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Frankie’s Diary: Caesar, the weather furies, and a new emperor
July 13, 1999
What a day: I've been colder, hotter, more tired, but I don't think I've ever been more wet. For some reason the mountains seem to go along with bad weather in the Tour. Today was a classic.
At the start we did our team presentation again and all received another stuffed lion. When I came off the stand Willy, our chef, asked me for my lion. I wasn't very happy with him: You see, I already gave him a lion but, he thought so much of it that he left it on a curb and lost it. So, this was his second lion.
Enough of that, the lions are over because we lost our team G.C. today. When we came off the team presentation we saw the Saeco guys rolling up to sign on. They were all dressed like Julius Caesar wearing toga's and vines around their head, but Cippo wore a gold crown. They also had on gold jerseys and shorts commemorating the 2099th birthday of Caesar.
The day contained four major climbs. The plan was that if a break went, Pascal, Christian, and Peter would do tempo on the flats before the climb to keep the gap in check. I was to lead up the first 12km climb, the Col du Télégraphe. Then George was supposed to lead up, as much as he could, on the 18km Col du Galibier. When George died Tyler would take over, and that left Kevin and Lance to handle the Col de Montgenèvre and the final approach to Sestriere.
For once the race started out slow. After 40 kilometers a break went with four guys, none of them dangerous. We could lose nine minutes and still have the jersey. Pascal, Christian, and Peter took over and pulled until the bottom of the climb.
I took over on the Col du Télégraphe and was pinned by kilometer one. I don't know who thought I was climber. Anyway, I quit pulling about two kilometers from the top; I just couldn't keep going. The pack was still together and George had to finish off the last part of the climb that I couldn't do.
George then led to the bottom of the Col du Galibier, but that was when Kelme started attacking so George got spit out after four or five kilometers.
Tyler and Kevin took over until the Col de Montgenèvre, the day’s second to last climb, when Lance got away in a small break. Lance was with Virenque, Gotti, Zülle, Escartin and a Banesto rider. In the back, already a minute down, was Olano, with Tyler and Kevin sitting on his wheel. On the final climb Lance showed no mercy, attacked and rode away from everyone. Zülle was the only one to respond and was able to keep within 30 seconds at the finish. Lance won, again, very convincingly. Olano, the second-place guy on G.C., is now six minutes back.
Lance, Kevin, and Tyler were lucky weather wise. They didn't encounter any of the storms that the rest of the team faced, as we followed some 30 minutes back.
It was weird, as we climbed the mountains the rain would start then as we got higher the hail would fall then by the top it was cold but dry. The same thing would happen down the other side, hail, rain, and then dry. The last climb up to Sestriere was 10 times worse than the previous mountains. I have never been in a bike race where it rained so hard. There were rivers flowing down the road with so much water that when it hit our wheels it would make a wave. We were soaked, but then the hail started pelting us.
It was strong and painful. I was almost laughing cause I couldn't believe how bad a day it had turned out to be.
With all this rain, for some reason, I couldn't get my brakes to work. I had to go so slow down the last hill because no matter how hard or long I pulled on my brakes I couldn't stop. I could only slow down a little. By the bottom of the hill I was just hoping there were no more corners because my luck had probably run out because of all the times I drifting to the edge of the road.
I'm not sure if it was their brakes, but both Kevin and Tyler crashed. Actually, Kevin crashed Tyler if you want to get technical. Kevin just slid his front wheel out and whoever was behind him also stacked it. They are both OK. Cippo also took down a bunch of guys. He was flying down the hill, which was wet and slick, and crashed into the guardrail. I didn't get results so I don't know if he finished or not. (Editor’s Note: Cipollini did withdraw from the Tour today.)
Some guys have all the luck. They pick the right day to show up for the Tour. Today Tom Weisel (the owner of the group that owns the team) showed up and drove in the first car with Johan. He got to see every piece of action all the way up to Lance crossing the line hands in the air. I also saw Greg Lemond today, who is here with his Tour group. I talked with him while he was hanging out in the Village Depart. He was all dressed in cycling gear so I assume they were either going or coming from a ride.
Tomorrow is another big mountain day. What's the problem? Trying to get six of us over the 25-kilometer climb that comes at kilometer 60. It's a 220km stage, with three big climbs and the last one is l’Alpe d’Huez. Everyone wants to win there so I'm sure the climbers will be attacking like it's the last day. I'm nervous, just like I was this morning.
Finally, I need to clear up a mistake I made two days ago in my TT report. In writing the article I cut, copy, and pasted a paragraph that implied something that was not meant. I wrote a paragraph about Lance's TT ride and I finished it with "We get champagne tonight." When I found out that Bobby crashed, I waited till later in the evening to write about him so I could find out more information about his status. When I put Bobby's paragraph in the article I didn't realize the champagne part was still there. In trying to write fast and send the updates out quickly I overlooked the placement of that sentence, which appeared to be in very bad taste in connection with Bobby’s crash. It was unintentional and I wanted to make it clear that it was a mistake.
Talk about tired, I am completely wasted. Maybe partly because of yesterday and maybe because whatever was left over is now gone. Thank God, I'm sure everyone felt the same way. We went easy over the first 25km climb at kilometer 60. Today was 220km finishing up L'Alpe d'Huez, the most prestigious mountain stage. Besides everyone being tired from yesterday, a very, very strong head wind keep us in our place. It was very windy through the valley leading to the Croix de Fer, the second climb of the day. This climb was 30km long. We had Pascal Deramé and Christian Vande Velde ride tempo through the valley to control a break that went clear on the descent. It was a two-man break and we could give up 19 minutes, so there was no panic. Peter Meinert-Nielsen had the day off, as much as he could, to nurse a sore knee.
