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Stage 11

July 22, 1998

The second day of the Tour's mountain stage brought back the heat and suffering. On the menu for today were five climbs including a fifteen- kilometer climb to the finish. On the route was the Col du Portet-d'Aspet, this is where the Fabio Cassertelli memorial is. At the start the riders started talking about stopping at the memorial in honor of Fabio. Everyone agreed and leading the way up the climbs to the memorial was Bjarne Riis. Fabio's parents were there and it brought tears to their eyes seeing all the riders stop for a minute to pay their respects. Every year that this climb is on the Tour's route there should never be any hesitation about stopping, it's the least that the riders should do.

The first climb, Col de Mente, we rode slow and thank god! Talk about steep, I was in my 39x23 for all 14km's and was suffering even though we were not racing. The Col d'Aspet is just as steep but it's only five kilometers long from where we entered the hill. As soon as we crested the second mountain the racing began in the valley before the Col de la Core. Telekom was setting tempo, trying to catch a couple breaks that got away in the valley, for the fourteen-kilometer climb. I managed to stay in the group over this climb but got split off the back on the descent.

The descent was a paved road but with lots of gravel on top. The heat melts the road and the cars chew up the road when they go before the peloton. When we arrive, at 80km/hr, there is gravel everywhere. The group split up because some guys were being extremely careful while others, like Tafi, go for hell broke. Tafi got away on the downhill. Roland Meier(Cofidis) went wide on a corner and actually flipped over the guardrail and fell a few feet into some bushes. He had to hike his way back up to the top and get going again. The next climb was Col de Port, a gradual climb and the whole group stayed together trying to stay fresh for the sprint up the last climb, Plateau de Beille. Since I sat up and took it easy in a small group I have no idea what transpired on the climb. All I know is that Pantani is a rocket when going uphill -- he won.

At the bottom of the climb Peter, from our team, was riding in the last twenty guys. He looked over and saw Pantani in the back of the group and told him that the climb started in two kilometers. It was time to move up. Pantani just shrugged and started the climb in the last ten guys of the group. Only Pantani could pull this off.

The next Indurain quit today. Olano quit today on the last climb. He got shelled and just pulled over and said enough is enough.

I saw Miguel Indurain today. He was at the start driving with his family to one of the climbs for a day in the sun. He had a huge Mercedes station wagon. The car was massive.

After we finished we had to ride down the hill to get to our cars. It is faster and easier to ride down the hills then sit in the cars which could take an hour to get to the bottom. On my way down I saw Lars Michaelson out of the saddle sprinting with everything he had the last six hundred meters. Lars got dropped from the group on one of the climbs and was trying to make the time cut. Even with his last ditch effort he didn't make it, he's going home tomorrow.

Of all the advice you get in the Tour one recommendation can mean the difference between finishing and making an early departure. Don't hang on to the cars, that's good advice but it's something else. Don't drink the water. On the climbs thousands of fans are handing up refreshments to you in the heat of the day. You can take the water to pour over your head, wash your hands, or cool your feet but you can't drink it. The problem is you don't know where the water came from or what someone might have done to it. Imagine when climbing a twenty-kilometer climb and all you have are hot bottles on your bike. Around the corner you see someone holding a cold bottle pushing it in your face to take. It's very tempting to swallow the bottle in one gulp. The only time you can take a drink is if you open the cap yourself, same with the soft drinks. Many people open them up before hand thinking they are making it easier for you but one mistake can cost you dearly.


Stage 12

July 24, 1998

We had the usual travel to the race and the usual hanging out in the Village Depart but the start was far from usual. At kilometer zero the riders staged a protest about how the whole Festina doping thing has gotten out of control. Instead of having a Tour de France the only thing on the television and the papers are stories about doping. Journalist are calling police and starting false rumors while even going so far to dig through a team's trash to try and get a story. When the cops arrived at the TVM hotel yesterday morning at eight a.m. the cameras were there before the police even arrived. The riders could not leave their hotel all day yesterday because they would get hassled.

We are trying to do our job and everyone is treating us like criminals when we have done nothing wrong. During the protest the riders discussed either to race, ride slow or not race at all. We talked about how the Tour is not good for the riders or sponsors because all anyone talks about is the doping. Most of the riders were in agreement not to race but there were a few holdouts. When the UCI commissaries and Jean Marie LeBlanc saw that we were serious about not riding they called a meeting of only the directors. The directors crumbled because of the pressure of the UCI and the Tour's director and ordered their riders to start. Riders like Jalabert, Leblanc, Pantani, Banesto, and Mercatone Uno were adamant about making today a day of protest.

