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Stage 10

Frankie's Diary: A "Photo" Finish

                   July 14
                   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 thought 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.

A Kodak moment for Guerini

                   This report filed July 14, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews technical editor

                   Telekom’s Giuseppe Guerini earned his team’s first stage win at this year’s Tour de France as he soloed to victory in the final kilometers of the famous climb to L'Alpe d'Huez. But the 29-year-old Italian’s moment in the sun was almost … almost ended when an enthusiastic fan stepped into the road with hopes of recording the moment for posterity. Happily, Guerini emerged only shaken from his close encounter of the weirdest kind, to win the Tour’s most famous alpine stage. Finishing in fifth place, just 25 seconds behind the day’s winner, the U.S. Postal Service’s Lance Armstrong not only defended, but extended, his commanding lead in the overall standings.

                   Guerini emerged from an all-star group of climbers today to take a hard-earned win in this Tour’s 10th stage, a 220.5-kilometer grind that spanned three spectacular hors categorie ascents, including the stunningly beautiful Col de Croix de Fer, and ended at the ski village of L’Alpe d’Huez. But from a long-term perspective, the big winner of the day was Armstrong, who managed to keep pace with the top climbers on the Tour’s most difficult day and finish well ahead of Abraham Olano, the ONCE team rider who started the day already six minutes behind the American. Armstrong now holds a seemingly insurmountable lead of 7:42 over the Spaniard, with Banesto’s Alex Zulle another five seconds behind.

                   Guerini, who joined the German team to serve as the mountains lieutenant for Jan Ullrich, and then became his replacement when Ullrich was injured, made his winning move soon after a powerful chase group had ended Stephane Heulot’s (La Francaise des Jeux) hopes of earning a French victory on this most sought-after stage on Bastille day. Heulot had initiated a potentially winning break with his good friend and countryman Thierry Bourguignon (BigMat-Auber ’93) 150 kilometers earlier on the descent of Col du Mont Cenis, the first of the day’s three major climbs. With two more hors categorie climbs to go, the day’s 167 starters had crested Mont Cenis largely together, losing only a few stragglers on the way. But sensing an opportunity, the French pair attacked on the twisting, wind-blown turns of the steep descent.

                   The duo worked to build a lead of more than 11 minutes over the following 60 kilometers, a largely downhill stretch, leading to the foot of the Col de la Croix de Fer, a long 29-kilometer grind up a road that averages 4.7 percent -- but that includes a couple of descents between several steeper uphill sections. Indeed, the climb begins with a three-kilometer opening grade of 10 percent and then twists and winds its way up a steady slope, well beyond treeline to an altitude of 2067 meters. As the two Frenchmen climbed past thousands of their delighted countrymen, the field behind was beginning to jetison its dead weight. And the climbers were beginning to emerge from the crowd.

                   All the while, Armstrong’s Postal contingent stood guard, leading the chase and making certain that the two leaders ahead would not get the benefit of additional help from an added companion. Halfway up the Croix de Fer, Cofidis’s Roland Meier – a strong climber, who last year worked in the shadow of his now absent team leader, Bobby Julich – charged to the front.

                   By the summit of the Croix de Fer, Heulot and Bourguignon still had a lead of six minutes over a dwindling field, led by the Postal Service’s Tyler Hamilton, intent on riding with and for Armstrong as long as he could. In between the leaders and the main group, Meier, working to join the pair at the front and add a bit of fuel to their effort … and maybe earn a stage win in the process. Meier’s effort was for naught…

                   By the time the leaders reached the valley town of Le Bourg d’Oisans, 16 kilometers from the mountaintop finish, their lead had dwindled to 4:35. Turning on to the famed 21-switchback climb of the Alpe d’Huez, Bourguignon began to fade, losing 100 meters to his companion in the opening kilometer. Heulot was on his own and beginning to tire….

                   Behind the potential French hero, a powerful chase group that was composed of Hamilton, Armstrong, Olano, Guerini, Zulle and Manuel Beltran, also of the Banesto squad. There, too, were Saeco-Cannondale’s Laurent Dufaux, Kelme’s Fernando Escartin and Carlos Contreras, climbing points leader Richard Virenque (Polti), Lotto-Mobistar’s Kurt van de Wouwer, Casino’s Benoit Salmon, and his teammate Alex Vinikourov, the winner of this year’s Dauphine. Also there were Mapei’s Pavel Tonkov, a former Giro d’Italia winner who was getting help from his teammate Daniele Nardello.

