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By Tim Maloney, cyclingnews.com correspondent
With 21 Stages, 3,630 kilometers to race, including 75 km of individual time trials and 69 km of team time trial, 16 cols & three tough mountain top stage finishes, the 2000 Tour De France looks like a tough battleground for 1999 champion Lance Armstrong (United States Postal Service) to defend his title. But after Armstrong's unexpected and dramatic win in last year's Tour, a spring filled with careful and intense preparation, Armstrong must be considered the favorite to win in consecutive years, just as Greg LeMond did a decade earlier.
Lance will count on his " boyz " Tyler Hamilton and Kevin Livingston to do the job again in the mountains in 2000. These home-grown American riders are powerful, smart and loyal and should give Armstrong the set-up basis he needs to repeat as TDF champ this year.
After less than positive comments about his win in last year's Tour by top riders like Pantani and Bartoli, Armstrong may be motivated to show the world that he can beat a much tougher Tour peloton this year, packed with hungry former winners on the rebound like Jan Ullrich (Telekom) and Marco Pantani (Mercatone Uno).
Ullrich has had yet another year of well-publicized problems with his health & weight, but the classy and powerful Ullrich appears to be on the right track after his recently respectable performance in the Tour Of Switzerland. Ullrich's solid Telekom squad is committed to putting "Der Kaiser" back in Yellow in Paris, as well as supporting Erik Zabel's quest for yet another Green Points Jersey.
Marco Pantani remains an enigma: the recent emergence of the diminutive climber in last month's Giro d'Italia was like a re-baptism by fire for the unpredictable Italian. He suffered like a dog at first after starting with little racing, but by the final few stages in the Alps, Pantani played a vital role helping his talented young teammate Stefano Garzelli capture the Giro win. Can Pantani come back as a Tour contender ? The question remains...
The fact is that for Lance and his excellent USPS team, both Ullrich and Pantani are the most dangerous foes at this 2000 Tour, but cyclingnews can't rule out last year's podium dwellers Alex Zulle (Banesto) and Fernando Escartin (Kelme). Zulle will have the entire Banesto team at his beck and call. Zulle's emerging teammate Jose Maria "El Chaba" Jimenez, winner of the recent Classique des Alpes and Volta A Catalunya is a true joker for the 2000 Tour.
Fernando Escartin also has both the powerful Kelme team dedicated for him, and his dynamic young teammate Roberto Heras is a pocket rocket that will put the pressure on the competition when needed.
Lance won't forget the pretenders to his throne either - like the ever-present twins Abraham Olano and Laurent Jalabert (O.N.C.E.), Double trouble if one or both finds their legs along the way to Paris. O.N.C.E. has always coveted a Tour win and if Olano can keep it together in the Alps, his strong time trialing could bring him a long way towards the podium in Paris. Both Olano and Jalabert have been following O.N.C.E boss Manolo Saiz's secret training program to prepare for this year's Le Grand Boucle.
What can Bobby Julich (Credit Agricole) and Frank Vandenbroucke (Cofidis) hope to offer ? Julich is an enigma; the talented American all-rounder finished 3rd behind Pantani & Ullrich in '98, but crashed out in '99 before he had a chance to strut his stuff. Paired with the mercurial Jonathan Vaughters at CA, this dynamic duo with a mission (to upset the USPS applecart) and little pressure may spell trouble for Lance & Co. along the way to Paris.
As for Vandenbroucke and Cofidis, the "fuoriclasse" Belgian has had a less than stable, steady career. Certainly one of the most talented riders in recent history, VDB has had a checkered track record in 2000 and although he has been preparing specially for Le Tour, it is difficult to predict what he might do along the road to Paris.
Although every team wants to win the 2000 Tour De France, few are chosen. In that not every team has a rider capable of winning Le Tour. So many teams are forced to revert to playing a role and hoping for the best...or avoiding the worst.
AG2R Prevoyance certainly had a great run in '99; their sprinter Jaan Kirsipuu had Le Maillot Jaune during the first week of the Tour and Vincent Lavenu's team is certainly looking to repeat again this year. If Kirsipuu doesn't make it into yellow again, AG2R will support climbers Benoit Salmon and Andrei Kivilev for "le classement general."