The problem arose when the directors of Gan, Rabobank, Telekom, and some others ordered their smaller riders to start. The smaller riders need a job, need a team and are not in a position to tell the director to bug off. After two hours of sitting around the race we decided to start with the intention of riding slow the whole day. After a twenty kilometer neutral zone, to wait for the teams that were already in their team car, the race got started. The first attack was by an ONCE rider. Any coincidence that the director of ONCE was in the director of the Tours car at the start? After the ONCE guy attacked a couple times the race was in full swing.

Jalabert who was adamant about not racing got into a break because he was pissed everyone was racing. He built up a lead with two other guys to five minutes that had Telekom on the rivet trying to pull it back. I'm sure Telekom wished there wasn't a race today because the sure burnt some matches trying to bring back Jaja. Eventually, with Telekom dying they had Rabobank help them to finish off the chase. Just before catching Jaja's break we went through the feed zone which had severe cross winds. The pace dialed up ten notches through the feed zone, nobody could even think of grabbing a feed bag. If you did try and grab a bag the straps blew apart and there was an explosion everywhere of race food. The group split with about seventy riders in the front and the rest chasing in the back.

Eventually it all came back together with a very fast run in for the sprint. We were helping George stay in front while Mapei was setting up the sprint for Tom Steels. With one kilometer to go Ekimov took a flyer but it was too much of a headwind for him to get very far. His move did commit Mapei to the leadout so George and I could sit on. With six hundred meters to the line I came flying past Mapei to lead out George but when George jumped to get on my wheel he pulled his foot and lost about ten places. Once you lose a few places its impossible to get them back. Steels had the perfect leadout and finished it off with a win.

The average speed of the race was close to fifty kilometers an hour. We did 220 kilometers in about 4.5 hours, I never saw anyone in any gear other than the eleven.

We were going so fast today there was no time to go to the bathroom during the race. If you though about stopping you would have never made it back to the group. After holding it for what seemed like forever I attempted to relieve myself off the bike at about 60km/hr. Now I know what they mean when they say don't pee into the wind. I think more went on my legs and shoes then even hit the ground.

The Francaise des Jeux team crunched one of their cars today.

The team doctor of Casino decided to get even with the journalist for all the shit they have been pulling. He came out of his hotel this morning with a bag marked biological medicine, Italian team doctor. He put the bag in the trash can in the front of the hotel. When the journalist went to tear open the bag from the trash, like they have done before, they found a bag full of manure.

Last night we had a shitty mom and pop hotel. My bed was in a five-foot wood box about the width of my body. I couldn't fit in the bed at all so I had to move the mattress to the floor. The problem was that the mattress barely fit in the space between the wall and bed. It had to kind of curve up on the sides so I could fit in the middle. On top of that, France does not believe in pillows. They have these tubes that are about five inches in diameter that you are supposed to use for support. It's very uncomfortable unless you sleep on you back all night.


Stage 13

July 25, 1998

Forget about my legs, my toes are killing me. I've been getting hot foot every time the weather heats up and today was another scorcher. Along with the weather heating up so is the racing. After twenty kilometers the attacks started while I was watching a bunch of ostriches run along side the road. When I looked up after watching the osriches running all I saw was a single line about one kilometer long. Gradually I moved up and went with a few moves but none were successful.

Finally after fifty kilometers a break stuck and luckily we had Marty there. The break consisted of about twelve guys including to G.C. riders, Nardello(Mapei) and Heulot(FDJ). Telekom right away had to start working into the cross headwind to keep the time gap down. The break built up a lead to six minutes when Telekom started to fade so Cofidis took over to protect Bobby's position in the overall. This is the first time Cofidis has had to do some work to defend their second place on the overall.

When Cofidis hit the front the cross winds had gotten worse and so did the echelons trying to keep up with the front guys. The entire group was single file dodging in and out of the spectators along the curb. I saw lots of shoes and bags in the road that the riders were swerving to avoid. The people were so shocked at the speed and closeness of the pack that they jump back and don't have time to grab everything. Even with the Cofidis and Telekom working the break managed to keep a lead of about two minutes to the finish. The original break of twelve was dwindled to a group of six at the finish. Nardello won the sprint with Marty coming in fifth but only a half wheel away from the win.

