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Stage 7

Frankie’s Diary: We’re too tired to talk at the table

                   This report filed July 10, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service ride

                   Because of the amount of talking at the table this morning I can safely say that we are tired.  Actually, the lack of talking. It was just a lot of eating. The first thing in anybody's mouth is always the coffee. Some days it's good and some days it's down right unhealthy.

                   It was great earlier in the season when Dylan Casey was around. He always brought some fresh Peets coffee that we would always mooch off him. Pascal is our one non-coffee drinker; he's a hot chocolate man. After the coffee we usually go into the cereal and then some pasta and eggs. Then we usually go back to the cereal to top everything off.

                   We go through a minimum of 25 boxes of cereal each week. I have every edition of every toy prize found in a cereal box. I'll never have to buy my kid another toy.

                   Today was the longest, no second longest, no third longest day of the Tour. What's the difference when the stages are 227, 230, and 233 km's long? To me they are all long so it doesn't really matter which day is the "longest."  Today was 227km's long and nobody wasted any time in getting the legs going. As usual the attacks went from the start and it took two hours till things finally settled.

                   The only thing to settle a peloton is for a small group to get away; today it was a Big Mat rider.  After he built up a lead of seven minutes Jacky Durand decided to try and bridge the gap.  Casino just kept riding a slow tempo because the Big Mat rider was 17 minutes down.

                   There were more people watching and lining the roads then any of the earlier stages. The course went next to Belgium and Luxembourg, so I'm sure all the cycling fans from there made their way down to watch the race. Because of the increase in spectators it causes an increase in crashes. The spectators just don't realize how fast we are moving and how we take up the whole road.

                   It's never ending how many baby carriages, bike wheels, camera stands, and coolers we dodge all the time because they are left in the road.  Stefano Garzelli (Mercatone Uno) did hit a spectator, got spun back in to the pack; ping-ponged off a couple of guys and then shot out into a field. I'm sure he will be messed up tomorrow.

                   As Jacky got close to the first rider in the break the Big Mat rider sat up to wait for him. They can work better together than separately especially since there was 100 kilometers to go.  Jacky never seems to learn, they were caught at the end again. He either never learns or he just doesn't care. Actually, I think he attacked so he could gain points in the most aggressive rider competition. If this race had an award for the most stupid rider Jacky would win hands down.

                   With 10 kilometers to go we caught the break and the Telekom and Saeco guys started their trains for the field sprint. Before I get to the sprint I have to note that Erik Zabel took a bad spill in the middle of the race. He cut his chin badly and got a load of road rash.

                   In the final sprint the Saeco guys took over with Cippo taking off for the line. When Zabel went to start his sprint he pulled both his feet out and landed straight on the top tube. It was amazing he didn't crash. Looking back on the TV it looks like his wheel locked up and that stopped the pedals, causing both his feet to come out right away. Cippo won AGAIN, 4th time in a row, match those scored by Charles Pelissier almost 70 years ago.

                   Since the break was nine minutes up the road and we were just cruising, Christian and I decided to have some fun entering the feed zone. We were trying to throw our water bottles into the open hatchback of cars that were lined along the road. I missed both times but Christian landed one right in the back of a red Honda.

                   George, being the nice guy that he is, decided he was going to toss one of his bottles to a guy waiting on the side of the road. He gently tossed it at him and it hit him square in the chest. It almost knocked the guy out. George didn't realize that when your going 40km/hr a water bottle can became a bullet when you throw it at someone. Even worse was that the bottle was half-full.

                   After the race yesterday we saw Tom Steels after dinner. When George saw him he wasn't sure what to say -- none of us were. So George said, "Bad news, huh?" Tom said, "Yeah, it's impossible to argue with those guys." I would think it would be hard to argue especially if you're in the wrong.

                   Cippo has won four times and for sure I don't think he will even ride one mountain pass. His next main goal will be evening out his tan lines at the beach. For the end of the season he has mentioned the idea of going to pursuit worlds in Berlin at the end of October. That will be interesting to watch. Talking about pursuits, Boardman is still mumbling on about retiring. He was spewing to me how his recovery is no good and how he can't come up to his old winning ways. It got depressing listening to him, it's obvious he wants out.

                   Tomorrow is the T.T. The first guy goes off at 10:30 am and last at about 4:00 pm. It's an all day affair. Anybody going for a good ride in the overall will be pulling out the stops for tomorrow.  No more sitting on the wheels and resting and waiting. Look for the top 20 to completely change after tomorrow is done. For me it's the start of my two-day rest block. I will cruise the T.T. and we fly out the next morning after the T.T. Normally I'd say wish us luck, but in this case wish Lance luck.

