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Stage 13

Frankie’s Diary: On the jagged edge 

                   This report filed July 17, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service Rider

                   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. 

Commesso makes the right move in the longest Tour stage; Armstrong keeps the Yellow 

                   This report filed July 17, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews Technical Editor

                   Italian national champion Salvatore Commesso (Saeco-Cannondale) took the 13th stage of the Tour de France today, outsprinting his breakaway companion Marco Serpellini of the Lampre-Daikin squad into the city of Albi.  Overall race leader Lance Armstrong, who finished in the main field some 22 minutes behind today’s winner, maintains a comfortable lead over ONCE’s Abraham Olano and Banesto’s Alex Zulle. 

                   Very little of this day’s contest was fought on level ground, as stage 12, the longest in this Tour, covered a hilly 236.5-kilometer route from St. Flour to Albi. Though punctuated by seven ranked climbs -- a Cat. 2, two Cat. 3s and the remainder Cat. 4 -- there could have and should have been more, as many of the day’s unrated ascents were often as step as 8 percent and longer than two kilometers. 

                   The morning’s attacks began almost as riders had their feet clipped in for a long day in the saddle. Just two kilometers out of St. Flour this morning the probing accelerations began and it was not too long before the day’s first and meaningful break developed, an six-man group that was soon joined by 10 more. By the day’s first climb – the Cat. 3 climb out of Chaudes Aigues -- Mercatone Uno-Bianchi’s Dmitri Konyshev couldn’t hold the group’s pace and the leaders’ number was cut to 15. 

                   The break was made up of Commesso, Serpellini and his Lampre teammate Mariano Piccoli, Peter Frazijn and Roland Meier of Cofidis, Georg Totschnig (Telekom), Paolo Lanfranchi (Mapei-Quick Step), Luis Perez-Rodriguez (ONCE), Javier Pascual-Rodriguez (Kelme), Angel Cerezo (Vitalicio), Christophe Mengin (Francaise des Jeux), Vincente Garcia-Acosta and Miguel Angel Pena of Banesto, Massimo Giunti (Cantina Tollo) and Lylian Lebreton (Big-Mat). 

                   It was from this group that the day’s eventual winner would emerge, as Armstrong and his Postal team would be disinclined to pursue a break that included no one who could pose a major threat to the yellow jersey, the biggest threat in the group being Lanfranchi, who began the day in 32nd place, nearly 35 minutes behind Armstrong. 

                   And so they remained … racing at a brisk pace of 40 to 42 kph to build enough of a lead to avoid being caught at the end, but not so great that it would raise the ire of those behind them.  A few futile attempts by individual riders to bridge up from the main group failed as the lead group’s advantage grew to nearly 18 minutes by the base of the Cote de Compolibat, 70 kilometers from the finish. 

                   But that apparently insurmountable lead didn’t lead seem to deter Australian Henk Vogels (Credit Agricole), who charged off the front of the main group at the bottom of the steep Category 3 climb. It was an odd and ultimately unsuccessful move that left many observers scratching their heads in wonder with questions that weren’t settled until the 25-year-old Aussie reached the finish line in Albi. 

                   "Well, my fiancée Cindy was meant to be on the hill," Vogels later recounted, "so I rode off to catch up with her … and she wasn’t there! I’m nice and pissed off." 

                   After Vogels’s failed romantic interlude was neutralized, the peloton realized that the leaders’ advantage was now approaching 20 minutes. That was too dangerous for the Spanish Kelme squad, which had temporarily moved up to second place on team general classification. Kelme had one rider in the break, but Spanish rivals Banesto had two – so the Kelme squad pushed seven ridrs to thr front, relieving the Postal team of riding tempo over the final 45 kilometers. 

                   Ahead, as the leaders approached the crest of the day’s final climb, Banesto’s Garcia-Acosta charged from the front of the 15-man group.  Commesso and then Serpellini soon joined him.  The trio built a lead of 45 seconds, but did so at a pace that Garcia-Acosta could not maintain and the 27-year-old Banesto rider fell back to the group. 

                   So it stayed all the way to Albi. Serpellini and Commesso worked together as they sped toward the birthplace of painter Toulouse-Lautrec. By the outskirts of Albi the two had an advantage more than two minutes on a group of riders who seemingly had abandoned all thoughts of a stage win … at least for today. 

                   In front, the alliance between the two Italians was falling by the wayside. Their only competition, each other. The two jockeyed for position as they neared the final kilometer.  Serpellini attacked, but the move was far too early. Commesso bided his time, and made his move about 150 meters from the finish.  Charging across the road, Commesso’s acceleration proved too much for Serpellini, who sat up 30 meters from the line. 