Today George got new pedals put on his bike because he pulled his foot out yesterday; hopefully this will cure the problem. For the Tour George rides a 54x11 for the flat days and sprints. In the mountains they changed his chainring to a 53 for the mountains. Yesterday, the first flat day back, he still had a 53 on his bike and he said he felt like he was always out of gear. If you think George was out geared that was nothing compared to Pascal. Pascal broke his bike at one hundred kilometers to the finish. The spare wheel he received only had a 13; it was a spare for the mountains. I remember repeatedly pressing my STI looking for a smaller gear then my eleven. Pascal must have been totally spun out when we were going 70 km/hr.

In the last group to finish there were six TVM riders. One rider was in the break but eventually got dropped and the rest of the team was all in the back. I think they are under a little more stress than the rest of us with the investigation going on with their team. For the last few days the riders can not get out of their team bus or team hotel without being harassed by journalists.

Every day the team cars and trucks get a washing so the sponsor's logo will shine in the races. Depending on the time the race ends the staff will either wash the vehicles at night or the next morning. Also, each night everything in the cars are taken out and stored in the team truck for security. All the rain bags, coolers, helmets, and radios are moved to the truck because it has an alarm. The cars are then strategically parked as close together and close to the truck so as to block all the doors and windows of each car. There has been many times in the past where thieves have broken a window and taken everything out. If you lose some clothing it is not a problem but if they take your spare shoes it can be a big problem.

Riders like Julich, Livingston, Hincapie and I have all benefited from a nurturing of our cycling career. I don't know if they realize it but the years on Motorola are part of the base to their current success. Motorola was a team that took young riders and brought them around slowly thinking of the future. I was prevented from doing as many races as I had wanted when I first turned Pro. I also was not selected for the Tour team for a few years because it was considered to hard to soon. I started off with the Giro, which was too hard, and the second half of my year was wrecked because of it. I did enough races to keep improving but not to many to burn me out. When the other guys arrived on the team the same philosophy was used in making them better riders. The team had a vision for all of us on the team. On other teams when they get a young rider it is a use 'em up and spit 'em out philosophy. It is especially dangerous if the young riders have some early results. When this happens a team will race them till they blow and sometimes you will never hear from them again. The problem is when a sponsor stops they might not ever see their vision turn to reality. Luckily for the rider the attention paid to them early on will pay dividends to them later on.


Stage 14

July 26, 1998

If someone were to tell me that "global warming" is not happening I would tell him or her to come and visit the Tour in July. Now that we are heading to the Alps in the final week of the Tour the teams have guests coming out of their ears. The teams usually have the most visitors when the race gets to the last big mountains. I assume the guests and fans, sometimes one in the same, like to see the how hard the mountains really are. I'm sure half the time they can't believe we ride twenty or thirty-kilometer long mountain passes, sometimes two or three in the same day. The Postal Service has a lot of guests here also. Greg Lemond has showed up and so has Phil Anderson, just in time for the mountains, they know when the good racing starts.

From kilometer ten the attacks started like we were doing a forty-kilometer criterium. It was so fast that the pack got strung out and I only saw the same twenty guys for the next fifty kilometers. We had a category three and category four mountain to start the stage off. Following attacks uphill is not my specialty but we gutted it out to make sure nothing got away without a Postal Service rider there. I think I went with forty attacks today trying to find the right combination stick so I could get away. Eventually, Eki, George and I were getting tired of chasing and attacking for fifty kilometers. At that moment Peter showed up and went with one move, it was the one that went away. No complaints from me, the goal is to have someone there and Peter did that for us. The break built up a quick five minute gap while Telekom rode an easy tempo. It was an easy day for Telekom and for most of the riders trying to conserve as much energy for tomorrow.

For some reason when the break was eleven minutes up the road Max Sciandri and Tafii started pulling hard on the front. Taffi I can sort of understand, he's a little dense and does this stuff all the time. As for Sciandri, I have no idea why. The break finished with an eight-minute lead that O'Grady won in a sprint. The UCI commissaries flexing their muscle for no reason disqualified Calcaterra(Saeco) to last place in the break, sixth. The sprint was fast and straight up with Calcaterra moving over just a little into O'Grady. O'Grady nipped him at the line anyway and the third place rider was two bike lengths behind. Stupid decision and everyone agrees except for the judges.

