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Stage 12

Frankie’s Diary: Vampires and a nightmare

                   This report filed July 16, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service rider

                   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 recover 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 get 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.

Stage 12 Analysis

                   John Wilcockson in St. Flour

                   Friday's stage of the Tour de France didn't produce the fireworks that were expected on a course that never ceased to turn, climb and dip through the hills of the Massif Central. Except for a flurry of attacks on the day's first climb, the Col de la Croix de l'Homme Mort (which translates to the Dead Man's Cross Pass) that Lance Armstrong and his Postal team managed to control, the stage followed the pattern seen on Thursday. The main difference was that 50 riders were dropped on that opening climb and  never got back to the peloton, and had to chase for the remaining 170km. Among them was Aussie Stuart O'Grady, who as a result lost the green points jersey to Telekom's Erik Zabel, 15th on the stage, by three points.

                   The day's main break formed over Friday's second climb, and had 14 riders instead of Thursday's seven, and by the end had 12 minutes advantage instead of 22. But the gap would have been much bigger than 12 minutes had the Banesto team not pulled the peloton over the final 20km to prevent the break's best-placed rider, Stephane Heulot, from taking over Alex Zulle's third place overall. As it was, Heiulot moved up from 21st to sixth on G.C., to become the Tour's top French rider, 9:10 behind Armstrong. The race leader showed that he is strong and ready for any challenges to his yellow jersey with a strong finish up a 2km climb to St. Flour; Armstrong followed teammate Tyler Hamilton's wheel for most of the hill, then comfortably shadowed accelerations by Zulle and Zabel.

                   One reason that the stage was not as selective as predicted was the weather. Instead of heat-wave conditions, temperatures remained in the 70s, making the stage less selective. But those riders who were dropped still had a hard day, including many who had come through the Alps nursing injuries or sickness. One of these was Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Gotti, who abandoned the race at the day's feed zone.  Another, Swede Magnus Backstedt, a stage winner last year, was forced to give up with a painful knee strain.

                   Sadly, the day's most notable absentee was Frenchman Christophe Bassons, the 25-year-old former Festina team rider, who did not start the stage. Bassons, now on the Francaise des Jeux team, is the cyclist who was recognized as totally rejecting any form of drug use at Festina.  Now riding his first Tour, Bassons has been penning a daily column for French national newspaper Aujourd'hui, in which he has been outspoken about being a "clean" rider. As such, he has become something of a personality in France, and been the subject of frequent TV interviews. After yet another interview last night, he was the last of his team to the dinner table and was laughed at by his teammates. His directeur sportif Marc Madiot then told Bassons that he either had to be a full-time rider or a media personality, not both. Bassons told friends that he was in tears when he went to bed and couldn't sleep. With more balance in his approach, the drug-free Bassons could have become a fine example for other young cyclists.  Instead, he has become the unwitting latest victim of the 1998 Festina affair.

                   On Saturday, the 155 survivors (25 have fallen by the wayside in the first two weeks), face the longest stage of the Tour: 236.5km from here to Albi. A head wind is predicted in the latter part of the hilly stage, with 90-degree temperatures by the finish.

Etxebarria wins at St. Flour, Armstrong stays in yellow

                   This report filed July 16, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews technical editor

                   Spainiard David Etxebarria took today’s stage from St. Galmier to St. Flour, finishing half-a-minute ahead of Credit Agricole’s Francois Simon. Lance Armstrong continues to hold on to the Tour de France’s overall lead, finishing in the main field 12 minutes behind the stage winner.

                   Extebarria, who began today’s stage in 27th place, 28:06 behind Armstrong, was among a group of 12 riders who managed to bridge up to Italians Massimiliano Lelli of Cofidis and Alberto Belli of Telekom. who had broken away just seven kilometers into the 201.5-kilometer stage.  Etxebarria’s win improves his position in the Tour’s General Classification, moving him up to 15th, now 15:11 behind race leader Armstrong.  Telekom’s three-time green jersey winner Erik Zabel – who started the day just narrowly behind Credit Agricole’s Stuart O’Grady – earned enough points today to move just ahead of the Australian. Polti’s Richard Virenque continues to hold the polka-dot climber’s jersey.