Kirsipuu's sprint crown will certainly be contested by Roman Vainsteins of Vini Caldirola. Like Kirsipuu, Vainsteins is a fast man from the Baltics and could be the sprint revelation of this year's Tour. Without world #1 ranked Francesco Casagrande, Caldirola will be looking for victories, but old fox Mauro Gianetti could surprise on GC.
Saeco Valli & Valli has Laurent Dufaux as their team leader on GC but the absence of perennial power sprinter Mario Cipollini will certainly take some wind out of their sails...all except for Sal "Toto" Commesso, who is an opportunistic fireplug of a rider and along with classy young Saeco talent Massimiliano Mori are looking for stage wins.
Farm Frites is a team that was excluded from the '99 Tour De France, but is back again and looking for stage wins...certainly rapid Aussie Robbie McEwen will be in the hunt in the sprint finishes, while talented German Andreas Klier will look for breaks to infiltrate and Russian champ Sergei Ivanov will hope for a top 20 GC ride.
Almost all Spanish Festina squad will hope that the evergreen experience of Marcel Wüst will shine in sprint finishes in the first week, while Angel Casero and Beppe Di Grande can provide some firepower on GC. Chris Moreau will hope for some time trial results on stage 19, as the Belfort native wants do do well on his home turf.
Can Stephane Heulot bring glory to La Francaise Des Jeux? The 29 year old Frenchman is looking to finish in the top 5 by Paris, but it's doubtful that his legs will allow this. Heulot just always seems to disappoint and there is no reason to believe that this year is any different. Au contraire are FDJ's young French sprinter, Jean Patrick Nazon. Nazon (23) has a great finish and with luck, could be in the hunt for a stage win.
Lotto-Adecco may be the sleeper team of the 2000 Tour...with climbing & GC talent Kurt Van de Wouwer looking for another good TDF, mostly maniac attacker Jacky "Dudu" Durand and powerhouse Rik Verbrugghe, Lotto looks like team managers Claudy Criquielion and Jos Brackveldt will make the maximum effectiveness of their troops for Le Tour.
Mapei-Quick Step has some issues. Issues of wealth and bounty. And transition and change...
Newly crowned Italian champion Michele Bartoli is back and feisty, looking for some stage wins. Top sprinter Tom Steels of Belgium is looking to dominate the final rushes for the line. New USPRO Champ Freddy Rodriguez will have some freedom to go for wins as well, while Daniele Nardello is looking for a steady Tour that may lead to a podium shot. So what's it gonna be for Mapei-Quick Step? Hard to tell for sure, especially as team manager Pat Lefevre is planning on leaving at season's end to start his own team in 2001.
Polti will have...surprise! Richard "Allez" Virenque, the perennial troublemaker as team leader. Paradoxically, Virenque is as popular alongside the road with the French public as he is unpopular in the peloton. Once again, this aging (30+) boyish fool of a rider is still talented enough to have some hope on GC and if this fails (as it will) he can always go for...surprise! The polkadot climbing jersey can be his for 5 consecutive Tours De France. Pity Allez-Richard can't muster more imagination. Besides Virenque, Polti has Dutch sprinter Jeroen Blijlevens, a real danger man in a bunch finish.
Is Memorycard-Jack & Jones the little engine that could? The first all-Danish team to make it into Le Tour by virtue of their all-around excellent riding, Memorycard-J&J; has as dangermen time trial specialist Michael Sandstød for a shot at yellow in the first TT at Futuroscope. Waiting in the wings is Bo Hamburger, newly crowned Danish champ. Hamburger is 30 and a mature rider in all senses. Bo knows it's now or never to confirm his talent, and if he can follow the wheels in the Alps and have good TT's, he may have an excellent final ride on GC.
Hello Bonjour! Welcome to Le Tour. Bonjour-Toupargel, a new French team for 2000, is headed by Jean Cyril Robin for the GC. Bonjour is hoping to say "allo" and make an early impact with breaks from Francis Simon and Didier Rous, while sprints will be the job of elder Nazon brother Damien. As for Robin's chance on GC, he has always performed well at Le Tour and may be a real sleeper.