Cipo' takes his fourth 

                   This report filed July 10, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews technical editor

                   Are we beginning to see a pattern here?  Saeco-Cannondale’s Mario Cipollini has now matched a standard last set by Frenchman Charles Pelissier in the 1930 Tour de France by winning his fourth stage in as many days. But beyond another Cipo’ win, this 227-kilometer stage from Avesnes-sur-Helpe had another very familiar quality to it: The bulk of today’s racing was again highlighted by a long and finally unsuccessful breakaway effort that ended just four heart-breaking kilometers from the northeastern French city of Thionville. Casino’s Jaan Kirsipuu continues to hold on to the Tour’s yellow jersey. 

                   Rolling hills and Tour contenders whose minds might just have been on tomorrow’s 56.5-kilometer Metz time trial, gave hope – albeit false hope – to anyone hoping to make a try at a stage win today. Following the pattern of the past few days, this morning’s attacks started within a few kilometers of the Tour’s departure from Avesnes-sur-Helpe. Despite a steady head  and sidewind that blew in from Germany, the attacks continued unabated, until finally an effort by Stephane Heulot (La Francaise des Jeux) and Lylian Lebreton (BigMat), succeeded in putting time on the field. 

                   The two set about the task of building a lead, reaching an advantage of nearly seven minutes by the 70-kilometer mark. But the presence of Heultot, who started the day in 28th place, only 1:21 behind Casino’s Kirsipuu, seemed likely to doom the effort to failure. As the lead dropped to under six minutes, it was a conclusion that the 28-year-old Heulot probably reached as well.  Crossing the open fields of the Ardennes, Heulot sat up, minimizing any threat to the main group and, therefore, boosting the chance that Lebreton – more than 17 minutes down on General Classification – might earn a stage win. 

                   The move seemed to have the predicted effect: As Heulot eased back, Lebreton continued his charge, rebuilding his advantage to 11 minutes.  But riding against the wind took its toll on Lebreton. By the 165-kilometer mark, he still faced more than 60 kilometers of rolling hills and a final push over the last two of the day’s three relatively minor Category 4 climbs. But chasing him was Lotto’s Jacky Durand, a rider who has a history of succeeding at long breaks and also a rider who posed little or no threat to the overall standings. 

                   Waiting for the Lotto rider, Lebreton knew that he could use the help and the pair joined forces a few kilometers later. And so it stayed, a steady workmanlike effort by two riders hoping against hope that today might finally benefit those willing to take a chance.

                   But behind them were several teams eager for a stage win. Thus far in the Tour, every stage has finished in a mass sprint with the first going to Kirsipuu, the next two wins chalked up to Mapei-Quick Step’s Tom Steels and a trio of successive wins credited to Cipollini. Add to the mix a frustrated Telekom team, denied even a single stage for three-time points jersey winner Erik Zabel and the Credit Agricole squad hoping to deliver their Stuart O’Grady to the line. Strong teams all of them and each hungry for a final trip to the podium before Sunday’s time trial and Tuesday’s entry into the Alps. 

                   The alliances had been formed and the work was about to begin. Over the following 40 kilometers the lead pair’s advantage was steadily reduced. With 25 kilometers to go, it was down to 2:58. Within five kilometers another 40 seconds chipped away…. Ten more kilometers and the lead was down to less than a minute. 

                   At the front of the field, a two-pronged chase was led by Mapei and Saeco. For Durand and Lebreton, the heart-breaking end to a long day’s effort finally appeared inevitable at the five-kilometers-to-go sign. The two were swallowed up a few hundred meters later and the scramble up front began in earnest. 

                   Saeco’s "Red Express" again appeared well in command of the situation, leading the field through today’s twisting, turning finish into Thionville. Through the narrow finishing stretch, hopeful and generally disorganized attempts at winning were quickly dispatched by the steady, focused ride to the line by the red machine, and the final pull again came from Cipollini’s spectacular leadout man, Gian Matteo Fagnini. 

                   As Fagnini pulled off, Cipollini took his cue and charged. Behind him a desperately charging Zabel, Steels and Stuart O’Grady. But Zabel suddenly pulled out from his pedal, swerved and fell forward. In an incredible display of bike handling, the German managed to avoid crashing, though his mishap did cut off Steels’s line. O’Grady was the only rider able to even come close to challenging the Lion King… and certainly at three bike lengths back, it wasn’t close enough. 

