Frankie's Diary: The home stretch
This report filed July 24, 1999
By Frankie Andreu
Today is my last article. There are a few reasons for this. One is that the hotel in Paris that we stay at was built in 1970 or something and getting online is impossible. Two is that after the race it's usually pretty quick that we have to change and get ready to go out. Three is that I have not seen my wife for about seven weeks and I don't think it would go over too well if I opened my computer to write an article. Four is that the writing bug in me has dwindled considerably. I hope I've made it interesting for you and you've learned more about the insides of the Tour. The results don't always tell the whole story.
Today was a relatively simple straightforward 57km T.T. It was one big loop with not so many turns, but it was very, very windy. It seemed like it was a crosswind the whole day. At least I never felt a tail wind; then again I'm a bit under the weather. I came down with a cold two days ago and I'm suffering. I became too worn down after the last two mountain days and my body caved in. I can't complain because we are at the end of the Tour. It's better to be sick now than earlier in the weeks. Today I could feel the pain in my lungs while trying to ride; it's not a good feeling.
Lance was on fire again. He had an all yellow skin suit for the T.T. but it turned out to not fit him right. He also had a yellow T.T. helmet but since he wasn't wearing the all yellow skin suit he threw that to the side also. I don't think it mattered what he wore, he still would have won.
Tyler also had an incredible ride. His determination in the T.T's is hard to match. He finished a fantastic third place. It's been very noticeable the increase in American flags that are out on the road waving us on. Today there were lots of Americans lining the course.
The French definitely know how to make it a comfortable day out at the bike race. I saw many portable picnic tables, couches, lounge chairs, and even mattresses. It's though they bring their mini home to the race. Umbrellas, coolers, tables, chairs, portable TV's, every thing to make the hours pass as comfortable as possible.
After today whatever the G.C. results are they will stay the same. It's a tradition on the last day that we don't really race until the final circuits. Granted, we don't always go slow either. One year the Italians had to catch a flight out after the race so they went to the front and rode tempo all day. It was horrible, the whole day we were single file and didn't get to relax at all. I hope this year will be like the old ways.
Tomorrow morning we take the TGV (high-speed train) to the start city for the last day. Normally the first three teams on G.C. get first class cars and everyone else is in the back. Since tomorrow is the last day we will be celebrating a bit. Look for us wearing something special on the Champs. I thought of the idea, Lance approved it, and Pearl Izumi put it into action. Pearl had one day to get it done so I give them the thumbs up.
After the Champs we are having a big party with the team and all the sponsors. The last couple nights we have been trying to build up our tolerance for alcohol. The first night I had one beer and was as loose tongued as you get. The second night we were working on the wine, George made it to five glasses when he decided he had hit his threshold. At the party I'm sure we'll have a mixture of beer and wine which will probably be a disaster for all of us. At this point I don't think anyone cares.
Now that the Tour is over Lance will be busy doing some criteriums in Holland and Germany. He will also be busy doing a lot of television and press stuff in America next week. For the rest of us it's back to bike racing like it used to be. In two weeks I have San Sebastian, then Tour of Denmark, Hamburg, and maybe Tour of Holland. The season may be only half over but since we did so well at the Tour it doesn't really matter what happens the rest of the year -- in my opinion.
I do need to give a "thanks" to Bikesport, my local bike shop at home in Dearborn, Michigan. I've mentioned before how important our staff is to the success of the team. On the road our mechanics keep everything working and when I'm at home it's Bikesport that keeps me on the road. I just want them to know that their help makes all the difference in the world.
It's hard to believe I've been writing every day for three weeks. At the start it's easy but as the last week approaches it becomes more difficult. This probably became obvious in how I wrote and the length of the articles. Every year after the Tour you think to yourself "never again -- it's too hard"; it's the same feeling with these articles. Like I've said before, I hope you enjoyed the columns and learned something about racing in the Tour.
It’s Armstrong again at Futuroscope
This report filed July 24, 1999
By Charles Pelkey
Signed, sealed and ready for delivery, the U.S. Postal Service’s Lance Armstrong has come to the eve of this Tour de France’s final stage in impressive style, edging out Banesto’s Alex Zulle by nine seconds over the course of the 57-kilometer Futuroscope time trial today.
It was a stage, said Armstrong, in which it would have been easy to "just give it 90 percent … but I wanted to show that the maillot jaune was the strongest man in the race."
