Mark and I in the Vito Van and Denis and Nick in a Renault minivan. We are responsible for filming the start and at the finish every day. This means we film interviews at the start and right before the riders start we run to the cars and take off to try and get to the finish quickly to have some time to eat lunch before the riders arrive. Every single time, so far, Mark and I have beaten Denis and Rick by at least a half-hour. It's not because we are driving fast, it's just that we have been going different routes and so far our choice of routes has been quicker. So now we have nicknamed Denis and Nick the slowpokes. The next challenge is that Nick wants to change vehicles for a day and see if that makes a difference. I don't think it will.
Tomorrow's stage of 217 km from St. Martin-de-Landelles to Plouay will literally explode. Tomorrow is Bastille Day and that means French Independence. The French are going to go crazy. Every French rider wants to win on July 14 and the course suits all types of riders. The French are looking for a hero. Since the French soccer team went bust in the World Cup in the first round, the country has lost its heroes. They are willing to take anyone and Laurant Jalabert has already lost two chances to win his country over. It might take a French rider a win on July 14 to finally become the hero that France is looking for.
Quick note ó Bradley McGee rents out my apartment in Nice, France. Every time he gets a result I tease him that it's all in the water.
July 14, 2002 - Stage EIGHT
Now that's racing!
What a finish today was. Only the Tour de France can provide a finish with that much excitement. Seven riders in a break for over 100 kilometers working together and in the final 10 kilometers they try to kill each other. The Rabobank riders had the edge with two riders in the group and they took full advantage of the situation.
During the last 10 kilometers, Eric Dekker continually attacked, allowing his teammate, Karsten Kroon, the ability to sit on. Other riders would have to chase down Eric and that would tire them out. Karsten even said that he was not afraid of anyone in the group -- he knew he was the fastest. Obviously upset was Servais Knaven (Domo) who missed a chance at winning. He did everything right but in the end he might have hesitated a little too long before he started his sprint. This is the first result for Domo since the Tour started. The Postal Service led the way into the final circuit in Plouay, not because they were trying to chase anyone, but because it was easier to stay out of trouble. The finish in Plouay is a very winding circuit and the roads are narrower than usual. The easiest for the Postal Service would be to ride on the front, allowing Lance to sit comfortably six or seven guys back and not have to battle anyone. Most teams today, because of the heat, had to prepare at least 100 bottles for the race.
The other day, Fagnini received a fine for raising his hands in the sprint when Eric Zabel won. I would think, if the UCI stick to their regulations, that Eric Dekker should receive a fine also after raising his hands at the line. At first I thought Eric was completely riding for himself. He kept attacking and he didn't even do a leadout at the end. He actually sprinted. So, I was surprised when Karsten (the winner of the stage) told me that Eric's riding was part of their strategy.
Today's start was in the hometown of the famous Tour de France announcer Daniel Mangeas. Mr. Mangeas has been the voice of the Tour for 24 years. He knows everyone and everything about every rider. Bradley McGee yesterday won first place and with that he won a calf. He hasn't decided what to do with it yet but more than likely he will probably donate it back to the town.
The Police are in full force here at the Tour. Not only for the security but also patrolling for speeders. At the start, the entire Tour was warned about the police cracking down on speeding in the cities as the Tour caravan transferred each day. Already a motorcycle journalist has lost his license for doing 100 km/hr in a 50 km/hr zone. The police again issued a new warning stating that he will not be the last to get ticketed.
Tomorrow is the time trial and despite being beat at the Dauphinee and Midi Libri, Lance Armstrong is still the favorite. Once's Galdeano, who has the Yellow Jersey, is also a favorite because of his strong time trialing ability. Also, don't forget Levi, Tyler, and Bobby. All of them will be riding flat out! Ironically, everyone will be watching Beloki, because he is the better climber and in the long run his time trial will mean more that Galdeano's.
The problem now is how to split up the Once team in the time trial. The Once team occupy the top nine positions on G.C. Normally, in the time tria, teammates can't start next to each other. The UCI will have to figure out how to split up the riders so that they are far enough apart so they won't be tempted to help each other. Minutes will disappear tomorrow; names will fall on the G.C. and second will mean everything. The Yellow Jersey may change hands but tactically it wouldn't be all that bad if things stayed the way they are for now.
July 15, 2002 - Stage NINE
Expected or unexpected?
Today was the time trial. The race against the truth, as they say. All eyes were on Lance as he got ready to try and steal the Yellow Jersey back from Igor de Galdeano. Or is that the plan that everyone is supposed to believe. I'm not so surprised that Santiego Bottero beat Lance, because he had done it before at the Dauphine' Libri. I'm sure Lance is very strong at the moment and probably a better climber. Some have mentioned that since Lance has become a better climber his time trialing has suffered a little.
Well, I'll tell you my theory. Lance's time trialing is fine and his climbing is fine. I believe the Postal Service realizes the danger of the Spanish riders and especially those at ONCE. I also believe because the Tour's mountains last for such a long time and are so late into the Tour that Lance's team does not want to do any work until they have to. To accomplish this you look toward Paris and you sacrifice some of the immediate goals like winning a stage. The Prologue was an exclamation point to show everyone that Lance is here at the Tour and ready. The TTT was calculated to keep Lance close but have ONCE with Yellow. And today the time trial was calculated also to keep ONCE, or someone else, in Yellow. The mountains go on forever this year and if you are weak late into the third week you will lose everything. The Postal Service prefers to lose now than to lose later.
Tyler did a good time trial but maybe not his best. He also flatted, so that usually really destroys a riderís rhythm and sometimes his morale. With the mountains still arriving he is still in a very good position because in a few places in front of him are non-climbers. Bobby Julich and Levi are probably a little disappointed at their performance. Levi, the leader of Rabobank, has done better time trials and I would guess that he is not happy about his placing. While Bobby, who spoke about doing a very good time trial to be the teamís G.C rider, also ended down in the results.
For Bobby, it's not so bad because the pressure does not fall only on his shoulders. For Levi, that is a different story. Lucky for him Karsten Kroon won the other day, otherwise Rabobank could have left the Tour without any result. The mountains are still ahead, but generally for Levi to do well in the mountains he would have shown his strength in the time trial. He didn't.
The entire technical village lost coverage of the Tour de France before the Yellow Jersey finished today. This meant that every television in the world did not get to see the finish of the race. What happened? Good question, but I've never heard so many swear words in so many languages before.