                   Perhaps boosted by this Tour’s first success of a long breakaway in yesterday’s stage to St. Etienne, attacks came fast and furiously early today. When Elli and Lelli took off on what appeared to be an early futile attempt at another long break, the pair were let go by the main field and they were soon joined by Australian Rabobank rider Robbie McEwen. The trio built a 1:40 lead over the U.S. Postal Service-led peloton in the first 20 kilometers, but but on the slopes of the day’s first ascent – the cateory 2 Croix de l'Homme Mort – McEwen faltered, drifting back to the field as the duo of Elli and Lelli moved on without him.

                   Over the ensuing 40 kilometers, the two were joined by 12 other riders, including Etxebarria and Stephane Heulot, the Francaise des Jeux rider who was caught in the final kilometers on the slopes of L’Alpe d’Huez after a long breakaway effort on Wednesday.

                   It was from this group that Etxebarria launched his successful charge in the final 25 kilometers, climbing the Cote de Vedrines-St. Loup.  Etxebarria soloed up the slopes leading to St. Flour, the beautiful walled capital city of France’s Haute Auvergne region. French national champion Simon jumped away from three chasers on the climb to the finish, but couldn’t get closer than 25 seconds to the young Spanish rider.

                   Etxebarria said he doubted his chances of earning a stage win throughout his charge through the final kilometers. "I realized I might just win only 500 meters before the finish," the Basque rider recalled. "Looking back at Simon at one kilometer, I said to myself ‘Oh my god I have to suffer to pull this out.’"

                   Etxebarria dedicated the win to his family and credited much of his success as a rider to the team’s most famous absent member, Laurent Jalabert, who has opted out of the race as a protest of the French Cycling Federation’s stringent medical-control program. Extebarria, however, said he was pleased that the team itself decided to come to the Tour.

                   "Jalabert has taught me a lot and supported me a great deal," he said. "He has always encouraged me…. We wanted to come, but of course, I would have accepted the decision not to come. I hope this shows that we have a role to play at this Tour and I believe that we will have a place on the podium in Paris." A distinct possibility as Extebarria’s team leader Abraham Olano, now holds on to second place in the Tour’s overall standings, 7:44 behind Armstrong, but just three seconds ahead of Banesto’s Alex Zulle.

                   Perhaps as noteworthy as today’s winners, was one rider who did not start today. La Francaise des Jeux’s Christophe Bassons has been on a one-man crusade against doping in the sport, alluding to -- but making no specific allegations regarding -- the continued presence of drugs in the peloton. Bassons. Bassons’s daily diary did not appear in the Friday edition of French newspaper Aujourd’hui. Thursday’s edition carried a brief entry in which Bassons recounted an alleged conversation between himself and Armstrong, in which the yellow jersey-clad Postal rider suggested that if the Frenchman was dissatisfied and constantly suspicious of his rivals, he should consider leaving the race.

                   Armstrong today characterized the exchange as a simple disagreement between adults and said nothing should be read into it. The withdrawal of Bassons underscores the environment of skepticism that has greeted the stunning performance by the 27-year-old American.  French news reports have frequently relied on headlines that carry only slightly veiled double meanings, describing Armstrong’s recent win at Sestriere as "Extraterrestial" and "Unbelievable."


Saturday 17 July 1999

Tour de France: Armstrong denies drug-taking after French put the knife in

By Phil Liggett

LANCE ARMSTRONG, who has led the Tour de France since last Sunday, has been forced to deny drug-taking after a series of damaging articles in French newspapers.

The Texan, who has said the race is "the greatest event in the world", has become increasingly irritated by insinuations that he is winning because he is using banned substances.

Since Armstrong took the lead at Metz, where he won the time trial in devastating fashion, French newspapers have written stories of speculation and innuendo which have suggested that he is winning this so-called Tour of Redemption after last year's scandals, by turning to chemical help.

