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Prologue

July 11, 1998

The team presentation was last night. The Tour took a big gamble by having it outside, luckily for the hundred people hanging around it did not rain. It was kind of disappointing to look out from the stage and see lots of empty chairs. The organizers should have opened the gates and let the fans in that were standing on the outside just looking in. Then we would have had a party.

In the morning we went ride the prologue course. The city closed the downtown circuit from ten a.m. to eight p.m. The first rider departs at 3:30 and last rider starts at 6:30. While riding around the circuit this morning I saw the ugliest site I have seen in awhile. A true disgrace to the rainbow jersey that is worn by the World Champion, Laurant Brochard. He had white booties, white leg warmers, white shorts, rainbow jersey, and a rainbow headband. It looked like some pajamas made for a woman. It's a little too feminine looking for me.

We get all our numbers today. I say "all" because the numbers for the Tour are stickers. No pins, just peel and stick. We get new numbers for each day; the only normal numbers are the T.T. numbers. Today you also get the race bible with the entire course profiles, distances, and mountains. We also get a book where each team is listed and which hotels they will be at during the whole Tour. The most important piece of information we get are the profile cards. Little 3x5 cards that you carry in your back pocket during the race so you can see when the mountains, sprints, feed zones and finish are. It's a pretty thick stack of cards when you first get them; it can be pretty intimidating.

The prologue, one word- Boardman. All the pressure and he comes through. I think Chris has not lost a T.T. in the last nine tries. He is racking up an impressive record. The race was dead flat 5.6 kilometer circuit, nothing special. The corners were tricky because of the manhole covers and paint. It was very fast and I rode most of it in 54x13 and 54x12. On the course there were lots of Americans. Incredible how many American flags and people cheering for the Postal's. It was a big motivator having all that encouragement yelled at you as you raced past.

TVM and Rabobank had full one-piece suits from their ankles to their wrists. It looked like at track and field suit, I think it would be pretty uncomfortable.

A car hit Garcia from Once yesterday. Once was going to call in a replacement but Garcia wasn't hurt that bad and he took the start today. With all the backward roads and congestion I'm surprised that it has been only one rider so far.

New this year for the commissaries car are cameras mounted on the dashboard. The cameras are there to catch, and have proof of riders hanging on to team cars in the mountains. The Tour will also have the usual helicopters circling above making sure everyone plays by the rules.

Look for Cippo tomorrow to try and take the yellow. I'm sure his team will ride for the 20" time bonus at the finish. He might have a go with the intermediate sprints but I think he will concentrate more on the finish.


Stage 1

July 12, 1998

The first day of the Tour was today, 180km from Dublin to Dublin. It was a perfect race route for the first day of the Tour. We raced on good size roads without a lot of roundabouts and turns. Perfect for a very nervous peloton.

We woke up to high winds and black skies that threatened to make the day miserable. The start was nervous as usual with all the riders trying to stay in the front. As Kevin Livingston put it, " There are 199 riders in the race with 198 dreams trying to come true. Only one is reality, the one with the yellow." Very fitting for the first week as everyone tries to steal critical seconds any way they can. The first chance to steal some seconds was at the first bonus sprint at km 16. Each bonus sprint gives seconds of 6,4,2 respectively for 1st, 2nd,and 3rd. Coming into the first sprint all I saw was eight Saeco guys going full steam ahead for Cippo who is only thirteen seconds out of the lead. Cippo got his butt handed to him. Svorada, Zabel and then someone else left Cippo behind like an anchor coming off a ship. For the entire day Saeco worked on the front to keep the group together for a field sprint and the 20-second bonus to give Cippo the jersey. With seven km to the finish Cippo crashed losing over three minutes and losing his dream of wearing the yellow in this years Tour. Five of Cippo's teammates waited for him and escorted him to the finish. Mapei made out like bandits by not doing a lick of work and taking the win with Steels finishing in front of Zabel.

After the race we had a 170km transfer which seemed to take all day on the small Irish roads. We arrived at the hotel at seven at night.

The entire Saeco team wore green and white hats that said, " World Peace for all of Ireland." They were going to wear green and white uniforms tomorrow, the second stage, but the UCI refused to let them.

Telekom is using carbon Corima wheels.

Axel Merckx is doing his first Tour. He started off his career by first finishing the Vuelta and Giro. Last year Frank Vandenbrook, the other up and coming Belgian, rode his first Tour. It's known the two riders do not get along at all. This year in the Belgian championships this animosity came to head. With the final group down to twenty riders Axel attacked with ten kilometers to go. Looking like Axel surely would win; Frank went to the front to make sure he did not. Sure Tom Steels won but those watching the race knew the real reason Frank pulled for so long on the front in the final kilometers. He had one intention, to flick his rival. This year Axel will be attempting what Frank could not do last year- win a stage.

Marcel Wust, the sprinter from Festina, has ridden one Tour, but only one day. When the Tour started in San Sebastian, Spain a few years ago Marcel crashed on the one descent of the day. He broke his collarbone and has never come back for another attempt at the Tour. He now focuses successfully on the Giro and Vuelta every year.


