July 12, 2003
John Wilcockson looks ahead to tomorrow's stage to L'Alpe d'Huez:
Armstrong hasn't predicted anything about Sunday's finish on the legendary climb of L'Alpe d'Huez, but it doesn't need a degree in psychology to guess that this is where he is planning to put himself in position to win his fifth Tour de France.
Sunday's 219-kilometer stage 8 not only finishes at the Alpe, but it also takes in this Tour's highest mountain pass, the Col du Galibier at 8697 feet, 62km from the end. All the action will be crammed into the final 100 kilometers, from the moment the race reaches the foot of the Col du Tlgraphe - which essentially is the start of 30 kilometers of uphill work (other than one brief downhill) to the Galibier summit.
This northern approach to the Galibier is unrelenting, and assuming that Armstrong's men repeat their tempo-setting performance of Saturday, very few will be left with them at the top. The Spaniards Manuel Beltran, Roberto Heras and Jose Rubiera, and American George Hincapie, all looked superb as they paced Armstrong up the Ramaz on Saturday, while their teammates all contributed to the pace-making on the earlier climbs.
Armstrong will need to have at least two of his workhorses with him after the Galibier on Sunday, as there will surely be some sort of regrouping and perhaps dangerous attacks on the 40km-long descent before reaching the foot of the 14km L'Alpe d'Huez climb.
It's unlikely though that the defending champion will attack at the foot of the Alpe like he did two years ago, as he already has gained time on all of his potential challengers. Instead, he will probably follow Heras until the final 5km before making his move. In any case, it's likely that Armstrong will be in yellow Sunday night.
VeloNews also has a brief interview with Armstrong after Stage 7 and another with Alessandro Petacchi, who retired early on Saturday. Said Petacchi:
"I can usually climb quite well, but I'm not at my best at the moment, even though I've won four stages. I hope everybody doesn't forget my four wins just because I've retired on the first mountain stage."
Looking back, he added: "I finished my first Tour last year, got through all the mountains and made it to Paris. But you can't do that if you haven't got the legs and that's my case at this year. I know my decision to quit will anger my team director, Giancarlo Ferretti, but there was no way I could have carried on."
Graham Watson photos | Stages 6 & 7
USA Today posts a look at "The Look", when Lance Armstrong checked the rear-view and motored away from Jan Ullrich in the 2001 stage to L'Alpe d'Huez:
Sports Illustrated columnist Austin Murphy declared afterward that Armstrong's audacious stare "was exactly when cycling officially lost its status as a fringe sport in this country."
Armstrong has always denied that there was any disrespect:
"I wasn't being arrogant or cocky," Armstrong said in a January 2003 interview. "I was looking to see his condition and that of the riders behind him. I had to examine the situation. But when I saw it on TV, I could see why people were talking about it."
The story also recounts "The Bluff", when Armstrong did his best to look beaten earlier in the stage.
Seen at LOGos Tour Blog.
VeloNews: Stage 7 photos
Note the "illegal" black-and-white Saeco-Cannondale jersey, for which the Saeco team was fined.
Web tour of Alpe d'Huez
Like most of you, I will not be lining the 21 fabled switchbacks up to L'Alpe d'Huez on Sunday.
Here are a couple of web travelogues that are almost like being there yourself:
Well, it is not a "pass" it its real sense. But of course Alpe d'Huez is a legend for every cycling fan, even if there are steeper mountains, more beautiful streets and also more idyllic places. Often Alpe d'Huez is the aim of a Tour-de-France-stage, in these days there is an atmosphere like in a football stadium. 21 numbered hairpins lead upwards, each one with the altitude and the name of a former stage winner. The street was developed for the olympic winter olympic games in 1968. It is generally 9 m wide and open all year.
This site has some gorgeous pictures of the mountain, including some of the stage in 2001, which Lance Armstrong won.
Bicycle Ride up l'Alpe d'Huez is an account of one man's ride up the legendary mountain, with closeup pictures of most of the switchbacks.
And here's a Tour de France.cz photo gallery from the 1992 Tour, most of them of riders suffering up L'Alpe d'Huez, including Greg LeMond in the Z jersey which is still my all-time favorite, Miguel Indurain, Stephen Roche, Andy Hampsten, and Gianni Bugno. Text is in Czech, but it's almost all photos. There's also a link to this year's pre-Tour festivities.
Virenque, who rides for the Quick Step team from Belgium, acknowledged that he was not certain how long he could keep the yellow jersey.
"It will be an honor to wear it tomorrow on Alpe d'Huez, but I don't know how well I'll recover from my efforts today and I could lose it there," he said. "Or maybe not."
