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Stage 9

Frankie’s Diary: Caesar, the weather furies, and a new emperor

                   This report filed July 13, 1999

                   By Frankie Andreu
                   U.S. Postal Service rider

                   What a day: I've been colder, hotter, more tired, but I don't think I've ever been more wet. For some reason the mountains seem to go along with bad weather in the Tour. Today was a classic.

                   At the start we did our team presentation again and all received another stuffed lion. When I came off the stand Willy, our chef, asked me for my lion. I wasn't very happy with him: You see, I already gave him a lion but, he thought so much of it that he left it on a curb and lost it. So, this was his second lion.

                   Enough of that, the lions are over because we lost our team G.C. today. When we came off the team presentation we saw the Saeco guys rolling up to sign on. They were all dressed like Julius Caesar wearing toga's and vines around their head, but Cippo wore a gold crown. They also had on gold jerseys and shorts commemorating the 2099th birthday of Caesar.

                   The day contained four major climbs. The plan was that if a break went, Pascal, Christian, and Peter would do tempo on the flats before the climb to keep the gap in check. I was to lead up the first 12km climb, the Col du Télégraphe.  Then George was supposed to lead up, as much as he could, on the 18km Col du Galibier. When George died Tyler would take over, and that left Kevin and Lance to handle the Col de Montgenèvre and the final approach to Sestriere.

                   For once the race started out slow. After 40 kilometers a break went with four guys, none of them dangerous. We could lose nine minutes and still have the jersey. Pascal, Christian, and Peter took over and pulled until the bottom of the climb.

                   I took over on the Col du Télégraphe and was pinned by kilometer one. I don't know who thought I was climber. Anyway, I quit pulling about two kilometers from the top; I just couldn't keep going. The pack was still together and George had to finish off the last part of the climb that I couldn't do.

                   George then led to the bottom of the Col du Galibier, but that was when Kelme started attacking so George got spit out after four or five kilometers.

                   Tyler and Kevin took over until the Col de Montgenèvre, the day’s second to last climb, when Lance got away in a small break. Lance was with Virenque, Gotti, Zülle, Escartin and a Banesto rider. In the back, already a minute down, was Olano, with Tyler and Kevin sitting on his wheel. On the final climb Lance showed no mercy, attacked and rode away from everyone. Zülle was the only one to respond and was able to keep within 30 seconds at the finish.  Lance won, again, very convincingly. Olano, the second-place guy on G.C., is now six minutes back.

                   Lance, Kevin, and Tyler were lucky weather wise. They didn't encounter any of the storms that the rest of the team faced, as we followed some 30 minutes back.

                   It was weird, as we climbed the mountains the rain would start then as we got higher the hail would fall then by the top it was cold but dry.  The same thing would happen down the other side, hail, rain, and then dry. The last climb up to Sestriere was 10 times worse than the previous mountains. I have never been in a bike race where it rained so hard. There were rivers flowing down the road with so much water that when it hit our wheels it would make a wave.  We were soaked, but then the hail started pelting us.

                   It was strong and painful. I was almost laughing cause I couldn't believe how bad a day it had turned out to be.

                   With all this rain, for some reason, I couldn't get my brakes to work. I had to go so slow down the last hill because no matter how hard or long I pulled on my brakes I couldn't stop. I could only slow down a little. By the bottom of the hill I was just hoping there were no more corners because my luck had probably run out because of all the times I drifted to the edge of the road.

                   I'm not sure if it was their brakes, but both Kevin and Tyler crashed. Actually, Kevin crashed Tyler if you want to get technical. Kevin just slid his front wheel out and whoever was behind him also stacked it. They are both OK. Cippo also took down a bunch of guys. He was flying down the hill, which was wet and slick, and crashed into the guardrail. I didn't get results so I don't know if he finished or not. (VeloNews Editor’s Note: Cipollini did withdraw from the Tour today.)

                   Some guys have all the luck. They pick the right day to show up for the Tour. Today Tom Weisel (the owner of the group that owns the team) showed up and drove in the first car with Johan.  He got to see every piece of action all the way up to Lance crossing the line hands in the air. I also saw Greg Lemond today, who is here with his Tour group. I talked with him while he was hanging out in the Village Depart. He was all dressed in cycling gear so I assume they were either going or coming from a ride.

