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Stage 18

Frankie's Diary: Fans, freaks, and our single goal

                   This report filed July 23, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service rider

                   The amount of people watching the race everyday is incredible. There are rows and rows of people lining the course. Some are nice, some are freaks, some are fans of cyclists -- and maybe some are not.

                   I always seem to remember stuff the day after it happened. Actually, I found out about this during dinner after I already sent in my article.  On the mountain day Christophe Rinero almost got into a fight with a spectator. He was climbing up the mountain and literally took a right turn to the side of the road to chase the guy down. The guy said, "Rinero without EPO, Rinero in the back." Christophe was not happy and I guarantee that if he weren't racing he would have chased the guy down the hill.

                   Yesterday someone sprayed pepper spray into the peloton near the finish. Five or six riders got dropped immediately because they couldn't breathe, had watery eyes, and some were vomiting. The UCI should have given the guys the same time as the peloton. Like I said, some people are fans and some are not.

                   This sport is completely accessible by the public.  We are always surrounded by people at the start and at the finish. There are no gates, no walls, and no barriers keeping you away from us. This is what appeals to the people and makes cycling that much more special.

                   This morning the Vampires came again. This time only Lance got tested from our team. I think they were testing the top riders on the G.C., so that meant only one or two from each team.

                   The race was fast again, the same as yesterday. It must be deceiving when you see the average speed for a race. We go slow the first hour, so that kills our average. Every time I looked down at my speedometer -- yesterday and today -- it was reading 50km/hr. We were not having any easy days this Tour.

                   The first break that got away today contained 20 riders. There was no ONCE, Banesto or Mapei in the group . This was perfect for us. Actually, anything that went away was OK for us. Every time there was a break the closest guy to Lance was usually 50 minutes down on GC. Every one of you reading this could keep a time gap like that under control.

                   Because of the team G.C. Banesto and ONCE were chasing a lot of the breaks back. Finally, after four major breaks and 130km, the final break went away. There was a Banesto in there this time, but again no ONCE.

                   They rode on the front for the remainder of the race, trying to keep their six-minute lead on team G.C. The whole team rode -- except Olano and Peron. At the finish Giampaolo Mondeni (Cantina Tollo) won by jumping away with about two kilometers. Again, a French rider was denied a stage win at this year’s Tour.

                   Our morning meeting was very simple; in fact it was so simple we had it over the walkie-talkies from one camping car to the other. Our one job for the day was to keep Lance in the front and out of trouble. The meeting was over in five minutes. About 40 minutes after we had the meeting Christian looked up and asked us if we were going to have a meeting this morning. We all started laughing. He was listening to music with his headphones on, so he didn't hear anything. We told him Johan said he had to attack from the gun, serious.

                   The T.T. is tomorrow. Lance's lead is pretty safe and each day we get close we tend to relax a little more and realize we pulled it off. Or you could say Lance pulled it off. We are all excited about riding on to the Champs-Elysees with the Yellow Jersey on our wheels. Actually, one year LeMond -- in the Yellow -- attacked the peloton and came on to the Champs 30 seconds ahead of the pack. The crowd went wild. Bernard Hinault also won one time on the Champs wearing the Yellow Jersey. How cool is that?  After the T.T. it might be possible that Lance will have more than a seven-minute lead on the second-placed rider. With that much time he could probably get lapped and still keep the jersey. Don't worry, we won't let that happen.

                   Tomorrow is my last article. I'll explain why tomorrow. I want to say thanks for reading the updates and I hope they have been enjoyable. I tried to give you the feel of being inside the Tour and what it feels like to be at the Tour.  Thanks for all your support throughout the three weeks.

Stage 18 Analysis

                   John Wilcockson in Futuroscope

                   Looking at the last two stages -- which were of similar length, and on similar flat terrain -- you may be wondering why Thursday's ended in a field sprint, and Friday's with a solo break. Well, let's make a quick analysis.