The highly influential L'Equipe has run the headline "The Race of Two Speeds", a phrase used in cycling to suggest a rider is on drugs.

On Wednesday night Armstrong said: "I emphatically deny any use of chemical preparations. I have already been on my death bed [referring to the 20 per cent chance he was given to live after testicular cancer was diagnosed three years ago]. This race has been my sole target all year and I have trained with it in mind. I have ridden all of the high mountains of this race in training and have never been better prepared. What the newspapers are alleging is unbelievable."

Yesterday, before finishing 19th to conserve all of his large gains over his nearest challengers, Abraham Olano and Alex Zülle, Armstrong was one of 40 riders spot-checked by the medical unit of the International Cycling Union. A blood sample designed to show the illegal use of the oxygen-booster EPO resulted in all 40 riders being declared safe to ride and with a level below the accepted limit of 50 per cent.

Since the race began at the Puy du Fou two weeks ago, all 180 riders have been tested, in most cases twice. It is accepted that the body can produce levels of EPO under 50 per cent naturally.

In addition to the blood test, Armstrong, as leader, has to give a urine sample at the end of every stage. He will make no further comment until Monday's rest day, saying he wants to concentrate on the race.

The French press are also saying that a lack of home success is due to their riders having even stricter controls. One Frenchman Christophe Bassons, has retired from the race claiming he felt "psychologically isolated" after being told by other riders to keep quiet. Bassons has spoken out against drug-taking in a daily column in Le Parisien newspaper.

It was another tough day in the saddle for Armstrong and his US Postal team, as his seven team-mates each played their part in riding at the front of the pack. But only Tyler Hamilton finished alongside him in the comparative comfort of the main pack, who finished over 12 minutes behind the day's winner.

The stage was won by Spain's David Etxebarria, who gave the ONCE team their first victory of the race. He broke clear from a leading group of 14 on the last climb of the Cote des Vedrines-St-Loup after 112 of the 126 miles from St Galmier to St Flour.

The attacks were launched by Alberto Elli (Telekom) and Massimilliano Lelli (Cofidis), who went clear after five miles. They were caught by 12 others, including the day's winner, after 50 miles had been covered.

Australian Stuart O'Grady, who lost his green jersey to German Erik Zabel, also lost another 19 minutes yesterday, while his Credit Agricole team-mate, Chris Boardman, was further back. Boardman has spent a lot of time behind the race trying to keep O'Grady, who has a troublesome knee, in it.

Yesterday's details

12th STAGE (St Galmier-St Flour, 126 miles): 1, D Etxebarria (Spain, ONCE) 4h 53m 50s; 2, F Simon (France, Credit Agricole) at 25s; 3, A Elli (Italy, Telekom) 33 secs; 4, S Wolf (Belgium, Cofidis) 40; 5, J Castelblanco (Colombia, Kelme) 1-11; 6, M Lelli (Italy, Cofidis)1-18; 7, F Bessy (France, Casino) 1-24; 8, M Lotz (Netherlands, Rabobank) 1-32; 9, S Heulot (France, La Francaise de Jeux) 1-34; 10, D Rous (France, Festina) 1-50; 11, G Mondini (Italy, Cantina Tollo) 3-51; 12, F Gougot (France, Casino) 3-53; 13, T Gouvenou (France, Big Mat) 4-09; 14, L Desbiens (France, Cofidis) 5-35; 15, E Zabel (Germany, Telekom) 12-35; 16, A Zulle (Switzerland, Banesto); 17, G Verheyen (Belgium, Lotto); 18, M Aerts (Belgium, Lotto); 19, L Armstrong (US, US Postal); 20, L Dufaux (Switzerland, Saeco) all st. GB: 111, C Boardman (Credit Agricole) 21-09.