Last night I went to say "hi" to all the Postal guys at their hotel. George and Lance both said they feel great. They mentioned that they have never felt this good after the first week. On the other hand, Rubi mentioned that he is just feeling ok and he hopes to get better once the mountains start. It must be a nightmare for the climbers to have to do battle on the flat stages. They are just waiting for the road to tilt upwards. For sure, Laiseka form Euskatel, a stage winner last year, will be very active when we hit the mountains. The Spanish fans come out in hordes and the Spanish riders will do everything to not let them down. They will be more motivated in the first set of mountains then when we hit the Alps. So, watch out for the Basque.
The team buses were at the start hours before the first riders. They have to show up early to be able to get into the team parking before the crush of spectators turns a simple process into a nightmare. The riders arrive later, by car, depending on when their start time is. Most of the Postal guys went out for a ride this morning to check out the course. Riding a lap of the 52-km circuit before the race will get their legs ready for later on. I always felt much better for a time trial if I rode a couple hours in the morning and then warmed up a little right before the race. Even doing a warm-up lap and doing the race the same day only equals out to 100 kilometers. That's nothing for these guys.
The buses are not the only ones to show up early. The photographers like to show up early so they also can drive around the course. They like to see beforehand where the good shots can be taken. It might be around a tight corner, a hill, or a sunflower field. They go out and scope everything out first so that when the rider they want approaches that point they are ready and not caught by surprise. And I thought all those pictures were spontaneous.
The ONCE team is riding Look Carbon bikes with a special Campagnolo groupo and a special gold color. It's only being used here at the Tour, but it is available in the bike shops. My understanding is that anyone who buys this bike gets an invitation to the team training camp in the spring. Now, that's one hell of a rebate program. Also check out this techno jargon about the bike from Giant- "Giant composite frames use a quad-level lay-up process, as well as Finite Element Analysis to produce the lightest framesets. Aerospace grade T-7000 polyacrylinitile fibers are first combined with a proprietary thermaset resin to form a sheet of carbon composite." Why don't they just say it's light, fast, and stiff?
Tomorrow is a rest day but for the riders it's nothing of the sort. Their routine really won't change that much. They will have to get up early in the morning, eat breakfast, catch a bus to the airport, sit around for an hour, fly to Bordeaux, catch a bus to the hotel, eat lunch, and then get motivated enough to go ride for a couple hours. On top of that, riding in Bordeaux will be awful. It's a huge city and dead flat. Nothing exciting there cycling-wise but wine. Tomorrow I have to drive all day to get to Bordeaux. My next report will be on July 17 for the very short 10th stage from Bazas to Pau. It's only 145 kilometers, practically a sprint for these boys.
July 17, 2002 - Stage TEN
A short stage and a very fast start. ONCE had their work cut out for them as the race flew along at 53km/hr for the first two hours. Eventually, a 16-man break went up the road. That group got splintered when Patrice Halgand attacked 20 kilometers from the finish. That attack shrunk the front group to four and Patrice attacked again at kilometer four to stay away for the win.
Patrice is no new name to the peloton and is mostly known for his ability to sprint uphill. His win is a huge bonus for Jean Delatour and for French cycling. Jean Delatour was the last wildcard to gain entry into the Tour de France and this confirms their selection to the public. Also, I wouldn't be surprised if this win will be the only win by a Frenchman in this year's Tour.
Before the finish of today's race, Robbie McEwen and Eric Zabel were tied on points for the Green Jersey. In the final sprint, it all came down to who finished ahead of the other at the line. Robbie took second in the sprint, but one place in front of Eric and that changed the Green Jersey to Robbie's shoulders. Now, what would have happened if they had tied on points? Then they take the amount of stage wins. They are tied on that with one each. Then they would take the number of seconds, and if tied again then the number of thirds. They always have an answer in case of ties.
Yesterday, the UCI ordered Stuart O'Grady to go to the hospital and get a check-up on his heart condition. They said that Stuart would not be allowed to start today unless he had a certificate from a hospital stating that he is healthy.
Yesterday, buses chartered by the Tour de France picked up the riders to take them to the airport for a 10 a.m. flight to Bordeaux. Each team is allowed to fly with usually 13 people. It's the nine riders, two directors, one soigneur and one other person of their choice. (Doctor, chiropractor, another soigneur, a press relations person, etc.)
Ironically, today when the bus came to pick up the Postal Service, guess who was also on their bus? The ONCE team and their director Manolo Saiz, who coincidentally has been talking a little smack against Lance. Manolo mentioned that Lance has done a lot for the Tour, but ONCE has done more for the good of cycling and that he doesn't like the fact that Lance only races two months out of the year.
If Manolo had peen paying any attention in the past few years, I think he would have figured one thing out, you don't want to piss off Lance during the Tour de France. When Lance gets upset he gets very, very motivated.
If you look at the results from the time trial two days ago, the first new name that I see in the results is Floyd Landis. Floyd finished 15th, and the 14 riders before him are all known names. I'd say this is a very good sign for Floyd and for American cycling.
Talk about bad luck. It seems that the little things keep going wrong for CSC. At first, Jalabert gets second in the Prologue by only two seconds. Then, during the first stage, Jaja gets a bonus sprint and virtually has the Yellow Jersey. No sprinters could take it from him, but out of the blue Reubens Bertogliati takes off and wins the stage, stealing the Yellow from Jaja. No one could have predicted that!
In the team time trial, their strongest rider flats only 30 kilometers from the finish. They were winning the race at that moment and then it went downhill from there. Again, CSC lost their chance for the Yellow Jersey and to keep Tyler closer on the classification. Then just two days ago during the individual time trial, Jaja and Tyler both have punctures. For starters, I have to see who their tire manufacturer is because I don't think anyone has been experiencing flat tires as much as these guys. Jalabert again flatted in today's stage.
Tyler did a good time trial but again lost 30 to 50 seconds because of the bike change. The same goes for Jaja. So far for these guys, if something can go wrong it has. Hopefully, the last two weeks of the Tour won't hold the same for CSC.
The other day I saw Bradley McGee's wife at the individual time trial. She was standing at the FDJ camper watching Bradley warmup before the start of the time trial. I congratulated her on Bradley's stage win. She said that when she watched the race she got so excited that she was jumping all over the place, screaming at the TV. So much so that she scared their 18-month-old daughter into a crying fit.
I love driving in Europe, you just GO. Yesterday we had a long transfer from the North of France to the South of France. The speed limit in France is 130 km/hr and my van doesn't go over 150 km/hr so I just put the pedal to the floor the whole time. It's great over here because everyone pays attention and they get out of the left lane to allow you to pass. The speed limit might be 130 km/hr but everyone drives easily at 150-160 km/hr. I have never seen anyone stopped for speeding on the freeway.