                   Tonkov took the initiative and attacked. His move was quickly answered by an ever-wary Armstrong. Then Zulle made his own attempt, passing Armstrong and Tonkov. Then Escartin led a charge that, too, triggered a response from Armstrong, and left Zulle and Virenque chasing  madly.

                   Ahead, Heulot was beginning to tire, and Bourguignon still drifting back to the chasers, was reeled in with seven kilometers to go.

                   Winding his way through the hundreds of thousands of fans lining the 14-kilometer climb, Heulot held out hope. It was, after all, France’s national day and this was France’s national tour.  What better time to earn France’s first stage win? But it was not to be. Nearing the ski area, atop the climb, Heulot began to wobble and the eight chasers behind him had the Frenchman in their sights. At four kilometers to go, Heulot succumbed to the inevitable, and was caught and passed.

                   Two kilometers of jockeying, and Guerini made his move. The Italian charged off the front, leaving behind him a group perhaps more concerned with each other than the Telekom rider up the road. Guerini’s move was beginning to stick, his lead soon passing 30 seconds….

                   Passing beneath the one-kilometer-to-go banner, Guerini was already preparing himself to take the last two turns to the finish line.

                   "I had it all worked out in my mind how it was going to be," he later recalled. "It was turning into the greatest moment in my life… and it almost became the worst moment in my life."

                   Nearing the 800-meter mark, Guerini looked up and saw an enthused fan step into the road, planning just to snap a picture and jump back to the side. Guerini predicted the rogue photographer’s line and even adjusted his to compensate. Nothing, not even an over-enthusiastic fan, would stand in his way … or so he thought.

                   Lowering his camera, and seeing his perspective change, the fan panicked, hesitated and then stepped directly into Guerini’s path. The Italian crashed to the ground…

                   "And all I could think was, ‘Oh no, I am going to lose the stage," he explained. "I was very lucky because I could have broken my collarbone with that idiot getting in my way. That is the great risk of these stages, but it could have cost me dearly."

                   He remounted, ignored his now-embarrassed obstacle, and continued on, struggling to put his foot back in the pedal. But fortune smiled on Telekom’s newest recruit. In less than two kilometers, Guerini had built enough of a margin that he could continue toward the end, negotiate the Alpe d’Huez’s final turn and finish, celebrating his victory right in front of Deutsche Telekom’s chairman, who had flown to France, just for the stage.

                   Tonkov charged across the line 21 seconds later, followed by Escartin, Zulle, Armstrong, Virenque, Dufaux and Van de Wouwer another four seconds behind. Olano finished at 2:04, allowing Armstrong to build on his overall lead.  At day’s end, Armstrong leads Olano by 7:42, with Zulle just another five seconds back.  Virenque, based on his performance early in today’s stage, has kept the climber’s jersey.

                   Race note: -- For the first time since the opening day of the Tour de France in Le Puy du Fou, the Union Cycliste Internationale’s medical team showed up at the race to take early-morning blood samples from riders on 10 teams. Tests were conducted at team hotels in Sestriere. All riders on the Mapei, Cantina Tollo, Casino, Banesto, Vitalicio, ONCE, Mercatone Uno, Festina, Cofidis and Credit Agricole teams were tested and none indicated hematocrit levels over 50 – the UCI’s maximum limit, established in 1996. The test and the limit are designed as a "safety" measure since no definitive test has been approved to detect possible use of the synthetic hormone designed to promote red blood cell production.

Stage 10 Analysis

                   John Wilcockson in L'Alpe d'Huez

                   After the exertions that everyone made on Tuesday in the epic stage to Sestriere, no one was looking for another highly charged battle in the mountains. That didn't mean that a stage over three of the longest, highest climbs in the Alps was a sinecure. Far from it. Especially for race leader Lance Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teammates. On all the sectors where they had to pull the pack -- up all three climbs, and on the long valley road between the Mont Cenis and Croix-de-Fer mountains -- they had to ride into fierce head winds.

                   Up the longest climb, the 29km Croix de Fer, Frankie Andreu did the initial pull; he gave way to George Hincapie; and then Kevin Livingston and Tyler Hamilton took over the pace-making, and in the process cut the lead of Frenchmen Thierry Bourgignon and Stephane Heulot from 11 minutes to six minutes. Livingston, who crashed heavily in the rain on Tuesday, dropped back before the Croix de Fer summit, so Hamilton (who also crashed Tuesday) was Armstrong's only teammate left when they hit the notorious L'Alpe d'Huez.