After the valley we hit the Croix de Fer and the plan was for George Hincapie and I to do the first part then have Tyler Hamilton and Kevin Livingston take over to the top. After that it was just the finish climb which Lance Armstrong could handle himself. At the bottom of Croix de Fer, George and I started setting tempo. We were supposed to set a medium tempo just to keep things calm. On approaching the climb Johan Bruyneel saw the Polti director was all nervous and all the Polti riders were setting up near the front for the climb. He figured the were going to attack right away. Johan radioed George and I and told us to go hard to screw up their plans. We hit the bottom and in about 200 meters, as usual, I was pinned. We pulled for about five or six kilometers alternating and then I blew. George pulled for another couple kilometers and then left it for the real climbers.
It is so hard trying to climb with the climbers, it's like three times the effort for us. After I blew a couple guys caught me from behind and then we caught George to finish going up the climb. We still had a good 15km to go. After going to my max and then trying to recover while still going up hill I blew by the top. My muscles just did not want to work. Luckily, George went to the front of our little group and kind of got in the way to make them slow down. All I needed was a kilometer or two slower. I suffered but I made it over.
Tyler ended up pulling up the last part of the climb and setting Lance up for the Alpe. They were in a group of about 15 when they hit the bottom and then it was every man for himself. Near the top there were seven guys left and Giuseppe Guerini (Telekom) attacked and got away alone. Flying toward the finish with about 2km to go he had it in the bag. Then all of a sudden an idiot with a camera popped out into the middle of the road, no exaggeration - the middle - and tried taking a picture. Guerini had nowhere to go. There are so many people watching the riders that we only have a four -foot gap to go through. He hit the photographer and crashed, incredible. He got up got on his bike while the idiot was patting him on the back saying something like "good job, way to go." The guy didn't even give him a push, he was still trying to talk with Guerini. I couldn't believe my eyes. After ward Guerini on Velo Club said it was no big deal. Yeah, it was no big deal because he still won, imagine if that would have cost him the win. Then it would have been a big deal - the guy would probably be in jail. Lance finished with a group of six with all the climbing favorites, except Olano. He's no climbing favorite but he still is in second on the overall. Lance didn't really sprint, I think he probably could have won but at this point it's better to make some friends in the peloton than enemies. Olano lost more time and is now seven something down on Lance.
Yesterday I told you about all the Saeco guys wearing gold jerseys and shorts. Well, the UCI made a fortune off them. Each one of them got fined and the team got fined. Including all the fines for yesterday, just one day, the UCI made 8760 SF. That's a lot.
I made a mistake last night thinking that we lost team G.C. We still had it this morning. The best team yesterday was Banesto who I though would take over the team G.C. The problem was they lost so much time on the causeway day that we still have a seven-minute lead on team. Maybe we lost it today. Either way I got another lion this morning.
Even though I couldn't see straight at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez I still was excited about doing it. The amount of people and party atmosphere there is incredible. There are rows, and rows of people along the road the whole way up the 14km climb. The climb is full of switchbacks each one numbered as you climb up starting with twenty-one. At certain parts of the course the road is only as wide as your handlebars as you ride up. People are screaming their heads off at the first guys all the way to the last guys.
I have five minutes to send this, more tomorrow. We don't have phones in the room and the front desk is letting me use their fax machine.
July 15, 1999
The hotel we stayed at Wednesday night was a Club Med at the top of l’Alpe d’Huez. Normally the hotel is closed for the summer, but because of the race they opened it for three days. Tomorrow they close the hotel again. Peter Meinert-Neilsen’s dad, who is visiting the Tour, inquired how much it would be to stay for the night. It was almost $200. If you saw the rooms and the hotel you would realize you would have to be crazy to pay that for this place.
The room was so small George and I couldn't open either of our suitcases. The shower was a small stall in a closet and I couldn't even close the door where the toilet was. The room was so small that when I sat on the toilet my knees would hit the door in front of me. Hell, I couldn't even use the phone. I had to bug the rent-a-receptionist to let me use the phone line from the fax machine to send yesterday's article. I wrote the article right after the race while waiting for massage. I was going to go re-read it but when the lady told me they were leaving in five minutes and I decided to send it mistakes and all. I figured anything is better than nothing.
Tyler was the man yesterday! He pulled, pulled, and pulled on the mountain. He rode a great race for Lance leading half way up l’Alpe d’Huez till the Banesto's started attacking. Our climbers are doing a great job protecting Lance in the mountains. Kevin was feeling a little under the weather after crashing on Tuesday. Normally Tyler would work first, then Kevin, but they switched yesterday because Kevin was not 100%. This is something that is important with any team, communication.
Yesterday going up Croix de Fer we had a mishap on the team. About four kilometers from the top when the road gets narrow our team car died. It stopped dead in its tracks blocking all the team cars behind it. Johan shit, he couldn't believe this was happening. He tried turning the key four or five times and nothing. Not even the little lights on the dashboard were lighting up. After a few more tries the car finally turned over. Who knows why, but then again the cars are Fiat's.
After two days of riding in the mountains the guys were attacking today like it was the first day. They are crazy. We started at the bottom of Alp d'Huez and the first 40 kilometers are a false flat downhill. Maybe everyone thought they had good legs. It took two hours of attacks before finally a break went. That was what we were waiting for.
We had to wait for the right combination of guys to go up the road. We figure no Banesto, ONCE, or Telekom. Banesto and ONCE was because when we ride slow if the break gets too much time they will have to protect their second and third place on G.C. Telekom was in case they decided to go for the stage win in a sprint. They would have to chase because they would not have a rider up the road. What ended up in the break were two Festina's, two Mercatone, a Lampre, a Casino, and a Lotto.
It was good for us. Our job was now to ride tempo, slowly! I needed a rest day and this was probably the closest thing I could have asked for. The break went up the road to 20 minutes. Obviously everyone else in the pack did not mind a little rest also. The Lampre guy won the race, that's a pretty big flick. Two teams with two guys and the solo rider wins. I'm sure the directors won't be happy.