It's a different story in the towns and villages, there they police enforce heavily and you have to be careful. On the freeway it's just relaxed driving. No stress because the cars won't move out of your way, everything just flows. The problem is that when I get back to America it takes a few days for me to learn to be patient again while driving.
I guess everyone has some sort of dress code, even the podium girls. At the finish of the individual time trial, I saw two podium girls walking toward the finish. One had on a white top and the other had on a bright red fancy halter top that looked like it could fall down any moment. Two minutes after I saw her, I spotted her again walking toward the podium. The organizers had made her return to her camper to change outfits, I guess it was a little too risky for television.
Tomorrow is the first mountain stage and it's a whopper to the top of the Tourmalet, one of the hardest climbs in the Tour. Many riders who are sitting at the top of the standings will disappear. Tomorrow also is all or nothing for the Americans. Lance, Tyler, Levi, Kevin, and Bobby all have to stay with the first group to stay dangerous in the overall.
If they slip tomorrow, they will lose morale and suffer more as the Tour goes on. For the Postal riders, it's a very big day to prove that they are strong in the mountains. And for the ONCE team, it's their first test to actually really defend the Yellow Jersey. The Tour may have completed one week but in reality, tomorrow is the first day of the race for the overall.
July 18, 2002 - Stage 11
Lance kept it a secret, but I don't know if anyone really believed it. Every year in the Tour de France, Lance has made his mark on the first mountain day. This year was a little questionable because the first mountain day was not a doosey as it has been in the past.
Today, the final climb was in reality only about six kilometers but it still was on the Tourmalet, one of the hardest climbs of the Tour. The break went away early and the French's favorite Laurant Jalabert was at the front of the group, riding hard. There were three riders, Jaja, Exteberria (Euskatel), and Cuesta (Cofidis). As early as the first climb Jaja had shelled the other two and went on to venture off by himself.
In the back, the strange part was that ONCE was not chasing, but US Postal was riding on the front. Why? Good question. When I asked Lance, he said they had decided in the morning meeting to try and win the stage. Once the break went up the road the guys just took it upon themselves to chase. Forget about everyone else and rules, they just wanted to win.
That they did and the team looked incredible, with Roberto Heras looking better than Lance, driving the pace up the last climb. Lance even admitted that he had to tell Roberto to slow down a few times. The only rider able to stay with Lance and Roberto was Beloki (ONCE). This came as no surprise, as everyone knew he was the strongest and best climber on the ONCE team.
Right after the race, I got to do the OLN interview with Lance. When I was finished talking with him, Lance had to go and do some more interviews with some other countries. I noticed his bike sitting next to the fence, so I went to check it out. No, I didn't hop on it and ride it. But I did lift it up like all the other tech heads would have.
It was incredibly light! He also had on those super light wheels made by ADA. These things cost something like $4,000 and everything about them is carbon. Carbon hubs, spokes, and rim make these wheels crazy light. I joked with the guys standing around that if I had Lance's bike I could have won today. Nice dream.
Lots of riders had bad days, but none as bad as Jonathon Vaughters. Again Jonathon crashed on a descent of the Tour and withdrew. The Tour de France has a four and zero knockout record on Jonathon. The first time was when he crashed on the causeway, the second was the first day in the rain in the mountains, then the bee sting, and again on the first mountain day. To say Jonathon is jinxed would put it mildly.
Jonathon was not the only one to crash today. Jens Voigt ate dirt, Bradley McGee biffed it big time going about 70km/hr, Michael Standstod crashed hard, break his collarbone, and those are only the ones I know about. It's like after one week of riding on the flats and everyone forgot how to go downhill.
I have to say I liked the way Levi rode the race. He went for broke. He knew he had to stay with the first group to have a good placing and he tried everything to do just that. He knew it was all or nothing and he took that chance instead of backing off and just riding conservatively. I'm glad he showed all his cards and if he made it, then great, but at least he tried, instead of just staying within himself.
I gave Tyler a call after the race and he said he was just missing that extra gear. He said he felt good but when the pace picked up at the end he couldn't really do it. He managed to minimize the loss and said he feels that the next days in the mountains will be better for him.
When the mountains show up, so do the guests. Up until now it's been a full Tour but now the real VIP's and guests start to show up for the good stuff. Spectator-wise I expect a huge turnout. I know I believe there have been more spectators then years past. The start area and the finish areas have been completely packed. I don't remember it ever being so crowded. If the first week is a sign of things to come, then the mountains are going to overflow with fans. The Tour de France is on the verge of becoming too big for itself.
ASO Amaury Sport Organisation- These are the people that own the Tour de France and much more. They employ a small amount of people considering all the events they organize. There are only 150 people who work for ASO. The races they own are the Tour De France, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, Leige-Bastogne-Leige, Tour L'Avenir and a few more one-day races.
They also run the Paris Marathan and the famous car/motorcycle race Paris-Dakkar. The interesting part is that the owners of ASO are two newspapers. The French sports paper L'Equipe and the French paper La Parisean. Together they control most of France's biggest sporting events.
Well, if today is any sign of things to come, then the time gaps should be huge tomorrow. Tomorrow's stage is 10 times harder then today's stage. The 200-km stage from Lannemezan to Plateau-de-Beille covers five very hard climbs. The hardest and toughest comes last, with a mountaintop finish. Today's dominance of the US Postal team will only continue unless someone decided to take it to them early on. The longer a rival waits, the less chance for success. The only way to defeat Lance and his team will be to attack early on and hope that his worker bees die off before the end, leaving Lance by himself. Even with this strategy Lance has proved today that he probably only has one real enemy, himself. It will be difficult to stay focused, stay strong, and stay healthy as the Tour moves ahead. If Lance can keep himself out of harm's way and healthy, then things will turn out well for the Postal team.
July 19, 2002 - Stage 12
There are lots of reporters and journalists who are mad today. Then again, there is a team that is very happy today. The journalists are upset that there are no more stories for the Tour de France. In other words, it's already over.
There is a team - the U.S. Postal Service - that made it a point to make it that way. In the Postal team's eyes there is still a story. It's how the U.S. Postal Service dominated the 2002 Tour de France.
Today's 200-km stage was by far the toughest of the Tour. The final climb, which I drove in the car, took forever to get up. When Lance took off, I wouldn't be surprised if he went almost as fast. Before the final climb, there were four climbs the riders had to get over. Amazingly, with only a group of 60 or 70, the Postal Service still had all nine guys in the front group. All day they chased and worked, after a break that contained three riders. They were Laurant Jalabert, Laurant Dufaux (Alessio) and Nozal (ONCE).