                   Tomorrow is another big mountain day. What's the problem? Trying to get six of us over the 25-kilometer climb that comes at kilometer 60.  It's a 220km stage, with three big climbs and the last one is l’Alpe d’Huez. Everyone wants to win there so I'm sure the climbers will be attacking like it's the last day. I'm nervous, just like I was this morning.

                   Finally, I need to clear up a mistake I made two days ago in my TT report. In writing the article I cut, copy, and pasted a paragraph that implied something that was not meant. I wrote a paragraph about Lance's TT ride and I finished it with "We get champagne tonight." When I found out that Bobby crashed, I waited till later in the evening to write about him so I could find out more information about his status. When I put Bobby's paragraph in the article I didn't realize the champagne part was still there. In trying to write fast and send the updates out quickly I overlooked the placement of that sentence, which appeared to be in very bad taste in connection with Bobby’s crash. It was unintentional and I wanted to make it clear that it was a mistake.

What a day. What a day!

                   This report filed July 13, 1999

                   By Charles Pelkey
                   VeloNews Technical Editor

                   After a week of watching the sprinters do their thing, and Lance Armstrong dominating the time trials, it was supposed to be the climbers who finally had their crack a Tour stage … problem was, it was the climbers who all cracked. The U.S. Postal Service’s Armstrong turned in one of the Tour de France’s classic performance’s today, taking command of this year’s race, attacking in the final climb of a mountainous 213.5-kilometer stage that crossed the historic Galibier and finished in the Italian ski village of Sestriere, and in his wake were the only riders who could have possibly challenged him as the Tour entered the Alps for the first time today: Alex Zulle, Fernando Escartin, Ivan Gotti, Richard Virenque, Abraham Olano, Pavel Tonkov….

                   It was in the early part of the final climb to Sestriere that Armstrong struck a decisive blow.  After first attacking nine kilometers from the summit to catch attackers Ivan Gotti of Polti and Fernando Escartin of Kelme, imitated by Zulle soon after, Armstrong rode away from the two climbers with six-and-a-half kilometers still to go.  Banesto’s Zulle recoverd from his bridging effort before himself riding away from Escartin and Gotti – but as the American powered up the final section of the road to Sestriere, a surprised and exhausted Zulle could only get to within 31 seconds the race leader. By day’s end, Armstrong has by any definition taken a commanding lead in the Tour’s overall standings. ONCE’s Olano now sits in second place in the chase for the yellow jersey … more than six minutes behind the young Texan’s time.

                   Today’s result hadn’t been predicted. This morning at the start in the French alpine village of Le Grand Bornand, the conventional wisdom had names like Olano, Tonkov (Mapei-Quick Step), and Zulle (Banesto) as those topping the list of predicted stage winners. Many of the fans lining the road, however, had another winner in mind: Polti’s Virenque. The four-time Polka Dot jersey winner, and most infamous survivor of the drug scandal that plagued last year’s Tour, has been both vilified by the press and adored by the French public throughout the first week of this Tour. Many had either hoped for or dreaded the possibility that the 29-year-old former Festina star would try to make a brash move, if for no other reason, than to reestablish himself as a factor in this race and in the sport.

                   Even Armstrong said that the stage – with its six climbs, including the famous Col du Galibier – didn’t favor his strengths. In a rest-day press conference Armstrong noted that after having won two stages, his goal was now to defend the yellow jersey in a methodical fashion and not focus on individual stage wins. Well, if he meant to defend the jersey, he certainly did it in grand style.

                   The early part of the day almost seemed to bear out predictions. Not too far into the stage, approaching the day’s first Category 1 climb, a group of five – mountain points leader, Mario Piccoli, Gianpaolo Mondini, Fabrice Gougot (Casino) Jose Luis Arrieta (Banesto) and Maarten Den Bakker (Rabobank) -- had already built a lead of more than four minutes. Behind them, the chase was group lead by the U.S.  Postal Service … and all the while, Armstrong was shadowed by Virenque.