Overall: 1, Armstrong 56h, 16m, 53s; 2, A Olano (Spain, ONCE) at 7-44; 3, Zulle 7-47; 4, Dufaux 8-07; 5, F Escartin, (Spain, Kelme) 8-53; 6, Heulot 9-10; 7, R Virenque (France, Polti) 10-03; 8, P Tonkov (Russia, Mapei) 10-18; 9, D Nardello (Italy, Mapei) 10-58; 10, G Guerini (Italy, Telekom) 10-59; 11, A Casero (Spain, Vitalico) 11-32; 12, B Salmon (France, Casino) 12-32; 13, C Moreau (France, Festina) 12-53; 14, A Peron (Italy, ONCE) 13-32; 15, Etxebarria 15-11; 16, K Van de Wouwer (Belgium, Lotto) 16-16; 17, Aerts 17-31; 18, B Hamburger (Denmark, Cantina Tollo) 17-49; 19, M Beltran (Spain, Banesto) 18-29; 20, Simon 19-04. 136, Boardman 1h 43-32.

Points: 1, Zabel 203 pts; 2, S O'Grady (Australia, Credit Agricole) 200; 3, G Hincapie (US, US Postal) 139; 4, T Steels (Belgium, Mapei) 135; 5, C Capelle (France, Bigmat) 132; 6, Simon 129; 7, S Martinello (Italy, Polti) 112; 8, Moreau 101; 9, R McEwen (Australia, Rabobank) 89; 10, D Nazon (France, La Francaise des Jeux) 79.

King of Mountains: 1, Virenque 174 pts; 2, Armstrong 131; 3, D Konyshev (Russia, Mercatone Uno) 105; 4, M Piccoli (Italy, Lampre-Daikin) 103; 5, J L Arrieta (Spain, Banesto) 96; 6, Mondini 91; 7, Zulle 87; 8, Dufaux 79; 9, Escartin 68; 10, Heulot 59.

Team: 1, Festina 169h 10m 20s; 2, ONCE at 13-11; 3, Kelme 19-41; 4, Lotto 23-25; 5, Mapei 26-47.

Etxebarria - A Big Day For A Little Man

ONCE's David Etxebarria was the constant companion of his team-leader, Abraham Olano, during the two days in the Alpes. Today, however, he was the star of the Spanish team - and the winner of the surprisingly tough 201.5km stage from Saint-Galmier to Saint-Flour. The rider who turns 26 one week from his first Tour de France win is no stranger to winning races. He won the Tour de l'Avenir - the Tour of the Future - in terrible, snowing conditions back in 1995. And his sensational win today, did his 'Future' title justice.

The 55kg, 164cm pocket-rocket was a part of a 12-man break which joined forces with two early escapees, Alberto Elli (Telekom) and Massimilliano Lelli (Cofidis) at the 79th kilometer. The group - which contained 3 Cofidis riders and a selection from 10 other teams - worked in unison for most of the day.

Together the 14-man break absorbed the two intermediate sprint points and three of the six lower-ranked mountain points on their way to building a maximum advantage over the peloton of around 13 minutes. On the final climb, and with 22.5km to go to the uphill finish in Saint-Flour, Etxebarria showed just why he is one of ONCE's principal mountain men. His attack came after several predictable surges by the Cofidis trio (primarily Steve De Wolf) and not even the combined chase of De Wolf, Elli and the French champion, Francois Simon, could make an indent into Etxebarria's solo intentions.

His lone deficit to the chase never dropped lower than 29 seconds. Etxebarria danced on his pedals while the chasing trio sat, grinding their big gears and swapped turns. Etxebarria set his sights ahead, while the others were looking behind for support. Etxebarria, quite simply, rode for the win, while the others wished for something more. More support... More time to chase... More vigor! Etxebarria, however, had read the race perfectly and his win in the first-ever visit to Saint-Flour was a fitting conclusion to a tough day of perpetual small-mountain climbing.

While Etxebarria was exhultant about his opportunity, others were less than satisfied with what today's stage had to offer. Stuart O'Grady was one of the riders to suffer the most - losing time from the outset. By the end, the Credit Agricole Australian had to surrender his Green jersey to the Erik Zabel who led the peloton over the line at over 22 minutes behind ONCE's little big man.