The whole Cofidis team had new wheels today. The entire team was using red Mavic Helium's. Their sponsor is Gippiemmi for rims but obviously something changed in the last few days.

Main problems the riders are facing now are saddle sores. I see everyone moving around and adjusting their shorts throughout the whole day. I'm no different, after getting out of the saddle it takes three or four adjustments until I can sit comfortably on the saddle. Max Sciandri went see a doctor right after yesterday's stage. He said if his sores were not better that he probably wouldn't have been able to finish the race today. The doctor gave him some cream that is supposed to heal the sores; he said the cream made a huge difference. All of us use some sort of chamois cream for the races. With the heat, sweat and water all mixing with friction from seven hours on the bike everyday problems are going to exist.

Today would be considered a slow mountain day. There is a technique to riding slow in the extreme heat on a long climb. You have to stay on the outer edge of the group while not being to far out to catch any wind. The edge of the group is where you can grab the drinks from all the fans along the side of the road. It becomes dangerous when you are just behind a rider when he decides to take a right turn to go and get water. There is a rule- if you grab water you have to share it. You never grab a water jug, no matter how big or small, without passing it back for someone else to cool themselves off. What does happen is the same guys in the front take all the bottles. If there is a person standing every twenty meters with a bottle some riders will grab every one of them. If you are in the back you never get to see any water much less get your hands on one. The best thing to grab is a cold Coke; this is like gold in the peloton. Next is cold drinkable water, then cold water and then normal water and last water that has been sitting outside since probably the race started. If a rider gets hot water he will pour it all out and then throw the jug back, that way no one else will get flicked. I don't like Coke so if I ever get a cold Fanta or Sprite it's like striking the lottery.

The race bible is critical for the mountain days. In the book, coincidentally yellow, it shows each mountain and its category. HC for the hardest and always the longest, 1st, 2nd, 3rd,and 4th. A 4th category climb is usually only about five kilometers long while a HC category is between twenty and thirty kilometers long. If I see a 3rd or 4th category then I don't get to worried because I know I can make it over with the group. If any number higher is listed for the climb then I know I'll be suffering to stay in the peloton. The book will list how long each category climb is and what its average percent grade is. For the uphill finishes it shows a picture with the percent grade for each kilometer climbed to the line. I will come in handy for tomorrow stage.


Stage 15

July 27, 1998

Today was another epic Tour stage. We have had stages with temperatures over a hundred degrees to mountain days where it's only been thirty-five degrees. Today was a mountain day meaning rain and cold, at least that is how it's been so far. In the middle of the night we were woken by sever thunderstorms and rain pounding so hard on our windows it felt like someone was knocking. I thought let Mother Nature get it out of her system now, we don't need this rain during the race. When we woke up the rain had stopped and the skies actually looked like it might clear up. The race started out on a not categorized five-kilometer climb. It was so hot and muggy I had to go back to the car and take of my T-shirt that I had started with. Many other riders were doing the same thing thinking the clear skies ahead were a sign of things to come.

When we hit the first climb Telekom set a fierce tempo and split the group right away. They even managed to drop a couple of their teammates. I'm not sure if they were thinking to straight today. As soon as we hit the bottom of the climb the rain started. I got in a good group that went over the top of the twenty five kilometer long Croix de Fer only about a minute down on the first guys. We bombed the descent in the rain on the wet roads to try and catch the first guys before the next mountain. Half way down the mountain we came flying into a tunnel only to come out the other side and have a complete white out. The fog was so dense I could only see the two riders in front of me. After diving through the team cars and avoiding each other in the turns we caught the first group of about forty at the feed zone.

The second climb was Col du Telegraphe, a measly twelve kilometers but it runs straight into the Col du Galibier that tacks on another twenty kilometers. After climbing for over an hour we reached the top of the Galibier soaking wet and cold. On the way up the climb my hands and arms were starting to get numb from the rain and cold. My hands looked like prunes similar to when you are in a swimming pool for a few hours. Every pedal stroke was an effort in getting up the mountain and trying to keep the legs working.

At the top, 2600 meters, the temperature was 4C. The spectators had full winter jackets, hats, and gloves while all I had was a skimpy wet jersey. For the downhill I put on two clear plastic rain jackets to try and keep as much wind off me as possible. After one kilometer of descending I was already shaking uncontrollably. My legs and body were shaking so much my bike was going everywhere. It was definitely colder than when we went down the Tourmalet earlier in the Tour. I was shaking so badly I had trouble seeing where I was going, I thought my eyelids were going to fall out of my head. I wasn't the only one suffering. The whole way down the descent I would pass guys going rock slow because they were trembling so badly. Lots of riders had stopped on the side of the road waiting for their team cars to get more clothing.