                   "When we first went with 236 kilometers ahead of us," Commesso later recalled, "I thought to myself ‘I am such an idiot. This will never work  What am I doing here?’ But I later realized just who was in the break and that no one really posed a threat. It was then I realized I could possibly win this." 

                   In other Tour news, the day saw the first visit of UCI president Hein Verbruggen to the race since the July 3 prologue at Le Puy du Fou. The head of cycling’s governing body said that despite recent suggestions to the contrary, the sport has come a long way toward repairing the damage inflicted by last year’s drug-tainted Tour.  Verbruggen dismissed speculation that race leader Armstrong’s recovery from cancer is almost too miraculous. 

                   "I do not think the suspicions surrounding Armstrong are justified," Verbruggen said. "They are completely wrong, but I’m not surprised that such suspicions exist, especially in the environment after last year. Cycling has created this situation for itself. Last year, we found doping existed on a far larger scale than we thought. You can’t be surprised by this sort of reaction." 

                   The U.S. Postal service saw a second of its riders abandon the race today. Danish racer Peter Meinert-Neilsen retired soon after being dropped at the base of today’s first climb.  Meinert-Neilsen has been suffering from neck problems all season after cracking two vertebrae in an early-season crash, but the problem today was a badly swollen knee that made climbing impossibly painful. The team’s Jonathan Vaughters withdrew after suffering injuries in a second-stage crash. 


Commesso Leads The Hot Italian Show 

Salvatore Commesso emerged from the dominant shadows of his more prominent Saeco team-mates a week before the beginning of the Tour de France to take a win in the Italian championships on June 26. This win may have been the key contributor to the 24-year-old's inclusion in the Saeco squad for the Tour; still, the red, white & green jersey has consistantly present throughout the first 12 road stages. And today, amidst stiflingly hot conditions, the Italian colours flew across the line first - Commesso's arms raised high and a hint of satisfaction on his face. He might have smiled some more, for the pleasure of a Tour stage win is a moment to savor, but with a road temperature of 49 degrees (C) where do you find the energy? A slight sideways glance to ensure his compatriot, Marco Serpellini, was behind was Commesso's final movement before he knew the stage 13 victory was his. 

Commesso's win is the second for a national champion in three days (following Ludo Derckxsens' lead in stage 11) and the fifth for the Saeco team. (The red, white & green win also backs up the Paris-Roubaix victory of his national champion predecessor, Andrea Tafi last April.) 

With Serpellini second in the final sprint and Mariano Piccoli (both Lampre) leading home the sprint for third, it also gave Italy more reasons to be happy in the heat - 1st, 2nd & 3rd today. 

Not only was stage 13 from Saint-Flour to Albi the hottest so far this year, it was also the longest. With 236.5km to race the US Postal team of race-leader, Lance Armstrong, kept no secrets about their intention to allow any non-threatening breaks all the time they were willing to work for. So when a 15-man break began to form at the 8km mark a quick calculation was all that was needed to ensure the Postal train simply had to control the peloton; but not exactly race. And Paolo Lanfranchi was the highest placed rider involved - beginning the day in 32nd place, 34'49" behind Armstrong's lead. 

Together the 15 riders absorbed the seven climbing prizes and two intermediate sprints. They reached a maximum advantage together of 19'45" at the 172km mark. The Posties and the remnants of the Tour peloton may not have raced too hard, but they must have wished for an earlier escape from the heat. Lanfranchi took three successive mountain primes - yet the most 'combative' rider prize went to Switzerland's Roland Meier (Cofidis). 

On the final climb, Banesto's Garcia-Acosta tried a Spanish repeat of yesterday's escape by Etxebarria, but the punch wasn't there in the heat. Instead, Commesso and Serpellini teamed up and rode together until the 1km-to-go kite. 

Cat-and-mouse sprint tactics followed with Commesso winning the showdown. Over 22 minutes later, the Telekom train of Zabel wipped up the energy to ensure Erik Zabel led home the bunch - and maintained his lead in the green jersey competition. 

The yellow jersey may be firmly placed on Armstrong's shoulders, the green battle interesting; but today was the day for the Italian champion's red, white & green jersey to shine in the Southern heat. 

Sunday 18 July 1999

Tour de France: Armstrong still battling against drug accusers 
                        By Phil Liggett

                        THE controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong's domination of the Tour de France refused to die down last night as the French rider Christophe Bassons, who withdrew from the race before Friday's 12th stage after voicing suspicions about the American rider, refused to retract his doping accusations in an interview with French television.

                        "I just felt I had an obligation to leave the Tour," said Bassons. "I guess I cracked - it wasn't easy for me. My entourage told me no longer to speak to journalists on the subject of doping. I'm a stubborn guy and I couldn't go along with it any more.