You’ve read about our hotel last night and tonight we are staying in a clone of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I'm sleeping in the bottom part of a bunk bed. I can't even sit up to type this, I have to lie down or I'll hit my head. I guess the bonus is that we can at least open one suitcase and go to the bathroom in private. Oh, the luxuries of the Tour.
Another car story. Willy, our chef, usually drives part of the course on his way to the team's hotel. He likes to wave at all the people and honk the horn at all the Americans standing on the side of the road. Our soigneurs passed Willy as they were going from the start to the feed zone, and when they saw him they pointed at his front car tire motioning that there might be a problem. Willy, a nervous guy to begin with, got all panicky and drove straight to a garage to find out what the problem was.
Willy told the mechanic to check everything, tires, oil, water, coolant, everything. The guy told him nothing was wrong. Willy took off, headed back on the course, and started waving again. That’s when our souigneers saw Willy again, as they headed from the feed zone to the finish hotel. Again they motioned to the front wheel. Willy started freaking, trying to yell at them through the car window and waving his hands all over the place to find out what was wrong. Finally the soigneurs broke down and started laughing.
They were messing with Willy, because they know his nervous nature and, sure enough, he got hooked. At breakfast all Willy could talk about was what bastards those soigneurs. He still hasn’t forgiven them.
In the race yesterday two riders switched to special bikes made for climbing. Both Virenque and Olano switched to bikes with smaller wheels. Olano's bike “climbing” bike weighs seven kilograms. Why switch? I’m not sure. Lance says it’s to save weight, and it makes the bike stiffer. Maybe there are some other technical reasons. If Jonathan were here he would probably have some data showing the torque vs. power vs. speed all in a colored graph. He loves numbers.
July 16, 1999
We knew that a lot of teams would be trying for a win today. After yesterday, the riders realized that the peloton is willing to let a group go away and stay away for the win. This provides lots of incentive for opportunists. It makes it a real pain in the ass for us because every director has told their riders, "Now we can win a stage. Make sure you make the break."
The real incentive to make the break is the prize waiting for the winner. Earlier in the Tour a horse was awarded and today the grand prize was a cow. Think about it, you could feed your whole town. Actually eating your cow would be risky after what happened in Belgium with the dioxins and the whole mad cow disease from England.
Real quickly, here’s the Belgian story: Some guy put contaminated oil into feed for animals. All meat from Belgium -- including chicken, and eggs and butter, and milk, and pretty much everything else except beer -- contained cancer-causing dioxins. True to Belgium, they tried to cover the whole thing up. So I would pass on the cow.
We started the day with a small detour on our way to breakfast. The first stop for five of us was with the UCI vampires. How they pick which riders to test and which get to sleep is beyond me. I can assure you Lance was one of the five tested.
Today was the second of three stages contested in an area called the "Massif Central." These stages are extremely tough because all you do is go up or down all day long, but tomorrow is the last of them. The courses are full of five or six kilometer climbs, most not categorized, from start to finish. There is never a place to relax, rest, and get your legs back. Today was exactly one of those days.
The stage started off with a 16-kilometer climb. The riders went ballistic! Guys who can't climb were attacking like climbers, and the guys who could climb just attacked harder. The entire way up the climb there were always groups of four or five attacking in front of us. Sometimes groups of 20 would go up the road. We would set tempo to try and control or slow things down and they would still attack. It was a nightmare.
Our morning meeting was to let any break go up the road, but we didn't expect 50 guys to try and get away. Finally after a lot of chasing and tempo riding a group of 10 or 12 got away. Even after they had seven minutes guys would still attack from our group.
They were all out to destroy us. We had Christian, Pascal, and George do most of the tempo work today. I blew my engine taking care of the first two big climbs. It took me a while to recovery after that. Peter is nursing a sore knee so we are trying to keep him fresh. At the finish the first group arrived something like 12-minutes ahead of us. We were able to lose 19 minutes today and still keep the jersey. The closest rider on G.C. was Stephane Heulot (Franciase des Jeux). And ONCE’s David Etxebarria won, which I think is good. Now that they have a stage win maybe they will help us control things in the race. We both have the same objectives.
We are going through withdrawals because for four days we have not had our favorite product. Every morning for breakfast we ask the same question to our soigneurs, did they have any luck in the hunt? Lately the answer has been "no" and we are not very happy. Our quest for peanut butter will continue.
I'll tell you this, fetching water bottles is no fun. It always seems that when the pack is racing is when everyone runs dry. When I go back to the car Johan will hand up enough bottles to give each guy one. I stuff them wherever I can, the pockets, in the collar, and up the back of the jersey. I can't put them in the front of the jersey because then the bottles hang and you cannot pedal. Worse still is when you a bunch of water from the car, you bust your butt going to the front, and the guys ask if you have Revenge. Then if you bring just Revenge someone will want only water because he already has the energy drink on his bike. It's like they think it's a ride-up menu -- just place your order.
July 17, 1999
I'm sleepy, sore, tired, and I still don't have any peanut butter. This is not the way to start off the morning. Then I looked at today's profile and my morning only got worse. Today we are dealing with four cat 4's, two cat. 3's, and one cat 2. The profile looks like the jagged edge of a saw.
We are already figuring out how many days are left in this race. We figure you can't count the last day, you don't count the T.T., you don't count the rest day, and you can write off the stage to Bordeaux (it's dead flat). That only leaves a handful of days left, granted a few of those days will contain a lot of suffering.
I don't know if the story of the day should be about how hot it was or about how hard the start was, again! The riders know a break will stay away today, but their problem is how to get in the break. At kilometer zero the attacks started. What pissed me off is that Gabriele Colombo (Cantina-Tollo) made the first attack. It wasn't even an attack, he jumped ahead of the group and looked back to make sure some other riders were reacting and then he pulled off. He just wanted to get the shit started. Well, he did a good job.
