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Stage 3

Frankie's Diary: It’s two for Steels 

                   This report filed July 6, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service rider

                   It's two for Steels and it looks easier for him each time. Tom won yesterday and today in a massive very fast bunch sprint. In the weeks prior to the Tour I wouldn't have said that Tom would win a stage this year. That is only based on performance. Based on past history and how Tom seems to find a new level of fitness for the Tour I would have guaranteed a stage win. 

                   In the races leading up to the Tour, Tom gets up there every day for the challenge of the sprint, but he's cautious and careful. He knows the risks and he's not ready to take them till he has to.  He didn't kill everyone by lengths and sometimes he couldn't come around the first rider for the win. He must have been waiting for the Tour because now he is a whole different rider, with a support team that any rider would dream for. 

                   All in all it was a very uneventful day. Today was down right boring compared to yesterday where the whole outcome of the race changed. 

                   It was perfect for me. I woke up tired after working for two straight days trying to keep the jersey. Yesterday especially took it out of me.  Today was a rest day for me; well, as much as you can rest in a 195km Tour stage. 

                   A break went early in the stage and Casino had to ride on the front the whole day to protect the jersey for Jaan Kirsipuu. It was nice to change roles with them -- what a difference it is just sitting in compared to riding on the front. The break was caught with about 30 kilometers to go and that was when the race really began. 

                   Our whole job today was keeping Lance out of the wind and near the front and out of trouble.  Early in the race this job is easy, at the end of the race it becomes downright near impossible.  The sprinters are going crazy, the speed has tripled, and it never feels like you are far enough in the front to stay out of trouble. Making our job a little easier is that Lance is good at holding, and fighting for position. He’s not like some guys whom you have to hold their hand the whole time or they are spat out the back. Lance knows how to battle to stay at the front. 

                   Finally, we changed hotels. The start of the Tour de France has taken us nowhere. It's been like the Tour of Nantes. We have spent one week in the same hotel and haven't left the region after four days of racing. My teammate Pascal Derame is loving it; it's his hometown here. He already is excited for next year because we have two or three stages in the same area, plus we will see the return of the team time trial here next year. 

                   Because of yesterday's crash and the high speeds to the finish, the organizers decided nobody would be eliminated because of finishing outside of the time cut. There were a few groups who, if the time cut rule were enforced, would have been eliminated. Pascal was in one of those groups. As it was there were riders who finished 50 minutes behind and still were allowed to start today. Two riders did not start this morning because of injuries sustained yesterday: Jonathan got stitches in his chin and he hit his head, and Marc Wauters (Rabobank). 

                   We are still leading the team G.C. and everyday we do the team presentation at sign on. So far each of us have collected three Credit Lyonnais lions. Today after the team presentation Christian had to stay on the stage for another award. Our young lad is now leading the classement for young riders. Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto) who was leading didn't make the split yesterday and lost 15 minutes. Christian has a nine second lead over Benoit Salmon (Casino) now. 

                   Each day Franciase des Jeux is desperately trying to set up Jimmy Casper for a win. This young French rider schooled Zabel in Tour of Germany. The team only has eight or 10 days for Jimmy to pull off a win before he stops. He is the youngest rider in the Tour at 21 years of age. 

                   I would think that if you didn't like cycling July would be a nightmare for you, especially here in France. Every day the race is shown for three hours live. Then each night at nine p.m. on Eurosport we can catch a one hour review of the race. They also show another re-cap of the race the next morning. The commentators for English Eurosport are David Duffield and Russell Williams. 

                   David just babbles all day long about nothing.  You know how when you are watching ABC or ESPN and they go into all the cultural stuff instead of bike racing. That is exactly how Duffield is, he knows jack about racing but babbles about hats, wine, roads, and other stupid stuff. Russell used to race on the track and knows a little more, but has never done a  Tour. Obviously their commentary for three hours live leaves a lot to be appreciated. But hey, even bad commentary about bike racing on TV is better than no bike racing on TV. 

Steels powers to second win 

                   This report filed July 6, 1999

                    By Charles Pelkey
                    VeloNews Technical editor

                   All seems back to normal… a typical early-Tour stage, and even a repeat win for Mapei-Quick Step’s top sprinter, Tom Steels. For the victims of Monday’s wind-blown and crash-marked stage 2, the ride from Nantes to Laval was a welcomed return to the expected. And for Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu, another welcomed day in yellow. 

                   And while American Lance Armstrong slipped a couple of spots back in the overall standings, the events of the past two days have most certainly benefited the Postal Service’s top rider.  Armstrong, the winner of the opening prologue at Le Puy du Fou, was happy that the responsibility of chasing down breaks fell to Kirsipuu’s Casino team. 

                   It could have been a very different day. After Monday’s stage, some of the Tour’s heaviest hitters – Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Gotti (Polti), Paris-Nice winner Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) and Banesto’s two-time Vuelta winner Alex Zülle -- were already facing more than six-minute deficits as the day began. But when riders gathered at the starting area in Nantes this morning, many of the bruised and battered seemed more intent on working out the kinks than making up time. 

                   Leaving Nantes, the field largely stayed together for the first hour with a series of small accelerations that were quickly neutralized. The day’s first and only significant attack come at about the 40-kilometer mark. But the move by Massimo Guinti (Cantina Tollo)and 1997 Paris-Roubaix winner Frederic Guesdon (La Francaise des Jeux) posed little threat, and the two managed to roll away unchallenged. 

                   "For me it was a relief," said U.S. Postal’s Tyler Hamilton, bandaged from injuries he sustained Monday. "Things seemed to settle to down to a pretty steady pace at that point." 

                   Indeed, the only other "major move" worth watching at that point in the stage, was Lylian Lebreton’s (Big Mat-Aubers ‘93) jump off the front as the peloton neared the outskirts of Besle. No heroic charge off the front was this, however. Lebreton’s move was simply timed so he could ride ahead to visit his family waiting ahead at the side of the road. A few hugs, a kiss for his wife and Lebreton was back in the field. 

                   Meanwhile, Guesdon and Guinti continued their efforts ahead, building a lead of more than four minutes at the 100-kilometer mark. But enough was enough, and over the ensuing 60 kilometers, the duo was slowly reeled back. 

                   Approaching Laval, the heavy hitters began to set up for the day’s finish. Rabobank, Saeco, Mapei, Telekom and Casino each moved to the front. But before the final contest, a slight rise and a steep descent, followed by a sharp right-hand turn about 2.5 kilometers from the finish. 

                   Cantina Tollo’s Moreno Di Biase didn’t clear the turn and crashed. But the pace ahead continued to build. A hard left-hand turn and then one kilometer of clear road to the finish. And again it  was the familiar faces one expects to see contesting the final meters a flat stage like today’s: Saeco’s Mario Cipollini, Zabel, Credit Agricole’s Stuart O'Grady, Cantina Tollo’s Nicola Minali, and the Postal’s George Hincapie. But from the group of a dozen or so riders most seriously contesting the sprint, emerged an even more familiar face: that of yesterday’s winner Mapei’s Steels. 

                   Finishing in fourteenth was Kirsipuu – perhaps a bit more cautious, now that he’s protecting the jersey – and 10 spots further back, Armstrong, now in fourth place in the hunt for yellow. Ahead of the American are Kirsipuu, Steels and O’Grady – all sprinters who have benefited from time bonuses earned for high stage placings and intermediate sprints along each stage.