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Stage 16

Frankie’s Diary: We’re over the mountains -- finally 

                   This report filed July 21, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service rider

                   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. 

Etxebarria takes Pau; Armstrong answers drug charge 

                   This report filed July 21, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews technical editor

                   ONCE’s David Etxebarria earned his second stage win at this year’s Tour de France  Wednesday as he emerged at the head of a five-rider group that had broken from a lead group of 12, heading into the southern French city of Pau. Overall race leader Lance Armstrong was part of that 12-man break that formed 40 kilometers from the finish, preserving his comfortable lead over Kelme’s Fernando Escartin. 

                   Today’s 192-kilometer stage from Lannemezan to Pau marks the end of the Tour’s time in the mountains as the race now  heads north across France, to end in Paris on Sunday. But Armstrong had little time to celebrate the Tour’s departure from the mountains, as the yellow jersey holder again found himself responding to a news report in French paper Le Monde that a recent drug test had revealed trace amounts of cortisone in a urine sample submitted July 4. The Union Cycliste Internationale cleared the U.S. Postal rider, noting that the trace amounts were far below the level required to confirm a positive drug test and that the substances detected were the result of Armstrong’s use of a topical ointment to treat a saddle sore. 

                   Today’s stage – highlighted by the hors categorie Col du Tourmalet -- was viewed as a last chance by many riders to challenge Armstrong’s hold on the yellow jersey. And while the day’s first climb – the Cat. 1 Col d’Aspin – saw the field stay intact, a series of attacks came on the approach to the Tourmalet, almost entirely shrouded in clouds.

                   By the top of this 17-kilometer climb – just as the road edged out of the cloud cover onto a sun-drenched final kilometer -- three riders, Alberto Elli (Telekom), Pavel Tonkov (Mapei-Quick Step) and Etxebarria, had a slight lead over a chase group of 15 that included the Tour’s top four riders: Armstrong, Kelme’s Fernando Escartin, Banesto’s Alex Zulle and Saeco’s Laurent Dufaux. Also in the group were mountain points leader Richard Virenque (Polti) and Postal rider Kevin Livingston. 

                   Armstrong’s chase group eventually grew to 28 riders, including ONCE’s Abraham Olano who had overcome a more-than-two-minute deficit at the top of the Tourmalet. Through the feed zone and on to the day’s final climbs – a pair of Cat. 1 ascents that peaked 61 kilometers from the finish in Pau. 

                   The attacks from Armstrong’s group continued unabated, with serious challenges from Escartin and Dauphine Libere winner Alex Vinokourov (Casino). The pace pared the group’s size down to just six as they neared the summit of the Col d’Aubisque. Still, Armstrong managed to minimize the damage.  By the top of the final climb, the lead group of three had only a small one-minute advantage and the trio ended its bid, waiting for the yellow jersey’s chase group to join. 

                   On the fast closing kilometers, the lead group of 12 was formed on the roads to Pau. The impact of the day’s stage – with Armstrong, Escartin and Zulle in the lead group – would be minimal. The ones to miss out were the fourth- and fifth-placed men: Dufaux and Richard Virenque of Polti. 

                   Racing through the streets of Pau, Etxebarria, Kelme’s Carlos Contreras, Casino’s Vinokourov, Banesto’s Jose-Luis Arrieta and Elli, attacked and built enough of an advantage over the overall race leaders to ensure a stage for one of their group. Timing his move, Etxebarria accelerated, barely edging Contreras at the line. Armstrong, Zulle and the others finished 20 seconds behind, with Olano, mountain points leader Virenque and Dufaux finishing another two minutes back. 

                   Though secure in his lead, Armstrong’s focus today was not on the Tour’s final ride to Paris, but on a newspaper report that a French laboratory test had revealed trace amounts of corticoids in a urine sample submitted on July 4. While the level was about one-thirtieth required to qualify as a positive drug test, the article in Le Monde suggested that the result was contrary to Armstrong’s own claim that he had not used any sort of medication since his last chemotherapy treatment in late 1996. 

                   A combative Armstrong said that the article amounted to a form of "vulture journalism" and pointed to a Union Cycliste Internationale communiqué clearing him of any wrong-doing.  The trace amounts, he said, were from his use of a topical ointment intended for the treatment of a saddle sore. 