                   Thursday's stage into Bordeaux is one of the most prestigious in the Tour de France for the sprinters, and so they are highly motivated to make sure the race stays together. That's why five teams -- Mapei for Tom Steels, Polti for Silvio Martinello, Rabobank for Robbie McEwen, Cantina Tollo for Gianpaolo Mondini, and Lampre (whose three remaining riders were riding for the other Italian teams) --organized a big chase when a break of eight riders had an eight-minute lead. The break was closed down just inside the 15km-to-go mark, from where the Telekom team of Erik Zabel took the race into the finish. Steels won the stage from McEwen and Zabel.

                   On Friday, there were three different breaks that affected the outcome. The 19-man move that developed after 25km was never allowed more than 35 seconds by teams still looking for stage wins. Then, the five men who continued from the break were eventually chased down by O'Grady's Credit Agricole team, still in search of a stage victory. Finally, the 13-man break that developed right after had enough teams represented (including sprinters' teams Telekom, Credit Agricole and Cantina Tollo) that there was no immediate chase. Only the ONCE team chased, because its challenge for the overall team classification was riding away -- overall team leader Banesto had two riders in front, ONCE none.

                   And why didn't Mapei chase? Well, Steels had already taken the big one at Bordeaux, and he said before leaving Jonzac Friday that he would rest up for the last major sprinters' stage on Sunday in Paris -- where he won his fourth stage last year.

                   Saturday, it will be the turn of the time trial specialists, with an intense match between Alex Zulle and Fernando Escartin for second place overall. Escartin currently holds second place by 1:13 over Zulle. Can he hang on to that small advantage? The answer is: Unlikely. But Escartin is a fighter, and he was fifth in the final long time trial at the 1995 Tour in Lac de Vassiviere. He may well finish top-five in Saturday's time trial here in Futuroscope, but probably more than two minutes behind Zulle -- who will be vying for the stage victory with race leader Lance Armstrong and Spain's Abraham Olano, who needs a stage win to boost his waning prestige.

                   As the last starter, Armstrong is the favorite to win the time trial -- if he does, he will become the first man since five-time winners Miguel Indurain (in 1992), Bernard Hinault (1981 and '82) and Eddy Merckx (1970 and '72) to win the prologue and the Tour's other time trials in the same year.

Mondini flies into Futuroscope; Armstrong set for Paris 

                   This report filed July 23, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey

                   Italy’s Gianpaolo Mondini (Cantina Tollo) took a chance, attacked from the front of a 13-man breakaway group with four kilometers to go and earned a stage win as the Tour de France traveled from Jonzac to Futuroscope today. U.S. Postal’s Lance Armstrong finished back in the field, preserving his 6:15 lead over Kelme’s Fernando Escartin, as the Tour now enters its final two days with tomorrow’s Futuroscope time trial and Sunday’s final stage into Paris. 

                   Today’s 184.5-kilometer stage 18 – again shortened by a brief local protest near the start – was a relatively moderate and flat stage to the Futuroscope amusement park near Poitiers. With Armstrong solidly in the yellow jersey, Polti’s Richard Virenque with a sound hold on the climber’s jersey and Telekom’s Erik Zabel consistently outscoring Credit Agricole’s Stuart O’Grady in the race for the green jersey, the day again seemed open to those riders hoping to snatch a final stage win before tomorrow’s time trial and the always hotly contested final stage, finishing Sunday on the wide avenue of the Champs-Elysees. 

                   But soon after the day’s first intermediate sprint, less than 25km into the stage, a 19-man group formed at the front that included both Zabel and O’Grady. Pursued by the ONCE and Festina teams, the break eventually faltered and the leaders were soon swept up by the chase.  O’Grady, who had suffered from a frustrating mishap with 1.2 kilometers remaining in yesterday’s stage to Bordeaux, had yet another crash today, this time in the feed zone, soon after he and the other members of that early break were caught. 