                   The 6.8-percent slopes of the Col de Telegraphe, began to take their toll on the leaders: First Picolli, then Mondini and then Gougot dropped back as Arrieta and Den Bakker forged ahead under rapidly clouding skies. But within just two kilometers it became apparent that Den Bakker, too, couldn’t hold the Spanish rider’s pace and drifted back to the field. Arrieta crested the Telegraphe with a five-minute advantage.

                   Only a short descent separates the Telegraphe from the Hors Categorie Col du Galibier, but over those few kilometers the weather turned for the worse as a cold rain, thunder and lightning began to make a tough climb that much tougher.

                   Arrieta, though not likely to win the day, had, nonetheless, set the stage alight, forcing the Postal squad into a chase that would hopefully bring along his own teammate, Zulle. Indeed, by the mid-point of the 18.3-kilometer climb up the Galibier, Arrieta maintained his solo charge and the field behind began to fracture.

                   The Kelme squad, its Tour hopes riding on the strengths of the team’s best climber Fernando Escartin, began to launch a series of probing attacks: first the team’s Jose Gomez. That charge was neutralized by the Postals, but it was followed by another Kelme charge, this time by Joaquim Castelblanco. Castelblanco’s move again forced a Postal chase, but this time the team’s leader, Escartin, launched his own attack. And, at least in the Postal team’s eyes, Escartin had unwelcome company … Virenque and Banesto’s Manuel Beltran.

                   Escartin’s charge did have an effect. Olano, unable to maintain the pace, drifted off the back. More riders pace and soon the chase group was down to seven: Armstrong, his teammate Kevin Livingston, Saeco’s Laurent Dufaux, Kelme’s Contreras, Zulle, Beltran -- who had slipped back from his two partners -- and Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Gotti. Ahead, Escartin and Virenque were hoping to make contact with Arrieta, now reaching the top of the Galibier.

                   But Arrieta’s job was done. He had narrowed the field down to a select few, essentially isolating the Tour leader among a group of climbing specialists and, as a bonus, he had earned the Henri Desgrange prize: 20,000 French francs for being the first over the Galibier. Arrieta, slowed, put on a rain jacket and was eventually joined by the nine riders behind him. Adding to Armstrong’s isolation, the loss of Livingston, fter the Postal climbing specialist caught his rain jacket in his front wheel.

                   Though the effort of Virenque and Escartin on the slope of the Galibier had been neutralized, the duo continued to ride aggressively both on the descent and the subsequent climb up the Col de Montgenevre. It was eight who crossed into Italy and descended to the base of the final climb to Sestriere. Gotti, back on his home turf, took the initiative. Eventually joined by Escartin, the two built an 32-second advantage on the chase group of Zulle, Dufaux, Armstrong, Contreras and Virenque.

                   Perhaps a lesser rider – starting the stage with more than a two-minute advantage – would have been content to settle into a ride for a third- or fourth-place finish, content in the knowledge that his overall lead was intact, but Armstrong became the aggressor, charging after the leaders.

                   After a solo effort, Armstrong joined Gotti and Escartin in the lead. Sensing opportunity slipping away, Zulle charged after the three leaders. The Swiss rider, too, managed to bridge, but Virenque could not. Armstrong, seeing the Banesto rider join up, took the opportunity to launch what proved to be the final blow.

                   "I realized that if I allowed Zulle to rest up after he rejoined my group I could get beat," Armstrong later related, "so I decided to go as soon as he had come back to us."

                   Armstrong powered through the final five kilometers on his own, crossing the line just as the afternoon’s rain kicked into full force. Behind him, Zulle, gasping for air, crossed the line 31 seconds later, Escartin and Gotti, nearly another minute behind. Beltran and a seemingly shocked Virenque crossed still another minute back – but took over the Polka Dot jersey by two points from Armstrong.

                   Armstrong now holds a substantial six-minute lead going into tomorrow’s stage that finishes at L’Alpe d’Huez, a stage he said favored his talents more than today’s trip to Sestriere. Who can imagine what that might mean?

Stage 9 Analysis

                   John Wilcockson in Sestriere

                   When Lance Armstrong became a professional cyclist in late 1992, he was often compared with three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.  It was not a comparison that Armstrong embraced, saying, "I'm not the next LeMond, I'm the first Lance Armstrong." At the time, the then 21-year-old Texan didn't know that he was going to win, like LeMond, the world championship early in his career ... and he was certainly unaware that one day he might win the Tour.