The strange part is that Nozal didn't take one pull. He didn't work the whole day. I've said it a million times, if you want to break Lance you have to isolate him. The only way for that to happen is to send a guy up the road and make the team work over it's limit and blow up. Well, that is exactly what didn't happen today. The team rode great, smart and kept the gap around four minutes, which on the final steep climb disappeared like butter on hot toast. Today's hero, besides Lance, was Rubiera. He pulled almost the entire final climb, at least the hardest part, until Lance took off. The other rider who is back in the flow is Floyd Landis. After disappearing very quickly yesterday, Floyd's back and rode great. I'm sure there was a sigh of relief from Mr. Landis.
As Lance grabs yellow firmly, the team will gradually start to focus on moving Heras up to second. I wouldn't be surprised to see Heras be allowed to attack on a mountaintop finish going into next week. Lance will sit back and control the peloton while Heras tries to gain some valuable seconds toward second place.
Here is the question. What is more important, winning some points for the KOM competition or winning a stage of the Tour. The reason I ask is that when Laurant Jalabert (CSC) was up the road by only four minutes, Andrea Peron (CSC) was leading out Sestres (CSC) for the KOM on the Col de Port. They sprinted around the Postal train about 1.5 kilometers from the top at full speed. That effort alone probably took 30 to 40 seconds out of Jalabert's chances. I just wonder what some riders are thinking sometimes.
The last two days driving up the final climbs I've seen roller skiers skating up the climb. These climbs are like 10 to 15 kilometers and three of them skate from the top to the bottom. It looks grueling.
Robin Williams made his Tour appearance today. He arrived today and he leaves after Mt. Ventoux. He is traveling around with Lance's agent and some of Lance's friends from home. Robin is never out of character. He always is making people laugh.
Tomorrow, the riders will have as close to a rest day as is possible while riding your bike. The 170-km stage from Lavelanet to Beziers will only hurt at the start. After today's very grueling mountain stage, the rider's legs are going to be very tired. Tomorrow, the stage starts with a 10-kilometer uphill, OUCH! Anyone who has any intention of staying in the race will have to make it over the climb with the group. If they get dropped, they will be eliminated.
After the 10-km climb, it's mostly downhill and flat to the finish. The break will go away on the climb, and because of the large time gaps, the Postal Service will just ride tempo so as not to let them get too far away. Maybe, just maybe, a sprinter team might help at the end, but I doubt it. Tomorrow will also resume the fight for the Green Jersey between Zabel and McEwen.
July 20, 2002 - Stage 13
The southern sun baked the roads, but no matter what Mother Nature throws Laurant Jalabert he continues to attack. The flat tires, the mountains, the rain, and the heat have not slowed him down. On the very first climb Laurant was the first to attack to protect his KOM jersey. Ironically, Jalabert is also wearing the red race number signaling that he is the most aggressive rider in the Tour de France.
This first attack broke the race apart and 11 riders went up the road. The morning that I spoke with Bobby Julich he mentioned that he was going to look for transition days to try and make his mark on the Tour. Today was that transition day, but at the end one attack changed Bobby's luck. David Millar attacked and immediately the group split. Four in front, two chasers, four in back.
In the front, the excitement of the race grew as each rider took turns attacking. In the final 600 meters the Spanish rider from Banesto decided to help out his countryman Exteberria (Euskatel). The problem was the Banesto rider died before the sprint could start and that left Exteberria, a fast sprinter, hung out to dry. Millar rode a perfect race, he attacked at the right time (more on that later), was in good position for the sprint and had the legs to pull everything off.
Rumor is that Jalabert set up the move for Millar. They are buddies and Jalabert told David that he was kind of stuffed, meaning tired. I don't doubt it after being off the front for last three Tour stages. Anyway, Jalabert planned the attack to string out the riders and get them a little toasted and then David was to launch. The plan worked and David even managed to put the final touch on everything.
After the race when I spoke with him he was happy and confident. I asked him if he was worried about anyone in the break with him? He replied, "No, I knew I was going to win. No one bothered me a bit." With that confidence I should have asked him when he was going to win again.
Today I saw something different. Exteberria had on a skinsuit for today's 170-km road stage. It was a normal skinsuit except their clothing manufacturer; I forget the name, had two pockets made on the back.
Yesterday, Jacky Durand got thrown out of the Tour for hanging on the car. He has done it before but I believe this is the first time he has been caught. Two commissaries saw him hanging on the car for over one kilometer. This morning I saw his director, Marc Madiot, complaining to the UCI commissaries. Not about Jacky being thrown out unfairly but about the team's second car being thrown out. Madiot was complaining that he has eight riders in the race but there is only room for seven spare bikes on the roof rack. He also used the excuse that because it was hot out he needed the second car to feed water to the riders. He even told the commissaries that if his riders get real dehydrated and sick that they could file a lawsuit. What? Are they turning American?
Yesterday was a complete disaster when it comes to Tour organization. It took me over two hours to get off the mountain after the race. Once the race ends, there is a half-hour window where the team cars can get off the mountain. Only the team cars are allowed to leave. After that, the publicity caravan and the media are supposed to leave. Yesterday, the team cars made it and after that every spectator with his mobile home that has been camped out at the top of the climb pulled out on to the course. A few times I sat half way down the mountain with engine stopped watching the police let out parking lots full of spectator cars. Even Jean-Marie Leblanc took over 1.5 hours to get down. He was upset, the media were upset, and the spectators were upset. The only people not upset were the riders. I guess that is one bonus for suffering all day.
The CSC rider Michael Sandstod who crashed on the first mountain stage is in serious condition. He is still in intensive care. He sustained a broken shoulder, eight broken ribs, and a punctured lung. It is said that he is on a respirator with the machine doing most of the breathing for him. I don't think anyone realized the severity of his crash right away. Hopefully, he will be able to leave the hospital before the Tour ends.
During the mountain stages and when there are large breakaways, you will see a Coke motorcycle that is in charge of handing out water bottles to the riders. The bike is all red and the driver wears all red. On the back of the motorcycle is a carrying case for the bottles. The riders just pluck out of the case the bottles they want. It's a great idea, but the problem is that when it is hot, those bottles are sitting out in the hot sun for five hours on the back of a motorcycle. Instead of being refreshing it probably is like pouring hot tea down your throat.