Over the long haul, he continued, his chances are dim. "I'll probably lose five minutes in the first long time trial," he said. It is scheduled Friday, just before the entry into the Pyrenees.
Abt also outlines the pre-Tour drama about Mario Cipollini's team being left out, and how Petacchi's early exit reinforces the Tour organizers' decision:
Other than Virenque's victory, the news that shook the Tour was the withdrawal early in the stage of Alessandro Petacchi, an Italian with Fassa Bortolo who won four sprint finishes this week.
Word had circulated for days that Petacchi felt his job was done and that he had no intention of struggling in the mountains for a chance at another sprint victory days away. Better to spend the rest of July on a beach in Italy, he believed.
That supposed lack of dedication to suffering was exactly the reason Tour organizers cited when, for the fourth year, they refused to invite the team led by Mario Cipollini, the world champion and king of the sprinters before Petacchi began laying claim to the title with six victories in the Giro d'Italia last month and the four in the Tour.
Petacchi was not racing against Cipollini when he racked up the victories in France and half of those in the Giro, where Cipollini had to quit after a crash. It would have been a treat to watch them go against each other in the Tour, no matter how short the time.
Tim Maloney posts the cyclingnews.com Stage 7 report. He notes that 13 riders sought medical attention after the stage, most with heat related problems.
It was a baking hot day in the French Alpes and Virenque had the ride of his life. "Now I can finish my career with no regrets," said Virenque in the post race press conference, but France's most popular rider is showing no sign of slowing down.
Armstrong claims to be satisfied with the stage result:
Still sitting pretty in second place on GC is four time Tour winner Armstrong. "I'm happy the way things went on this stage...today was a hard day and (USPS) was hoping a small group would get away like that. To not have to defend the jersey tomorrow is not bad since we still have two more weeks to go. I thought the climb (Col de la Ramaz) seemed easier today than during the Dauphiné."
Relegated to the lowly Polti team after the 1998 Festina doping scandal, it was in the Alpine resort three years ago that he marked his return to the fore with a solo stage win.
Now, the 33-year old Quick Step rider, who started the day in search of points in the King of the Mountain jersey, has taken over the overall lead.
Virenque, who won a stage at the Alpine town in 2000, became the first man since Eddy Merckx in 1971 to seize both the yellow and polka dot jerseys in a single day of riding.
But Gilberto Simoni, who had touted himself as a possible Tour winner after his victory in the Giro D'Italia, and Santiago Botero lost large chunks of time.
Armstrong still 2nd, but 2:37 back
OLN's announcers supported US Postal's decision to no go all-out after Virenque, but he's a strong climber, and a real threat in the overall.
They may be right that the tremendous effort in winning today's stage must result in a jour sans (literally, a "day without" or an off-day) on another stage, but a motivated QuickStep will certainly animate the Tour.
The Tour website initially claimed that Virenque's QuickStep team would start tomorrow in three of the four jerseys, but from the overall standings it looks like:
Yellow - Virenque (QuickStep)
Green - Baden Cooke (FDjeux.com)
Polka-Dot - Rolf Aldag (Telekom) (placed 2nd, worn since Virenque is in yellow)
White - Denis Menchov (iBanesto) CORRECTED
The new overall:
2) Armstrong @ 2:37
3) Rolf Aldag @ 2:48
4) José Luis Rubiera @ 2:59
5) Roberto Heras @ 3:03
6) Joseba Beloki @ 3:09
7) Jorg Jaksche @ 3:14
8) Manuel Beltran @ 3:15
9) Jan Ullrich @ 3:15
10) José Azevedo @ 3:37
Others of note:
15) Michael Rogers @ 4:03
16) Francisco Mancebo @ 4:06
20) Tyler Hamilton @ 4:21
23) David Millar @ 4:36
24) Christophe Moreau @ 4:39
25) Stefano Garzelli @ 4:39
26) Carlos Sastre @ 4:44
30) Ivan Basso @ 4:54
31) Laurent Dufaux @ 4:57
Stage 7: Virenque powers to yellow
Five-time king of the mountains Richard Virenque of QuickStep (who was at the center of the Festina scandal in 1998) won today's stage to Morzine decisively, and will wear yellow tomorrow.
Virenque also won the stage to Morzine in 2000 (which was the stage where Armstrong bonked and lost time, though he retained the yellow jersey).
Rolf Aldag rode a brilliant stage, and finished second in the stage. At one point, he was dropped by Virenque and his teammate Paolo Bettini, but fought back up to Virenque, and later dropped him on a climb!
