July 24, 2003
In an AP story at sfgate.com, Jerome Pugmire tries to establish Lance Armstrong's place in the Peloton-ic Pantheon.
First thing: Too early. Armstrong may yet lose this Tour, or he could win this one and the next 5. That's a mighty big swing.
Next thing: Like most sports, the development of better scientific training methods (some would suggest less legal means, as well) has led to athletes training to a shorter, higher peak than they used to, and the death of the off-season has them building from a higher baseline each year.
Despite the changes in cycling, there's still only one name you can put at the top: Eddy Merckx, and that's the conclusion Pugmire reaches.
In terms of the yellow jersey, nothing happened. But I did observe one thing. Jan Ullrich is taking a lot of wind. Lance is always well protected with his teammates, always conserving energy in the slipstream. But Jan, I swear, has been riding the whole Tour in the wind. Whoever is behind him is benefiting tons, but not Jan. And before the final time trial, he is doing nothing but wasting energy, never a good thing.
Another point of note is that the two leaders actually contested the sprint today, since bonus time was awarded down to 25th place. They were edged by the sprinters, with Ullrich finishing 27th and Armstrong 28th.
Yahoo! Sport talked to a number of former Tour riders and coaches, most of whom feel like it's Lance Armstrong's race to lose:
- Stephen Roche:
"I can see Ullrich taking 45 seconds off Armstrong. He might ride with some big gears that Armstrong will find difficult to match. Armstrong doesn't like the heat either and the past few cooler days have allowed him to rest up.
"If the weather stays the same, I can see him winning the Tour."
- Cyrile Guimard (coached Laurent Fignon, Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond):
"There are no difficult parts except for the roundabouts. But one minute seven seconds is a lot to take back from a guy who is wearing the yellow jersey."
- Bernard Hinault:
"It will be war between the two of them. The flat profile of the route means nothing. There could be big or small time gaps whether its flat or hilly," said Hinault.
"If you're stronger, you ride faster. Ullrich is certainly capable of going out to get the yellow jersey and if he does it will all come down to a few seconds."
- Laurent Jalabert:
"A flat route works to Ullrich's advantage. I think he's capable of winning the time trial by a minute or even 1:10. He's finishing the race much fresher and Armstrong hasn't dominated like he has in previous years."
John Wilcockson of VeloNews analyzes what's likely to be the fastest Tour in history:
One reason for the ultra-fast Tour has been the willingness of riders to attack from the start virtually every day - even in the mountain stages. On Thursday, for instance the riders had barely left the start area in Dax and done a brief loop around the city's narrow streets before 10 riders from 10 different teams went clear.
With the green jersey competition so close, and the time trial on Saturday playing such a crucial role, the high average (Armstrong is averaging 40.478 km/h or 25.151 mph, about .2 km/h faster than his record average in 1999) is likely to increase.
cyclingnews.com talked to today's stage winner Servais Knaven after the stage:
With quick finishers like Commesso, Van Bon and Bossoni in the breakaway, Servais had to come up with a plan, and it was not for the light hearted. "Today's stage was how I like them to be, flat with an early break. Towards the end the breakaway group went silent, and we all started to think about how we would ride at the end. Needless to say, I didn't want to sprint for it, and I didn't want to risk that someone else attacked before me either, and therefore I jumped with 18 kilometres to go. Maybe it seemed a little bit too early, and I admit that it was a risky move, but I felt really good. I was able to ride at 50 kph and the others just couldn't do that."
Giro d'Italia champion and Stage 14 winner Gilberto Simoni has signed a 2-year contract extension with the Italian team Saeco.
cyclingnews.com has an interview with Stage 17 winner Servais Knaven, conducted in 2002. Knaven was with Lotto-Domo at the time; this year, he rides for QuickStep-Davitamon.
On the sole remaining Briton, David Millar (a Scot):
The man admits he has had enough now after slipping fast down the overall rankings in the final week of the gruelling race...
"Physically, it's hard. I have had enough," he said. "I had dreamed of this stage because it is in my area.
"I could not stay in touch with my team-mates. It is tough to finish in my home stage with the grupetto."
Somewhat misleading headline on the daily New York Times Tour report by Samuel Abt, unless 12 miles qualifies as a sprint. Abt's story, of course, knows better, but the headline writer couldn't bring himself/herself to read the whole story before writing the headline....
Even among the 10 fugitives there was no sprint. Servais Knaven, a Dutchman with Quick Step, left his companions behind with 18 kilometers to go and cruised across the line, grinning and exulting, 17 seconds clear of competition.
Second was Paolo Bossoni, an Italian with Vini Caldirola, and Christophe Mengin, a Frenchman with fdjeux.com, was third. The main pack, including all the leaders, finished 8 minutes 6 seconds behind and there was no change atop the standings, led by Lance Armstrong as he seeks his fifth successive Tour victory.
Bradley McGee has updated his rider's diary at cyclingnews.com, to include the last climbs on Stage 16:
Plenty of fog up high in the mountains today, perfect for when you do not really want to see how much more climbing there is to go. However, the ever-present and ever-motivated fans will attempt to provide roadside guidance about the remaining kilometers. I am sure there is a mathematical formula that could be used to change a spectator's length of exaggeration into fact.
"Cinq cent metres les gars, seulment cinq cent metres et c'est fini!" ["Five hundred metres to the top; only five hundred metres and it's over"] And they can be so believable. Belief shrinks into spiteful nastiness when you turn a corner to get the Tour's official sign saying "1km GPM". But, come the descent, I love the spectators again - and all their blatant bullshitting.