                   Cipo’s four-in-a-row feat has been unmatched since 1930, but Pellissier earned eight stage wins that year. Cipollini is unlikely to match that.  The day’s widespread speculation was not about when Cipo’ would take his next stage, but rather when the 32-year-old Italian would call it a race and head home. 

                   "For me this is a great victory," Cipollini said. "I feel like I have already won the Tour de France."

                   Cipollini did promise to ride the time trial at Metz, if for no other reason than to show his gratitude "to the French public, who have been so enthusiastic, so supportive this week." 

                   Beyond that, Cipollini said he wanted to at least finish Tuesday’s alpine stage to Sestriere to show similar gratitude to the throngs of Italian fans expected to make the trip across the nearby border. 

                   "Yes, I want to ride into Paris, but that is unlikely," noted Cipollini, explaining that he had a track meet scheduled just three days after the end of the Tour. Cipollini has expressed the hope of competing on both the road and in the track pursuit at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. 

                   As for Cipo’s employment prospects for the 2000 season, had they ever been in doubt, they have certainly improved this week. Cipollini, who says he expects to race for two more years, has a meeting scheduled with his sponsors in the evening of Monday’s scheduled rest day. Cipo’s meeting, interestingly coincides with a Saeco-Cannondale press event scheduled for that same day. 

                   All told, it has been an interesting opening week for the Tour de France. And while this year’s sprinters fest may have been fun, it is certainly destined to end tomorrow as the Tour’s heavy hitters do battle in the 56.5-kilometer Metz time trial and then move to the mountains on Tuesday. Now the fun really begins…. 

Four In A Row For The Cipo Show!

 Since 1930 no has a rider claimed four consecutive stages in the Tour de
 France... Until now! And it was Mario Cipollini who continued his sensational
 trend of rewriting history by winning his fourth successive stage in the mad-dash to
 the line in Thoinville.

 Cipollini's trademark open-mouth roar as he crossed the line today came with all
 the pagentry which we've now come to expect from the Lion King. But with the
 time trial tomorrow, before the race heads toward the Alpes, it's likely to be only
 be a matter of time before we see the familiar sight of the Lion disappearing with
 his tail between his legs. With four successive stage wins, for the first time since
 Charles Pelissier's effort way back in 1930, and the fastest Tour stage in history to
 his name - what does it really matter. The showman of cycling has come and
 conquered the first week of the Tour in way no other rider can do - or has been
 able to do for a very long time.

 If Cipollini is the winner again today; the loser (again) is Telekom's Erik Zabel.
 Zabel's misfortune is exaccerbated by Cipollini's success, but when you consider
 what happened to him in the closing hour (and final meters) of today's stage, you
 can only sympathise for the most consistent sprinter in the last three Tours de

 With perfect positioning in the final lead-up to the sprint, Zabel's feet literally fell
 out from under him. His feet clipped out of their pedals and, legs splayed and
 crutch crunched on the top bar of his frame, he somehow managed to maintain
 control of his bike. Wearing the green jersey - as he's done on the Champs Elysees
 every year since 1996 - Zabel lost out in the final sprint one day before the
 mountains emerge after the rest day.

 All of this came after Zabel was a victim of a fall 35km from the end of the stage.
 Still he, along with the help of five of his team-mates, managed to return to the
 front in time for the bunch sprint.

 The problem-plagued Zabel's only consolation - after three second-place finishes
 already this year, but no win - is that he'll continue to wear the Green jersey we've
 grown used to seeing him in. But only after the race-leader, Jaan Kirsipuu, had to
 surrender his leader's jersey in the sprint competition in favour of the yellow one
 which he continues to control (17" ahead of Tom Steels, and 20" clear of both
 Stuart O'Grady and Lance Armstrong).

 Although the final 250 meters provided the history and the anguish today, it was
 another long break today which forced the Saeco team of Cipo to earn their keep.
 Lylian Lebreton teamed up with the ever-aggressive Jacky Durand to soak up most
 of the intermediate prizes on offer after his solo 198.5km break. It all faded into
 oblivion, however, four kilometers from the finish.

 Tomorrow sees the end of the sprinting fiesta we've seen in the first seven stages
 and the beginning of the battle for the overall crown in what is continuing to
 prove to be a Tour of history.

 Sunday 11 July 1999
Tour de France: Cippolini opts out after four wins in a row 
Phil Liggett sees the Italian rider equal a feat last achieved in the Tour de France 69 years ago 

                        MARIO Cipollini ended the first full week of the Tour de France with his fourth successive stage win at Thionville yesterday.

                        The Italian sprinted to a clear victory after the 139 miles from Avesnes-sur-Helpe and became only the third rider in Tour history to win on four successive days.