Near the bottom of the descent we had two tunnels to go through, it was two minutes of heaven. The air in the tunnel must have been fifteen degrees warmer. It felt like a Hawaiian breeze compared to the outside air. Finally at the bottom of the descent our team car came with some hot tea. I took only one sip and poured the whole bottle on my neck, which felt like a piece of steel by this point. I then took another bottle of hot tea and poured the whole thing down my back, now I could finish the race. The last climb was only eight kilometers and not very steep which was a savior for my legs. After going down hill for thirty kilometers my legs could barely pedal without aching all over.

When I got back to the hotel the first thing I did, as usual, was stuff my face then take a hot shower. After I had cleaned my shoes, eaten and was sitting under the blankets trying to get warm the television showed a rider finishing. It was Eddy Seigneur arriving one hour and three minutes behind Pantani's winning time. I think he will be on the next plane home tomorrow.


Stage 16

July 28, 1998

I don't know what happened today, it was so out of the ordinary. I woke up to sunny skies on a mountain stage in the Tour. I didn't know what to do when I started sweating like a pig on the first climb, then I remembered--suffer!

That damn Rosciolli (Asics) attacked again from the gun. This guy has done this almost every day trying to get a head start before the mountains start. We are really starting to get pissed off at him. The group is all relaxed and riding along at 30 km/hr when Rosciolli attacks; he's done this at least four times in the last week. When he gets in the break, like today, with three or four other guys he gets dropped right away. Then there are the riders he got dropped from that end up with a five-minute lead which the peloton has to chase down. So from kilometer one to the finish we are racing all day long, it sucks.

Like I said, Rosciolli did his patent move and took three riders with him. Today we had a cat 1, cat 2, and cat 3 mountain back to back at the start of the stage. Since there was a break there was no chance in riding easy up the mountains, it was hang on or go home.

A change was seeing Mercatone Uno doing the tempo on the hills keeping the time gap to a reasonable distance so Pantani could catch them on the HC climb, Col du Madeline. I managed to stay with the top 50 guys over the first three climbs and suffered a bit off the back on another cat 2 mountain that was before the Madeline climb. I bridged on the descent with five or six guys going like wild fire to make sure we didn't have to ride in the valley before the climb by ourselves.

It was obvious the whole race was going to take place on the Col du Madeline. Ironically, this is where my race ended and I rode in easy over the climb to the finish with at least eighty guys. It was obvious that Pantani was going to let loose and the problem was how to contain him. From what I saw on TV the group rode part of the climb steady until Ullrich attacked first.

That is a surprise considering how he had no legs yesterday. Part of the reason Ullrich didn't have good legs yesterday is that he didn't stay warm enough on the downhills, he lost too much energy that was needed later. Today was hot and Ullrich had his normal legs back and when he attacked Pantani went with him straight away. Ullrich pulled the whole climb while Pantani sat on.

Julich's group lost time while Meier (Cofidis) was setting the tempo trying to bring the two back. From what I saw Julich had only one teammate left at this time, his group looked like about 10 guys or less. At the finish Ullrich finished with Pantani one minute and forty-five seconds in of the chasing group.

It was amazing today seeing the support and craziness shown towards Pantani with his new colored jersey. All along the route flags, sign, and lots of "tifosi" all showed their support for the new king of the road.

I talked with Kevin today about how he lost time yesterday in the mountains. He came over the last climb with the first guys but froze like a Popsicle on the downhill. He was shaking so badly from hypothermia that he couldn't control his bike or turn the pedals. He said he was just happy to make it down the hill.

Today, in two separate incidences, two different guys crashed in the same spot along the route. On the descent after the second climb there was a tricky corner that kept winding around on us. In the first break a Lotto rider overshot the corner and crashed, then five minutes later in another break a Telekom rider did the exact same thing. You think they would give us a yellow flag for a warning after the first guy dumped it.