                   It is too early to say that Armstrong has won this year's Tour, even though he has a lead of nearly eight minutes on the challenger he respects the most: Alex Zulle of the Banesto team. Zulle proved his good form on this first mountain stage, again finishing second to the American -- the same result as they recorded in the Metz time trial. And, appropriately, the two rivals were riding alone in the final kilometers of this mountaintop finish.

                   To get to that point in the stage, Armstrong and his U.S. Postal Service team worked their tactical plan to perfection. They controlled the pace on the Telegraphe (with Andreu and Hincapie), upped the tempo on the Galibier (with  Livingston and Hamilton), and then released Armstrong into the winning break with Zulle and Beltran (both Banesto), Escartin and Contreras (both Kelme), Gotti and Virenque (both Polti) and Dufaux (Saeco).

                   On the surface, this did not seem an ideal situation for the race leader, but as Armstrong commented, "Actually I was lucky, because in the group it wasn't a good situation for me, with a couple of Banestos, a couple of Kelmes, a couple of Poltis. But they were very anxious in getting away from Olano, so they worked, and I was able to ride easy."

                   In other words, at first Armstrong was able to sit on the wheels of his team, and then the on the wheels of the breakaways riders -- right up until the final 11km climb to Sestriere. At the same time, those with him were having to ride hard, as was Olano and his team in the chase group. The one thing that wasn't predictable was the attack on the last descent by Gotti and Escartin, who had a 32-second lead with 10km to go. But even this gave Armstrong a perfect opening.

                   "I didn't want Gotti and Escartin to go too far.  And I wasn't trying to attack.... Johan (Bruyneel) told me on the radio that I had a gap, so I rode a little faster tempo. Then he told me the gap was bigger, so I tried to go.... But it was too early in hindsight, because the last three kilometers I was suffering." Suffering he may have been, but the others were suffering more, except perhaps for Zulle, who in those last three kilometers managed to close the gap on Armstrong from 43 to 31 seconds.

                   Tonight in Sestriere, the European media is both astonished and skeptical of what Armstrong has achieved so far in this Tour. One sector of the press is expressing its admiration for an athlete who has recovered from cancer and become an even stronger rider than he was before. By these observers, Armstrong is being compared with five-time Tour winners Miguel Indurain and Bernard Hinault. The other sector, mindful of ast year's Festina affair, is questioning whether any rider can so dominate his opposition in time trials and the mountains without some form of artificial aid.

                   But anyone who knows Armstrong -- the determination he needed to recover from cancer, his goal of showing other cancer patients that they can aspire to a life of renewed strength, his healthier and more scientific approach to training with coach Chris Carmichael, and his total focus this year on riding a superlative Tour -- his stage victories at Le Puy du Fou, Metz, and now Sestriere are a logical extension of his life after cancer.

                   He is not cocky anymore; he is confident. He does not want to win at all cost; he just wants to do his best. And his success here in the Alps is almost exactly as he predicted after winning in Metz. Then, he said of the finishes at Sestriere and L'Alpe d'Huez (coming up on Wednesday): "Both days are uphill finishes, which I think is perhaps better for me, because if you are alone, (and) you have the strength, you have the condition, then you'll be okay."

                   You were okay today, Lance. Now comes the Alpe....

Armstrong - Racer... Attacker! Legend Maker!

Legends don't just happen. They are built with soul,
                spirit, strength and gusto. They are created by people
                who don't understand just what being normal is all
                about. And today Lance Armstrong had all the
                ingredients of a legend maker... And more! As the
                heavens open up and thunder storms remind the rest of
                the racers who now peter in across the rain-soaked
                finish-line just how cruel the mountain stages can be,
                Armstrong can sit back in the warmth of another stage
                win, another yellow jersey - and with the knowledge that
 his ride today is perhaps bigger and bolder than any of the three previous
 legend-making rides to Sestrieres.

 Again the Col du Galibier has ignited the Tour de France. The highest pass of the
 race - at 2,645 meters - has rid the race of previous history makers like Mario
 Cipollini (who despite his early successes, has again retired before the end) and
 destroyed the spirits of other contenders.