                   The day’s final and effective attack came after an acceleration by Casino’s Frederic Bessy with 64 kilometers remaining. Bessy was soon joined by 12 others -- Jorg Jaksche (Telekom), Stefano Garzelli (Mercatone Uno-Bianchi), Alex Vinokourov (Casino), Mariano Piccoli (Lampre), Elio Aggiano (Vitalicio Seguros), Francois Simon (Credit Agricole), Jean-Cyrille Robin (La Francaise des Jeux), Vicente Garcia-Acosta and Cesar Solaun (Banesto), Mondini, Thierry Bourgignon (BigMat) and Claude Lamour (Cofidis). As the group moved toward Futuroscope, with only a very moderate Cat. 4 climb between them and the finish, ONCE again powered the chase, but with little success. 

                   Within sight of the tall, futuristically shaped, glass-and-steel buildings of the Futuroscope theme park, the ONCE-driven peloton had a more than two-minute disadvantage, while up front, the 13 began vying for a chance to win a stage. Four kilometers out, Vinokourov charged off the front of the group, his effort immediately countered by Mondini. And despite an eventual vigorous pursuit by the remaining 12 riders, the 28-year-old Italian held on for his first Tour de France stage win, crossing the line three seconds ahead of Robin. 

                   Robin’s narrow defeat adds to the French peloton’s frustration in this Tour. This could be the first time since 1926 in which a Frenchman has not won a single stage in the Tour de France. 

                   Armstrong, meanwhile, finished the day in 31st place, three minutes behind the lead group maintaining a secure hold on the yellow jersey. 

                   Race note: 

                   * UCI medical officials conducted another round of early-morning blood tests today, testing 17 riders from 11 teams, including the top 10 riders in the Tour’s overall standings. The teams checked were Festina, Polti, Banesto, U.S. Postal, Mapei, La Francaise des Jeux, Lampre, Vitalicio, ONCE, Kelme and Saeco. A few hours after the 7:30 a.m. tests, the UCI reported that no rider had exceeded the 50-percent hematocrit limit. 

Saturday 24 July 1999

Tour de France: Mondini adds to French desperation 
                        By Phil Liggett

                        THERE now seems little hope of a French rider winning a stage of this year's Tour de France after Italy's Gianpaolo Mondini broke clear of group of 13 riders, including five Frenchmen, to win the 18th stage of the race at Futuroscope yesterday.

                        There was an air of desperation among the six French teams yesterday as they raced the 117 miles from Jonzac, near Bordeaux, to the futuristic theme park near Poitiers, as time is running out for them to alter the course of their bleakest Tour since 1926.

                        Mondini, an Italian with one previous win this year and whose Cantina Tollo team were called in to the event a week before the start when the Vini Caldirola squad were dropped, broke clear of the leaders with less then two miles to race.

                        Sergei Gontchar, the leader of Vini Caldirola, failed a health check in the Tour of Switzerland, which prompted the Tour organisers to say the team could not field a good enough team without him and Mondini's team made their French debut.

                        His win served only as a diversion as race leader Lance Armstrong finished safely in the main field, 3min 7sec later. His day had been spent in the shelter of his US Postal team, as other opportunists tried to break clear for the win.

                        Before the start, Armstrong had been awakened early by the International Cycling Union's medical inspection unit, who pounced at various hotels to blood-test the top 10 overall for the possible use of the banned blood-booster, EPO. None of those tested reached the limit of 50 per cent and all were allowed to start.

                        The time gaps among the leaders yesterday remained the same and will be changed only by today's final time trial at Futuroscope. The 36-mile trial should produce the final result, but is unlikely to alter the final destiny of the yellow jersey. 

                        Armstrong is already feeling the benefits from his likely victory in the race and has turned down an appearance on America's top-rating David Letterman Show, in favour of making four highly lucrative short race appearances. 

                        The escape of 13 riders yesterday was the first break from the field to bear fruit on a flat stage. Until then, the pack had managed to chase down the opportunists and open up the finish for the sprinters.

                        Frederic Bessy (Casino), a Frenchman mindful of his country's lack of success, broke clear in a group of 19 soon after Erik Zabel had again beaten Australian Stuart O'Grady in a sprint for green jersey points.

