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Stage 2

Frankie's diary: Pain, losses, and gains 

                   This report filed July 5, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service rider 

                   It's amazing how the day's objectives can change so quickly. This morning we were thinking about how to keep the Yellow Jersey without expending too much energy. We lost the  jersey, and a crash forced one of my teammates from the race. 

                   The main difficulty in this completely flat stage was a four-kilometer causeway that crossed a huge river. It's passable during the day with low tide and flooded during high tide. You can imagine that the causeway would be a little slick and wet by the time we arrived. 

                   The race was calm till the first bonus sprint of the day at kilometer 30. After that the attacks started and the battle for good position for the causeway was already starting. It was still 50 kilometers till we arrived there. To make matters worse it was windy and I'm sure every team told their riders to be first into the causeway. 

                   The battle was furious trying to keep Lance in good position to get across this causeway safely. Looking back it was a good thing we did.  After the entrance to this four-kilometer causeway there was a huge crash. Guys went down everywhere. You could see riders trying to brake, but they hit the ground instantaneously.  Going across the causeway was very, very scary. It was wet, slippery and windy. It felt like a risk to even turn your wheel to change directions. I was scared to ride on the edge of the road because it was too slick. 

                   Coming out of the causeway the group had split - partially because we went fast and partly because of the huge crash. There was a front group of about 40 and immediately ONCE started riding. It took us a few kilometers to figure out why. We didn't know there was a crash at the time and in the rear group there were a few favorites. 

                   Right away Johan told us to go to the front and help ONCE. The reason was that in the second group were Gotti, Belli, Zülle, Boogerd, Robin, and some other favorites in the overall. 

                   In the second group Banesto started to chase immediately. They came within 30 seconds of catching us, but we were in time-trial mode in the first group with about ten guys. It became an 80-kilometer team time trial, trying to increase the gap between the second group and us. We had five ONCE riders, two Casino, two Cofidis, and Christian and I riding full tilt all the way to the finish. We put over six minutes on the guys behind. Lance lost the jersey today to Kirsipu, who won every bonus sprint, but Lance did manage to eliminate some very strong riders for the classement. 

                   In the race today the Spanish guys had a new nickname for Jonathon Vaughters. They called him "El Gato", the cat. He got the name after he flew into a crash yesterday and went flying.  Somehow he landed on his feet; he didn't get a scratch on his body. The bad news is that today Jonathon lost his nickname. He was one of the unlucky ones to get caught in the crash on the causeway. 

                   He crashed hard, cutting his chin wide open. He got back up and continued riding while the medical staff bandaged him. After ten or fifteen kilometers some of his other injuries became evident and it was necessary for Jonathon to stop. It truly is bad luck because Jonathon's form in the mountains would have provided some very big surprises. 

                   Also involved in two crashes today was Tyler and Pascal. Tyler has a sore knee and both of them are a little beat up, but they should be able to continue tomorrow. 

                   Lance is not bummed he lost the jersey, but he is bummed that he will lose some of the perks that come with the jersey. For example, each jersey holder -- points, yellow, and mountain -- get their own private camper at the finish. It has a fully stocked fridge, a television, and keeps all the press out. It was ideal for winding down from the race and changing into some fresh clothes. 

                   One of the official sponsors of the prologue was Carnac. They issued about 300,000 pamphlets to pass around the course that had George on the cover, of course highlighting his Carnac's.  We both received some new yellow riding shoes, but I can't change shoes in one day. George can and he did. 

                   A little trivia information for you. 

                   The average weight of a Tour rider this year is 70 kilograms 

                   The average resting pulse is 63 beats/min. 

                   The tallest rider is Scirea (Saeco) at 195cm. Eros Poli normally is the tallest but he didn't get selected to do the Tour this year. He is on a French team and the director had to take some French guys to the Tour so Eros was left out.  The other Credit Agricole riders were not happy about this. 

                   The lightest rider is Pellicioli at 52kg. 

                   The heaviest rider is Backstedt at 95kg. That should give you a new appreciation for suffering in the mountains. 

                   The biggest lung capacity was Morin at 7.83 l 

                   The lowest cardiac resting pulse was Demarbaix at 33 bpm. 