Sylvain Chavanel and Australia's Michael Rogers gapped the field to finish 3rd and 4th.
Several contenders rode themselves out of contention, including Gilberto Simoni and Santiago Botero.
Tyler Hamilton stayed with Armstrong's group, which will populate most of the leaderboard.
1) Richard Virenque (QuickStep) 6:06:03
2) Rolf Aldag (Telekom) at 2:29
3) Sylvain Chavanel (Brioches) at 3:45
4) Michael Rogers (QuickStep) at 4:02
5) Stefano Garzelli (Vini Caldirola) at 4:06
6) Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) same time
7) Laurent Dufaux (Alessio) s.t.
8) David Millar (Cofidis) s.t.
9) Georg Totsching (Gerolsteiner) s.t.
10) Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom) s.t.
Also at 4:06:
15) Lance Armstrong (US Postal)
18) Carlos Sastre (CSC)
19) Manuel Beltran (US Postal)
21) Jan Ullrich (Telekom)
24) Francisco Mancebo (iBanesto)
25) Tyler Hamilton (CSC)
26) Iban Mayo (Euskaltel)
32) Joseba Beloki (ONCE)
33) Ivan Basso (Fassa Bortolo)
37) Jorg Jaksche (ONCE)
Tyler Hamilton | Life at Camp Collarbone
Tyler Hamilton has updated his race diary at VeloNews.
I guess my primary reason for being here up until now has been to see if I can hang on and lend support to my good friend Carlos Sastre. He has done so much for me over the last year-and-a-half that I feel like I should make the most of every opportunity to repay him. I wanted to be a contributing factor in the team time trial for him, and tomorrow we will see if I still have what it takes to do some work for him in the mountains.
I'm a little concerned about whether or not I will be able to stand up on the bike. I'm only riding with about 50 percent of my full strength on my right side. So, it hasn't been that easy to keep pace with the accelerations in the peloton over the last few days. To stay with the first group, you really have to be able to pull on the handle bars when the speeds heat up on the climbs.
If I can't stay with the lead guys, I won't be able to be of any service to my trusty amigo. And if I can't do that, then I will be forced to reevaluate my status in this race. Like I said, I'm not sticking around to be pack fill. I really want to help my team. But if I can't, then it will be decision time.
BBC Sport offers a guide to climbing from USPS rider Roberto Heras.
Seen at LOGos Tour Blog.
Petacchi hops the 'broom wagon'
Biggest news so far on Stage 7 is that Alessandro Petacchi of Fassa Bortolo, who won 4 stages of the 2003 Tour, dropped out on the first 2nd Category climb of the Tour.
Petacchi's abandon gives the green jersey to Austalia's Baden Cooke of FDJeux.com.
Also dropping out so far today were Jaan Kirsipuu of AG2R, Angel Vicioso of ONCE, Jesus Manzano of Kelme, and Olaf Pollack and Michael Rich of Garolsteiner.
Manzano was taken to the hospital for heat exhaustion.
Saeco in black and white
From the official Tour site.
11 H 22 - Saeco Can Expect A Large Fine Tonight The Saeco team did ask the race organizers if they could change their outfits from the traditional red to the white which they are wearing today but the team was told that would not be allowed. That hasn't stopped them from insisting with their curious marketing antics and Jean-Francois Pescheux, the competition director, has explained that the team will be given a large fine at the end of today's stage.
They're promoting their bike sponsor, Cannondale, in special jerseys that say "Legalize my Cannondale." Saeco's Gilberto Simoni is riding a prototype bike that comes in .1 kg below the UCI minimum requirements of 6.8 kg.
The New Yorker | The Long Ride: How did Lance Armstrong manage the greatest comeback in sports history?
As the Tour moves into the Alps, and the likelihood of Lance Armstrong moving up into the maillot jaune, I thought I would link to the best Lance Armstrong profile I've read.
It originally ran in The New Yorker's July 15, 2002 issue. It goes into some depth about both the physiology and, more importantly, the psychology that go into making a successful Tour rider.
Tour Today: Lyon - Morzine
Today is the longest day of the 2003 Tour, at 230.5 km.
There are two 3rd Category climbs, two 2nd Category climbs, and a 1st Category the Tour has never traversed: Col de la Ramaz.
Still 194 riders in the race
Yellow Jersey: Victor Hugo Peña
Green Jersey: Alessandro Petacchi
Polka-Dot Jersey: Christophe Mengin
White Jersey: Vladimir Karpet
Lanterne Rouge (last place overall): Jimmy Caspar