Stage 2

Leaving Guinness, Kelly and Roche behind

July 13, 1998

We just finished the second stage of the Tour and right away we left the home of Guinness Beer, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche. It's good-bye to Ireland and hello to France, a country that is still spinning from its World Cup victory.

Today was a not typical day for the Tour, but at the same time very typical. It was different because the peloton was content to ride along at 30km/hr for a few hours. Normally it's always going from the gun in the first stages. My thinking is that French guys are just waiting to get on home soil before they set everyone's legs on fire.

At the same time we had typical Tour craziness with lots of crashes and close calls. Today was very windy which was part of the reason the group went easy for so long. When the peloton decided it was time to race, all hell broke loose.

Because of the winds every time we went fast the group ended up in the gutter single file. With all the people lining the course, and the riders whizzing right past them in the gutter, it was an accident waiting to happen. When you are going 60km/hr in a single line the only thing you see is the riders wheel in front of you. The tourists watching the race have tripods with cameras set up, small picnic tables, chairs, baby carriages, bikes all on the side of the road. We have to zig and zag around this stuff all day because the spectators don't realize how we take up the whole road. Eventually a rider is riding the edge of the road and hits something or someone, happens all the time.

Boardman crashed today because of the group fighting for position for a bonus sprint. He was trying to stay in front like the rest of us but a couple Spanish riders touched wheels and fell in front of him. About six riders fell in that crash and Boardman retired the race with a broken wrist, possibly a broken jaw and stitches in the head. (Ed note: The medical staff eventually reported no fractures to Boardman's head.)

With Boardman out that left Tom Steels with the jersey on the road. After the last two bonus sprints, Zabel won both of them, the jersey changed hands again giving it to Zabel. With about 15km to go another crash happened near the front of the group. I crashed in this group with Olano, Virenque, Jalabert, Merckx, Svorada and maybe ten more guys. Svorada managed to get up, catch back on , and win the field sprint. When I heard Svorada won I couldn't believe it. I remembered lying on Svorada in the pile up tying to untangle my bike from his. After breaking my bike at the start, getting a spare bike, stopping to change my position, flatting, and crashing I decided it was not my day.

After the race we showered and took a bus to the airport to catch a flight to Brest, France. We then took another bus to the hotel that was an hour away. We got to our hotel at 9 p.m. Today dinner consisted of a ham sandwich, apple, banana, and water. This was a very long day for everyone.

Festina and Frances des Jeux have their race numbers sublimated on their jerseys. Each rider has his name, number, and the number sponsor ( Iteneris) sublimated on their rear pockets. I think it's a great idea.

Keep in mind with the upcoming battle between Steels and Zabel that the two have different intentions and teams. Steels has a squad of big hitters for stage wins. The whole team is there to support Steels in the sprints and try to win stages. Mapei only has one guy for G.C.- Degrande. Zabel is pretty much on his own. Telekom has a team full of climbers and guys who are going for the overall. They may win stages, mostly in the mountains or T.T., but they are solely thinking about the finish in Paris. Zabel's main helper is usually Rolf Aldag.

After winning the Belgian Nationals Tom Steels had one demand: bring the same front wheel he used in the championships to the Tour. A little superstitious but never the less it seemed to have worked.

The results from our Medical checkup:

The tallest is Eros Poli (Gan) at 1.94 meters
The smallest is Benitez (Vitalicios) 1.61 meters
The lowest heart rate is Desbiens ( Cofidis) 33 beats/min
The biggest lung capacity is Moreau (Festina) 7.53 liters
The heaviest is Backstedt (Gan) at 96.3 kg's
The lightest is Piepoli (Saeco) at 54 kg's
The lowest body fat was 4% on more than a few riders


Stage 3

July 14, 1998

I'm already starting to get tired. The stress of the first few days from trying to stay upright is taking its toll. My neck and shoulders are killing me. Now that we are in northern France the roads are going to get twistier and more dangerous.

Today we had tailwind from start to finish. You could tell the riders were nervous when in the neutral zone we were going 40km/hr. With today being a French holiday, Bastille Day, the race was sure to have some fireworks from the French riders. Sure enough, the first rider to attack was a French rider. What I didn't expect was that it would be from our team by blue haired Pascal. His attack just launched the race into full gear and high speed. On the second KOM O'Grady(Gan) counter attacked a break that was just caught at km 80. On his wheel were Hincapie and five other riders who managed to make the move. The peloton was tired from chasing the first break so George's group got away quickly. Because of the tail wind the chance of a group staying away was very good. The chasers can only go so fast and the break can usually match that pace because of the tail wind. This is exactly what happened as George's group built up a lead of almost six minutes in what seemed instantaneously. The pack lead by Telekom, Riso Scotti, and Saeco then set a blistering pace of about 60km/hr for the final sixty kilometers trying to catch the leaders. With five kilometers to go it was obvious we were not going to catch the front group.