                        "One problem in cycling is the doping. The other is the code of silence," Bassons said in a bitter parting shot.

                        Earlier, Armstrong's doctor hit back against the doubters with a firm denial that the US Postal team leader is taking banned drugs to boost his recovery from cancer.

                        As Armstrong retained his seven-minute lead over Abraham Olano, of Spain, and Switzerland's Alex Zülle and the race reached Albi, in the Tarn region in south-west France, Dr Lawrence Einhorn said the US Postal team's leader was "not having any medical treatment" and was merely being monitored.

                        Einhorn, a cancer specialist from the medical faculty of the University of Indiana, denied rumours that Armstrong, who contracted the disease in 1996, was being treated with interleukin, a medicine to help the recovery of cancer sufferers. "Interleukin is a highly toxic product and I can guarantee you 100 per cent that Lance Amstrong is not taking such medicaments," Einhorn said. "I can tell you he is only taking vitamins."

                        Armstrong is hoping to emulate Greg LeMond, the only other American winner of the Tour, and few believe that he can be beaten now, despite the Pyrenean mountains which loom on Tuesday.

                        He has led the race since he convincingly won the time trial at Metz last Sunday and though many riders, including Armstrong's team-mates, are beginning to suffer, the overall race speed is still a record 25.5mph.

                        Despite the drug rumours, the Tour organisers have openly applauded the leadership of the American to the point of obvious relief. His return from an illness from which his doctors gave him "no chance" of survival has added greatly to the image of what they are calling a "Tour of Redemption".

                        His all-American team have never been remotely connected to the investigations into drugs within the sport during the past 12 months.  However, since the race started from the Puy du Fou in the Vendée, the reporting in the French media has gone from joy and relief to talk of "a man from another planet".

                        Yesterday, the US Postal team's general manager, Mark Gorski, an Olympic track gold medallist in Los Angeles in 1984, confronted the press while Armstrong hid in his team vehicle, getting out just in time to start the race.

                        He said: "Lance is feeling very angered by the reports and also insulted. He has applied himself to winning this race and I think he is the best rider."

                        Gorski added: "This is the cleanest Tour for years and Lance doesn't need anything to lift his performance. I think [because no one is taking drugs] this is why he is winning. He's the best."

                        Armstrong yesterday won the backing of Hein Verbruggen, president of the International Cycling Union, who said the doping allegations were unjustified, if not unexpected as the American has just come back from a three-year struggle with cancer: "Regretfully, I expected this kind of thing. Cycling has created this situation for itself. Last year we found doping existed on a larger scale than we thought. Now there is a kind of reaction."

                        However, Verbruggen insisted that the sport's moves to clean up its drug-tarnished image were having an effect.

                        Asked how he could quantify the improvement in the doping situation, Verbruggen said improved doping controls made the picture much clearer. "We do not want to betray medical confidence, as is often too much the case in France. The controls have visibly improved over last year and the year before. People are more aware of their responsibilities.

                        "Several sporting directors have also called me to say the race is cleaner than in the past," Verbruggen added.

                        Armstrong was not placed under any pressure yesterday on the longest stage of 148 miles from Saint-Flour to Albi. The heat of the Tarn discouraged the leaders from attacking as temperatures soared to 35¡C.

                        A breakaway of 15 riders went early and built a lead of almost 20 minutes.  The Italian champion, Salvatore Commesso, ended the best day for Italy when they swept the placings and again left the French wondering when they might get a stage win.


                        13th stage 236.5km from Saint-Galmier to Saint-Flour

                        1 S Commesso (Ita/SAE) 5hr 52min 45secs (average: 40.227 kph), 2 M Serpellini (Ita/LAM) at 00:02, 3 M Piccoli (Ita/LAM) 02:07, 4 P Lanfranchi (Ita/MAP), 5 R Meier (Swi/COF), 6 C Mengin (Fra/FDJ), 7 M Angel Pena (Spa/BAN), 8 J Pascual Rodriguez (Spa/KEL) all same time, 9 L Lebreton (Fra/BIG) 02:12, 10 F Cerezo (Spa/VIT), 11 L Perez Rodriguez (Spa/ONC) all same time, 12 G Totschnig (Aut/TEL) 02:19, 13 V Garcia-Acosta (Spa/BAN) 05:05, 14 M Giunti (Ita/CTA) 05:05, 15 P Farazijn (Bel/COF) 10:40, 16 E Zabel (Ger/TEL) 22:24, 17 C Capelle (Fra/BIG), 18 S O'Grady (Aus/C.A), 19 S Barthe (Fra/CSO), 20 F Simon (Fra/C.A) all same time