Tomorrow is, as Lance puts it, the hardest climb of the Tour de France. Welcome to Mt. Ventoux. Nothing matters in the rest of this stage, because it all will be decided on this famous climb. In a way, the entire top part of the General Classification for the whole Tour will be pretty much set in stone by the end of this day. After this, some of the lower placings might change but the top 10 to 15 will pretty much be over with.
This climb is hard enough to break any rider, and therefore it requires a lot of patience. Don't expect to see Lance take off at the bottom. On this climb if you run yourself into the red and blow, you will lose everything very quickly. There is nowhere to recover, there is never any letting up of the 9-10% grade, and the top is completely barren, which only adds to the heat exhaustion. The winner will come from the peloton. Don't worry about any breakaway, because they will never make it up the climb before Lance does. Possibly, Roberto Heras may make a move.
July 21, 2002 - Stage 14
Virenque Venotoux Victory.
Marco Pantani was known as the world's best climber. In 2000, Lance Armstrong showed up on of the Tour's toughest climbs and waited for the world's best climber. Then out of respect, for wearing the Yellow Jersey, or some other reason, Lance let Pantani win. This only infuriated Pantani, who thought that no one should have to give him a mountaintop finish win.
The war of words raged on afterward, but today Lance had his chance to put his name on the record books of Ventoux. The storybook ending almost turned out perfect, but for one small glitch, Richard Virenque. Lance may have lost, but today was the most exciting stage finish by far of this year's Tour de France.
The day started with a break of 11 and again the Postal team was able to gain an advantage. The advantage was that the highest placed rider in the break was Virenque at 16 minutes. That meant the Postal team didn't have to ride very hard, and when the break reached 11 to 13 minutes, the Postal team again gained an advantage.
At that point, Rabobank and CSC started to ride, letting Postal off the hook for awhile. The reason was that with Virenque going up the road, he was jumping places in front of CSC's and Rabobank's highest G.C. riders. No one wants to see two week's worth of efforts go to waste because of one day's breakaways. At the bottom of the climb Virenque and four others broke away from the rest of the group. They worked together well while behind them, the Postal train was in full formation tracking down the leaders.
Virenque had seven minutes at the bottom of Ventoux and as the leaders from the peloton started to attack, Virenque broke away from his compatriots to go it alone. With seven kilometers to the finish, the race was on. Lance had broken away from Beloki, by counterattacking him, and had started to chase the tiring Virenque. Five kilometers, four kilometers, three, two, the time was coming down rapidly, but it wasn't going to be enough. When Richard had 3'45" at kilometer three I knew it was over.
On average, a grupetto rider can expect to lose one minute a kilometer on the race leaders. The difference here was that Richard was no grupetto, and Lance was not going to be able to take out more than a minute per kilometer. Virenque hung on for a very surprising win considering that in some of the other mountain stages, he has been getting dropped very quickly.
One thing that surprised me was how Lance wanted to win this stage. He wanted to win it badly. So much so that he held no interviews for the two days preceding the race. So much so that he was actually angry after the race that he couldn't pull it off. Even with that huge desire Lance also realized the main goal at the end of the tunnel. He didn't kill his team to keep the gap shorter. He didn't take off super early and risk faltering at the end. He wanted to win, but sometimes the little things don't work out while the larger ones do.
Getting off Mt. Ventoux today was a little better than the last mountaintop finish. At least here they have a back way down. The problem was that there were so many people that the cars couldn't get past them to make any headway. It must have taken five kilometers before the cops finally put on their sirens to allow the team cars to get to their hotels by a decent hour. Actually, there were so many people on the climb itself that the cops tried to stop anyone from going on the climb at about two in the afternoon. It was a complete zoo.
Lance rode his standard mountain climbing bike the TREK 5900. It is so light, especially with the ADA wheels, that it barely makes the UCI regulation weight limit of 6kg's. The UCI mandates that no bike can weigh under that. Lance also used titanium parts and cogs, and the usual se up of right side STI shifter and left side normal break with a downtube shifter for the big ring.
Axel Merckx is having the ride of his life. Axel has ridden a couple of Giro's and has won stages but the G.C. has always haunted him. This year, a more confident and prepared Axel is giving it his best shot as he hovers around the top 20. And today the most impressive was Levi who put on a great show of talent, finishing 10th. His goal of top 10 in the Tour may have to move back a few notches.
Tomorrow is another rest day. And it will be one that the riders will truly feel the affects from. After three days in the mountains their leg muscles are torn and tired. The rest day will help them recover, and it also will get them fresh mentally to tackle the last week. In their heads, they will try to erase the last two weeks and just concentrate on the next four days. After the rest day, the Tour de France is a four-day race for anyone who wants to make it to Paris.
I promise you that many have dreams of making it to Paris, but after this very tough four days, many, many will fail. It will be interesting to see if the Lantern Rouge (last place) will change. We might as well look there because I don't think the Yellow Jersey will change.
July 23, 2002 - Stage 15
Yesterday was a rest day and I'm sure many riders probably thought it didn't come soon enough. Even though only five race days have been completed since the last rest day, they were five demanding stages. And even now there are only four race days that the riders have to worry about to make it to Paris. So from a physical point of view, the rest days arrived pretty frequently. Even with a day off, I wonder how many of the riders slept knowing that today is the longest stage of the Tour.
Today's 227-km stage from Vaison-la-Romaine to les Deux Alpes was a perfect stage for stage hunters. The Postal team has to be careful not to use up too much energy before the next three days are finished. Their objective now is to just let the race play out and let the breakaways take their course to the finish.
Today's break contained about nine riders. The two favorites in the break were Bottero and Merckx. The Postal team they could sit back and ride because Bottero was the closest at around 18 minutes. But don't kid yourself, riding on the front for 230 kms, over climbs, is not easy. If you add to their effort the extreme heat that is burning down on the mountains, you will see a cooked peloton.
The final climb has two parts to it. It climbs for about five kilometers, then there is a small downhill and then it kicks up again toward the finish. On the second part of the climb, Axel Merckx started the attacks. He was hoping Bottero might have a bad day and that is for sure one way to find out. The bad part for Axel was that Bottero was feeling just fine.
Bottero counterattacked Axel and time trialed his way toward his second stage win. The question will be if Bottero has any ambitions for the G.C. now that he is back in the hunt. With two hard mountain days, it's possible he tries the same trickery.