The start of the course was over some one-kilometer rollers and following all the attacks practically killed me. I did not have good legs at the start and after following a couple of attacks I found myself in the middle of the pack hanging on. Luckily, our dead boy from yesterday, Kevin had great legs and he took control of the pack on the small climbs. Finally a group of 15 went up the road and we hit the front to try and control things right away. It worked: The break built up a lead of two minutes quickly and that sort of calmed things in the pack.
Once the pack realized we didn't care if this group went up the road, we could lose 35 minutes, Polti decided to chase. I'm not sure why but I think Virenque was worried about his climbers jersey. The second place guy was in the break. Then Polti stopped after maybe five kilometers and Festina started. I think they didn't have a guy in the break so they wanted to bring it back. They blew up big time almost immediately.
That finally left the job to us, a 240km pace line between four of us. It was George, Pascal, Christian, and I riding tempo all day long. George figured that if we each took one-kilometer pulls we would each have to pull only 60 times. By kilometer 180 the break was around 19 minutes and Kelme got nervous and started chasing. Paolo Lanfranchi (Mapei) was moving close to taking over Escartin's spot on G.C. This was perfect for us, no more working and finally a chance to sit on. Kelme rode the whole rest of the way in. The break ended 22 minutes up on the peloton. Salvatore Commesso (Saeco), the Italian champion, won the race in front of another Italian Marco Serpellini (Lampre).
The distance was a factor today but the heat is what played havoc on everybody. It was 40C and in spots the temperature on the road was 48C. It was so hot the road was melting wherever it was exposed to the sun. We were riding through tar most of the last part of the day. At the finish I had tar and gravel all over the edges of my tires. No wonder I felt like I was sticking to the road.
With the extreme heat I also get hot foot and some saddle sores. When it's very hot my feet swell in the cycling shoes causing them to hurt. It mostly happens on the bottom of the big toe; it feels like your pressing on lots of pins and needles. I feel like a cat with my chamois problems. You know how a cat pushes and presses on a pillow for about five minutes before it lays down, that's how I am with my saddle. It takes awhile to get comfortable but once I'm locked in I'm ready to go.
We have just gotten through two critical day in the Tour. Team wise it was very important for us not to make mistakes and end up wasting a lot of energy during the race. The team is feeling better, and we can now see a speck of light at the end of the tunnel. On a negative note, we did lose Peter Meinert-Nielsen today. He has had a bad knee for four days and has been suffering big time trying to stay in the race hoping it would get better. Nothing usually gets better during the Tour. Today he stopped; his knee is visibly swollen and will be going home tomorrow. He may not be here for the last week but he did a lot for us in the first week.
We received the Tour mail today and as expected Lance got a lot. Pascal received a bunch of letters, George got a few, and even Christian got more than one letter. I received one letter -- don't laugh, it's better than none at all. My super fan letter turned out to be extra special; it was from my wife. So if you ruled out family, as qualification for getting letters, I would be back down to zero. In my book family letters are the best letters.
July 18, 1999
Already this morning I woke up sweating and knew we would have another hot day like yesterday. I wasn't even out of my hotel room and I think I had already lost a liter of water. At the start the temperature was already 35C and the road temp was 45C. It was hot!
As for the race, it was the same 'ol stuff. It must be God awful boring to watch on the television. Guys attack at the start, we chase them down, more guys' attack and finally a break goes away. We rode tempo all day between Christian, George and I. I gave Pascal the day off, he was completely wasted. He has not had a day off since day one. Today on the first climbs he was going backward and then he got ridden off of some wheels from guys in the break. It was bad. I had to tell him three times to stay off the front and sit in. He is very dense.
Kelme and Banesto took over the chase with thirty kilometers to go. They have to protect their second and third and fourth positions. The lead rider in the break was Belli at twenty-six minutes. I think Koneshev (Mercatone Uno) won and we came in fifteen minutes down. The coolest thing about today's stage was that we rode through this tunnel that was like a cave. It was like riding the "It's a Small World" ride at Disney Land. The lights and all the open space made it seem like the amusement ride. I've never seen anything like it, very neat. Near the end of the race a ten-minute torrential downpour interrupted the hot weather. We had lightning, thunder and lots of rain start very quickly and stop very quickly. I got my Carnac's clean without even having to wash them after the race.
There is one other thing that is pretty incredible to watch. The camera guys on the motorbikes trying to turn around and film while riding the bike backwards. The most incredible team is the ESPN guys. The camera guy literally stands up with one foot on the pegs and the other on the back of the bike while looking through a camera lens. It looks like he is going to fall off all the time. One thing that I did notice is that I think they have signals to let each other know what is happening. If the camera guys pulls on the driver's shoulder that is for him to slow down. If he pulls right or left then that is for the driver to move right or left. If there is a corner coming up, remember we are going usually fifty km/hr, the driver taps the camera guys leg to tell signal him he has to stop filming and turn around and sit down. They probably have a bunch more signals but this is only what I noticed while riding on the front. For all I know I might even be wrong, I should ask them the next time I see the ESPN guys.
Today the team received lots of gifts. I don't know why today but we sure will use everything we got. We now have Peets coffee for tomorrow's breakfast, Chocolate Mary dropped off some of her famous chocolate turtles, the souigneers got us peanut butter and I even got a new outfit for my baby boy. All in all it was a great day. At the finish a fan gave George a Postal jersey and a mountains jersey to sign. We passed them around and Christian was like, "heck I need a jersey, I'm just gonna put this in my bag." It was funny; maybe you had to be there.