                   Hamilton did an extraordinary job, despite his many cuts and bruises. The New Englander, his jersey unzipped to his waist, set the tempo for the first (and steepest) five kilometers of the 14km climb, going fast enough to drop chief rival Abraham Olano, before Hamilton finally sat up.  This left Armstrong alone in a group that had been reduced to fewer than 10 riders, but none of his main challengers (Alex Zulle, Fernando Escartin, Laurent Dufaux and Richard Virenque) had the strength to get rid of a confident Armstrong, despite their various attempts.

                   Hamilton did well to finish 18th on the stage, only 2:20 behind Armstrong, and now occupies 20th place overall. Unfortunately, Livingston's  relatively bad day saw the Postal Service lose its lead in the overall team competition, dropping from first to third, behind ONCE and Mapei.

                   Tomorrow, the 199km stage 11 from the base of L'Alpe d'Huez to St. Etienne will give a chance for the riders well down on G.C. to try for a stage win. And, hopefully, Hamilton, Livingston and their colleagues will get a chance to ride a more peaceful stage.

Guerini - King Of The Queen of Climbs

Giuseppe Guerini has continued the Italian success stories at the summit of the Queen of the Climbs, L'Alpe d'Huez. Following the tradition of Marco Pantani (in 1995 & 1997), Roberto Conti (in 1994) and Gianni Bugno (in 1990 & 1991), the Telekom team-man has taken his first Tour stage win on the day the Tour left Italy.

Guerini's ride was timed to perfection. And even a fall in the final kilometer didn't give his more-favored pursuiviants the chance to add their name to the stage which all climbers dream of winning.

With 3km to race - and from a very select group of overall challengers including the yellow-clad winner of yesterday's stage, Lance Armstrong, as well as Alex Zulle and Pavel Tonkov - Guerini surged ahead to what looked certain to be a fine solo win.

Then one of the many fans which make the 21-hairpin climb to L'Alpe d'Huez so famous added to the drama. With a camera distorting the view of the rapidly approaching soon-to-be-stage winner, a fan quickly turned from anonymity to stupidity personified. Smack-bang in the middle of the road, and with only 800 meters remaining, Guerini's victorious escapade momentarily turned into a panic parade.

The adrenaline surge which the prospect of a Tour stage win can create, however, allowed 'Beppe to bounce back up and onto his Pinarello bike barely without distraction. He stormed up the constant rise to the finish with a 21-second advantage over the fast-chasing Pavel Tonkov and still had time for a glorious victory salute.

The drama of the closing meters of this epic stage from Sestrieres to L'Alpe d'Huez didn't quite offer the heart-pounding excitement of yesterday's attack by the yellow jersey in appalling conditions; but it still showed class of the current yellow jersey Armstrong and his sensational team-men as well as the fallibillity of riders like Alex Zulle, Abraham Olano and the apparent Mercatone Uno miracle man, Stefano Garzelli.

Armstrong rode the race of a champion, ensuring his main rivals were kept in check when it mattered most. This tactic, plus superb pace-setting by Tyler Hamilton proved that Armstrong's new two-year contract with the US Postal squad (announced two days ago) is no foolish mistake. For the most-part of the torturous 13.8 closing kilometers, Hamilton set a furious pace. His efforts quelled any ambitions from the ever-present - but cautious - Zulle. At the finish Armstrong's 5th place offered a 25" deficit to Guerini and gave Zulle (4th for the day and 3rd overall) no gains what-so-ever.

Zulle, like Armstrong, has team-men who seemed intent on blowing themselves apart for the benefit of their leader. Ad today's Banesto hero was Manuel Beltran. The 178cm, 60kg mountain rocket was the main man responsible for bringing back the day-long break of Stephane Heulot - who lingered out front until 3.3km from the finish.

Olano's ONCE team-men, Andrea Peron, David Etxebarria & Marcus Serrano nursed the time trial world champion throughout the day. And even while in touch at the beginning of the final rise, he still faultered - losing 2'04" to Guerini (and 1'39" to Armstrong). He maintains his slender 2nd overall (5 seconds clear of Zulle).

Today also gave the Tour the first real showing of the apparent heir to the climbing throne of Marco Pantani, the Mercatone Uno leader, Stefano Garzelli. And while his minor attack on the Col de la Croix de Fer was sudden, it was essentially unimpressive. He finished the day over 19 minutes behind his compatriot Guerini.

The mountains maketh the men of the Tour. And today, was Guerini's opportunity to show that he has the ability to shine in France as well as his native Italy (where he's finished 3rd in the Giro d'Italia). He begins tomorrow's stage from le Bourg-d'Oisans to Saint Etienne in in 9th overall. But today he is the King of the Queen of climbs.