                   Armstrong said that the Le Monde report was an expected fallout from last year’s drug-scandal-plagued Tour, adding that he wasn’t all that surprised at the level of scrutiny to which he has been exposed. 

                   "I understand why there are more journalists here this year," Armstrong said. "I understand why these stories are running… because of what happened last year. That’s completely understandable. I only ask and I only wish that some people would be a little more professional and a little more respectful." 

                   One of the Le Monde reporters responsible for the article asked if the sudden revelation of a UCI medical certificate wasn’t in conflict with Armstrong’s own strong assertion that he had not been using medication. 

                   "Monsieur Le Monde," Armstrong responded, "are you calling me a liar or a doper?" 

                   Armstrong conceded that he had "made a mistake," in not mentioning the ointment, but said that he had not done so because he considered the skin cream not to be a form of medication.    "I didn’t consider it taking something and I certainly didn’t consider it doping," Armstrong said, adding that the last few days of the Tour have been his hardest, "particularly because of stress off the bike." 

Stage 16 Analysis

                   John Wilcockson

                   When the Tour de France route was announced last October, this stage 16 came under sharp criticism from 1998 Tour winner Marco Pantani, who said that the Tourmalet and Aubisque climbs were too far from the finish to make this a true mountain stage. Pantani's words were correct in some respects, as the stage didn't produce a solo winner like most mountain stages.

                   Instead, it did reveal who were the top three riders in this Tour: Lance Armstrong, Fernando Escartin and Alex Zulle. Their immediate challengers, Laurent Dufaux, Richard Virenque and Abraham Olano, were unable to follow Escartin's sharp acceleration on the Aubisque, and so all three lost any hope of making it to the final podium. Escartin is now four minutes clear of Dufaux -- who was likely to overhaul Escartin in Friday's time trial at Futuroscope.

                   Escartin was greatly helped on the flat final kilometers of Wednesday's stage by his Colombian teammate Carlos Contreras, who caught back to the Escartin group on the Aubisque descent. So now Escartin's one concern is to hold off Zulle in the time trial by at least 1:13, to hold onto his second place overall.  The Swiss Zulle will be favored to beat Escartin by more than that -- but we'll have to wait for Friday for that.

                   Meanwhile, Thursday's stage takes the race to Bordeaux, where sprint leader Erik Zabel may finally get his chance to win a stage.

Thursday 22 July 1999
Tour de France: Armstrong pours scorn on critics as victory looms 
                        By Phil Liggett

                        LANCE Armstrong, the American leader of the Tour de France, arrived in Pau yesterday alongside his most serious rivals and safe in the knowledge that, barring an accident, he will win the 2,400-mile race when it ends in Paris on Sunday.

                        His lead is 6.25 minutes over Spaniard Fernando Escartin and even more over the Swiss favourite Alex Zulle. With the mountains now at an end and the final time trial on Saturday likely to suit Armstrong, the race is almost won.

                        His domination of an event which has suffered greatly from the damage to its image after last year's doping scandals has left some quarters of the French media sceptical about his unexpected success. 

                        The French newspaper Le Monde has claimed Armstrong has used corticoids since the race began,  forcing him again to respond to journalists last night in a manner unprecedented by past leaders of the race.

                        Armstrong said: "I did use a cream for saddlesore and it was something that all riders use for an infection. There are some journalists here who are not interested in the race but only a doping story, but there is not one."

                        The revelations amounted to a claim in the newspaper that after providing a compulsory urine test the "confidential" result showed that he had a minuscule trace of cortisone - a reading of 0.2 when 6.0 would constitute a positive result.

                        "The trouble is, especially in Europe and particularly in France, nobody gave me a chance to come back and ride my bike," said Armstrong, who three years ago was diagnosed as suffering from testicular cancer. "When I did they still said I wouldn't make it, and now I'm winning the Tour de France, they cannot accept it."

                        Armstrong, who had made a full recovery from the cancer which had spread to his lungs and brain, no longer receives any treatment. His recovery has led specialists to believe that not only is recovery from the disease possible, but that post- cancer patients can become stronger as a result.   "I accept that winning this race is a miracle, but I repeat that I do not take  any drugs at all." said Armstrong.

