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Stage 6

Frankie’s Diary: Leading the chase, and Steels as the one-man wrecking crew 

                   This report filed July 9, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service rider

                   A little note about Thursday’s stage: You probably were thinking why we didn't have a guy in the break and then we would not have had to work? Don't get me wrong, we missed the break, but that would not have solved our problem.  Lance is our guy and if one of us were in the break we still would have had to work in the pack. A few of us — Tyler, Pascal, Peter— are 15 minutes down already, and a few of us — George, Christian, and I — can't climb with the big guns so it would have been no advantage for us to be there. 

                   Today I felt like I never got off the bike. I chased all day yesterday and today it started off the same way. After maybe five kilometers the attacks started and right away a group of 10 went up the road. Again we had no one in the break and immediately we started a chase with the full team. 

                   This time the chase was 100% full out trying to catch these guys as fast as possible. It was pure hell for all of us and a maximum effort. I was suffering big time because my legs still weren't recovered from the day before. I think we chased for about 20 kilometers before bringing the break back. Near the end even Lance was helping us pull, I think he felt sorry for us seeing how badly we were sucking wind. 

                   I know we should have had a guy in the break  Don't look at me. This has happened three times now and today in the morning meeting we were told that Kevin, Tyler, and Christian have to watch for the early breaks. It was the same the day before. 

                   After catching the break the attacks started flying. It was like doing a classic. We had huge cross winds and full echelons with everyone fighting for position. It was very hard for everyone. At the end the end result was the same, a field sprint. 

                   Some of the most dangerous sprints are headwind sprints and today was no different.  The final 20 kilometers were into a strong headwind. This enables everyone to keep swarming to the front because the speed is not high enough to string out the pack. 

                   In the sprint Cippo took off first with Svorada on his wheel. Steels started coming up and totally slammed into Svorada almost taking him down.  Then in the same pedal stroke Steels continued to move over and almost take Svorada's wheel out while pushing him into the barriers. Then with Steel's sprinting next to Cippo for the win he ran into Cippo causing him to swerve a bit.  Steels was a one man wrecking crew today. If it wasn't for Svorada's bike handling ability there would have been guys all over the ground 100 meters from the finish. 

                   George got up there for the sprint except Minali took a hand sling from one of his teammates and the guy that got shot backward went right into George. It's just a typical day in a field sprint. In the end Steels won but was disqualified for everything I just told you. The win goes to Cippo, three in a row! 

                   During the race Lance called on the radio complaining how his jersey didn't fit right. After one hundred kilometers while he was digging in his pockets for some food he came across his answer. He forgot to get rid of the one pound medallion we get everyday for the team presentation award. He gave it to George and then George gave it to Peter. Nobody wanted to carry the thing, it was too heavy. 

                   Tomorrow's objectives will be simple: Keep Lance as fresh and as rested as possible. Not that it's been any different this whole week. He hasn't put his head in the wind for one second, which is the way we want it. We want him to finish tomorrow like he didn't even ride that day.  That might be hard considering the stage is 230km's. 

                   The T.T. is Sunday and it will be the first critical and deciding day in setting up the G.C. guys.  We need three guys to go for it in the time trial so we can keep the team G.C. As I told Christian, "I don't do T.T.'s." This is where we will really miss Jonathan. After the T.T. are the mountains and once we are in the mountains you either keep up or get dropped, it's that simple. 

                   The staff is a critical part to our success not only at the Tour, but all year long. Here at the Tour, because we have nine riders, we have three mechanics and four soigneurs. 

                   Two of the soigneurs are in charge of the hotels.  This means transporting and placing the luggage in each rider's room so when we arrive all they do is give us a key and everything there. They also are in charge of putting water in all the riders' rooms and setting up the feed room. After each race all of us are usually starving so we have an area, sometimes in the hallway or in a room, where we have cereal, cookies, drinks, and fruit waiting for us. The two hotel soigneurs also set up the massage tables for all the soigneurs and track down the maids to try and get extra towels and sheets for the massages. 

                   The other two soigneurs are in charge of the feed zone at the races. They have to make all the race food for the start of the race and the food that will go in the musettes at the feed zone. Usually the night before they prepare all the bottles with water, and Cytomax for during the race and Metabol for after the race. We go through a lot of bottles each day. One of the soigneurs is also in charge of setting up the breakfast table with all the plates, bowls, forks, coffee, cereal, and bread. This is so we don't have to get up 10 times trying to locate a fork or knife. 