 There are a thousand tales to tell from today's 213.5km stage. But there is only
 one name which matters today: Lance Armstrong.

 Starting the day in the yellow of Tour leader, Armstrong had only one real
 mission: maintain his impressive lead which he earned in the time trial two days
 ago. His early missive was mearly to mark his rivals and ensure no threatening
 escapes prevailed. But Armstrong proved today that he is bigger than the
 Hollywood tale which already surrounds his career.
 The US Postal rider now has two successive stage wins (and a total Tour tally of 5
 stages). More than that - he has won the hearts of any doubters in the Italian
 'Tifosi' - and all the other nations' supporters who lined the climbs to Sestrieres.
 He now leads the Tour by over 6 minutes from Abraham Olano.

 His win cannot discount the help of his impressive team. From the early help of
 Frankie Andreu, the surprising George Hincapie, Tyler Hamilton and the
 impressive Kevin Livingston - they all contributed to his superb positioning when
 crunchtime came after the summit of the Col du Galibier. From that moment on,
 Armstrong was in an Indurain-styled opportunity to simply mark his men: Alex
 Zulle, Ivan Gotti, Laurent Dufaux, Richard Virenque and Fernando Escartin. All
 these challengers were intent on setting a furious pace (with the help of superb
 mountain team-men like Banesto's Manuel Beltran) to hold off a straggling
 Abraham Olano and Pavel Tonkov. Armstrong did just that... For most of the day.
 With six kilometers remaining, however, Armstrong caught the sniff of an epic
 opportunity and he pounced! His first surge to the front signalled the weaknesses
 of Zulle and company. He tested the response and liked what he saw. Zulle tried
 for a moment, then Gotti... But with a few meter's advantage a mountain win
 seemed possible. He surged and surged again and suddenly it was clear just how
 possible the win was.

 From that moment on Armstrong turned into 10-men. The others didn't look at
 each other and ask if they should be bothered to chase. No; they tried and tried
 again. They simply could not respond. Within moments his advantage was 25".
 And from that moment onward, the rest were racing for second place.

 Zulle began a chase which, without the distraction of other contenders appeared
 to give him hope in the pursuit of Armstrong. With an ear-piece connecting him to
 his team car telling him the news, however, Armstrong checked his pulse-rate and
 stomped some more - content that, somehow, he wasn't at his maximum. He rode
 the final kilometers knowing that this was epic. His eyes were wide open, the rain
 still just a threat, his heart pounding and his legs thumping... Armstrong was
 everything a bike rider would want to be: attacking the world's greatest riders while
 in the lead of the world's greatest race - and winning!

 The result card tells the monumental story of just what Armstrong was able to
 achieve. He turned previous contenders into pretenders and crossed the line a

All previous stories of success in cycling are fast becoming redundent by a man
 possessed. A man like Armstrong didn't need to do anymore, but as each day
 passes, he continues to build on his phenomenal reputation as a fighter, a racer,
 an attacker... And a legend maker!

Wednesday 14 July 1999

Tour de France: Armstrong eases away from rivals

By Phil Liggett in Sestriere

LANCE ARMSTRONG, the American who battled back to fitness after being told he had only a 20 per cent chance of recovering from cancer, destroyed the field here yesterday. He left little doubt that, barring accidents, he will become the second American to win the race when it ends in Paris a week on Sunday.

The Texan wasted no time in continuing where he left off on Sunday, after his magnificent time trial at Metz, when the race resumed in the Alps yesterday. He arrived at the finish of the 132-mile ninth stage from the Grand Bornand to Sestriere alone, and now leads the race by over six minutes.

He gave a performance reminiscent of the all-time "greats of this 96-year-old race, and will no doubt have noted that two of the three previous riders to win at Sestriere went on to win the Tour.

Armstrong simply could not contain himself, even though this was only the first day in the high mountains as leader, and the Pyrenees are still to come next week. He broke away from a front group of four with three miles to climb and never stopped accelerating all the way to the Italian resort.

He said: "My team were fantastic today. We were expecting an attack on the Col du Galibier, but when it came, it wasn't a problem.

"The downhill to the last climb was really dangerous in the rain, even the motorcycles were crashing. I knew that the first part of the last climb was hard and I wanted to attack there.