From George's perspective as told to me: George followed the move by O'Grady barely hanging on as they went up the hill. George said O'Grady attacked in his 14 then went to his 13,12 and 11 over the top. When O'Grady pulled off George had to pull off also and catch his breath. After that the group worked well with everyone pulling except a Telekom rider, Banesto rider and sometimes the Francaise des Jeux rider. At one of the bonus sprints George sprinted and though he won because he crossed the line first. What he did not see was the banner about twenty meters past which O'Grady kept sprinting for. They gave the sprint to O'Grady. With two kilometers to go George was cramping up after riding in his 53x12 and 11 all day at 55km/hr. He said he had to take it easy to have some decent legs for the sprint. At this time the Francaise des Jeux rider attacked and the Telekom rider followed immediately. When a rider attacks after sitting on all day a gap will open immediately. Sure enough a gap opened and Bo Hamburger(Casino) started to yell at his teammate to chase it down. They came close to catching but the first two were too fresh. Heppner (Telekom) won with the Francaise des Jeux rider second. George won the sprint for third placing him 2nd overall only two seconds from the yellow jersey. Bo Hamburger has the jersey because he won two sprints on the road today. The first sprint was before the break formed and the second one was the last bonus sprint of the day. The strongest of the break was Herve(Festina) and Hamburger. On the little hills the two would pull away from the rest of the group and have to wait for the others to catch up.

Tomorrow we have one goal, get two seconds for George. This isn't easy because each intermediate sprint also has points that count for the Green jersey. That means the fast of the fastest go for every one of these sprints. I think it will be in Casino's interest to let a few guys go up the road to take the seconds away from George and O'Grady- the two fastest sprinters from the break of today.

Well, all hell broke loose last night when the mechanics and souigners came over the border to France. With the Festina incident the French cops were determined to search and explore everything and everyone. When the team trucks arrived off the ferry the customs officials were waiting. French officials made each team put all the suitcases and luggage in a holding area, separating them team by team. One by one each suitcase or massage table was searched. When our team truck arrived they did a full search of everything inside, even demanding papers for all the bikes. Normally you would need papers for the bikes to prove you are not bringing them into the country to sell. Hello, this is the Tour de France…what do you think the bikes are for.

The Tour's drink sponsor is Coke. Everyday at the end of the stages there are three or four people handing out cans of Coke products. It actually is a pain because if you finish in the back of the bunch you can't get through to your car. All the riders stop to get a coke and clog up the whole road. The first twenty are sipping Coke or Fanta and the other 180 are yelling at them to move out of the road so we can get to our cars to change, and of course have a Coke. Coke makes special size Coke cans for the Tour feed zone. The cans are about three gulps large. A normal can over here is 33 CL; these cans are about 16cl.

Tonight at dinner our French rider Jean-Cyril was talking with our French waitress about what was for dinner. Tyler interrupted asking a question in English, and the waitress answered in English. Jean-Cyril surprised that the lady spoke some English said, "Ah, you speak very good English" The waitress turned to Jean-Cyril and responded, "Thank you, and you speak very good French." We were laughing the whole nightlong. She thought because we were an American team that we all were Americans.


Stage 4

July 15, 1998

We just conquered the longest day of the Tour, 255km's. In our morning meeting we decided to try and get the two seconds that George needed to take the yellow. I thought since the big sprinter teams will be going for the same sprints it would be best to play off of their lead-outs. It will be much easier, but still difficult, to try and gain the time at the intermediate sprints instead of waiting for the finish. Johnny, our director, wanted us to start the leadout a few kilometers out and try to catch some of the faster guys sleeping in the back.

The first sprint was up a gradual hill that Darius led most of the way up. With one kilometer to go Pascal was on the front, then I took over at 600 meters. I was sprinting in my 53x11 for three hundred meters when Ekimov did the last part. At the same time Gan was sprinting next to us and George swung over on to their train with 300 meters to go for the sprint. He pulled up along side O'Grady but O'Grady managed to keep his wheel in front with Zabel somehow squeaking past George. Now, O'Grady had the jersey and the race was Gan's to control.

The second sprint was like a crazy field sprint with all the big guns going for it. The leader of the point's competition has been changing hands regularly and all the sprinters are going for the Green jersey. O'Grady won the second sprint with Moncassin and Svorada, and then George. For us the sprints were done, O'Grady had nine seconds which you could not make back in the intermediate sprints.

The rest of the day had lots of attacking but eventually it ended up in a field sprint. Surprise, in the final corner with two kilometers to go there was a crash taking out ten guys including George. He got up quick and was back in the field in no time. Then at one kilometer to go guess whom was lying on the ground by himself? Cippo. He is not having a super Tour with three crashes in the first four days of the Tour. Cippo's Spynergy wheels say "Super Mario" on them; they might want to rename the next pair.

The winner today was Bilevens (TVM). He is known for winning long races. His specialty is that he does not get tired legs after 230 or 240 kilometers. He sprints as fast as if the race was only 100 km's.

Bo Hamburger had a new front Spynergy wheel. The wheel had a hub about the size of a Foster's beer can with carbon spokes. Supposed to be Very light.

We managed to crash a team car today. One down, and hopefully no more to go. One year on Motorola we went through four team cars in the Tour, finally they refused to give the team anymore cars.