Every day on the climbs I see a Rabobank supporter that drives around in his van all painted in the Rabobank colors. He wears a team uniform but is just an avid fan. He stands on the side of the road holding bottles of water to pass out to his so-called riders. If another rider tries to grab the water he moves it and only gives it to a Rabobank guy. There is also an old skinny guy about 65 years old that does the same thing. He must be Belgian because he wears a Collstrop jersey, the difference is he gives water to everyone that wants one. I have seen these guys every year the last few years of the Tour.

Also on the climb today there were Angels. There were some guys dressed as big white Angels with wings and everything. I don't know what their deal was.

The slow group is where all the heavy hitters end up on the mountain days. I mean heavy hitters by weight, not results. The group is aptly named the "grupetto." The grupetto is where friends are made not met. It's amazing how the sharing of water, food and suffering will bring different teams and nationalities closer. The next day at breakfast when you see a rider that was in the gruepetto with you for four hours you give each other a nod. A nod saying a hundred words of what hell the day before was but here we still are.

Eros Poli (Gan) is considered the driver of the bus -- meaning he dictates the pace the slow group goes over the mountains. In the mornings of the big mountain days I look at the race bible and figure out where I can sit up and make the time cut without too much difficulty. Eros has a good sense of timing and pace, and can get the group to the line just under the time cut. Sometimes we cut it close, like the stage Chiappucci won to Sestriers a few years back. I didn't sit up anywhere but got dropped and time trialed with a group of 20 for a 100 kilometers to try and make the finish. I think we made it by only a minute, the last up hill climb I was at my limit.


Stage 17

July 29, 1998

Wow, I don't know where to begin, how about that I don't really feel like writing this tonight. It's been a long and stressful day full of uncertainty. I'll tell you what I know but a lot of it is rumors. I say rumors because I heard it from the riders during the race and I have no idea if it actually happened or not, more than likely it did.

As everyone lined up for the race start everything appeared normal. No talk of protest and no talk of trouble. Of course the journalists are everywhere at the start and it was a crazy mad house with them fighting for pictures. When the flag dropped to start the race everyone stood there. Jean Marie LeBlanc came and asked if there was a protest and why we didn't start. I was standing next to Marco Pantani and looked at him for answer. He looked at me and shrugged, and I asked the race started. Jean Marie said, "yes, the flag dropped a minute ago." Innocently enough no one saw the flag much less it drop to signal the start of the race. As soon as Jean Marie came to ask us why we had not started the journalists swarmed again to the middle of the road. Now, we couldn't start because the cops could not get the cameras out of the way.

As we rolled through the neutral zone the talk started about the problems from the night before. TVM was at the center of it all. As soon as the race ended yesterday the police came and rounded up all the TVM riders and staff. The riders said they were in the showers and lying in bed when the police arrived and pulled them from the showers and bed and told them to gather everything that was theirs into their suitcase. The police then proceeded to search all the suitcases and trucks. Next was a trip to the hospital for a complete exam including hair analysis, urine sample, and blood sample. The riders were give the choice of spending three days in jail or give the samples. The riders all wanted to start the next day so the samples were given. They got home between twelve and three in the morning. No massage or dinner for most of them.

The other team that got the short end but not as bad as TVM was Big Mat. They had their truck and all the riders suitcases confiscated during the race. When the riders finished the race they didn't get their suitcases back until ten at nigh. To open the suitcases that were locked the police used huge hole punchers to tear the locks out. Everyone knows that one Samsonite key can open any Samsonite suitcase, no need to wreck their luggage. The police found nothing!

It was agreed by the peloton to ride slow the entire race to protest the way the riders who are guilty of nothing were treated. As we rode slow Riis was talking with the director (of the Tour) about getting the Minister of Sports to back off and stop searching and seizing the riders and their luggage. They talked a while and the Minister said NO to the rider's demands. The Tour stopped. We sat around for an hour while they talked and tried to figure out how the Tour can continue and the riders' rights are preserved. The Minister asked for an hour to talk with whomever and that we should keep going until a better decision was made. At that time Jalabert was furious that the Minister would not cancel their witch-hunt for the cyclist. The entire Banesto and ONCE team stopped at this point. Riso Scotti stopped at the feed zone. We rode for another hour when the Minister called back and said that they agreed to back off and not search suitcases but they would want to question some riders and directors some more.