Last but not least, Rabobank hopes that Michael Boogerd will have more luck than in '99, when his heavy crash in the Passage du Gois knocked him out of Le Tour. Boogerd has had decent results so far this year, but nothing to write home to Holland about. Backing Boogerd will be a solid team of old faithfuls like Wauters, Vierhouten and Dekker, with young talent Grischa Niermann having their first look at Le Grande Boucle.
Next: "Le Parcours"... "It's harder than last year," says '99 winner Lance Armstrong
Tour de France 2000 - 'balanced and fair'
By Gerard Knapp and Tim Maloney
"It seems like a balanced and fair tour," said Lance Armstrong via video link at the release in October 1999 of the route for the Tour de France in 2000, the 87th edition of the world's largest bike race.
"I don't want to single out any rivals," said last year's victor, "there's about 10 guys who could probably win. Ullrich, Pantani, Escartin, Olano ... the list is long."
Whoever rides around Paris in the yellow jersey on July 23 will have conquered what veteran tour watcher Samuel Abt from the New York Times said "looks like a very tough course. Good for a lot of the climbers".
Indeed, the defining section will be stages 14, 15 and 16, in the French Alps, with the killer stage likely to be stage 14, to be held on July 15. This 249 km nasty takes in three historic climbs on a route which has not been scaled since Fausto Coppi won it in 1949. Leaving Draguignan and finishing at Briancon, it covers the Cols du Allos, Vars and Izoard.
It's then followed by another brute which finishes in Courchevel, with the riders facing 168 km of climbs including the Galibier and Telegraph. The peloton will then have a rest day in the mountains, before encountering a 196 km stage from Courchevel to Morzine, tackling the Cols du Columbier, Chatillon and Joux-Plane.
But it's not all suffering for the riders. Armstrong said he was looking forward to the return of the Team Time Trial, which has not been a part of the Tour since 1995. "I used to really like those when I was in Motorola," he told reporters last year.
This year's Tour also features an opening time trial stage of 16 km which could see the end for the prologue specialists and the emegence of a more complete time trialist leading the race. How long they remain in yellow will depend on how many bonus seconds the sprinters will earn in the first week. The time trialists will only have one further opportunity to assert themselves next year, as there is only one individual time trial coming at stage 19, making Tour 2000 a course which is certainly suited to the climbers and sets up a final showdown.
Another distinguishing feature of next year's Tour is the final stage, which commences under the Eiffel Tower in Paris, skirts around the city for 55 km, then heads back for the traditional laps along the Champs-Elysées for the final 80 km. And in the morning before the riders head off on the final day, the organisers are planning to open the Parisian streets - turned into the race course - for the general punters. They expect some 10,000 riders will participate in the randonee.
The Tour parcours commences in Futuroscope and then heads north to Brittany, before returning back down the centre of France, south to the mountains which border with Spain. Stage 10 will see the peloton hit the Pyrenees for a 205 km stage that will scale the Col du Aubisque and finish at Hautacam, the scene of one of Miguel Indurain's most devastating displays which shattered the bunch, except for Luc LeBlanc, and virtually won him the tour.
Another tough stage comes shortly after on stage 12 (July 13), with the Tour leaving Carpentras on a 149 km stage which finishes on the dreaded Mont Ventoux - with the ascent taking the steep route.
Overall, the Tour 2000 features the following:
11 flat stages
There are a total of 21 stages covering 3630 km, and the Tour will visit Lausanne in Switzerland (home of the UCI) and then into Germany, with a relatively flat individual time trial on stage 19 from Fribourg to Mulhouse. Given the proximity to his home, we can look forward to a showdown between Jan Ullrich, Armstrong and their key rivals.
This section will give some insight into the daily happenings during the Tour. Rider interviews, diaries, commentary and more will be posted in these pages. Each day's news can be accessed by clicking on the links below.
28 - A pre-Tour interview with George Hincapie.