In the last three years in the Tour Gan has had the yellow jersey and lost it to one of their own riders. A couple years ago Moncassin lost the jersey to Heulot, last year Boardman lost the jersey to Vasseur, and this year Boardman lost the jersey to O'Grady. O'Grady is only the second Australian to ever wear the yellow jersey. The first was Phil Anderson.

Every morning the riders hang out at the Village Depart. The Village is a small tent village that the Tour sets up for all the sponsors to invite their guests. Each tent has a different assortment of drinks and food for the riders and invitees. This is usually where all the riders meet and exchange stories of yesterday's race or last night's bad food. The riders do not hang out necessarily by Team. They hang out by nationality, you will see the Italian section in one corner and the French in another with the Americans in another…etc. In the center of the Village there is usually a table with some food specific for the region we happen to be in. There also is a Café de Maison tent pouring out coffee all morning to the riders and staff in the race. Needless to say, this is the most popular area in the morning. It's funny to watch all the French journalists stuffing their face in the Village. They try to devour as much free food and drinks so as to last them the whole day.


Stage 5

July 16, 1998

It just wouldn't be the Tour without a little rain to brighten things up. Along with the rain came very high winds which made the day one very long fight for position. The group rode easy till the first bonus sprint. George was only eleven seconds from the lead but he was tied with Hamburger for second. We decided to try and get some seconds in the first two bonus sprints so George could move ahead of Hamburger. We wanted the seconds to move closer to O'Grady's time but more importantly was to overtake Hamburger for second overall. The reason was that if something happens to O'Grady either today or tomorrow then George would take over the yellow. George got second in the first intermediate sprint putting him 7seconds down on O'Grady and ahead of Hamburger. Mission one accomplished.

The second sprint was held on what was like an ice rink. With six hundred meters to the line the pack came to a right hand corner. Because of the rain and oil on the road only the first four guys made it through the corner without crashing or stopping. I was sliding all over the place but managed to keep it up. The four Gan riders that were on the front crashed including O'Grady. We had a gap so I led out George for the sprint. Four hundred meters from the line we rode over the painted lines for a cross walk in the road. Svorada crashed almost taking us all out. In the sprint George and I were sliding all over the place and he ended up getting fourth. Nothing accomplished that time.

After that it was decided to wait for the final and try for a top three for the time bonus. Just as it always is, it was crazy. I saw one TVM guy overlap a wheel and he pulled his bike so far back he was sitting on his top tube near his stem. This is while going 60km/hr in between about ten guys. Ekimov and I helped George stay in the front the last twenty-five kilometers.

In the last five kilometers I moved George up a few times keeping him in good position and the last time I brought him up to Svorada's wheel with 400 meters to the line. He was on the right wheels but when a crashed happened on the right side he had to swerve and brake in order not to crash. If you hit the breaks in the final three hundred meters, forget it, game over. George placed seventh, no time bonus, so we have to continue our mission tomorrow.

Cippo "Super Mario" pulled it off. Cippo won easily in front of Zabel. The first three or four guys were not affected by the crash. Cippo only had his team pull the last three or four kilometers to keep the speed as high as possible. The different tactic seemed to have worked. After crossing the finish line one full length ahead of Zabel, Magnien, and Ferrigato Cippollini turned around and flashed them the finger. I don't know if it was meant for all of them or just one of them.

In the final fifty meters I saw Bijlevens(TVM) crash on Barth(Casino). The two got tangled and Bijlevens landed on top of Barth riding him like a toboggan down a cement runway. Barth is going to have a lot of road rash times two.

Taking risks also was Bjarne Riis who almost crashed with two kilometers to go. Battling in the front with the other sprinters Bjarne got pushed sideways into the metal barriers. Clipping the barriers for twenty meters he somehow gained his balance and made it to the finish in one piece.

Early in the day there was an attack by Tafi(Mapei) and a Rabobank rider. They took off just before entering a town. As the pack came flying into the first corner entering the town we saw two riders in the middle of the road checking their bikes. Tafi and the Rabobank rider both crashed going to fast in the corner. Nobody even had to chase they took themselves out.

Fifteen kilometers from the line J.C. Robin(Postal) had a puncture. Tyler and Pascal waited for him and somehow they got him back to the group before the finish. Someone back there must have had good legs because we were going 60-65km/hr the last twenty kilometers.

One of the spectacles of the Tour is the publicity caravan. Three hundred vehicles ranging from Hummer's to go-karts to driving pieces of cheese. The caravan departs the race start about two hours before the riders start their race. For three weeks the caravan travels the same route as the riders. Along the route the colorful and different vehicles throw publicity items to the crowd. Each vehicle throws something different such as paper hats, pens, crackers, brochures and lots of candy. Most have loud speakers on the car either blaring music or a recording touting their product. The fans know the caravan has lots of freebies so they came out real early to try and collect as much stuff as they can.


Stage 6

July 17, 1998

Yesterday Silvio Martinello was involved in the bad crash at the finish. The commissaries somehow decided that it was Jan Svorada and Jan Kirispu's fault. I could not see anything from watching the replay's on t.v. Both Jan's were disqualified to last place in the peloton. Svorada crossed the line around tenth picking up valuable points for his Green jersey but because of the de- classement he lost the points and jersey to Zabel. The fight continues for the Green between Zabel, Svorada, Moncassin and Mc Ewen.