We stopped a second time on the first mountain of the day. We stood around for half-hour before starting again. Luc Leblanc was furious he wanted no part of that. When we started again I started hearing a little more of what was going on. Supposedly at the time there were a lot of police waiting for the riders at their hotels at the finish. The police were there to search everyone's suitcases, trucks and cars. When the riders found this out we stopped for the second time. The Minister had agreed to back off but later in the day I found out this not to be the case. We rode the rest of the day, about 100k, slow to the finish. During the last part of the race I heard the ONCE director and doctor were detained for questions by the police. When we arrived we rode back to our hotel and turned on the t.v. to see what was happening. Casino, Polti, Once, Francaise des Jeux, Banesto all got questioned and searched. Obviously the riders agreement with the Minister didn't pan out.

So, for tomorrow who knows what will happen? Our team is trying to stay on a one way track to finishing the Tour. I hope nothing comes in the way of that but if this continues we may be derailed.


Stage 18

July 30, 1998

The fatigue of the race has finally caught up with me. I've noticed in the last few nights I have not been sleeping well and I'm not able to sleep in. These are the first signs that your body is not recovering the way it should be. On top of that is the added stress of not knowing what is going to happen each day as the race progresses. Waking up in the morning and not knowing if you are going to race or not is not the right preparation for winning a stage of the Tour.

Today was difficult for all the riders. One of the problems has been that there has been no communication between the Tour organization and the teams. Each team also has been hiding instead of talking with each to try and reach a decision that is beneficial for everyone. The race started at 11:30 and all the teams were present for the start except for the Spanish ones. Banesto, ONCE, Vitalicios Seguros all withdrew yesterday. Kelme following the pressure from the Spanish press and teams then made the decision to withdraw also. I believe neither the riders nor the director on Kelme wanted to leave the Tour. Riso Scotti did not take the start but more so because they only had three riders left in the race.

In the Village all the riders dressed to race but not really sure how the race was going to pan out. Were we going to attack and race or just ride? The race started out at a good tempo with Mercatone Uno setting tempo. Everyone was content to sit behind their train and wait to see what happened. Many riders had no motivation to be on the road and were just trying to get through the day. When we approached the first KOM the riders had dollar signs in their eyes and the race got under way. The KOM leader of the race (Massi-Casino) didn't even sprint for the points. He couldn't, last night he was arrested by the police and was not allowed to start the race today. As the Tour got under way the red and white polka-dot jersey sat in a prison cell.

I believe the first to attack for the KOM was a Cofidis rider. His attack put the key in the door and afterward everyone came charging through. I was sitting in the back suffering just riding slow so when I saw the attacks I knew I was going to have a rough time moving up. I moved up slowly in the following ten kilometers. It took me that long because the group was going 55km/hr over some small rolling hills. From the start I knew I was not having a good day. I never felt good on the bike. Once the break was established, which took about three kilometers, Mercatone Uno started to set tempo for the rest of the day.

It wasn't easy sitting behind their train which kept the pack strung out all day. Mercatone had a choice, ride easy and let the break go up the road without worrying about how much time they get or keep the time to reasonable gap. The difference is that if you let the break go away the team will have to ride all day all the way to the finish. If you keep the break at around five or six minutes the sprinter teams will stay interested because they think they can bring down gap for a field sprint. A team can either ride slow and long or a bit harder and get the last fifty or sixty kilometers off of the front. Mercatone chose the latter making it a very uncomfortable day, not hard but definitely not easy. The last sixty kilometers Mapei and Rabobank took over the chase.

Talk about a chase, we were going 80km/hr with a nasty cross tailwind helping us along. I was completely spun out in my 53x11 trying to keep up. George the whole time was cursing because he didn't have his 54 on again. At certain points the course turned and all hell broke loose. The group would shatter into a million pieces with everyone completely on the limit trying to stay in the front. Eventually with twenty- five kilometers to the finish the course turned again and this time the riders couldn't make it back to the front group. The peloton split into three or four groups with the front group consisting of forty guys. All the main men were there except ... Piepoli (Saeco). He dropped from sixth on G.C. to twelfth losing five minutes on this flat day. I'm sure he is not happy tonight. George spent the day busting his butt helping Jean-Cyril stay in the front group and out of the wind. Not an easy job and he was toast when it came down to the sprint. By keeping Jean-Cyril in the front we managed to move him up sixth on G.C. He won't stay there but for one day more. He has some very good time trialist's right behind him by less than a couple minutes. Our goal from the start is a rider in the top ten on G.C. and I think he can achieve that.

