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Frankie’s Diary: An American in yellow 

                   This report filed July 4, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu                    U.S. Postal Service rider 

                   It's the 4th of July. Kind of cool having an American in the Yellow Jersey today. It's the first time for an American on an American team to have the Yellow. I don't know how many years I've had tons of reporters ask me if I'd like to win on America's big day. It's probably the next best thing having the jersey on the team. 

                   From day one the plan was to be at top form for the Tour. Specifically, Lance, Kevin, and Tyler shared this goal. All of them have come up to that challenge. After a tranquil spring these riders, including Jonathon, put their noses to the grindstone in preparing for the Tour. They had two different camps in the Pyrenees and Alps to look at the Tour's mountain stages. Each camp was about one week long that included several back to back seven-hour days in the mountains. 

                   From their mini camp they went to Classic des Alpes, Dauphine, and Rut du Sud. From looking at the results from these races it was obvious the teams plan was working. The hard part now is continuing this early success of wearing the Yellow Jersey through the next three weeks. 

                   We woke up to rain and finished in the rain. It was a 208km long wet day. The main object today was to keep Lance out of trouble and try to let George go for some of the time bonus sprints. Before the stage we had the usual sign on but today we also had a team presentation because we were leading the team G.C. At the presentation each rider gets one of the Credit Lyonnais lions. For some reason they had only eight today, I got flicked. I told the guy tomorrow I wanted two lions, to make up for the one I missed today. 

                   When Lance arrived at the start area it was pure chaos. He might as well have been a rock star in the middle of New York. There were cameras and journalists everywhere trying to get at him.  At the start Lance even said it was crazy, "It's nice to get on the bike and get away from all that." 

                   At the start of the race everyone was seeing how they felt. Eventually a rider from Big Mat, Thierry Gouvenou, got away by himself. Peter and I then rode on the front for about 100 kilometers keeping the time gained on the peloton in check. We let him stay around four or five minutes until the sprinter teams would take over for the finish. We have to keep the time kind of close otherwise the sprinter teams won't show interest in putting in an effort to go for the stage. 

                   In the final sprint Kirispuu (Casino) won in front of Steels (Mapei). George got pinned along the barriers and waited for a gap to open but it never happened. Because of the bonus sprints on the road and the finish bonus Kirsipuu is now around 16 seconds from Lance and O'Grady (Gan) is 20 seconds back. 

                   Every day the souigneurs make sandwiches for the riders for after the race and for the staff for lunch. They have to make about twenty-seven sandwiches every morning. 

                   In the races there are two ways to tell if one of us on the team is riding a spare Trek bike. The first is that the spare bikes have yellow clincher tires on them, while our Rolf race wheels have tubulars. The second way, which is a guarantee a rider is on a spare bike is the color of the water bottle cages. Our race bikes have black cages and all the spares have red cages. This makes it easy for the mechanics to keep the bikes apart and know which bikes have to go on which cars for the race. 

                   I saw Jeff Pierce today. One year Jeff won the final stage of the Tour on the Champs in Paris.  He broke away solo and more impressive stayed away, -- something that never happens nowadays. He mentioned the last time he had been to Europe was nine years ago. 

                   He is here with Lotto and GT bicycles. They became the sponsor of the team when Lotto became very unhappy with Vitus, their old bike sponsor. Jeff said they finalized the deal in the first week of June and now the entire team is on GT's. To outfit a Tour team that quickly is an incredible feat. 


Monday 5 July 1999 Tour de France: Armstrong's strength in focus on day for sprinters                           By Phil Liggett in Challans

                          ESTONIAN champion Jaan Kirsipuu opened up the sprinters' account in the Tour de France yesterday when he won the 130-mile opening road race from Montaigu to Challans in the Vendée.

                          It brought to an end a wet day in eastern France nd a feast for the fast-finishers of the 2,400-mile race.

                          Kirsipuu, known for his dominance in lesser European races has never before produced such an inspired finish in a Tour de France, and with a final lunge his 13th win of the season was at the expense of Belgian Tom Steels and German Erik Zabel.

                          Overall Kirsipuu moved up to sixth, but did not spoil the Independence Day celebrations for American Lance Armstrong who held on to the lead he gained after winning the prologue time trial on Saturday. It is a situation which will probably change today as the sprinters wipe out their time trial deficit by snatching small time bonuses along the route.