The intermediate sprints are not only for the riders trying to gain seconds for the overall. They also contain points towards the Green jersey and prime money. Every sprint is contested by twenty or so fast riders trying to get points, seconds or money. More than likely they are trying to get all three.

Rain, rain, rain, was the forecast for the day as we rode toward the hilly "Mastiff Central." To our surprise and benefit the skies did not open up on us. Our goal today was one last chance to try and get the yellow before it disappears after the T.T. This meant going for the bonus sprints and trying something at the finish. As usual we started out at an easy 30km pace till the first bonus sprint. Everyone knew this was a hard day with the one to two kilometer climbs taking their toll by the day's end. At kilometer 32 Eros Poli started the lead out with Aldag, myself, George, Zabel, and Svorada in that order. Poli pulled off pretty quickly and Aldag took the sprint to 500 meters where I then took over. On a slight up hill sprinting in my 53x12 until 100 meters to the line. George took off but faded a little just before the line when Zabel and Svorada passed him.

The race only really started to heat up after the second KOM when a group of about twenty escaped. This was a serious threat and I thought the group was gone. Vitalicios, TVM, and Once all had their whole teams up there trying to reel in the break. We went balls out for about twenty kilometers at 65-70km/hr trying to pull back the front group. The moment we caught the attacks began. This was a critical time because the group was tired from chasing and the peloton wanted to sit up and rest. George, Ekimov and I went repeatedly after the attacks for about ten kilometers until one guy got away by himself. The pack was content to let him and go and a couple other guys bridged across a little later to make it a threesome. We still had 100km to go, and it was the hillier hundred that was left. With the sprinter teams still in the hunt there is no way a small group can stay away till the finish. Today, every time I looked down at my computer it read at least 55km/hr and many times 70-75km/hr. I was in my eleven the whole last part of the day and sometimes looking for a ten. The race ended in a field sprint where Cippo passed Zabel so fast it looked like Zabel was Cippo's leadout man. Talk about no contest.

Because the T.T. is tomorrow all the big guns were trying to sit in and stay as rested as possible. The real Tour for the overall starts tomorrow. It will be the first big test to see who is going well and what to expect in the following weeks.

For a lot of the riders this is the first "active" rest day. I know doing a 60km T.T. is no idea of rest but if you can stay within your limits its better than doing a 200km fry your legs day. In the T.T. I still have to go hard in order to make the time cut but it does not have to be a maximum effort.

Telekom was riding their climbing bikes today to make sure there were no problems. The new bikes have an aluminum triangle but the rear triangle is made of carbon. They also have carbon forks and some fancy cable housing that is probably lightweight also. Udo Bolts told me the bike weighs in around 8kg. The only rider who was not on one of the new bikes was Ullrich.

Two days ago we were all complaining how our souigners were never in the same spot in the feed zone. Meaning we didn't know if they would be at the start of the zone, the middle or the end, each day changed. Ekimov pointed out the feed zone is split up by the different languages. He said if you want to find our souigners look for the Kelme car and then move over to get your food. The next day sure enough as soon as we passed the Kelme cars there were our souigners. Our souigners are Spanish so they hang with the Spanish teams. Mapie has Belgian souigners and they are always around Lotto. The French souigners are always at the start of the feed zone. This is because Gan is known to always feed at the very start of the feed zone. If Gan is always at the start of the zone then the other French teams will be just behind them.

After each race we usually have a transfer to the hotel. Sometimes we drive an hour after the finish only to wake up and drive the hour back to the same town for the start. First order of business is to stuff our face with some cereal, cookies and fruit. The reason we eat right away is one, we are starving, and two it's important to replenish the carbohydrates as quickly after the race as possible. Then a quick shower and after we put out the laundry from the day's race. Each rider is assigned a souigner for the whole Tour. I think its best to get a massage by the same person instead of changing souigners. This way he/she can learn where your problem areas are and feel if problems start to develop. After massage it's straight to dinner. The Tour stages start so late that there is no time to hang out and relax right after the race, you have to get ready for the next day. After dinner we might have two hours to relax or watch one of the six French channels which usually have nothing on.


Stage 7

July 18, 1998

Forget about the Time trial, there is only one thing everyone is talking about - The Festina incident.

As of last night the entire Festina team has been kicked out of the Tour, I'm sure a first in the Tour's history. Last night the director of Festina made statements saying that the products found in the Festina car at the border were indeed for his team. Upon hearing this the Tour's director, Jean Marie LeBlanc, made an announcement that Festina would be pulled from the Tour. The police have been targeting the cycling teams since the Festina story. Every team has had their truck or cars searched for products. Last night the police spent six hours going through the Once bus. With the Polti bus they even went as far as to cut up a half wheel of Parmesan cheese to make sure there was nothing hidden inside. It's like the movies.

In spite of Festina being thrown out of the Tour there are many supporters for them. This was evident with all the signs along the course for Festina and the hundreds of people chanting "Festina"as I raced pass.