Steels takes stage, Kirsipuu in yellow

                   This report filed July 5, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews technical editor

                   Mapei-Quick Step’s Tom Steels took today’s second stage of the 1999 Tour de France in familiar fashion, beating a star-filled field of sprinters in St. Nazaire. But the finish was about the only predictable element of this 176-kilometer stage from Challans. And while the U.S. Postal Service’s Lance Armstrong lost the Tour’s overall lead to Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu, the day’s remarkable events did much to improve the 27-year-old American’s chances of wearing yellow when it counts. 

                   At first glance, the roads that made up the Tour’s second stage looked almost easy. The course profile varied so slightly that the day’s only rated climb was man-made. But flat as they are, the route from Challans to St. Nazaire made an impact on this year’s Tour that may well be felt in Paris on July 25. 

                   The Tour continued its circuit of France’s Vendée region with a start in Challans. Early morning rains and an exceptionally slow start -- just 32.9km over the course of the first hour -- suggested that the day might even offer a repeat of yesterday’s 179-rider field sprint finish.  But circumstance interceded and the peloton encountered its first obstacle of the day in the form of a tourist snapping a photo at the edge of the road. 

                   "She was just standing there," the U.S. Postal Service’s Christian Vande Velde recalled. "Some avoided her, but it was a sort of chain reaction and a lot of people went down." 

                   More than 30 to be precise and among them Rabobank’s best Tour hope, Michael Boogerd, fifth in last year’s Tour. The 27-year-old Dutch rider suffered a cut lip among other injuries but, with the help of four teammates, was soon able to rejoin the main group. 

                   Perhaps it was the injury, perhaps it was a lack of concern about the increasing winds, but Boogerd and company were near the back of the  field as the peloton neared the Atlantic and crossed the Noirmoutier bridge at the 73-kilometer mark. More importantly, the Rabobanks remained there for the next few kilometers as the course wound its way toward one of the Tour’s most unique features: the Passage du Gois. 

                   Completely submerged at high tide, the Passage is negotiated only by means of a narrow, slippery 4-kilometer road. Indeed, the day’s high tide had receded only about an hour before the peloton neared. Just one-kilometer into the Passage, a rider in the middle of the field went down, slipping on the asphalt as the road took a dog-leg turn to the right. Among the six riders who hit the pavement were the U.S. Postal Service’s Jonathan Vaughters and Rabobank’s Marc Wauters – both of whom were eventually forced to abandon the Tour because of their injuries. 

                   But the broader impact of the mishap was felt by a far greater number of riders. Because of the combination of the narrow road – about 14 feet at the good parts – with a strong wind that was now coming at the riders almost directly from their right side, those at the front of the field found themselves with a significant advantage as more than 100 riders caught behind the crash scrambled to get past the melee. 

                   But the damage was done and the gap proved insurmountable. In front, 72 riders including the leaders of a powerful cross-section of teams: Armstrong; ONCE’s Abraham Olano; Cofidis’s Bobby Julich; Dauphine winner Alex Vinokourov (Casino). Also in the group, strong sprinters, including Telekom’s Erik Zabel; stage 1 winner Kirsipuu; Saeco’s Mario Cipollini; Mapei’s Tom Steels; La Française des Jeux’s Jimmy Casper…. Facing strong winds and flat roads, the mix was powerful … and quite lethal to those caught in the rear: Banesto’s Alex Zulle; Polti’s Ivan Gotti; Boogerd and further back still, Credit Agricole’s Chris Boardman. 

                   With teams like ONCE, Mapei, the Postals, Cofidis and Telekom setting the pace, the leaders eventually built an advantage of more than six minutes, the desperate Banesto-Polti alliance in the rear unable to close the gap. 

                   As the leaders ascended the day’s only rated climb – a Cat. 4 in the form of the stunning St. Nazaire bridge, 10km from the finish – teams began the task of setting up their best sprinters.  And though Kirsipuu was eager to take a second stage, the Estonian sprinter had already, by winning all three of the day’s bonus sprints, moved into the overall lead. 