"I have to stay focused because if I have a bad day, it's all over. We can't sit back now, this race is too hard."

The 173 survivors yesterday raced through torrential rain at times, but Armstrong used his US Postal team-mates at every opportunity.

On the Col du Télégraphe, Frankie Andreu set the pace that prevented any escapes of importance. After Andreu fell back, Armstrong's next team-mate, Kevin Livingston, took over, pacing him up the giant Col du Galibier and destroying the hopes of many in the process.

Once through Briancon with 13 miles to go, Armstrong was in a group of nine, with all of his main rivals chasing in a group of 15 over a minute behind. The climb of the Col du Montgenêvre, which took the race into Italy, did not alter the situation, but once on to the finishing slopes to Sestriere, Ivan Gotti (Polti) and Fernando Escartin (Kelme) broke clear.

Armstrong waited back with Alex Zülle (Banesto), Richard Virenque (Polti) and Carlos Contreras (Kelme), but once the duo had gained 30 seconds, Armstrong launched an attack no one could follow. He quickly joined Gotti and Escartin, two noted climbers, and after a mile of recuperation rode clear with ease.

Britain's Chris Boardman finished in a group of riders over 40 minutes behind Armstrong, but was well inside the elimination time for the stage. As he finished, the roads were under water from a torrential Alpine storm.

Australian Stuart O'Grady pulled on the green jersey as points leader after Jaan Kirsipuu, the overall race leader for six days, retired. Also among the six who failed to finish was the Italian four-stage winner Mario Cipollini, but not before his Saeco team were fined £2,000 for wearing the wrong racing strip.


9TH STAGE (Le Grand-Bornand, France to Sestriere, Italy, 132 miles): 1, L Armstrong (US, US Postal) 5h 57m 11s; 2, A Zülle (Switzerland, Banesto) at 31s; 3, F Escartin (Spain, Kelme) at 1-26; 4, I Gotti (Italy, Polti) same time; 5, M Beltran (Spain, Banesto) at 2-27; 6, R Virenque (France, Polti); 7, C Contreras (Colombia, Kelme) all same time; 8, K van de Wouwer (Belgium, Lotto) at 3-10; 9, A Olano (Spain, ONCE) same time; 10, L Dufaux (Switzerland, Saeco) at 3-30.

11, D Nardello (Italy, Mapei); 12, G Guerini (Italy, Telekom); 13, A Casero (Spain, Vitalicio Seguros) all same time; 14, B Salmon (France, Casino) at 3-43; 15, B Hamburger (Denmark, Cantina Tollo) at 3-46; 16, M Aerts (Belgium, Lotto) at 4-24; 17, J Castelblanco (Colombia, Kelme) at 4-34; 18, S Garzelli (Italy, Mercatone Uno) at 4-51; 19, R Meier (Switzerland, Cofidis) same time; 20, C Moreau (France, Festina) at 5-04. GB: 137, C Boardman (Crédit Agricole) at 40-29.

OVERALL: 1, Armstrong 39-31-07; 2, Olano at 6-03; 3, Moreau at 7-44; 4, Zülle at 7-47; 5, Dufaux at 8-07; 6, Nardello at 8-36; 7, Casero at 8-51; 8, Escartin at 9-01; 9, Virenque at 10-02; 10, P Tonkov (Russia, Mapei) at 10-34.

11, Salmon at 10-42; 12, A Peron (Italy, ONCE) at 11-13; 13, Hamburger at 11-30; 14, Guerini at 11-39; 15, Garzelli at 12-10; 16, Aerts at 13-20; 17, K Livingston (US, US Postal) at 15-41; 18, Van de Wouwer at 16-14; 19, T Hamilton (US, US Postal) at 16-52; 20, A Galdeano (Spain, Vitalicio Seguros) at 17-29. GB: 144, Boardman at 59-53.

Points: 1, S O'Grady (Australia, Crédit Agricole) 187pts; 2, E Zabel (Germany, Telekom) 174; 3, G Hincapie (US, US Postal) 139. King of Mountains: 1, Virenque 81pts; 2, Armstrong 79; 3, M Piccoli (Italy, Lampre) 78. Teams: 1, US Postal 118-59-48; 2, ONCE at 6-12; 3, Festina at 8-24.