On the same note as above, the television reports that two TVM riders have been found positive.

Telekom had set up three T.T. bikes for Jan Ullrich to use in today's T.T. I don't think it would have made a difference which one he used. It may have been no surprise to see Jan win but it certainly was a shock to the journalists to see Tyler Hamilton place second. If any of these journalist would bother going to other races besides the Tour they would have seen the progress of his form as he approached the Tour. This first week here he has been plagued by a recurring stomach problem. The problem was so bad that three days ago the souigners snuck his bag into the car that went to the feedzone because they thought he would not be able to finish. The problem just started to get better in time for the time trial. Tyler was as much surprised by his result as everyone else only because of the problems he was having. He said he just went out steady and picked it up at the end. When you have good legs I guess you can do this, I normally work the other way around. I go good at the start and try to hang on till the end. We had two Postals in the top five, the other being Ekimov.

In third was Julich who is not surprising anyone with his T.T. abilities. Bobby finished in front of some heavy hitters such as Jalabert and Olano and is now lying in third overall. The mountain days in the next week will be a very critical time for him. Without Festina to throw the gauntlet in the mountains it might be more of a controlled race. There are many riders now thinking about the podium in Paris now that Festina is out.

The course was very technical, surprisingly difficult for a Tour stage. It was a rolling course with many curves and turns on small roads. I had to pay attention at all times to the lead motorcycle to see which way he was going. I would also watch the lead motorcycle to see if he would hit his brakes or not for the corners. That way I would know if I could stay off the breaks because it was a gradual corner or get on the breaks because it was a tight turn. I rode our new Trek T.T. bikes and they are fast, actually a pleasure to ride. I rode at a steady tempo just around my anaerobic threshold at 160 beats. I did a decent time considering I had flat and had to wait about a minute until I got going again. It was hot as hell today, the first time in a long time.

Tyler rode his Giro T.T. helmet but in the last two kilometers he tossed it off. No, he didn't throw it away, we are not that well off. He just threw it in the grass and the follow car stopped to pick it up.

My T.T. didn't start till 3:20 in the afternoon. I thought I would be able to take full advantage of my "rest" day and sleep in. Of all the days, the vampires showed up today to take samples from our whole team. We were woke at 6:30 a.m. and given ten minutes to report downstairs to the UCI. We were staying in a small hotel so the samples were taken down in the back of the restaurant. The blood taker was Italian; he didn't speak a lick of English. It looked like they were going to transport the samples to a different location to test on their machine in a different hotel. The UCI tested something like fifty-three riders, everyone was deemed healthy.


Stage 8

July 19, 1998

After the T.T. O'Grady lost his yellow jersey but he won't be the only one to lose his jersey. At the end of the Tour the entire Gan team including those not riding the Tour are coming to Paris. The reason is a huge going away party for Gan. On Monday morning, the day after the Tour ends, all the Gan riders will receive new jerseys and clothing from their new sponsor Credit Agricole (French bank). The riders will wake up Monday morning and instead of putting on the white Gan colors they will be wearing the all green colors of the new sponsor Credit Agricole. Because the teams use Fiat cars for the Tour this gives Gan time to change all their white cars and trucks to the new green. At the beginning of the year the team posed in the new colors for team pictures, so their postcards and posters are done for the second half of the season.

If you wanted to categorize today's race it would go under "HOT", because of the temperature and the action. Today was by far the most active day we have had in the Tour. Every team tried to get in the right break for the first 80km until a group finally got away. Besides suffering on the bike because of the attacks everyone was melting from the extreme heat. I'm not even sure how extreme it was, it just felt like a sauna because we have been riding under clouds and rain for a week. Everyone had salt caked on their shorts and jerseys. After the break went up the road the action transferred to the back of the peloton with guys battling to get water for their teammates. I must have had 12-14 bottles at least. The bottles would only stay fresh for about a half-hour then the water would actually be hot. By the end of the race I could feel the heat affecting me, headaches, a bit weaker and just staring at the wheel in front of me trying to get to the finish. The hotel was only three- km's away so we decided to ride; it usually is faster on the bike then in the car because of the traffic. When we got to the hotel, to our surprise, they had a pool. George, Pascal and I took off our cycling shoes and dove straight in, I couldn't believe how refreshing it felt. After soaking for about ten minutes we then went through the usual routine of getting ready for the next days race.

I talked with Zabel today. He says he is feeling a bit better, and I told him that is because he is wearing the green jersey. That will always give you a bit better leg. He mentioned how he feels a bit stranded and alone on the team because they are there to win the overall with Ullrich. He understands but instead of a bunch of climbers he said he would have liked a little more help in allowing him to get some stage wins.

More Festina news, I know it's never ending. You think you have it bad at home, over here it's like the Tour isn't even taking place. Every newspaper, television report, and journalist all talk about Festina twenty-four hours a day. Festina ,the company, is supposed to make a decision on Wednesday whether to continue sponsorship of the team or withdraw. If the decision to withdraw is made the riders contracts will still be honored to the end of the year. Normally Festina has a contract with the cycling team to the year 2001. Some top riders have contracts for three years worth a lot of money. For example, hold on to your hat, Virenque and Zulle each get paid about $200,000 each month. Each of their contracts are something like 2.4 million each year, times that by three and that's a huge loss of income.