                   Normally they would also help out with the dinner, but for the Tour we have a chef here to help us. Willy Balmat, from Switzerland, has worked with Motorola for the Tour and is now with us. What a difference having a chef makes! 

                   Sure, the food is better, but the biggest difference is that we get the food quickly.  Instead of waiting around for an hour eating bread, we’re served our pasta as soon as we sit down. This is one of the biggest advantages to having a helper in the kitchen. We get to eat the right food quickly instead of stuffing ourselves on bread and salad. 

                   The mechanics are split up in the same way.  One mechanic drives the truck to the hotel and works on the bikes, gluing tires, getting T.T. bikes ready, and basically checking on everything on our bikes. The other two mechanics work the race; one sits in the first car and the other in the second car. Working in the first car is more stressful, especially in the flat races. The second car never sees the front so that mechanic and driver usually alternate between driving so each can get a nap in the back of the car. The most time consuming job for the mechanics, which they all hate but is the most important, is the gluing of tires. They wash the bikes day in and day out, but I get the feeling they hate tubulars.  I'm sure a mechanics dream would be a team on clinchers. Forget about it! 


                   VeloNews Editor's Note: 

                   If you want to send a message to Frankie, we'll forward your e-mail to him. Please include your e-mail address within the body of your message.  Remember, he's sort of focused on some race in France and may not have all the time in the world to reply immediately. 

                   The temporary mailbox is: 



by John Wilcockson in Maubeuge

                   A strong north wind played a big part in the stage, as it was never favorable, and often blowing against the race. It was a crosswind on the first part of the course, when Armstrong infiltrated a 23-man move on one of the hillier sections of the stage, crossing the rolling countryside of the Somme. Interestingly. The American’s presence in the attack – which was 42 seconds ahead at one point – elicited a strong chase by Bobby Julich’s Cofidis team, with the gap finally being closed by Abraham Olano’s ONCE squad. Armstrong, Julich and Olano are expected to be the main protagonists for the yellow jersey on Sunday in the 56.5km-long time trial at Metz.

                   When the course changed direction today after 60km, the wind was more favorable, and the four-man attack had a 2:30 lead before turning back into the crosswind at St. Quentin. The wind made the peloton reluctant to chase, and that’s why the leaders were able to build an eight-minute lead. The resultant chase over the last hour – when the pack closed a seven-minute gap in 45km – was done entirely by the Telekom and Saeco. They left it late, and might not have made it if the wind was less strong. Another factor was Casino’s decision to stop its man in the break, Maignan, from helping the other three.

                   The sixth successive field sprint today was a record for the Tour. There had been five consecutive mass finishes before, but never six.  Tomorrow’s long hilly stage to Thionville is unlikely to produce a seventh, as the day before a time trial often sees the main teams reluctant to make the tempo.

It’s Steels… no it’s Cipo’ in Maubeuge 

                   This report filed July 9, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews technical

                   To the disappointment of the thousands Belgians who crossed the nearby border to this northern French city, race officials at the Tour de France nullified a stage by national hero Tom Steels after determining the 27-year-old Mapei sprinter did not sprint in a straight line, causing him to bump Lampre-Daikin’s Jan Svorada in the final meters of today’s 171.5-kilometer sixth stage. The ruling gave Saeco-Cannondale’s "Lion King" his third successive win at this year’s Tour, a feat not matched in more than 50 years.  Casino’s Jaan Kirsipuu remains the Tour’s overall leader. 

                   It was nearly half-an-hour after the finish before race officials issued a final ruling on the outcome of today’s stage from Amiens. Steels, the first to cross the line, would have earned his third win at this year’s race, but instead was relegated to the back of a 172-rider finishing field, eliciting memories of his 1997 ejection from the Tour – caused by his throwing a bottle at Frederic Moncassin. Steels not only lost his 20-second bonus, he was also penalized 30 seconds, which dropped him from second to ninth place on overall time. 

                   Conditions were ripe for a dangerous or controversial finish as today’s course progressively narrowed in the closing kilometers.  Indeed, before learning of the race panel’s ruling, Steels suggested that the course made it "nearly impossible to keep yourself from bumping into other riders." 

                   But a review of the finish by race officials led them to conclude that Steels’s violation was both avoidable and affected the outcome of the stage. In the closing meters, Steels moved out of his line, leaning on Svorada in the process.  The Czech rider narrowly avoided losing his balance. The ruling handed Cipollini his third straight win at this Tour de France, something no rider has accomplished since another Italian, Gino Bartali, managed a similar string of wins in 1948. 