Tomorrow is our rest day, yeah! We will probably ride two to three hours on some climbs. Tomorrow is a memorial remembering Fabio Casartelli on the climb where he passed away. Lance will be going by Helicopter with Jean Marie Leblanc. Today is the date that Fabio died. After Lance goes to the memorial we will go training. In the afternoon Lance has another press conference. I guess he is kind of busy on his rest day. Also, today Peter went home. He flew out of Toulouse and then back Denmark. I think believe he will return for the last day in Paris. After all he did most of the work in the first weeks when Lance opened up a big enough gap to hold on to the Yellow rather comfortably. Plans are already being made for Paris. We all feel the same way, it's to early and still long enough away the making plans might be jumping the gun. It's like being in a bike race and saying how you never puncture in races, then bam you puncture.
George sends a Happy Birthday to his mom. I also send a Happy Birthday to Mrs. Hincapie.
July 19, 1999
I need to inform everyone of our new sponsor: peanut butter. The same day our soigneurs finally found some in the store we started getting gifts of peanut butter. The last few visitors who came from the States brought some, and today at our hotel we received a Fed-Ex package with about six huge cans.
The shippers thought there would only be about a 40-percent chance of us getting it, but the Dynapost mail delivery came through with flying colors. We have enough peanut butter for the rest of the Tour -- and for the Vuelta. Everyone says thanks. At lunch I was talking with the riders and we couldn't believe how we couldn't get a hold of any Rolex's -- hint, hint.
Today is our rest day and as usual it's hectic. There is always something going on; I couldn't even get a nap in with all the banging going on. We left for our ride around eleven; it was late on purpose, so we could keep the feeling of a race schedule. We went out in the drizzle for a couple hours and found one small climb. It's amazing how after riding everyday for five and six hours how fast two hours goes by. It seemed like I was done even before I got started. The ESPN guys started off with us for some filming, but started is the key word here. After a half-hour they went up the road to pull off so they could film us coming at them. As we passed the van we noticed they pulled off right into a ditch. They were not going anywhere for a while. Afterwards we asked them how they got out. They said they tried getting the neighbors to help them ,but all the neighbors were like antiques. They were too old to walk, much less drive.
Today was the ceremony at Fabio's memorial. They held a small mass in his memory. I saw Jim Ochowicz afterwards and he said it was nice, and that the memorial actually looks better now that it has aged a bit.
Lance held his press conference today. I went because I was curious; I had never been to one before. It was held in an auditorium and there were probably a hundred journalists. There were lots of dumb questions and normal questions. Ironically the first two doping questions came from two American journalists. Lance asserted his innocence and told all the journalists that his racing life, personal life, and health were open to questions. Not one of the journalists that had previously bad-mouthed him in the papers asked one question. They always print what they want. Lance also talked about how hard it is having the jersey: all the extra obligations with the press, fans, and the Tour have made it more difficult for him to get his rest. He said he is not used to this much attention. I believe him.
I've talked about our staff before and about how key they are to helping us. The mechanics and soigneurs are in charge of different guys on the team. Julian, the head mechanic, is in charge of Lance and Kevin's bike. Juan is in charge of my bike and George's, and Jeff is in charge of Tyler's and Christian's and Pascal's. This way if there is a problem we know who to talk with about changing something or fixing something. In the past we would tell whichever mechanic we saw, but things would never get done.
The same division of the riders is with our soigneurs. Lance and Kevin are with Emma, George and I with Richard, Tyler and Pascal are with Ronnie, and Christian is with Peter (an ex-rider from Belgium).
In addition to the mechanics and soigneurs, we have many helpers. J.P. Hendricxs (who used to ride for Collstrop) drives one of the campers and also helps the mechanics. We have Stephan (Julian's son), who you might have seen on television providing the blocking for Lance going to and from the podium. Stephan loves plowing down people.
Of course, we have Mark Gorski and also Dan Osipow, who is in charge of handling all the press requests to get at Lance. There’s also Margo, who is from the U.S. Postal Service, to help Dan handle all the press stuff and all the invitees we have here. We have Louis who is in charge of getting credentials for everyone and driving and picking up the invitees. Lastly but most important, which I've mentioned before, is our Swiss chef, Willy.
July 20, 1999
Well, it was the same ol' stuff again today. Guys attacked, we rode, they stayed away. You are probably thinking, "but wasn't it a mountain day?" You are right, I'm only kidding. Actually today saw a shake up in the overall standings.
Today we had seven mountains to command and conquer. While the leaders were in "all wheel drive" today, Olano was in "park", Tonkov was in "park", and Vinokourov was in "reverse." Vinokourov is the one we are the maddest at. He's been attacking everyday at every chance he got and we would always chase him down thinking he was dangerous. Now I know he was attacking just for something to do and not for the overall.
This morning it was obvious the peloton was very nervous. In the neutral section guys were trying to stay in the front and while we went slow it was a battle to keep position. No one was talking or joking around like we would on some of the other days.
The first climb we went easy over. Pascal did a little tempo but mostly sat on the front row making a wall across the road with the other riders. On the second climb the attacks started. Guys would attack, get caught, and immediately get dropped. I don't know what they were thinking or doing.
Christian was in charge of setting tempo on the second climb. Boy, did he have some climbing legs today. Sitting on his wheel I was uncomfortable and when the attacks started coming around us I only went 400 meters before I pulled off and let Kevin do the work. I got on the back of the group and made it over with the first 50 guys. Tyler was also in the back getting his diesel engine warmed up.
On the third climb Banesto went to the front trying to break up the group. I sat on the Banesto guy while he did tempo and again the attacks started to fly. This time my legs had come around and I took over, pulling to the top and controlling the attacks. A small group of seven had escaped earlier in the day, with no one dangerous, and with four more climbs coming they would for sure be spit out the back later on.