Many fans approach you to get your signature but only one signature has any importance. Many times little kids approach me with a piece of scrap paper or a napkin. I just give them a quick scribble because I know that piece of toilet paper I just signed wont even make it into their pocket. I sign lots of shirts, usually while they are wearing them, hats, and collector books. I think there is a big black market for team postcards with riders' signatures. We always run into the collectors who have three or four cards for you to sign. Sometimes we'll get a collector who will hand you something like ten cards for you to sign. That's when you draw the line and just sign two or three. What the heck do they do with all these? Of all the signatures the one that is the most important comes before the race start. At the start of each stage every rider is required to climb the start podium and "sign in." The morning sign in notifies the officials that you are present and still taking part in the race. If you forget to sign in and are in the race you and the team get a fine.

For the first week of the Tour you have seen the flat-landers shine. It has been a sprinters paradise up to now with Zabel, Cippo, Svorada and a host of others showing their speed. In three days the mountains start and a whole new group of riders will be riding on the front. There will be new riders attacking on the climbs and new teams chasing on the front. For example, Mercatone Uno. At all times Pantani has had his whole team escorting him through each day by protecting him from the wind. Only one guy, Travesoni, has had freedom to race for himself. Pantani and his crew of teammates have been patrolling the back of the peloton; they are always in the last twenty guys. For me it was like an early detection warning system when I saw one of Pantani's crew. If I saw one of his guys I knew I was in the back of the group and somewhere I shouldn't be. Next week you will see Mercatone Uno off of the back and on the front keeping Pantani set up for the mountains.

The biggest obstacle we have to overcome next week, besides the mountains, is the extreme change in the weather. The first week of the Tour has been cloudy, cold, and sometimes wet. The extreme change from the cold to the extreme heat will affect many of us for the first few days. I have to get used to suffering under the sun in the sweltering heat on the climbs. The first day in real heat I sweat like a pig while my body is adjusting in trying to keep me cool. After three or four days I adjust and can handle the heat on the climbs much better. This last week I've been wearing an undershirt, armwarmers, and averaging maybe 4 bottles for the entire day. Next week in the mountains I'll probably wear no undershirt and go through ten or twelve bottles a day, a big difference.


Stage 9

July 20, 1998

If yesterday was hot at 40C, then what would you call today with the temperature at 43C? Today was another scorcher and I'm having trouble even thinking straight right now. I'm wasted tired and drained from racing six hours under the beating sun. My face is still on fire and just walking to dinner I feel my muscles cramping. Hell, even eating dinner my hands are cramping just from cutting up my chicken.

The worst of the group was Tyler, from kilometer twenty I saw he was not having a good day. The heat from yesterday and the hotter temperatures today totally sapped all the strength from his legs. Near the end of the race, forty kilometers to go, Tyler got dropped from the peloton. The team knew he was in bad shape and we did everything to keep him in the group as long as possible. When he did get dropped I had to make a decision to either have some guys wait for him or continue and hope he could make it on his own. Because it was 40 kilometers to go and we had a couple climbs left we couldn't take a chance to wait for him and lose a few guys. If he was in such bad shape as we had seen he wouldn't have even been able to sit on our wheels to bring him to the finish.

Incredibly enough, he finished about twenty minutes down looking like skeletor. He said he lost like ten pounds today. You're probably thinking he should drink more. Our team went through 160 water bottles today. Every ten kilometers someone was going back to get bottles for us to drink. With twenty teams in the race it gives the spectators a chance to get one of 3,200 bottles that get thrown to the side of the road in one day.

A break went early in the race with about five guys. Since Cofidis has the jersey and wanted to keep it tonight for the last time before the mountains they had to chase. I think for 210km's they put only two or three guys on the front to keep the time gap down. They were saving all the rest of the team for the mountains tomorrow. When the gap came down to about two minutes a couple sprinter teams took over, but for a very short time. Whenever we hit a small hill the entire team on the front chasing would die and we would go nowhere. With about fifteen kilometers to go Telekom went to the front but almost right away stopped pulling deciding to save the team for tomorrow's mountains. I'm sure Zabel felt shortchanged since the winning break only finished ten seconds in front of the peloton.

For all you Cippo fans, he stopped today. I don't know why, he actually looked very good.

I saw a Riso Scotti rider break his handlebars on a climb today. I can't believe he didn't crash. He was climbing out of the saddle when the bar just snapped off. He was holding the one half of the bars near his shoulders and then he dropped them. The broken half went into his front wheel taking out a bunch of spokes while at the same time he was trying to grab the bars again to get them out of his wheel. It was kind of funny.

Prudencio(Vitalicios), Big Mig's brother, said Miguel is going to be on the Tourmalet tomorrow. He's planning a picnic with his family and I'm sure he's going to see what its like from the other side of the fence.