                        Zabel and O'Grady were part of the escape, but the main field limited their gains to little more than 40 seconds for some miles. Because of this the German and the Australian dropped back to the pack with others, leaving five riders clear.

                        It was a better combination and with a lead of more than three minutes after 55 miles, Davide Bramati (Mapei), Peter Wuyts (Lotto), Bessy, Christophe Mengin (Francaise des Jeux) and Alexei Sivakov (Bigmat-Auber 93) thought they had the stage won.

                        However, Chris Boardman's Credit Agricole team took up a violent chase and on the short climb of the Cote de Pamproux, only Bessy survived as he was joined by 12 others. With 11 teams represented in the group, the combination was right for a successful escape. The team left smarting was the Spanish ONCE squad who drove on the pack behind in the hope that they could coax David Etxebarria into first place on his 26th birthday. 

                        It was a fruitless pursuit and when the field arrived three minutes after Mondini, they were led in by Australian Robbie McEwen and Zabel, who increased his lead further over O'Grady in the green jersey competition.  Zabel, with a 43-point lead, is set to win the title for a fourth successive year. 

                        Yesterday's details

                        18th stage (Jonzac-Futuroscope, 116 miles): 1, G Mondini (Italy, Cantina Tollo) 4h 17m 43s; 2, J-C Robin (France, La Francaise de Jeux); 3, A Vinokourov (Kazakhstan, Casino); 4, M Piccoli (Italy, Lampre); 5, C Lamour (France, Cofidis); 6, F Simon (France, Credit Agricole). 7, S Garzelli (Italy, Mercatone Uno); 8, J Jaksche (Germany, Telekom); 9, E Aggiano (Italy, Vitalicio Seguros); 10, T Bourguignon (France, Big Mat); 11, C Solaun (Spain, Banesto); 12, V Garcia-Acosta (Spain, Banesto) all at 3s. 13, F Bessy (France, Casino) 14; 14, R McEwen (Australia, Rabobank); 15, E Zabel (Germany, Telekom); 16, S O'Grady (Australia, Credit Agricole); 17, C da Cruz (France, Big Mat); 18, C Capelle (France, Big Mat); 19, J Hernandez (Spain, Festina); 20, L Auger (France, Big Mat); 100, C Boardman (GB, Credit Agricole) all 3m 07s.

                        Overall: 1, L Armstrong (US, US Postal) 86h 46m 20s; 2, F Escartin (Spain, Kelme) at 6m 15s; 3, A Zuelle (Switzerland, Banesto) 7-28; 4, L Dufaux (Switzerland, Saeco) 10-30; 5, R Virenque (France, Polti) 11-40; 6, D Nardello (Italy, Mapei) 13-27. 7, A Casero (Spain, Vitalicio Seguros) 13-34; 8, A Olano (Spain, ONCE) 14-29; 9, W Belli (Italy, Festina) 15-14; 10, K van de Wouwer (Belgium, Lotto) 18-35; 11, D Etxebarria (Spain, ONCE) 19-31; 12, A Peron (Italy, ONCE) 20-17.

                        13, B Salmon (France, Casino) 22-55; 14, R Meier (Switzerland, Cofidis) 23-37; 15, S Heulot (France, La Francaise de Jeux) 24-15; 16, T Hamilton (France, US Postal) 25-24; 17, P Lanfranchi (Italy, Mapei) 26-03; 18, C Contreras (Colombia, Kelme) 26-46; 19, A Elli (Italy, Telekom) 28-06; 20, G Totschnig (Austria, Telekom) 31-58; 128, Boardman 2h 44m 19s.

                        Points: 1, Zabel 293; 2, O'Grady 250; 3, Capelle 183; 4, T Steels (Belgium, Mapei) 170; 5, G Hincapie (US, US Postal) 163.

                        Mountains: 1, Virenque 273pts; 2, Elli 226; 3, Piccoli 204; 4, Escartin 194; 5, Armstrong 193.

                        Teams: 1, Banesto 260h 35m 27s; 2, ONCE at 12m 07s; 3, Festina 18-57; 4, Mapei 19-11; 5, Kelme 19-40.