I started the third to last climb in the front with Tyler, Kevin, and Lance on my wheel. The group was now only 40 guys. I rode on the front till they started attacking -- again. After bringing back a couple of attacks I decided to let the real climbers take over. Tyler and Kevin took turns riding tempo and controlling the rest of the climb. This climb, for some reason, was a sauna. It was much hotter than all the rest of the climbs and guys were getting shelled quickly. This is where Olano and Tonkov and many others decided to change gears and get spit out the back.
At the same time Escartin changed gears and went off the front. The second to last climb Lance attacked four kilometers from the top with Zulle. Escartin had a two minute gap and it was growing because the guys with Lance were not racing, just waiting. At the bottom of the last climb Lance was caught. Going up the last climb Lance was comfortable, but he called up the car with five kilometers to go. He needed an Extran, he was bonking.
He lost some time at the top in the last couple hundred meters. This was more from running out of energy than running out of legs. It was a very difficult day to eat because of the constant climbing and descending. I used a liquid diet to get through the day, no solid food at all.
Escartin won a little over two minutes in front of Lance's chase group, and moved him into second on the G.C. Tomorrow is the last mountain day and for us our last main obstacle before we pull this Tour thing off. I will admit I was nervous this morning because it was such a hard stage and I'm sure it will be the same tomorrow.
The gruppetto was a big one today. Many riders are tired and the first chance they get to sit up they do. Christian was making deals all day in the last group. Guys were so hot and desperate for water they were begging Christian for water and they promised to buy him a beer in Paris. He has a about a case of beer waiting for him at the finish. Prudencio Indurain, while riding in the group, spotted a two-liter bottle of Orangina sitting on a picnic table. When he spotted it he yelled out, "who want's some Orangina?" Of course everyone wanted some, so Prudencio in one swoop swung over into the gravel and grabbed it off the picnic table. It was a party.
After the race Lance got a helicopter ride off the mountain top finish. The rest of us were waiting in the camper for our soigneurs to return so we could drive down the mountain. We were the last team to get off that mountain. It took forever. Luckily, we had a police escort and we made up most of the time that we lost sitting up there doing nothing.
How many Yellow Jersey's do you get in a day? You receive a short sleeve jersey and a long sleeve jersey each morning. After the race you receive a clean new s/s jersey for the podium presentation. Maybe sometimes you have seen the Yellow Jersey that is presented and fastened in the back. This jersey is awarded if it's going over your team jersey. It fastens in the back with velcro so you don't have to try and pull it over your head and look like a fool when it gets stuck.
July 21, 1999
It's over; finally the mountains are behind us. What a nightmare trying to be a climber when I'm not. I will give this for the mountains; it makes for some exciting racing. Today we had 200 kilometers with three major mountains.
The middle climb, the Tourmalet, was the largest and hardest. This morning in our meeting our main goal was to get as many riders over the Tourmalet as possible. After that if we made it over the last climb then great and if we didn't then that's life. The first climb had all the sprinters and guys who were dead, on the first row forming a wall from one side of the road to the other. This was great for us; we went slow the whole way up.
After descending for maybe 10 kilometers we reached the base of the 20-kilometer Tourmalet. As soon as we were about to start the climb, the attacks started coming. George controlled things for a bit, but then we just started riding tempo to try and control things. I rode on the front for a while and guys still were attacking. Stephano Garzelli (Mercaton Uno) attacked and went up to three or four guys that were just sitting in front of us.
I kept it steady but every time I looked up Garzelli was pulling as hard as he could to keep the group away. We still had 15 kilometers to climb, but every time I saw the group he was on the front making hell for me. With eight kilometers to go Tyler and Kevin took over. They set tempo to the top and in doing so dropped Olano. Olano was suffering big time.
After I pulled off I set myself a steady tempo because I knew I had to try and make it over as close to the leaders as possible. Well, when I reached the top Olano was just in front of me. Like I said, he had a bad day. Christian, who again had good climbing legs, was with me in the Olano group.
Kevin explained to me that on the Tourmalet, while riding tempo, Virenque came up to him and asked him what his problem was. Kevin told him he didn't have a problem what was his problem. Virenque looked at Kevin and asked him if he was going "au bloc." That means all out, or very hard. Kevin looked at Virenque and told him "no" are you going "au bloc?" As he said that he clicked up a few gears and rode away. It was funny and Virenque was pissed.
Christian and I caught up to the first group just in time to start the third and final climb. Christian and I rode tempo and as usual guys started attacking. It seems like it is always the jerks that attack and get nowhere. In the middle of the climb Fernando Escartin attacked. He attacked hard on the steepest part of the climb. Right away Lance went with him along with Zulle.
Just behind I saw Virenque start to go and bridge the small gap -- he didn't make it. He went for 200 meters and then blew. The whole time Virenque was trying to chase, Kevin was sitting behind chuckling to himself. On the climb Virenque kept looking around, it must have been driving him crazy that Kevin was there.
Going over the top were three of the favorites, Lance, Zulle, and Escartin. In the back were Dufaux, Virenque, and Olano. The chase was on. The front guys were riding well together in their group of 15 and the rear group couldn't close the gap. In the third group were Christian and me, with a few Rabobanks, a couple of Festina's and a couple of ONCE’s. Also in our group was Garzelli. I was pissed, that guy made today living hell for me and here he is way off the back. I did everything to make his ride to the finish as uncomfortable as possible. I don't like that guy anymore.
Today Escartin pretty much secured his place on the podium. Virenque, Dufaux, and Olano are now more than four minutes back. Escartin should be able to hold on to that kind of lead in the time trial with relatively no problem. Lance still has six minutes over second place and I think he should be able to hold on to that lead also. If he doesn't, I personally will beat him up!!
I suffered big time today, much more than yesterday. After doing so many efforts yesterday I was paying the price a bit today. I think the same thing happened with Dufaux, Virenque, and Olano.