There is a Spanish translator here and he and I joke around a lot. Since Santiago Bottero won the time trial the translator has not had to do any translations. Every day he would joke with me that he hopes to have a Spanish winner. Each day Lance would win or a Frenchman would win. Finally today, I saw him right before the finish; he was happy, yelling at me that today would all be in Spanish. The way he got the job was that he wrote to the ASO (Tour de France) and asked to work as a translator. To his surprise, they hired him.
There were fewer people out on the climb today than on Sunday at Mt. Ventoux. Still, the climb was packed with fans. The police were sticklers today. All day long they kept making all the cyclists riding up the final climb get off their bikes and walk. The riders would get off, walk for one hundred meters and then climb back on. Then one or two kilometers later the next cop would stop them. I don't know why they didn't want anyone riding up the climb today. It was strange.
On Mt. Ventoux, Americans could be seen everywhere. At least the Stars and Stripes flag was flying every place I looked. The morning of the race, the Postal sponsor camp tackled Mt. Ventoux. I had people asking me if the team had ridden the climb in the morning, or if the rest of the team was here training. So obviously these must have been some very fit sponsors, or maybe the altitude was just getting to everybody. I saw Robin Williams again at the top of Ventoux. He said he had a great time, but was heading home to his family on the rest day.
Also, as crazy as it sounds, almost of the spectators on the climb had to walk the entire way up. Either way you go, up the front side or the backside, it is at least a 20-kilometer walk one way. After the race there was a sea of people walking back to the bottom. I knew it was going to be crazy getting out so I hopped a ride with Jorgi Mueller, the Postal Service's PR person for the Tour, to get down to the bottom. Because Lance had to do podium and press interviews, he was in the car in front of me. The rest of the team, as soon as they finished, donned jackets and hats and rode down the backside.
Because we ended up leaving probably an hour after the finish, we were stuck in a swamp of people walking. For awhile we couldn't figure out why were just moving at a walking pace. Finally, after five kilometers, a police car came by, put on his siren, and made people move over. As we moved up, we saw the problem. Some local cop was driving along with people at a walking pace. I assume he decided this was the safe thing to do, not thinking that there were 1,000 cars behind him ready to tear his eyeballs out.
When the real cops reached him they told him to move over and he did, but then tried to pull in behind the cop to stop everyone again. No chance, there wasn't even a hesitation as Lance's car, my car, and the entire caravan motored past. At the bottom of the climb, Lance had to do medical control. This got me thinking that for the Yellow Jersey holder, mainly Lance, it must take at least an extra 1.5 hours every day before he can leave for his hotel. That is a lot of running around, instead of lying around trying to recover.
Usually at every Tour, the Postal Service introduces the following year's TREK bikes. This year they are riding the same colored bikes that they have ridden since the start of the year. Part of the problem was that it was necessary that TREK get the new bikes to the team by the middle of May. This way, the mechanics have time to put together all the bikes and the riders have time to ride them. When the bikes couldn't be delivered by the due date the team didn't want to change bikes two weeks before the Tour. With Project One Trek bikes, you can get in any color or style that you want. You can have pink, flames, circles, and even faded paint jobs. The new TREKs are awesome.
For the weaker riders, tomorrow will be the hardest mountain stage they have experienced so far. The 180-km stage from Les Deux Alpes to La Plagne starts with the Col du Galibier. This is one of the hardest climbs in the area and I promise you that the sprinters and weaker riders will be all over the front of the race begging and pleading that no one attacks.
I've been in the same situation, but for some reason no one ever listened to me and it's some of the worst suffering I ever had to endure. The 30-kilometer climb will decide who finishes the Tour de France and who doesn't. Because it arrives at the start of the stage, and because there are two more climbs, a rider can't afford to lose much time on the leaders on the first climb.
The Col du Madeline and La Plagne are both 20 kilometers long. This means the riders will lose on average one minute per kilometer to the winners. That translates to big, big trouble. For the strongmen, again a break will go away but they will not take much time. It might be possible the stage winner actually comes from the peloton and not from an early break.
July 24, 2002 - Stage 16
Six years waiting.
You never can tell which stage will be the hardest. What looks like a killer stage on paper may some times be easy and what looks like an easy stage on paper can turn into a torture fest.
Today, on paper, the course looked horrendous and without a doubt it lived up to its profile. The sprinters took charge on the first climb, not allowing anyone to attack, and the climbers were content to wait. The final two climbs were hard enough to make any selection that would be needed. On the descent of the first climb, some of the sprinters who helped keep it slow, attacked and broke the peloton apart.
Now, let me tell you, there will be some very unhappy climbers and riders in the group. There is nothing worse than sticking to a plan, doing someone a favor, and then having them throw it back in your face. The climbers are going to be steamed that the sprinters attacked them on the downhill. I'm sure payback will come later today or even tomorrow.
The sprinters were happy because they got a bit of a head start before the next climb. At the bottom of the Col du Madeline, Boogerd took off solo from his breakaway companions. In the peloton, Postal started to set the tempo but then Banesto took over on the climb, upping the pace. I guess there were two reasons for Banesto taking over the tempo. One, they don't want the Once rider in the front group - away at nine minutes - to gain time toward the team classification. The Spanish always battle for the team classification.
Two, maybe they are working a little with Once in trying to set a hard pace to tire out the Postal workers, to isolate Lance. This way the Once climbers will remain fresh and, maybe, just maybe, they can do some damage later on.
Boogerd continued to stay away and with over seven minutes on the peloton and five minutes on the nearest chasers it was pretty much a done deal. The Postal guys don't care, because Boogerd is well down the list. Lance attacked at the end and easily put time on his rivals again. The team was incredible today again. I can't even list specific riders because all eight guys were super strong. One more day in the mountains and this Tour is as well as done.
Today, at the Postal team bus, there was a larger entourage then usual. If you had been over here and seen the usual chaos at the bus you probably wouldn't think it was possible to be crazier. But today some VIP's showed up. Besides Tom Wietsel and Robin Williams, the Prince of Monaco came by to see Lance. Also around the bus was the president of the UCI (Union Cyclists International) and the president of IOC (International Olympic Committee). If anything, I hope Lance got some tax-free advice from the Prince.
Today the OLN motorcycle in the race crashed. The motorcycle was going down the first climb when the Jean Delatour race car took a left-hand turn into them. The two riders were thrown off and the motorcycle lost a few fairings and a few foot pegs. Luckily, they drivers were okay, and they actually got back on the motorcycle to continue to bring you race coverage. We still don't know why the car pulled out suddenly. It didn't even stop. One thing is for sure, everyone got to see it.