                   Speeding into St. Nazaire, the front of the lead had a familiar quality to it. At the front contesting the finish, Steels, Kirsipuu, Cipollini… and that’s how it ended: a stage taken by those many would have predicted to have won, but a surprisingly large group considerably behind. 

                   Armstrong seemed pleased with the day’s results and unperturbed by the loss of the jersey. "Well, we were expecting that to happen somewhere along the way," Armstrong said. "It’s not our focus to try and keep it for the whole Tour." 

                   "Tough day," an exhausted Vande Velde gasped as he rode toward his team van. Tough, but for the loss of Vaughters, it was, for Vande Velde and his Postal Service teammates, a very successful day. 

                   INJURY UPDATE: 

                   According to U.S. Postal Service spokesman, Dan Osipow, Vaughters suffered a facial injury in the accident at the Passage du Gois and abandoned the race after losing some eight minutes in the ensuing 15 kilometers. Vaughters, according to Postal staff following the injured rider, reportedly suffered from dizziness and double vision and eventually opted to abandon and seek treatment at a nearby hospital. In addition to receiving stitches for a cut to his chin, Vaughters was also checked for a possible concussion. 

 Stage 2 commentary from John Wilcockson in St. Nazaire

                   Bicycle racing showed both its majestic and cruel sides on the windswept roads of the Loire-Atlantique on Monday. Majestic was the manner in which Lance Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Service team took charge of the race as it approached the Paris-Roubaix-like Gois causeway halfway into the 176km stage 2 -- their move eventually resulting in six-minute losses for three of Armstrong's most feared opponents: Ivan Gotti, Alex Zülle and Michael Boogerd. Cruel were the crashes that (1) contributed to Boogerd's loss, and (2) forced Postal's Jonathan Vaughters to quit the Tour.

                   Before the start, the Postal riders were told to make sure that Armstrong was at the front as they reached the Gois causeway. So, 15km before it, the Postal riders went to the front, forming an echelon into the strong sidewind blowing from the Atlantic Ocean. The field of 189 riders was all together at this point, as Boogerd and the 30 others involved in a pileup 30km before had all reintegrated the pack. The Postals' pace was such that the peloton split into five groups before even reaching the flat, exposed stone-and-concrete causeway, with George Hincapie driving the hardest to pull him, Armstrong and 13 other riders clear at the front.

                   Behind, the day's second mass crash condemned Vaughters and Rabobank's Marc Wauters to abandoning, and ensured that the race would never get back together. In front, the 15 were smart to wait for the next group of 60 riders (including three more Postal men: Christian Vande Velde, Kevin Livingston and Frankie Andreu) ... and they headed at breakneck speed across the marshes. The chasers (led by Zülle's Banesto team and Gotti's Polti troops) never had a chance.

                   Such was the intensity of this magnificent battle that the final 113 kilometers -- the distance from which the Postals started their up-tempo charge -- were covered at a phenomenal 54.5 kph. Indeed, if the stage hadn't started with a snail-pace opening hour of less than 33 kph, this would have been the fastest road stage in Tour de France history.

                   The loss of the yellow jersey by Armstrong to Jaan Kirsipuu should prove of great benefit to his team, as the onus of chasing breakaways will now be on Kirsipuu's Casino team, giving Hincapie, Andreu and company at least a few days of well-deserved "rest." Others to benefit from the stage were ONCE's Abraham Olano; Casino's Alex Vinokourov; Cofidis's Bobby Julich, who had a comfortable ride with the front group and moved into 16th place overall; Mapei's Pavel Tonkov, who climbed to 14th, and also had the morale-boosting stage win of teammate Tom Steels; Saeco-Cannondale's Paolo Savoldelli and Laurent Dufaux; Polti's Richard Virenque; and Fernando Escartin, the only Kelme rider to make it to the front group.

                   So the Tour showed its cruel side Monday, but also its more humane one. Latvian Raivis Belohvosciks of Lampre (who finished 29 minutes back) and Spaniard Javier Pascual Llorente of Kelme (who arrived 46 minutes down) were both eliminated for finishing outside the official time limit. But the race jury showed their sympathy by reinstating them into the race -- in view of the crashes they had far from the finish, and thus honoring each rider's great courage. Magnificent.