Today, after riding tempo at my limit, I then just dug deep and suffered trying to keep contact with a group over the climbs. I was pedaling as hard as I could, but it didn't seem like I was going anywhere. My legs have worn down and I'm lucky there are only flat days left.
The one thing us flat landers are looking forward to tomorrow is that we will now have six guys riding on the front. No more saving Tyler, and Kevin for the mountains. The mountains are over and now everyone can share in the work.
I'm sick of riding in the wind; it seems like since day one we have been on the front. If I really push it maybe I can get Lance to take a few turns in the paceline.
You can also tell a lot of us are tired. Tired of the race, tired of working, tired of four weeks on the road, and tired of the Tour. Our tempers are short, sarcasm isn't funny, and small mistakes seem like huge problems. I'm sure with just a few more days left in the Tour that things will start relaxing a bit as we start to celebrate and enjoy the teams accomplishment.
Frankie’s Diary: The Lantern Rouge, lactic burners, and keeping a (shut) eye on Lance’s bike
July 22, 1999
Pascal is sitting second from Lantern Rouge right now. Lantern Rouge is the name given to the last rider in the overall. Jay Sweet (Big Mat) held that position for most of the Tour until he was eliminated two days ago, after he finished outside the time limit. Actually this was the second time for, but the commissaries felt sorry for him and kept him in the race. If anything he should get the award for most competitive. He never gave up even when he would get dropped over the first climb. A couple days he rode over 100 kilometers on his own and would finish only four minutes behind the grupetto. That's determination.
I've gotten second on this stage before, but before today’s start I could have guaranteed you that won't happen this year. The good thing was that we had six guys riding on the front instead of our usual three or four. There is no need to save anyone for the mountains now that they are behind us. Since we didn’t have to work at the front, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn't believe it. I saw guys in the race that I haven't seen in three weeks.
Even though I was off of the front it was not an easy day. The start had some big rollers and over the top of each one was a lactic acid burner. When your legs are trying to decide how they feel these rollers drive home the point -- your legs are tired.
As I had hoped, the sprinter teams were doing their job controlling things. A few breaks would go up the road and right away Mapei would chase them down. Eventually eight guys got away and built a lead of eight minutes pretty quickly. The first team to start chasing was Polti, because Virenque was scared of losing his G.C. position to Stephan Heulot as the first French rider. I loved it.
Later the sprinter teams started helping to try and bring the break back for a field sprint. At one time there must have 20 guys riding on the front. Needless to say it was a very fast day. At the finish Steels won easily over Zabel, who had the full train leading into the finish. I think Zabel must be getting desperate by now.
George said today was the best day of the Tour for him. He didn't have to work, he got to sit on the wheels all day, and it was over quickly. I think the best day of the Tour will be the day after the Tour finishes.
Speaking of the day after the Tour finishes, here’s a tradition that will be modified this year. L'Equipe, the French sports newspaper, says it assigns a reporter to follow the winner of the Tour for one day after it finishes. I have a feeling that tradition will be broken this year. Like Lance wants a bunch of journalists that have been breathing down his back for three weeks to be with the day after the Tour finishes. Forget about it!
George and Lance have some criterium lined up for after the Tour. The first criterium is Monday night and then they have one every other day after that. There is no rest for the weary.
Yesterday Olano had his climbing bike out again with the small wheels. It didn't do him any good. With the small wheel he rides a 56 front chain ring to make up for the difference. It's a shame that Olano is on the ONCE team this year. He is the weakest link on the team. The guys were always waiting for him and trying to help him to stay in the first group. Without Olano I'm sure they would have had three or four guys everyday in the first group.
There are only two teams with full squads left in the race, Telekom and Lotto. There are lots of teams with fewer riders, but Saeco and Lampre each have only three riders left.
Each night Julian, our head mechanic, brings Lance's bike in the hotel room with him. He sleeps with the bike just in case something might happen outside. You never know if someone might steal the cars or trucks or whatever. It has happened before.
Yesterday was a hard day in the mountains. At the bottom of the climb it would be sunny and as we climbed the mountain we would enter into the clouds. As we approached the top of the climb the clouds would disappear and the sun would come back out. The coolest sight was after going over the top of the Tourmalet and looking down and seeing a ceiling of white clouds. It took about five kilometers of descending before we entered the clouds, or fog. Once we were in the fog we were not able to descend fast because we couldn't see ten feet in front of us. At the bottom of the climb it would become sunny again. The mountains provide lots of variations in temperature and weather and yesterday was no exception.
July 23, 1999
The amount of people watching the race everyday is incredible. There are rows and rows of people lining the course. Some are nice, some are freaks, some are fans of cyclist -- and maybe some are not.
I always seem to remember stuff the day after it happened. Actually, I found out about this during dinner after I already sent in my article. On the mountain day Christophe Rinero almost got into a fight with a spectator. He was climbing up the mountain and literally took a right turn to the side of the road to chase the guy down. The guy said, "Rinero without EPO, Rinero in the back." Christophe was not happy and I guarantee that if he weren't racing he would have chased the guy down the hill.
Yesterday someone sprayed pepper spray into the peloton near the finish. Five or six riders got dropped immediately because they couldn't breathe, had watery eyes, and some were vomiting. The UCI should have given the guys the same time as the peloton. Like I said, some people are fans and some are not.
This sport is completely accessible by the public. We are always surrounded by people at the start and at the finish. There are no gates, no walls, and no barriers keeping you away from us. This is what appeals to the people and makes cycling that much more special.
This morning the Vampires came again. This time only Lance got tested from our team. I think they were testing the top riders on the G.C., so that meant only one or two from each team.
The race was fast again, the same as yesterday. It must be deceiving when you see the average speed for a race. We go slow the first hour, so that kills our average. Every time I looked down at my speedometer -- yesterday and today -- it was reading 50km/hr. We were not having any easy days this Tour.