Freddy Rodriguez almost made it to Paris. The Tour meant to make the last week interesting for Lance by keeping the mountains in, but what it did is kill off riders who are only four days from finishing a three-week race. Freddy started the bottom of the very hard La Plagne climb, but by just dropping of the pace by three minutes, he fell off by six minutes, and was eliminated from the race. A huge group of 60 riders finished 34 minutes back on Boogerd. There is safety in numbers and that's why anyone who stayed in the group made it and anyone who came in after the group was eliminated.
The revelation of this Tour has been a French rider Nicholas Vogondy. He has gone from obscurity to being the French National Champion and then a major factor in this year's Tour. At the start of the Tour he was very aggressive and actually wore the red number signifying the Tour's most aggressive rider. He was in breakaways at least every other day and now he is riding like a climber.
Vogandy right now sits 21'21" back on Armstrong and this is only his second Tour. Last year he finished in the high eighties on the classification. The list of names in front of him are well known names and for someone who follows cycling, even they would be surprised to see his name so far up the list.
It takes a lot to keep the U.S. Postal riders in perfect working order. That job falls to the team's chiropractor, Jeff Spencer. Jeff is more than a doctor who cracks bones. He specializes in keeping the riders injury free. His program consists of a lot of stretching, range of motion movements, adjustments, ultrasound, laser therapy, and electro-stimulation.
The laser technology is made by Majes-Tech, and they especially made units for the team with a Postal Service logo on them. The laser units allow injuries and especially road rash to heal much faster. The electro-stim is from H-wave. It is mainly used to prevent and control tendonitis, which always plagues Tour riders.
Last year, at the start of the Tour, the team showed up with some injuries and, specifically, tendonitis that Jeff could never get control of. This year, Jeff took control of the riders as soon as they arrived and made sure that any small problems were quickly fixed before things got out of hand. His role may be overlooked by many but I can't tell you how important his role is. Without Jeff, the Postal train would be derailed many times.
Yesterday our OLN crew was filming some of the crowds on the final climbs. Thousands of people lined both sides of the street and American flags were everywhere. As the film crew made its way up the climb, it picked a spot to stop and film some Americans cheering on the race. As they were filming, they discovered that they were filming members of Levi Leiphiemer's family, who came over to the Tour to cheer Levi on. Totally by chance, the OLN film crew caught them in action.
Tomorrow's stage is the last real obstacle for the team. The time trial on Saturday is still an obstacle for Lance. Tomorrow the breaks will go and the breaks will stay away. The Green Jersey is still very close and Eric Zabel and Robbie McEwen will start using every trick in the book to win as the race draws near Paris.
July 25, 2002 - Stage 17
What in the world is Raimondus Rumsas (Lampre) waiting for? He is only sitting a couple minutes from second place in the overall classification. Today is the last day in the mountains, and if he thinks he can take two minutes of Beloki in the time trial, either Rumsas would have to have a great day or Beloki a bad day.
Even sitting in third right now he doesn't have to worry at all about the rider in fourth place, who is over five minutes down. I'd say Rumsas' place on the podium is secure, but he should at least try to attack once to see if he can move up to second. He just seems to be complacent.
On the Lampre front there is a little dissatisfaction with the team. Right now, they have a rider who will probably make the podium in Paris and no one on his team is helping him. The last few days riders like Marco Serpellini and Robert Hunter have been getting in breakaways during the mountain days. What good does this do Rumsas? No one on that team can climb, so by being in a break you don't help anyone, not even yourself. That team needs to stick by its leader and wait for opportunities to arise after the mountains are finished.
Today was a very short intense stage, only 142 kms. After the sprinters attacked the climbers yesterday on the descent, I was sure the climbers would take revenge today on the very first climb. And that they did with a vengeance, splitting apart the peloton.
So much so that even Lance had to respond to attacks because his team had dwindled. Lance soon brought the splintered peloton under control. The USPS climbers, and gradually the rest of the team members, made their way back to the front.
This is one aspect that Johan Bruyneel always stresses. Don't panic and always try to keep the team together as long as possible. Johan knows that together no one can defeat the team, but when you're torn apart, then you become vulnerable. Today was a perfect example of the team waiting to regain composure and then gradually riding tempo as they took control of the race during the second and third climb.
What did happen was that a couple of favorites in 6-10th place snuck up the road. CSC's Sastre and Cofidis' David Moncutie made it into a break of 11 and gained up to four minutes at one time. This brought Rabobank to the front to protect Levi's top 10 place.
The one rider that surprised everyone by attacking at the end from Lance's group was Santiago Botero. He jumped to fourth place overall and now is a very, very real threat for the podium because of his superiority in the time trial. In the front of the race Dario Frigo (Tacconi) won a three-man sprint in front of Mario Aerts(Lotto) and Guerrini (Telekom).
At the finish each day I interview Lance with a couple of questions about the day's race. By speaking with him every day, I start to run out of interesting questions. Some times it takes me awhile to figure out something to ask other than "how was the day?" or "was it hard today?" Anyway, today I asked him about following an attack on the first climb to slow every one down. Then I went blank. For the life of me, I couldn't think of another question. I just turned to him and told him my mind went blank and said, "see you tomorrow." Luckily, the interview wasn't live. I'm sure it would have given everyone a good laugh.
Tomorrow we will leave the Alps, but I wouldn't say the climbs are all done. They just shrink a little. Tomorrow's 176-km stage from Cluses to Bourg-en-Bressse, with it's jagged profile, is razor sharp. There are seven categorized climbs ranging from category four all the way to category one. That does not include four climbs that are not categorized.
This is a perfect day for stage hunters, but a rider is going to have to be fresh and strong to succeed. This is not a sprinters' course and ideally, for the Postal Service, only a small group goes away. A large group, eight or more, would make a very long and hard day of chasing. The leaders of the race will be quiet because the next day is the time trial. Don't expect to see any names on the top of the G.C. do anything. They will all be thinking about the following day's time trial.
July 26, 2002 - Stage 18
Has anyone seen past Tour of Spain winner Abraham Olano during this year's Tour? He has been the mystery man. Olano is a very big name in cycling and yet he has not shown himself anywhere. Not once. Not on the flats, not on the climbs, and not in the TT's, he has been missing from the Tour.
Yesterday when the entire ONCE team was active attacking, and they put three ONCEs in the second group to wrap up the team G.C. prize, Olano never left the group. I don't know what ONCE expects from him, but I hope not much because that is exactly what he delivered.