                          Heavy rain, which at times made the route through an undulating countryside hazardous, caused the 180 riders to concentrate on the special sprints and one small climb.

                          It was left to Frenchman Thierry Gouvenou to enliven the day with an attack which lasted for 70 miles, but in the end he surrendered to the inevitable as the main teams chased him down with 10 miles to go. A dozen riders fell in a crash two miles before he was caught but only Italian Francesco Secchiari was left behind and trailed home more than 13 minutes behind.

                          It has become clearly apparent after only two days, that the race has no obvious leader of the big pack and when the race for the finish began, no one team could control the enthusiasm of a new-look event which has 51 first-timers in it.

                          Armstrong's win in the prologue time trial at Le Puy du Fou was not entirely unexpected, but it came as a great relief to the organizers when a rider who has never been connected to any of the drugs scandals during the past year led the way home.

                          For the Texan, who has fought cancer since 1996, it was a great personal triumph and it put the darkest years of his life behind him. His testicular cancer had been at an advanced stage when it was discovered in October 1996 and only faith in his doctors helped him through 18 months of severe distress.

                          Armstrong returned to the sport last year, missing the Tour de France, but showing his return to the highest levels when he finished fourth in the world road and time trial titles and also the Tour of Spain.

                          Armstrong said: "This should be a fantastic example to all cancer survivors.  It is possible to return to a professional life and maybe I can prove that it's also possible to be better than before."

                          Two riders, however, were considered lucky to be allowed to start the race when Spaniards Javier Otxon (Kelme) and Jose-Luis Rebollo (ONCE) both gave readings of the oxygen boosted EPO in excess of the permitted figure of 50 per cent.

                          Otxon was allowed to ride after he produced a permit allowing a reading of up to 52 per cent because he has a naturally attained high hematocrit level.  In last month's Tour of Italy he had not been so lucky and was thrown out.

                          Rebollo, a late replacement for world No 1 Laurent Jalabert, also had such a permit, but his manager Monolo Saiz had forgotten to inform the testing doctors when they visited all 10 hotels of the teams between 7.00 and 9.00 on Saturday morning.

                          The short time trial for all 180 riders exposed few weaknesses for the long road ahead, but it did, on this occasion, deny a fourth opening win for Britain's Chris Boardman. He found the small hill long enough to blunt his natural speed and finished only fifth.


Kirsipuu enjoys win in Challans; Armstrong remains in yellow

                   This report filed July 4, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey                    VeloNews technical editor

                   Though known for his ferocious sprint and now riding in his sixth Tour de France, Casino’s Jaan Kirsipuu had never taken a stage at the Grande Boucle. But that dry spell ended on the damp streets of Challans on Sunday, as the 29-year-old Estonian emerged at the front of a 179-rider field, beating some of the best sprinters in the business. And while the Casino rider had ample reason to enjoy the day, American Lance Armstrong celebrated the Fourth of July in his own special way by holding on to the Tour’s overall lead and finishing his day in yellow.

                   The rolling 208-kilometer stage from Montaigu to Challans ended as most would have predicted, with nearly the entire field speeding down the finishing straight (only Saeco’s Francesco Secchiari finished out of the group, suffering a 13-minute loss after being involved in a pileup some 25 kilometers from the finish.) But it was not for lack of trying that the day ended as it did.  The stage was marked by two valiant, albeit unsuccessful, solo efforts that might have, just might have made a difference….

                   The morning’s intermittent rains steadily increased in Montaigu as the 180 riders from the Tour’s 20 teams arrived at the Village Depart for the daily sign-in. By 11:40 a.m., as the peloton rode team by team to the formal starting ceremony at Montaigu’s Place du Champ de Foire, the rain had picked up to a steady drizzle. It was a wet, cloudy start to the 1999 Tour de France, and one that seemed not to encourage the fast and aggressive opening stages of recent Tours. Indeed, for the first hour, the peloton rode at a relatively sedate 37-kph pace, while no one made even an effort to move off the front.