                        The International Cycling Union also came to Armstrong's defence yesterday when they issued a statement confirming that all drug tests on Armstrong throughout the Tour had been negative.   The ICU, following a request from Armstrong's US Postal team, broke their own code of confidentiality to say that "the rider used an ointment known as Cemalyt to treat a skin allergy".

                        A test on July 3, the day the race started, showed no traces of the cream, but on July 4 (when he was the early leader) there were minuscule traces which "proved there was no systematic use of corticosteroids". He has been tested daily since taking back the race lead and all tests to July 19 have been negative.

                        In yesterday's race, Armstrong answered all of the attacks expected from Escartin with the ease of a great champion.  The stage was won by Spain's David Etxebarria, who sprinted ahead of Colombian Carlos Contreras and a group of five after 120 miles from Lannemezan to Pau.

                        It was the last day in the Pyrenees and the long climbs over the Cols Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque proved a springboard for lowly-placed Etxebarria, Pavel Tonkov and Alberto Elli.   On the long 38-mile run-in to Pau, Armstrong led the charge and brought up nine riders, but the leading group of 12 split again in the last two miles and Armstrong had no interest in the stage win.

                         Officials of the Italian Olympic committee have announced that no further action will be taken against Marco Pantani, last year's Tour de France winner, who was thrown off the Tour of Italy following a blood test.  Pantani, who missed this year's Tour de France, plans to return for the World Championship in October.

                        Yesterday's details

                        16TH STAGE (Lannemezan-Pau, 120 miles): 1, D Etxebarria (Spain, ONCE) 5h 17m 7s; 2, C Contreras (Colombia, Kelme); 3, A Elli (Italy, Telekom); 4, A Vinokourov (Kazakhstan, Casino); 5, J-L Arrieta (Spain, Banesto) all st; 6, M Serrano (Spain, ONCE) at 5s; 7, W Belli (Italy, Festina) 21; 8, P Tonkov (Russia, Mapei); 9, F Garcia (Spain, Vitalicio Seguros); 10, A Zulle (Switzerland, Banesto).

                        11, L Armstrong (US, US Postal); 12, F Escartin (Spain, Kelme) all st; 13, F Bessy (France, Casino) 2-13; 14, F Simon (France, Credit Agricole); 15, M Piccoli (Italy, Lampre); 16, P Lanfranchi (Italy, Mapei); 17, A Casero (Spain, Vitalicio Seguros); 18, L Madouas (France, Festina); 19, M Lelli (Italy, Cofidis); 20, D Nardello (Italy, Mapei) all st. GB: 77, C Boardman (Credit Agricole) 26-20.

                        Overall: 1, Armstrong 78h 2m 53s; 2, Escartin at 6-15; 3, Zulle 7-28; 4, L Dufaux (Switzerland, Saeco) 10-30; 5, R Virenque (France, Polti) 11-40; 6, Nardello 13-27; 7, Casero 13-34; 8, A Olano (Spain, ONCE) 14-29; 9, Belli 15-14; 10, K van de Wouwer (Belgium, Lotto) 18-35; 11, Tonkov 19-26; 12, Etxebarria 19-31; 13, A Peron (Italy, ONCE) 20-17; 14, B Salmon (France, Casino) 22-55; 15, R Meier (Switzerland, Cofidis) 23-37; 16, S Heulot (France, La Francaise de Jeux) 24-15; 17, T Hamilton (France, US Postal) 25-24; 18, Lanfranchi 26-03; 19, Contreras 26-46; 20, Elli 28-06. GB: 129, Boardman 2-44-19.

                        Points: 1, E Zabel (Germany, Telekom) 244 pts; 2, S O'Grady (Australia, Credit Agricole) 232; 3, C Capelle (France, Big Mat) 158; 4, Simon 142; 5, G Hincapie (US, US Postal) 139.

                        King of the Mountains: 1, Virenque 273; 2, Elli 226; 3, Piccoli 198; 4, Escartin 194; 5, Armstrong 193.

                        Teams: 1, Banesto 234h 31m 02s; 2, ONCE at 6-11; 3, Festina 13-17; 4, Mapei 13-31; 5, Kelme 13-44