                        The last was Frenchman Charles Pelissier in 1930, and yesterday Cipollini took advantage of confusion in the sprint when Erik Zabel pulled his foot from the pedal. Zabel did well not to cause a massive pile-up of riders, as they finished at 40mph.

                        It was a glorious end to an excellent week in the Tour, which is working hard to lose its drugs image after last year, and Cipollini's wins are added to the record stage speed he set on Wednesday, when the race averaged more than 31mph.

                        There was no change in the overall lead and Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu completed his sixth day in the yellow jersey, although that will certainly change in the time trial at Metz today.

                        Yesterday, Frenchman Lylian Lebreton (Bigmat-Auber 93) broke clear with Stephane Heulot (Les Francaise des Jeux) after only 17 miles.

                        Strangely, when the race was seven minutes behind, Heulot decided to wait for the peleton, leaving Lebreton in confusion and forced to go on alone.

                        After 44 miles on his own, Lebreton was joined by Frenchman Jacky Durand (Lotto), and together they led over the last two small climbs in the Moselle. The pair were caught by the sprinting field with less than three miles remaining after leading for most of the day.

                        At the bottom of this last climb, the Cote de Boisemont, with 26 miles to go, Erik Zabel (Telecom) crashed heavily, cutting his chin and right knee. Treated briefly by the doctor, he raced back into the field.

                        Today, the race will take on a much more serious side for the main contenders, who must aim for a fast time in the first long individual time trial of the Tour.

                        Most have covered the first 700 of the 2,400 miles to Paris without conceding any time of note, but this opening week has been far from kind to three likely winners in Paris.

                        Alex Zulle, Michael Boogard and the Tour of Italy winner, Ivan Gotti, seem to have already missed their chance last Monday, when they crashed on the Passage du Glois, an 18th century causeway which spends most of the time under the Atlantic Ocean.

                        They finished over six minutes behind that day and have suffered from low morale since. Zulle, who fell again at the feeding station, and Boogard may finish among the winners today but will recover little of their lost time from rivals such as Spain's Abraham Olano and American Lance Armstrong.

                        Britain's Chris Boardman, who finished 120th in the main pack yesterday, hopes for a top-five finish today.

                        One man who will not care either way what happens when the race goes into the mountains, after tomorrow's rest day in the Grand Bornand, is Cipollini. He has achieved what he wanted with four stage wins and will pack his bags and return to his Monaco home.

                        Cipollini has never finished a Tour in eight attempts, and probably never will.  He is often accused of abusing a race which has built its reputation on the sufferings of lesser men as they pedal the mountains to Paris.

                        Perhaps the organisers should not be too offended, as he does the same to his national Tour of Italy, in which he has won 29 stages in the last 10 years.

                        So far, the race has survived the scandals of last year. All anti-doping controls have revealed nothing and the relief can be sensed among the organisers. The random blood tests and compulsory daily drugs tests on the prize winners will continue, but for now this really is a Tour of redemption.


by John Wilcockson in Maubeuge

There was nothing unusual about today's race tactics. The stage was very similar to the past two; but a word about Erik Zabel's failure to win any of the seven consecutive field sprints -- which is record for the Tour -- is in order. The pressure on Zabel to win is incredible, especially since team leader Jan Ullrich was prevented from starting the race because of his knee injury. The Telekom team is here to win stages for Zabel.

The pressure is one factor, another has been his bad luck. Take today. As the pace wound up in the final 35km, Zabel somehow skidded out on a wide turn. He hit his left hip and his chin and cheek, and blood poured from the head wound, splashing over his right leg. Four teammates helped him chase back to the pack, and also helped him move into the best position yet to take a stage. The last turn was only 250 meters from the line, and Zabel loves a short sprint. He was right on Cipollini's wheel with 125 meters to go when both men got out of the saddle and started their sprints. This time, the German looked likely to improve on that string of seconds and third.

Maybe it was the earlier crash, maybe it was his nerves, but at the precise moment he started to challenge Cipo' for the win, his left foot pulled out of his pedal. Despite pulling out, he didn't crash. First reports from the hospital in nearby Metz indicate that Zabel's cheekbone may have been broken in his fall earlier in the day. If so, his Tour is over, ending his chances of taking the green jersey for a fourth time.

Cipollini's fourth consecutive stage win did equal Charles Pelissier's 1930 haul of four in a row. But the record holder, with successive stage victories, remains Luxembourger Francois Faber in 1909. Faber was no sprinter; the first of his five-in-a-row string, at Metz, he won on his own by 33 minutes. Times have certainly changed in 90 years!