                   In keeping with the pattern followed throughout this Tour, the day was again highlighted by a long and unsuccessful breakaway attempt, ultimately caught just a few kilometers from the line. Attacks began within a few kilometers of the start at Amiens, with one particularly dangerous group of 23, including the U.S. Postal Service’s Lance Armstrong, who at one point built enough of a lead to become the Tour’s overall leader on the road. 

                   "That was a great time today," said Armstrong’s teammate Christian Vande Velde. "We had no worries and could just hang on for the ride, watching everyone else peeing their pants." 

                   The main group was concerned and soon chased down Armstrong’s group, triggering another round of attacks, including a nearly successful break that was eventually reeled in only 6.5 kilometers outside of Maubeuge. 

                   Today’s would-be-heroes -- French national champion Francois Simon (Credit Agricole), Francisco Cerezo (Vitalicio Seguros), Frederic Guesdon (La Francaise des Jeux) and Gilles Maignan (Casino) – had at one point in their 90-kilometer effort, built an eight-minute lead, this time making Simon the race’s overall leader… at least on the road. 

                   But the trip to Maubeuge was one of the Tour’s last chances for the sprinters to shine and teams who have pinned most Tour hopes on those sprinters – Saeco, Telekom and Mapei -- went to work to chase down the four leaders. The foursome’s lead, which peaked at 8:02 with 70k to go, was progressively chipped away by sustained efforts from Telekom and Saeco. 

                   As the break was finally caught, the chasers now sought to control the front of the field. Charging toward Maubeuge, it was still the two powerhouse teams at the front. Indeed, Deutsche Telekom appeared especially aggressive, hoping to end an unexpected drought this Tour. The team’s leader, three-time points jersey winner Erik Zabel, had expected to do far better than he has been this Tour. But the added burden of team leadership – with the absence of the team’s two strongest overall contenders, Jan Ullrich and Bjarne Riis – seems to have made the 29-year-old German nervous, causing him to jump far earlier in finishing sprints than he would normally. 

                   Turning from the wide, open lanes of a French autoroute to a narrowing finishing straight four kilometers out of Maubeuge, the battle again seemed to be one between Telekom and Saeco.  Though probably the best sprinter in the field, Steels is without the powerful leadout teams that so often deliver Zabel and Cipo’ to the line.  And as he had yesterday, Steels found himself picking his way through a jostle at the front. But this time he was not to be beaten, fighting his way ahead, the Belgian moved out of his line, bumping Svorada and cutting off Cipollini. 

                   "I watched it on television," Cipollini later recounted. "When I saw, I believed something was very wrong. The outcome would have been very different if he hadn’t done what he did. It is a good thing Svorada didn’t go down. If he had, he would have taken the whole peloton out." 

                   Apparently, the Tour’s race commissaires agreed. Steels, who had already celebrated his win, quickly left for his hotel after learning of the decision. Cipollini, meanwhile, said he would have preferred to win without the intervention of the judges, nonetheless appreciated the win and dedicated his victory to former Italian national cycling coach Alfrerdo Martini. 

                   "He has worked with me a lot," Cipollini said. "I owe him a great deal and respect him very much." 

                   Cipollini has recently been publicly discussing his concerns about the status of his contract negotiations for next season. Cannondale, one of the team’s two major sponsors, issued a statement paraphrasing Mark Twain, noting that reports of Cipollini’s departure from the squad have been "greatly exaggerated," no doubt particularly true since the 32-year-old’s stock has risen so much in the last three days. 

Cipollini Creates More History 

Another flat stage, another bunch sprint - but far from just another day in the Tour de France. Today's third successive win by Super-Mario Cipollini has given him another slice of history thanks to his hat-trick of stage wins: the first since Gino Bartali's mountain-stage treble way back in 1948. But the Lion-King had to wait for a ruling by the race jury on some rough-riding by the first rider across the line, Tom Steels, before he could begin his ego-tripping strut in front of the world's press and the huge crowd at the finish in Mauberge. Super-Mario's second place - by a fraction of a wheel - paid big dividends five minutes after the award ceremony dubbed Steels the winner of the day. Steels' disqualification also highlights the frustration of Erik Zabel, who now has three second-places to his credit - but no win. "Tom Steels moved well off his line in the final 100 meters," said the race jury minutes after announcing their decision to move him from first place to 172nd (the last place of the bunch rush). "More than that, however, his riding was dangerous."