The normal transfer from start to finish was hindered today by a truck strike. They either got lucky or they knew the entire Tour de France technical and press caravan was coming their way. They blocked the entire freeway. A short two-hour drive turned into four or five hours for some. I was not one of those people. We saw the signs that said in 25 kilometers there was a traffic jam with a two-hour wait to get through. We got off the freeway immediately and took the national road toward the finish. The problem was that if you didn't get off the freeway at the right time you were stuck on it for 30 kilometers.
The exits here are scarce and sparse. If you miss an exit, you can't just go up one-mile, get off the exit ramp and jump back on. Usually you would have to go up the road 15to 20 kilometers and hope there was an entrance ramp. Then you would have to pray that there was an exit ramp on your side of the freeway. Sometimes it's a never-ending vicious circle.
Because of the undulating climbs and twisty small roads, it sometimes is easier to ride on the front then to be in the peloton. Today was one of those days. Every time the peloton was shown on TV they were in a line, all in the gutter, suffering. A sure sign that you don't want to be in the back of the group. The stage hunters were in full force today: Dekker, Jaksche, Fagnini, Nicki Sorensen, VonBon, Mengin, Loda, Loder, Hushovd and Morin. More importantly was that Bonjour, Cofidis, Lotto, Lampre, Mapei and Jean Delatour didn't have anyone there. Their directors will be fuming that they don't have representation in the front during the final road stage of the Tour.
The front group worked up a gap of almost eight minutes, guaranteeing that they would stay away. Now the riders in the front group were thinking about how their legs feel and how they are going to win the stage in front of the other 10 riders in their group. The cat and mouse games begin. While the front group decides the winner of the day, the peloton has a massive sprint ahead because the Green Jersey is still tied on points.
From cramping and almost withdrawing from the Tour to winning a stage. What a difference two weeks make. The under 23 World Champion, Thor Hushvod, did his Credit Agricole colors proud today as he outsprinted Mengin (FDJ), who was the favorite to win. Thor also bailed out his team from a horrible Tour de France. With Moreau dropping out and Jonathon crashing and a host of other problems, like O'Grady's heart problem, CA was going nowhere. Thor found them their solution today.
In the field sprint, Postal was all over the front until less than one kilometer from the finish. One reason was to protect Lance, but also I think they were trying to keep the train going fast for Zabel. The Telekom boys were all over the Postal boys and then at the last moment Lampre popped up. I don't know what they are trying to do, perhaps practicing for the final day in Paris.
As always, Robbie just followed Eric and he barely nipped him at the line. Robbie is just too quick right now. I don't know if sprinting on the final cobbles will make any difference. I think Eric needs to find a way to get up the road. Tomorrow is the time trial. Lance has said that he wants to win and he feels that it is important that the Yellow Jersey prove his dominance in the final test of strength. Levi also wants a big day as he hopes to move past Heras. It could be a deja-vue from the Vuelta last year, when Levi jumped two places in front of Heras in the final time trial.
I'm sure Heras doesn't want this to happen again, but I don't think there is much he can do about it. Tyler talked about trying hard but it remains to be seen how his legs will be. I'm sure Botero will go flat out. He has a huge chance to get on the podium. After tomorrow will be the final day in Paris.
That means tomorrow is my last article. As a reminder to all of you, I traditionally don't write on the last day. Thanks for reading. I hope you have found out that you don't need to see the stage results to learn about the Tour de France.
July 27, 2002 - Stage 19
My last report.
I was very surprised when I heard of Kevin Livingston's retirement plans. I still hoped that he might find the motivation to continue with another team. Kevin was a professional for eight years, and like Jalabert he is going out as one of the best. I can't imagine the struggle he went through during the Tour knowing that in his head, he had already made this decision. More then Kevin being a very good teammate, he was an even better friend. I wish him only the best.
After the finish yesterday, Lance was, as usual, doing all of his interviews. When he was finished, he took off and just after that Elvio, the souigner for the Postal Service, showed up to find Lance. We told Elvio that Lance had already lef,t so Elvio grabbed Lance's bike and head for the car. He hopped on it and tried to ride across some cables on the ground.
As soon as he hit the cables, the wheels rolled out from under him and he crashed. Lance's full-on climbing bike with the ADA wheels smacked the ground. I havenít told Lance how his handlebar tape got scratched up.
What a time trial. Lance lived up to everything he talked about. The Yellow Jersey won the final time trial and in Lance's eyes this is the way to go out of the Tour de France. Lance also mentioned that he changed his position on the bike. He lowered the front end and added a pedal cadence monitor so he could figure what his optimal pedal cadence was.
I was surprised by Rumsaís very fast start but he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. He could have taken second place from Beloki, but even if he blew it, he wouldn't have lost his podium spot. It was a very gutsy ride. Levi jumped one spot in front of Heras, but other than that the top spots remained pretty stable.
The biggest factor in today's time trial for the riders was the heat. It was a scorcher today and I've never seen a Tour where it didn't rain one day. On the last day almost every country has a live TV show. The Australians do theirs on the finish line right when the race starts in Melun. The host of their show is Stephen Hodge, an ex-Tour rider and ex-teammate of Laurant Jalabert during his ONCE days. If Zabel wins the Green Jersey it will be Eric's seventh consecutive points jersey. In that case it would have been Australians who have placed second to Eric during the last five years.
My wife and kids left Nice, France, today to head to Paris to see the finish. Everything was worked out with time enough to pack all the luggage and return the rental car. One thing altered their plans. The elevator stopped working with their luggage inside. They called everyone under the moon but in the end it was the fire department that came to the rescue. They eventually got the doors open and they caught a later flight to Paris.
The Postal bus is stocked and ready. The Champagne has been bought, the hats are there and the riders are ready to celebrate. The only difference is that last year the ice cream sponsor of the Tour, MIKO, gave the team free ice cream. This year they changed their mind, so the team bought the ice cream bars for the end of the race. I don't think the team accountants will mind this expense.
Tomorrow is one of the most prestigious stages of the Tour to win. Bradley McGee told me that his FDJ team is working flat out for Baden Cooke. The real war, no matter who wins, will be the sprints for the Green Jersey. What normally is a very tranquil stage will be interrupted by hotly contested bonus sprints. I'm sure this wonít much be to the liking of the rest of the riders.
Lance will have won his fourth consecutive Yellow Jersey and the streak continues toward breaking the record. Next year the pressure again will fall on Lance and his team as the Tour celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Thanks for reading. It's a little shorter today because I have a five-hour drive to Paris. Tomorrow the riders relax, sleep in, and take the TGV to Paris for the final. I will be at the start and the finish tomorrow and then I leave on Monday. Congratulations to the entire Postal team and Lance.
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