                   It wasn’t until the 65-kilometer mark that Credit Agricole’s Sebastien Hinault tried the first attack of this year’s Tour de France. The effort quickly faded, but gave rise to what was potentially the day’s most serious threat, as French veteran Thierry Gouvenou, accelerated away from the field with 130 kilometers to go. Finding himself completely alone, the 30-year-old Big Mat-Auber 93 rider set off to benefit from a welcomed out-of-sight-out-of-mind advantage offered by a course that dipped and wound its way through the green countryside of the Vendée region.

                   By the time Gouvenou had reached the day’s halfway mark, he had more than a six-minute advantage over the field… a bit too much for Armstrong’s comfort and so his the Postal crew moved to the front. Over the following kilometers, Gouvenou’s lead was slowly whittled away until, with just 23 of the day’s 208 kilometers remaining, the tiring Frenchman was well within sight of the field when a crash disrupted the flow of the peloton. However, all but one rider -- the unfortunate Secchiari -- remounted, quickly rejoined and were there when Gouvenou was reabsorbed by the field seven kilometers later. And that, thought Belgian national champion Ludo Dierckxens, was the perfect opportunity to launch his own solo effort.

                   As the peloton sped toward Challans, the Lampre-Daikin rider dangled off the front, never managing to build a commanding lead, but staying far enough ahead to fuel his hopes. With 10 kilometers remaining, the 34-year-old Dierckxens held a slim 22-second advantage.

                   But the 10-kilometer mark was also where the powerhouse teams moved to the front to set up their best sprinters. Again, within just a few kilometers, Dierckxens was soon part of a peloton now led by a wall of Saeco red.

                   Again it looked as though the day might again belong to a Zabel, Cipollini or O’Grady as the teams set up their best for the first real test of the final sprint: a sharp left turn, some 350 meters from the finish. Riders lucky enough to take that turn in good position were in prime position as they entered the wide finishing straight. Indeed, Saeco and Cipollini were not among the fortunate. O’Grady, Zabel, Mapei’s Tom Steels, the U.S. Postal Service’s George Hincapie and La Française des Jeux’s young sprint specialist Jimmy Casper were … and so was Kirsipuu. As Steels, Zabel and Kirsipuu moved toward the finish, O’Grady found himself in an awkward position, boxed in on the far right of the road. Despite the size of the finishing bunch, it was down to a contest of three and Kirsipuu emerged the victor.

                   Clearly pleased, the Casino rider voiced relief at the fact that his Tour drought had ended and that he had not only earned Estonia its first-ever Tour stage win but also taken the Tour’s green points jersey. Kirsipuu had cause for celebration and 41 places back – credited with the same finishing time – Armstrong found his tastes tended toward a brighter color: yellow.

                   The Texan maintains a seven-second lead over Banesto’s Alex Zülle, the one-time Festina rider, whose best-ever Tour finish was second overall in 1995.

                   The Tour de France resumes tomorrow with a 176-kilometer stage from Challans to Saint Nazaire. And once more rain is in the forecast.


JOHN WILCOCKSON’S STAGE ANALYSIS

                   This report filed July 4, 1999

                   By John Wilcockson                    VeloNews editor

                   Going into the stage, Armstrong said that his U.S. Postal Service team was not going to defend the yellow jersey at all costs. But when Gouvenou’s lead topped five minutes, he and team director Johan Bruyneel decided to honor their race leadership by setting an increased  tempo for the pack. They set the pace for about 90 minutes until the hot-spot sprint at La Roche-sur-Yon, where Christian Vande Velde and George Hincapie cleverly slipped off the front to take the two time bonuses, as the rest of the team eased up. So with 45 kilometers remaining, the Postals’ work was over for the day, leaving the sprinters’ teams to close the final three minutes on breakaway Gouvenou.

                   The small pileup with 23km to go had an affect on the final sprint, as a slower-than-usual was set to allow the delayed riders to get back to the peloton. So the usual regimented leadout for Mario Cipollini did not materialize, and a half-dozen teams had sprinters in contention over the final kilometers. This helped Kirsipuu, who said, "The sprint was not controlled at all."  He was able to use his great strength to take his 15th victory of the season – the biggest total of anyone in UCI-sanctioned races. World No. 1 Laurent Jalabert – not riding the Tour – is next with 13 wins for the year.