The Mapei rider still had his moment of glory on the podium when he was given initial credit for the stage win - and also presented with the green jersey of Points Champion. His temporary win also moved him to within three seconds of the overall race lead thanks to the 20-second time bonus across the line. So now, when the race crosses briefly into his native Belgium in tomorrow's seventh stage, Steels will instead find himself in third-place overall (31" off Jaan Kirsipuu's continuing lead) and without the green jersey he rode today's stage in. The Points title remains the domain of Estonia's Kirsipuu, but the green jersey will be worn by Zabel thanks to Kirsipuu donning the more-celebrated yellow for the sixth consecutive day.

The sixth bunch finish from six road stages this year, was again highlighted by another exciting mid-stage break. And for over 80km the host country had good reason to be excited about the prospect of their first yellow jersey. The reigning French champion, Francois Simon (Credit Agricole), began the day in 17th position overall (1'00" behind Kirsipuu). Following an attack at the 72nd kilometer he quickly built a lead which put him into the lead on the road. Along with three other riders - Frederic Guesdon (FDJ), Francesco Cerezo (Vitalicio) and Gilles Maignan (Casino) - Simon's break reached a maximum advantage over eight minutes. An initially apathetic chase by the peloton seemed certain to guarentee Simon of his chance to join his brother, Pascal, in the honor of wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey - something Pascal did for seven days in 1983. After the feedzone, however, the chase by the sprinters' teams began to eat away at Simon's advantage. For a while it was touch-and-go with only Saeco leading the chase. When they were joined by Rabobank and Telekom, however, Simon's opportunity faded fast and their 92km break succumbed to the wishes of bunch-sprint enthusiasts like Cipollini, Zabel and Steels.

Cipollini again got his desired glory moment; Zabel the chance to display his second-place face; and Steels... Well, at least he received the podium kisses of a stage winner - even if his third win in 1999 has to come in a day later in the last of the flat stages from Avesnes-sur-Helpe to Thonville. To quote Mick Jagger, "You can't always git what you want; but if you try sometime, you just just might find, you get what you need." And Steels just might need today's frustration to inspire him to a cleaner sprint tomorrow.

Saturday 10 July 1999
Tour de France: Steels censure hands hat-trick to Cipollini 
By Phil Liggett

                         MARIO CIPOLLINI fought all the way up the long finishing straight at Maubeuge yesterday, as he tried to equal the 51-year-old record of fellow Italian Gino Bartoli by winning three successive Tour de France stages.

                         It was a classic shoulder-to-shoulder battle alongside Belgian Tom Steels, with both riders having won two stages this week. Steels was desperate to reach the back wheel of Cipollini and in so doing he collided with Jan Svorada.

                         This was enough for the race referees to disqualify Steels after he crossed the line first and place him 172nd, and last in the field after the 106 miles sixth stage from Amiens.

                         The decision gave Cipollini, who had already moved away from the area, his 11th stage success in a Tour and he became the first rider to win three stages straight since 1948.

                         When Cipollini was announced as the stage winner, he was already at his hotel eating a fruit salad. He was ordered to return to the finish area where he had to undergo a drugs test.

                         It was perhaps a hard decision to disqualify Steels, but he did collide with Svorada, causing him to wobble and pull back out of the sprint finish.  Svorada's Lampre team chose not to complain.

                         A further collision with Cipollini just before the line may have convinced the referees to act. Understandably, Steels, who was also disqualifed from the complete race on stage six two year's ago for throwing a drinking bottle as a rider in the sprint, was unhappy.

                         "It's the second time they have taken a victory away from me and I can't even appeal. It's unbelievable. I think they want us to stop racing kilometres from the finish," he said.

                         The last three miles produced one of the finest build-ups to a sprint finish for many years as the complete field regrouped and sent their team pacemakers ahead. 

                         The race had earlier joined a dual carriageway and without a bend for the last three miles to the line, the speeds went as high as 40mph.

                         It seemed that Cipollini and Steels were not going to make it through the pack, but the two riders who have developed a friendly, but intense rivalry, burst out of the front in the final yards.

                         Cipollini may have reservations about being given the stage victory, his 14th of the year, even though he wanted to join Gino Bartali as a three-times-in-a-row stage winner. Bartoli won the Tour de France in 1938 and then again in 1948, either side of the Second World War. 