The first break that got away today contained 20 riders. There was no ONCE, Banesto or Mapei in the group . This was perfect for us. Actually, anything that went away was OK for us. Every time there was a break the closest guy to Lance was usually 50 minutes down on GC. Every one of you reading this could keep a time gap like that under control.
Because of the team G.C. Banesto and ONCE were chasing a lot of the breaks back. Finally, after four major breaks and 130km, the final break went away. There was a Banesto in there this time, but again no ONCE.
They rode on the front for the remainder of the race, trying to keep their six-minute lead on team G.C. The whole team rode -- except Olano and Peron. At the finish Giampaolo Mondeni (Cantina Tollo) won by jumping away with about two kilometers. Again, a French rider was denied a stage win at this year’s Tour.
Our morning meeting was very simple; in fact it was so simple we had it over the walkie-talkies from one camping car to the other. Our one job for the day was to keep Lance in the front and out of trouble. The meeting was over in five minutes. About 40 minutes after we had the meeting Christian looked up and asked us if we were going to have a meeting this morning. We all started laughing. He was listening to music with his headphones on, so he didn't hear anything. We told him Johan said he had to attack from the gun, serious.
The T.T. is tomorrow. Lance's lead is pretty safe and each day we get close we tend to relax a little more and realize we pulled it off. Or you could say Lance pulled it off. We are all excited about riding on to the Champs-Elysees with the Yellow Jersey on our wheels. Actually, one year LeMond -- in the Yellow -- attacked the peloton and came on to the Champs 30 seconds ahead of the pack. The crowd went wild. Bernard Hinault also won one time on the Champs wearing the Yellow Jersey. How cool is that? After the T.T. it might be possible that Lance will have more than a seven-minute lead on the second-placed rider. With that much time he could probably get lapped and still keep the jersey. Don't worry, we won't let that happen.
Tomorrow is my last article. I'll explain why tomorrow. I want to say thanks for reading the updates and I hope they have been enjoyable. I tried to give you the feel of being inside the Tour and what it feels like to be at the Tour. Thanks for all your support throughout the three weeks.
July 24, 1999
Today is my last article. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the hotel in Paris that we stay at was built in 1970 or something and getting online is impossible. Two is that after the race it's usually pretty quick that we have to change and get ready to go out. Three is that I have not seen my wife for about seven weeks and I don't think it would go over too well if I opened my computer to write an article. Four is that the writing bug in me has dwindled considerably. I hope I've made it interesting for you and you've learned more about the insides of the Tour. The results don't always tell the whole story.
Today was a relatively simple straightforward 57km T.T. It was one big loop with not so many turns, but it was very, very windy. It seemed like it was a crosswind the whole day. At least I never felt a tail wind; then again I'm a bit under the weather. I came down with a cold two days ago and I'm suffering. I became too worn down after the last two mountain days and my body caved in. I can't complain because we are at the end of the Tour. It's better to be sick now than earlier in the weeks. Today I could feel the pain in my lungs while trying to ride; it's not a good feeling.
Lance was on fire again. He had an all yellow skin suit for the T.T. but it turned out to not fit him right. He also had a yellow T.T. helmet but since he wasn't wearing the all yellow skin suit he threw that to the side also. I don't think it mattered what he wore, he still would have won.
Tyler also had an incredible ride. His determination in the T.T's is hard to match. He finished a fantastic third place. It's been very noticeable the increase in American flags that are out on the road waving us on. Today there were lots of Americans lining the course.
The French definitely know how to make it a comfortable day out at the bike race. I saw many portable picnic tables, couches, lounge chairs, and even mattresses. It's though they bring their mini home to the race. Umbrellas, coolers, tables, chairs, portable TV's, every thing to make the hours pass as comfortable as possible.
After today whatever the G.C. results are they will stay the same. It's a tradition on the last day that we don't really race until the final circuits. Granted, we don't always go slow either. One year the Italians had to catch a flight out after the race so they went to the front and rode tempo all day. It was horrible, the whole day we were single file and didn't get to relax at all. I hope this year will be like the old ways.
Tomorrow morning we take the TGV (high-speed train) to the start city for the last day. Normally the first three teams on G.C. get first class cars and everyone else is in the back. Since tomorrow is the last day we will be celebrating a bit. Look for us wearing something special on the Champs. I thought of the idea, Lance approved it, and Pearl Izumi put it into action. Pearl had one day to get it done so I give them the thumbs up.
After the Champs we are having a big party with the team and all the sponsors. The last couple nights we have been trying to build up our tolerance for alcohol. The first night I had one beer and was as loose tongued as you get. The second night we were working on the wine, George made it to five glasses when he decided he had hit his threshold. At the party I'm sure we'll have a mixture of beer and wine which will probably be a disaster for all of us. At this point I don't think anyone cares.
Now that the Tour is over Lance will be busy doing some criteriums in Holland and Germany. He will also be busy doing a lot of television and press stuff in America next week. For the rest of us it's back to bike racing like it used to be. In two weeks I have San Sebastian, then Tour of Denmark, Hamburg, and maybe Tour of Holland. The season may be only half over but since we did so well at the Tour it doesn't really matter what happens the rest of the year -- in my opinion.
I do need to give a "thanks" to Bikesport, my local bike shop at home in Dearborn, Michigan. I've mentioned before how important our staff is to the success of the team. On the road our mechanics keep everything working and when I'm at home it's Bikesport that keeps me on the road. I just want them to know that their help makes all the difference in the world.
It's hard to believe I've been writing every day for three weeks. At the start it's easy but as the last week approaches it becomes more difficult. This probably became obvious in how I wrote and the length of the articles. Every year after the Tour you think to yourself "never again -- it's too hard"; it's the same feeling with these articles. Like I've said before, I hope you enjoyed the columns and learned something about racing in the Tour.
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