Every morning before a stage, the Tour De France staff, guests, journalists and riders gather in the " Village Depart ", an large open area ringed by covered arcades designated for each sponsor. Le Village is the Tour nexus, where much of the real off-the-bike action happens at Le Tour. Where the contracts and deals are made for next season are made and all the best news and gossip shows up. cyclingnews.com will endeavour to bring you the most printable and interesting stuff from "Le Village".
2 - Today's bike bingo, Saeco-Cannondale continue, Trek movies, Giordana
and ONCE, Todd in training, my bodyguard
Last update: 2150, June 30 CET
U.S. Postal Service Banesto 1 Lance Armstrong (USA) 11 Alex Zülle (Swi) 2 Frankie Andreu (USA) 12 José Luis Arrieta (Spa) 3 Vjatceslav Ekimov (Rus) 13 Dariusz Baranowski (Pol) 4 Tyler Hamilton (USA) 14 Vicente Garcia-Acosta (Spa) 5 George Hincapie (USA) 15 José Maria Jimenez (Spa) 6 Benoit Joachim (Lux) 16 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) 7 Steffen Kjaergaard (Nor) 17 Jon Odriozola (Spa) 8 Kevin Livingston (USA) 18 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) 9 Cédric Vasseur (Fra) 19 Orlando Rodrigues (Por) Kelme-Costa Blanca Mapei-Quick Step 21 Fernando Escartin (Spa) 31 Michele Bartoli (Ita) 22 Santiago Botero (Col) 32 Manuel Beltran (Spa) 23 Carlos Alberto Contreras (Col) 33 Paolo Bettini (Ita) 24 Roberto Heras (Spa) 34 Chann McRae (USA) 25 Francisco Leon (Spa) 35 Daniele Nardello (Ita) 26 Javier Otxoa (Spa) 36 Fred Rodriguez (USA) 27 Javier Pascual Llorente (Spa) 37 Tom Steels (Bel) 28 Antonio Tauler (Spa) 38 Max Van Heeswijk (Ned) 29 José Angel Vidal (Spa) 39 Stefano Zanini (Ita) Rabobank O.N.C.E-Deutsche Bank 41 Michael Boogerd (Ned) 51 Laurent Jalabert (Fra) 42 Jan Boven (Ned) 52 David Canada (Spa) 43 Erik Dekker (Ned) 53 David Etxebarria (Spa) 44 Maarten Den Bakker (Ned) 54 Ivan Gutierrez (Spa) 45 Marc Lotz (Ned) 55 Nicolas Jalabert (Fra) 46 Grischa Niermann (Ger) 56 Peter Luttenberger (Aut) 47 Leon Van Bon (Ned) 57 Abraham Olano (Spa) 48 Marc Wauters (Bel) 58 Angel Pena Miguel (Spa) 49 Markus Zberg (Swi) 59 Marcos Serrano (Spa) Team Deutsche Telekom Mercatone Uno-Albacom 61 Jan Ullrich (Ger) 71 Marco Pantani (Ita) 62 Udo Bolts (Ger) 72 Simone Borgheresi (Ita) 63 Alberto Elli (Ita) 73 Ermanno Brignoli (Ita) 64 Gian Matteo Fagnini (Ita) 74 Fabiano Fontanelli (Ita) 65 Giuseppe Guerini (Ita) 75 Riccardo Forconi (Ita) 66 Jens Heppner (Ger) 76 Massimo Podenzana (Ita) 67 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) 77 Marcello Siboni (Ita) 68 Steffen Wesemann (Ger) 78 Marco Velo (Ita) 69 Erik Zabel (Ger) 79 Enrico Zaina (Ita) Ag2r Prevoyance Saeco-Valli & Valli 81 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) 91 Laurent Dufaux (Swi) 82 Christophe Agnolutto (Fra) 92 Daniel Atienza (Spa) 83 Lauri Aus (Est) 93 Salvatore Commesso (Ita) 84 Pascal Chanteur (Fra) 