                         On the warmest day of the race so far, the riders were not expected to attack the route through the departments of the Somme, Aisne and into the north of France, with any vigour.

                         In the end the day did work out as planned but not before the US Postal team, who missed what could have been a vital move on Thursday which left them chasing for 100 miles, tried for a revenge yesterday. 

                         After only 15 miles Lance Armstrong joined in a front group of 23 riders which also included likely main contenders next week, Patrick Jonker and Mariano Picolli.

                         It was the first time the race has given any indication as to who might be the  strong men as the race goes into its second week and enters the Alps. Also ahead was Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov, the expected leader of the Casino squad after tomorrow's time-trial.

                         For the moment, though, Casino, who withdraw from the sport next season, are enjoying an unexpected boost with the Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu, who kept the lead for a fifth day. Kirsipuu continues to snatch the small-time bonuses along the way and with a third yesterday after the relegation of Steels, he leads Cipollini by 26 seconds. 

                         Cipollini has never finished a Tour de France as he has a distinct allergy to the high mountains. For this reason the other sprinters, Steels, Kirsipuu and Erik Zabel remain the main contenders for the green jersey for the day's most consistent finisher.

                         Zabel, who has won the competition for the last three years, is struggling against Cipollini and Steels, but is likely to find his rival to a record-equalling fourth jersey to be the Australian Stuart O'Grady, who is fifth in the standings behind Kirsipuu.

                         Today is the last stage for the "greyhounds", although the undulations, as the race enters the Moselle region bound for Thionville, could see the field break up and the sprinters miss out.

                         Yesterday's details

                         6TH STAGE (Amiens to Maubeuge, 106 miles): 1, M Cipollini (Italy, Saeco) 4h 11m 09s; 2, E Zabel (Germany, Telekom); 3, J Kirsipuu (Estonia, Casino); 4, J Svorada (Slovakia, Lampre); 5, D Nazon (France, La FranŸaise des Jeux); 6, G Hincapie (US, US Postal); 7, S Martinello (Italy, Polti); 8, S O'Grady (Australia, Crédit Agricole); 9, N Minali (Italy, Cantina Tollo); 10, L Michaelsen (Denmark, La FranŸaise des Jeux).

                         11, C Capelle (France, Big Mat); 12, J Casper (France, La FranŸaise des Jeux); 13, F Sacchi (Italy, Polti); 14, S Hinault (France, Crédit Agricole); 15, G Mondini (Italy, Cantina Tollo); 16, C Moreau (France, Festina); 17, J Sweet (Australia, Big Mat); 18, E Aggiano (Italy, Vitalicio Seguros); 19, C da Cruz (Spain, Big Mat); 20, F de Waele (Belgium, Lotto) all same time. GB: 54, C Boardman (GB, Crédit Agricole) same time.

                         OVERALL: 1, Kirsipuu 26h 57m 55s; 2, Cipollini at 26s; 3, T Steels (Belgium, Mapei) at 31s; 4, O'Grady at 38s; 5, Zabel same time; 6, L Armstrong (US, US Postal) at 46s; 7, A Olano (Spain, ONCE) at 57s; 8, Hincapie at 58s; 9, Moreau at 1-01; 10, F Simon (France, Crédit Agricole) at 1-04; 11, A Vinokourov (Kazakhstan, Casino) at 1-07; 12, S Gonzalez (Spain, ONCE) same time; 13, A Peron (Italy, ONCE) at 1-09; 14, C Vandevelde (US, US Postal); 15, L Dufaux (Switzerland, Saeco) all same time; 16, A Casero (Spain, Vitalicio Seguros) at 1-12; 17, P Tonkov (Russia, Mapei) at 1-14; 18, J Voigt (Germany, Crédit Agricole); 19, B Julich (US, Cofidis) all same time; 20, A Gonzalez (Spain, Vitalicio Seguros) at 1-15. GB: 126, Boardman at 16-18.

                         Points: 1, Kirsipuu 189pts; 2, Zabel 170; 3, Steels 154. King of Mountains: 1, M Piccoli (Italy, Lampre-Daikin) 29pts; 2, L Brochard  (France, Festina) 15; 3, F Secchiari (Italy, Saeco) 6. Team: 1, US Postal 80-56-54; 2, ONCE at 4s; 3, Crédit Agricole at 19s