In the sprint it was a full Mapei and Telekom leadout for Steels and Zabel. In the final meters Zannini took off to give the final surge before Steels sprinted. Zannini pulled his foot out of his pedal right in front of Steels. Steels had to hit the breaks and then start sprinting. Zabel saw Zannini and took off immediately down the right side. When Steels got up to speed again he had to choose a Rabobank sprinter on his left or Zabel going down the right side. Easy choice, he took Zabel and blasted by him at the line. This made three wins for Tom Steels in this years Tour.

That's important to know because Bart Leyswen and Tom Steels had a bet for this years Tour. If Tom didn't finish the Tour he would have to shave his head. If Tom won three stages or got the yellow jersey then Tom would be allowed to cut Bart's ponytail off. Well, tonight at dinner Bart sat down to dinner with the back of his hair all chopped off. When we asked Bart who cut his hair he said, "The bastard that won did this."

It was one of those days where I couldn't get comfortable on the bike no matter what speed we were going. I was suffering on the uphills and on the downhills. The legs were not turning over and my mind was asleep. It was a very long painfull day that I though would never end. During the Tour I usually have a bad day where the body just doesn't listen to the mind, today was my day.

Yesterday was Wednesday but I and everyone else had no idea what day it was. The days all blend together in the Tour, you only know what day it is by how many days before or after it falls in comparison to the time trial or mountain day. Or in this case how many days before the finish in Paris. If its Tuesday or Sunday it feels no different and you don't see a difference. There are just as many people out watching the Tour on the weekdays as there are for the weekends. Normally we race on the weekends so I guess for the riders it feels like a very long three-week weekend.

Tonight watching RAI UNO, and Italian channel, they had what was like a dating game. They would ask the guys a question and then the women and see what percentage of the questions they agreed upon. One of the questions was, "Pantani or Cipolinni?" They both picked the "Pirate."


Stage 19

July 31, 1998

Two days to go and if you listen to Stanley Shozda the race is already over. Stanley was a Polish coach with the U.S National team on my early trips to Europe. He had a strange way of figuring out how many days were left in the race. For example, today doesn't count because you are already doing it, and the last day does not count because you've finished the race. He would only count the days in between; it helped my mind even though it was an ass backward way of looking at things.

Today's report is a little short because I rode with thirteen guys all day long and we didn't have time to talk. So that means no gossip.

Today was fast, I'm sure you've read that before. The first hour in the race averaged 52km/hr. This time the pace was thanks to Jacky Durand (Casino) who attacked at kilometer zero. He came flying from the back of the pack past the commissaries car right as we went under the start banner. To be honest I think he took off before the banner. We should do like car racing, if you take off before the green flag you have to go to the pits for a time penalty. Right away the group reacted and for twenty kilometers the pack was in one line attacking each other. The riders were out to kill, whenever an attack got caught three would take off on all sides of the road. It was crazy.

Finally a group of thirteen escaped with Pascal and I. Establishing the break was very hard, we had thirty seconds for a long time and everyone in the break was riding all out. After ten or fifteen kilometers the gap grew to forty then fifty seconds and it was obvious we were going to be out in front for a long time. Today's stage was 245 kilometers, nothing like picking the right day for a break. The break worked together smoothly until twenty-five kilometers from the finish. At this point we hit a small hill and the attacks started. Pascal and I took turns covering moves and I think Pascal was feeling good because he even attacked a few times himself.

With about ten kilometers to the finish the break split with four riders going up the road. The group contained Pascal, Backstad (Gan), Den Baker(Rabobank) and a Saeco guy. In my group chasing were the teams that had two guys in the first break but missed the final move. This included Big Mat, and Casino. The group of four was at thirty seconds all the way to the line. I was sitting on in the back and covering some moves trying to make sure the break did not get caught. In the front Pascal was attacking like a mad man, probably a bit too much. By the finish Pascal was dead and got fourth. He did a great ride but I think he got a little too anxious and didn't think enough about how to win the race.

The peloton had a long easy day. They all sat on the Mercatone Uno train for the first one hundred kilometers then they sat on the Lotto train. Lotto got in trouble because they had no one in the break so their director made them ride to the finish. For all the big guns it was a nice easy day for them to get the legs ready for the time trial.

My last report will be tomorrow after the Time Trial for the Tour. Every year the teams stay the last night in Paris at the Concorde Lafayette Hotel. The hotel has horrible phones and I can't get online at all, I've tried in the years past. Thanks for reading, thanks for the comments and e-mail's, and thanks for caring about the Tour.

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