And prove it he did … as he did previously at Le Puy du Fou, Metz and Sestriere. The 27-year-old Texan, who less than three years ago began a painful and frightening battle against testicular cancer, now sits at the threshold of winning the Tour de France and has done so in a style reminiscent of some of this race’s most dominating winners.
Armstrong covered the moderately flat, but wind-blown course in 1:08:17, averaging 50.085 kilometers an hour. In doing so, he becomes the first rider to win all of a Tour’s time trials since Miguel Indurain did so in 1992. At Sestriere, the U.S. Postal Service rider became the first man in yellow to take a mountain stage since Bjarne Riis in 1996.
Armstrong’s teammate Tyler Hamilton finished third, 1:34 behind the yellow jersey. The anticipated struggle for second place in the Tour’s overall standings was not much of a fight as Kelme’s Fernando Escartin finished the stage more than four minutes behind Zulle and so dropped to third place overall.
As the race leader, Armstrong was the last rider to start, three minutes behind Escartin, the man who sat in second place in the Tour’s overall standings. Escartin’s hold, however, was tenuous, as his lead over third-placed Zulle was just over one minute.
Zulle, who has proved himself a formidable time trialist both before and after his embroilment in the 1998 Festina Affair – the drug controversy that defined the 1998 Tour – was ready to make a charge at the second spot on tomorrow’s podium in Paris.
Starting ahead of Escartin, Zulle blasted through the course, setting the standard at three of the four time checks. The Swiss Banesto star finished with an impressive 1:08:26.
Behind him, Escartin struggled – 17th at the first time check, 18th at the second at the 28 kilometer mark. With 20 kilometers remaining, Escartin was passed by Armstrong, who clearly showed no intention of soft-pedaling his way through this final time trial. Kelme’s Escartin – who earned his spot in the Tour’s top three with a strong stage 16 victory at the Pyrenean ski village of Piau-Engaly – must have been discouraged but continued to fight hard in a discipline he hates, to finish with a time of 1:12:28 – 4:02 behind Zulle.
Armstrong’s pace faltered only slightly, his lead slipping from more than 20 seconds to less then 10 between the third and fourth time checks…. "I was tired," Armstrong said, when asked why he hadn’t cleared the day’s final turn in his usual precise style.
But today was not a day for Armstrong to look back and try to guess where he could have made up a second or two here or there. As is traditional for the Tour’s yellow jersey on the eve of the final stage, Armstrong came to the Tour’s press center and held a news conference in a relatively relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Armstrong took the opportunity to reflect on what at times has been a difficult Tour and a very difficult past three years. Speaking of his illness, Armstrong noted that he "wouldn’t want to change a thing … no, I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I came out of this a better person."
And when asked about his motivation and for whom this race was being ridden, Armstrong was quick to offer his answer. "I think – and I’ve always said this – it’s 50, 25, 25…. Fifty percent of it is for the cancer community … everybody involved, doctors, nurses, patients, family members, survivors, the unfortunate ones who have not made it, who are now watching. And 25 percent of it was for myself and for my team and for my family. And the other 25 percent is for the people that never believed in me."
It looks like it’s time for everyone to believe.
Sunday 25 July 1999
LANCE ARMSTRONG left no one in doubt as to the winner of the Tour de France in Paris today when he won the 36-mile time trial at Futuroscope near Poitiers yesterday. He beat Alex Zülle by nine seconds, though the Swiss rider climbed to second place overall.
Zülle, who has finished second to the American in the three time trials, was always trailing yesterday, but he closed in over the final 12 miles. Armstrong's overall lead of 7min 37sec is the second biggest since 1984.
Armstrong's US Postal team almost had cause for double celebration when Tyler Hamilton led early on until first Zülle and then Armstrong knocked him off the top of the leader board.
Chris Boardman, the only British rider in the event, is set to finish only his second Tour in six attempts, and yesterday, the time trial specialist showed his fatigue when, after setting the early mark, he finished only 15th in 1hr 11min 46sec.
Armstrong's achievement less than three years after beating cancer was warmly acclaimed yesterday by his compatriot Greg LeMond, the three-times Tour winner. "Before his cancer the Tour didn't interest him - at least, that's what he said," said LeMond, who became the first American to win the race in 1986.
LeMond said he believed Armstrong had found extra motivation, not just from his illness but also from last year's third-place finish by another American, Bobby Julich. "I am certain Julich's performance last year encouraged him to interest himself in the Tour. People talked about that a lot in the States," LeMond said.
Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour de France champion, also took Armstrong's side yesterday, with an attack on those - particularly in France - who have insinuated that the American's form points to the use of banned products.
"I have also been the target of such suspicions. They were very hurtful and harmed my reputation," said the German. "It's always the same game - nobody paid attention to him much this season and then suddenly he's out in front and people start speculating."
Armstrong, one of only two leaders throughout the three-week race, is set to win in Paris today having dominated the race since its start over three weeks ago from the Puy du Fou. He has won four stages, including a crucial mountain stage in Sestrieres in Italy. It was there that most of the riders felt that they could no longer compete with the American, who was returning to the race after missing two years through cancer.
It will be a victory full of emotion on the Champs Elysées, both for Armstrong and the Tour organisers, who are confident they have witnessed the most drug-free race in many years.
The world governing body, the International Cycling Union, also came to his aid and produced a statement that his dope tests throughout the race - and they have been daily while leading - have been negative. The 0.2 points he registered on one occasion, showing the use of cortisone, was due to a cream used to treat a saddle sore and far below the allowed level of six points.
Today, Armstrong will have vindicated the organisers, who after a year of drugs revelations, will see the rewards for the overall tightening of drug controls and health checks on riders. It is evident from the way some 'star' riders have suffered and lost time that the days of using forbidden chemical products are now in the minority.
Not for 22 years has the race seen only two leaders in Armstrong and the Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu, who gave up in the Alps. The Texan has worn the yellow jersey on 15 of 21 days of the 2,400-mile race; no doubt one of those maillots jaunes will be given to Bill Clinton when Armstrong goes to the White House on Friday.
All The Elements: From A to Z - Armstrong To Zulle
There's a very simple reason for having a time trial on the penultimate day of the Tour de France: it makes the event a race through to the end. Okay, the prize-winner's jerseys have all-but been decided. The Yellow is firm on the shoulders of Lance; the Polka-Dots stick with Richard; and Erik looks good in Green... But there's still the glory of showing who is strongest after three-weeks of racing; who is the coolest in the cruel and lonely race of truth; and, of course, the need for answers about just who will stand on the podium after tomorrow's stage to Paris' Champs Elysees.
Lance Armstrong clearly answered the first two curiosities with brutal strength today. He led at every one of the 4 intermediate time checks around Futuroscope before eventually claiming his fourth stage win nine seconds clear of Banesto's Alex Zulle. But it was Zulle's ride to steal the overall 2nd place from Fernando Escartin which perhaps took the average speed of the first two places to over 50kph for the 57 kilometer race around the futuristic landscape of Futuroscope. The podium has now been decided: Lance Armstrong - 1st; Alex Zulle - 2nd; Fernando Escartin 3rd.
Lance's win in the three time trials of this year's Tour as well as the brutal mountain stage-win to Sestrieres and his 7'37" lead over second placed Zulle proves he is the strongest man in the Tour. His yellow parade to Paris tomorrow will put the finishing touches on a fairy-tale story of Tour success.
Three years ago Lance rode his last Tour as a 'mere' potential stage winner. A winning battle cancer - which began at the end of 1996 - proves he has the gusto to overcome overwhelming odds. He returned to racing the bike last year, but missed the Tour de France. He lost weight, gained conviction, learned to climb and time trial and he joined a new team of heroes. All these things built the foundation of what we saw today. In the time trial start-house the only thing disturbing Lance's complete composure were the flashes of the hordes of photographers wanting a piece of him. His control of stress is as admirable as his obvious strength of the bike.
Zulle's motivation for today was equally as impressive. Although not normally strutting in confidence, the bespecled Swiss hero took the start with an odd sense of destiny about him. He wanted his second runner-up place in the Tour de France, and he knew he had the ability to make up the 1'13" deficit to Escartin in the race against the clock. Remember, that without a fall in stage two - which saw him lose over 6 minutes to Armstrong before the real challenges of the Tour began - he would only be a tad over a minute and a half away from Armstrong's lead.
Escartin may have been pushed a rung lower on the podium because of
the time trial today, but his frothing face as he crossed the line proves
he raced the time trial - which he hates so much - with all his strength
and spirit. And his 3rd place is just-rewards for his first attacking Tour.
Yes, today's stage had all the elements. From A to Z - Armstrong to Zulle
- and beyond. Join us tomorrow for the celebration in Paris.