94 Armin Meier (Swi) 85 David Delrieu (Fra) 95 Massimiliano Mori (Ita) 86 Arturas Kasputis (Ltu) 96 Pavel Padrnos (Cze) 87 Andrei Kivilev (Kaz) 97 Dario Pieri (Ita) 88 Gilles Maignan (Fra) 98 Paolo Savoldelli (Ita) 89 Benoit Salmon (Fra) 99 Mario Scirea (Ita) Festina-Lotus Farm Frites 101 Christophe Moreau (Fra) 111 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) 102 Joseba Beloki (Spa) 112 Andreas Klier (Ger) 103 Angel Casero (Spa) 113 Servais Knaven (Ned) 104 Félix Garcia Casas (Spa) 114 Jans Koerts (Ned) 105 Jaime Hernandez (Spa) 115 Michel Lafis (Swe) 106 Pascal Lino (Fra) 116 Glenn Magnusson (Swe) 107 Laurent Madouas (Fra) 117 Robbie McEwen (Aus) 108 David Plaza (Spa) 118 Koos Moerenhout (Ned) 109 Marcel Wüst (Ger) 119 Geert Van Bondt (Bel) Cofidis Lotto-Adecco 121 Franck Vandenbroucke (Bel) 131 Rik Verbrugghe (Bel) 122 Laurent Desbiens (Fra) 132 Mario Aerts (Bel) 123 Laurent Lefevre (Fra) 133 Serge Baguet (Bel) 124 Massimiliano Lelli (Ita) 134 Sébastien Demarbaix (Bel) 125 Nico Mattan (Bel) 135 Jacky Durand (Fra) 126 Roland Meier (Swi) 136 Thierry Marichal (Bel) 127 David Millar (Gbr) 137 Kurt Van De Wouwer (Bel) 128 David Moncoutie (Fra) 138 Paul Van Hyfte (Bel) 129 Chris Peers (Bel) 139 Geert Verheyen (Bel) Francaise Des Jeux Team Polti 141 Stéphane Heulot (Fra) 151 Richard Virenque (Fra) 142 Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) 152 Jeroen Blijlevens (Ned) 143 Grégory Gwiazdowski (Pol) 153 Rossano Brasi (Ita) 144 Frank Hoj (Den) 154 Enrico Cassani (Ita) 145 Xavier Jan (Fra) 155 Mirco Crepaldi (Ita) 146 Emmanuel Magnien (Fra) 156 Pascal Herve (Fra) 147 Christophe Mengin (Fra) 157 Rafael Mateos (Spa) 148 Sven Montgomery (Swi) 158 Fabio Sacchi (Ita) 149 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) 159 Bart Voskamp (Ned) Memory Card-Jack & Jones Credit Agricole 161 Bo Hamburger (Den) 171 Bobby Julich (USA) 162 Michaël Blaudzun (Den) 172 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) 163 Tristan Hoffman (Ned) 173 Fabrice Gougot (Fra) 164 Allan Johansen (Den) 174 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) 165 Nicolay Bo Larsen (Den) 175 Anthony Langella (Fra) 166 Arvis Piziks (Lat) 176 Anthony Morin (Fra) 167 Martin Rittsel (Swe) 177 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) 168 Michael Sandstod (Den) 178 Jonathan Vaughters (USA) 169 Jesper Skibby (Den) 179 Jens Voigt (Ger) Vini Caldirola-Sidermec Bonjour-Toupargel 181 Romans Vainsteins (Lat) 191 Jean-Cyril Robin (Fra) 182 Massimo Apollonio (Ita) 192 Walter Beneteau (Fra) 183 Gianluca Bortolami (Ita) 193 Franck Bouyer (Fra) 184 Filippo Casagrande (Ita) 194 Pascal Derame (Fra) 185 Roberto Conti (Ita) 195 Christophe Faudot (Fra) 186 Andrej Hauptman (Slo) 196 Damien Nazon (Fra) 187 Zoran Klemencic (Slo) 197 Olivier Perraudeau (Fra) 188 Mauro Radaelli (Ita) 198 Didier Rous (Fra) 189 Guido Trentin (Ita) 199 François Simon (Fra)