Each day after the race, usually right before dinner, the race delivers the results to each hotel. The race has couriers on motorcycles that go around to each hotel and deliver the results to every team. Usually the results are ten to twelve pages long. The first page tells you who is leading each category and who is wearing which jersey. The second pages, which are blue, are the results of the stage. The third pages, which are yellow, are the overall G.C. of the Tour. Then the results for team standings, green jersey, mountain jersey, and young rider all get a page. Near the back there is the medical report stating who crashed or got hurt that day and how their condition is. There is a weather page giving you the forecast for the following days race and a page for all the rider and team penalties with their fines. The last pages are the sanctions against the journalists or guests cars in the race. If a car or journalists motorcycle disregards the instructions of the cops or the UCI they can get thrown out of the race for one day.

The weather forecast is very accurate for the next day. It's nice to know ahead of time what to expect during the day. The forecast also includes the wind direction and temperatures that we'll encounter along the route. Its important on the mountain days so you can know how cold it is after climbing for two hours to two thousand feet. One year the forecast was extremely accurate for each day, it was never wrong. The problem was that it was reporting the day that we had just finished instead of forecasting the next day, it took them two weeks to figure it out.


Stage 10

July 21, 1998

What a difference one day makes. Not only are we going from the flats, racing in our 53x12, to the mountains, climbing in our 39x21, but from the extreme hot to the cold and wet weather. I don't think anyone will be complaining considering how much we suffered yesterday and the day before. Let me correct that, I'm complaining because today was wet and freezing cold. The descent of the first climb, the Col de Aubisque, was plain scary.

With lots of rain and fog I couldn't see ten feet in front of me. Coming over the top, the group still together, we started to descend the mountain. I couldn't see anything but I heard the crashes ahead of me, twenty seconds later I would see what had happened. Each corner from the top to half way down there was a crash. The guys couldn't see the corners and would either run off the road or run into each other.

Guys that crashed included some big names such as Olano, Jalabert, and Casagrande. Casagrande crashed twice on the same descent and then quit the race. Marty and Darius from out team also crashed. One corner I saw four or five Telekom riders lying on the ground including Bolts and Riis. They were using the lightweight carbon rims that don't slow you down for shit. Same with a few of the Cofidis guys that were lying on the ground. Bobby woke up this morning with the carbon wheels on his bike but because of the rain he opted to switch, smart move.

After freezing in the wet the next climb was the Tourmalet. Eighteen kilometers straight up into the clouds and rain. I was so cold coming down the hill I couldn't stop my legs or body from shaking. It was hard for me to control my bike to make the corners. The Tourmalet was as blinding as the first climb. Peter told me at the first corner of the descent, of the Tourmalet, he heard someone yelling in panic. As Peter was taking the switchback he put on his brakes right as a Kelme guy came flying past him at 40km/hr straight off the road into a parked car.

Near the bottom the view cleared but it was scary because we were going down the wet road at 90km/hr taking the corners. Every turn I was on the limit of traction. When I reached the bottom I could barely pedal from my legs being like icicles. I was afraid to push on the pedals because it felt like I would break some tendons or something. The next few climbs we did not climb as high and therefore were not as bad. It was a good race in the front, so I'm told. I never see anything that happens unless I watch it on TV.

Jalabert had a new bike for the mountains today. It looked titanium with some light wheels. On the last climb his super light wheel exploded on him. He sacrificed reliability for lightweight and he paid for it.

On the first climb Udo Bolts (Telekom) crashed and tore his shorts up completely. When we reached the bottom of the climb he got a spare pair from his car and went up the road to change. He pulled over dropped his shorts and put on a new pair. The television bike didn't realize what was happening and filmed him going up the road thinking he was going in a break. When he stopped to change they just kept on filming.

Seventeen riders quit today, some because of crashes and some because of fatigue. Johann Bruneel quit because he had been riding with a broken rib since a crash he had in Ireland. I don't know how he went as long as he did.

To emphasize the difference from the first week of the Tour to the Tour that is starting now just look at the results today. Specifically, the three jerseys of the Tour, the Yellow, Green, and Mountain all finished twenty six minutes back. It's a new Tour!!!

In the mountain days we encounter big temperature changes along the route. In the valleys the temperatures will be near the ninety's and at the top of a climb the temperature can drop to the forty's. Climbing the mountain in the colder temperature is not the problem; going down the hill is where you run into problems. When I'm climbing the mountain at my maximum effort I won't even notice the temperature change until one kilometer from the top. This is when I notice how soaking wet I am and try to figure out how to stay warm for the downhill. When the cold air slams against your wet body at 70km/hr you freeze after about three minutes on the descent.

Many times I carry a small wind proof jacket to prevent me from trembling the whole way down the mountain. At the very top of the climb there are always fans waving newspapers at you. You are supposed to grab the newspapers and stuff them up your jersey to stop the wind from blasting against your chest. Even if I have a jacket I always go for the newspapers also, sometimes I'll even look for hat and snag one off of a spectator's head. Many times I run into problems because by the time my big body gets to the top of the climb all the newspapers are gone. The front two or three groups take everything the people have to offer. That's when I grab whatever I can get my hands on, a race program, magazine, anything to cover up my chest. You have to stay warm at all cost.

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