The Dutch have now scored 13 Tour stage victories in Bordeaux, but for once, the winner was not a sprinter as Knaven belonged to a group of 10 riders who attacked early on and held a maximum lead of 22 minutes over the main bunch.
At the front, Knaven launched a perfectly timed attack with about 18km to go and quickly rode away from his pursuers.
"I've always finished second, third, seventh, whatever, on the Tour so I'm delighted to finally win a stage," said the Dutchman.
"My manager told me to attack, but not to go too late so I attacked with around 18km to go and just kept going. It's incredible. I don't win a lot, but when I do, it's memorable."
Stage 17: Servais Knaven foils the sprinters
Riding away from a 10-man breakaway at the 17-km mark, 7-time Dutch Tour rider Servais Knaven won the 17th stage of the 2003 Tour de France. The finish in Bordeaux was the first career stage win for the QuickStep-Davitamon rider.
Robbie McEwen won the field sprint, over Erik Zabel and Baden Cooke, further tightening the race for the green jersey. The field came in 8:07 behind Knaven. Cooke now leads by just 6 pts.
The flat stage favored the sprinters, but a number of teams put riders in an early breakaway that posed little overall threat, and the group, which included 4 riders with past Tour stage wins, stayed away to the end.
Stage top 10:
1) Servais Knaven (QuickStep-Davitamon)
2) Paolo Bossoni @ :17
3) Christophe Mengin @ same time
4) Leon Van Bon @ s.t.
5) Salvatore Commesso @ s.t.
6) Vincente Garcia Acosta @ s.t.
7) Peter Luttenberger @ s.t.
8) Mederic Clain @ s.t.
9) Bram De Groot @ s.t.
10) Ivan Parra @ 1:55
Tour headline du jour: Five teams in lead group still without a stage victory
In Stage 17, underway now, there's a 10-rider breakaway that has had as much as a 16-minute lead on the peloton. To understand why this group (which has 4 previous stage winners in it) went away, we go to our Tour headline du jour.
15 H 03 - Five Teams In Lead Group Still Without A Stage Victory...Of the 10 teams represented in the lead group today, five have yet to win a stage in this year's Tour. They are Rabobank (represented by De Groot), Cofidis (represented by Clain), Kelme (represented by Parra), Lotto-Domo (represented by Van Bon) and Caldirola (represented by Bossoni).
From the official Tour website.
cyclingnews.com has some reaction to Tyler Hamilton's win in Stage 16, including Haimar Zubeldia:
"Hamilton did a great ride and it's true that our plans were a bit disrupted," said Zubeldia, who will have to ride well on Saturday to prevent Hamilton from taking 1'20 back from him. "What's more, at the moment the attack started, Iban Mayo had a mechanical problem. The stage really didn't go as we had hoped. It's too bad, but I still have the time trial in Nantes to try for the podium."
Also, Erik Zabel disclaims any interest in the green jersey:
Erik Zabel (143 points) moved up to third in the classification after taking second in the stage yesterday. But he says he only has one thing on his mind. "Sorry, I'm not interested any more in the green jersey but the stage victory still interests me. I have accepted I'm not among the very fastest of the peloton anymore. Other guys are establishing themselves. Since the day I accepted this I feel much happier."
Sounds like he's been taking lessons from Jan "I'm just here for a stage win" Ullrich....
Tour Today: Dax - Bordeaux
Flat, flat, flat. We've got two intermediate sprints and the finishing sprint in 181 km, as the Tour moves north, paralleling the Atlantic coast.
Most of the action today is likely to surround the green jersey, as Baden Cooke, Robbie McEwen, Erik Zabel, and Stuart O'Grady try to win the overall points title for this Tour.
There have been suggestions that Jan Ullrich might try to close the gap with Armstrong by contesting intermediate sprints, but I don't see it: Armstrong has a strong team that could chase down any such attempt, and with the closeness of the points competition, they would get plenty of help from the teams of the green jersey competitors. I think Ullrich is going to have to play his hand on Saturday, in the individual time trial.
With the abandonment of Australia's Nick Gates of Lotto-Domo and Rabobank's Remmert Wielinga of the Netherlands, 149 riders are left in the race.
Lance Armstrong Baden Cooke Richard Virenque Denis Menchov
Team CSC leads the team classification over Euskaltel-Euskadi by about 9 minutes.
Tyler Freaking Hamilton will be quite deservedly wearing the red race number of the most aggressive rider.
Giles Smith, in the Daily Telegraph, contrasts the fan situation at the Tour with that in Formula One, where a former Irish priest recently jumped onto the track with a couple of cardboard placards, apparently to promote the Bible. Smith, clearly with a talent for understatement, calls the action "bracingly incautious."
Yesterday, Tyler Hamilton, of the United States, struck out alone from the peloton in a highly ambitious and ultimately successful assault on Stage 16. (And hats off to Eurosport's loquacious commentator, David Duffield, who tipped Hamilton to hold his lead when he was still a good hour and a half from the finish, a prediction which drew much patronising derision from Duffield's three team-mates, all of whom smugly assured Duffield that Hamilton would run out of puff.)
The necessary by-product of Hamilton's solo push was that he became chief road-clearer. On certain of the more populated slopes and corners, he found himself driving straight at, not just one batty Irishman with a couple of pieces of cardboard, but at an entire human wall, much of it gesticulating wildly and waving things.
The odds grew high that, even if he were to prevail and cross the line as Duffield said he would, Hamilton would do so wearing at least one Basque national flag and, quite possibly, the person holding it. How the riders must long, at these moments, for those stretches in open country, where they can finally be alone with just their thoughts for company, plus half a dozen motorcycle outriders, seven team cars and three helicopters.