© Copyright Amaury Sport Organisation / A.S.O. 2003
Tomorrow's stage has become very much a supporting act for Saturday's time trial. Usually at this stage of a Tour the race for overall has been decided and the Green jersey points competition, being the only one left in contention, takes centre stage.
However, the Ullrich Armstrong showdown in Saturday’s time trial casts a long shadow over the scrabble for points.
This favours the breakaways, particularly since after such a tough race very few teams either have the manpower or desire to chase riders down who get a gap.
However, Robbie McEwen continues to whittle away at Cookes fragile lead and Zabel is still amongst the contenders.
The points awarded at each stage depend on the type of course, flat stages like tomorrow's award the highest points, 35 to the winner, while mountainous stages award only 20 while Time trials offer a miserly 15 points to the stage winner.
On Flat stages the winner gets 35 points, 2nd 30, 3rd 26, 4th 24, 5th 22, 6th 20 - and then a diminishing number by one so the 25th man gets one point.
Bonus sprints award 6, 4, 2 points to the first three men over the line.
As the profile shows, tomorrow is another major stage for those riders left in the chase for Green -
Points after Stage 17 (Top 20)
1 COOKE Baden AUS FDJ 169 pts
2 MC EWEN Robbie AUS LOT 163 pts
3 ZABEL Erik GER TEL 157 pts
4 HUSHOVD Thor NOR C.A 146 pts
5 O'GRADY Stuart AUS C.A 133 pts
6 PAOLINI Luca ITA QSD 126 pts
7 NAZON Jean-Patrick FRA DEL 119 pts
8 DE GROOT Bram NED RAB 99 pts
31 year old McEwen, and holder of the Green jersey, knows full well that it is not about going for one stage victory but a contest of attrition.
"Going for the green jersey, a bunch sprint's not that important, although I would like to win a stage and then a bunch sprint is my only chance. But at the moment, I'm still six points behind and just trying to pull it back point by point.”
Cooke is also well aware of the fighting qualities required to hold onto the green jersey.
"When I started the Tour, the points competition wasn't an objective because I thought it was out of my reach. But now it's there for the taking.
"I might be able to win it.
"I'm going to have to fight every day and in every intermediate sprint but I'm going to try."
Erik Zabel, six times winner of the competition (ahead of such legends as Sean Kelly, Jan Janssen, Eddy Merckx, and Freddy Maertens) waits in the shadows, and his experience may yet prove to be the key point.
One thing the tour has not had this year is the lead out train. Certainly teams have lead out their men, or in the case of David Millar, other team's men, but the absence of Mario Cipollini and his well rehearsed Domina Vacanze - Elitron team, has led sprints to be harder, more fought out affairs.
If the battle for yellow is settled on Saturday the fight for the Green jersey will almost certainly not be decided until Paris.
Escalation in popularity for Ullrich and sales leap for "Bianchi”
The rising popularity and interest around Jan Ullrich, leader of team Bianchi, and the Tour of the Centenary, are producing an uprising trend also in the demand of Bianchi sportswear, in the same style of that worn by Ullrich and team-mates on road, and of course of the racing bikes by Bianchi.
The brilliant performances of the German champion have livened the market which is steadily increasing.
The potential of Ullrich’s image, from the point of view of marketing and sales, can be read in few figures: in the last four days Bianchi dealers in France have got a demand of over two thousands shirts like the one worn by the team at the Tour.
This unique jersey has a great history behind and its graphics, classic without frills, are appealing for those cycling fans who can feel the magic of great sports achievements just by wearing it. Jan Ullrich is the hottest name now, but before him we remind other famous champions: ‘the biggest amongst the bigs’ Fausto Coppi, Felice Gimondi, Gianni Bugno, Marco Pantani.
But there are not only Bianchi dealers asking for these shirts, requests are coming from everywhere, as well as for bikes in the black colour with the ‘celeste’ writing of Bianchi, like the one rode by Ullrich.
It is an unmistakable sign that this alliance between Bianchi and Ullrich, yarned by the Swedish entrepreneur Tony Grimaldi, president of Bianchi International, is a success.
For this reason and in spite of a hectic and tight business schedule, Tony Grimaldi and Davide Brambilla, vice- president of Bianchi International, paid another visit to the Tour to compliment Ullrich and cheer him up during a nice convivial meeting.
The Tour is an important showcase to promote a product or to strengthen a trademark, but it’s also the usual and most appropriate site to finalise negotiations with future riders in view of organising and building up the team for the next season.
It’s no surprise that Gilberto Simoni, winner of Giro d’Italia and of the 14th stage of the Tour, chose this opportunity to sign the renewal of his contract with the team up to 2005.
The management of team Bianchi is already on the move to strengthen the team and give Jan Ullrich a strong and competitive squad to support him for the next year’s Tour.
Team Saeco look to future from the Tour
Simoni and Pieri confirmed until 2005
While the Tour de France is coming to an end, Team Saeco are working hard on the future of the team. The first step in the last few days was the confirmation of Gilberto Simoni as one of the team’s key riders for 2004 and 2005.
“With Gilberto we’ve formed a partnership which is more than just about major results, we’ve also created a extremely positive atmosphere in the team - team manager Claudio Corti said We’ve got a very strong and united team which we intend to consolidate and develop. The satisfaction of our sponsor Saeco of the company president Sergio Zappella are a confirmation of our good work.”
The team has also renewed the two-year contract of Dario Pieri who rode incredibly well to finish second in the Paris-Roubaix World Cup in April.
Riis has proven one of the more astute managers this season. His signing of Peter Luttenberger was typical of his wisdom. Luttenberger, whose climbing abilities gave him 5th place in the 1996 Tour de France, found himself in the unlikely position of a mountain goat in a flat stage breakaway, with the added bonus of moving up the GC.
”The route was not my cup of tea. I only weigh 60 kilograms and it is difficult for me when the pace is kept at 60-65 km/h. Nevertheless, I was ready to take up the challenge and I discussed the tactics with Bjarne as the breakaway went along. I did not win the stage today but I was able to climb into 13th overall, and more importantly, the team was able to consolidate its lead in the teams classification. For that reason, it was important that we were represented in today’s breakaway. I was just lucky to be the one who went along with the right attack.”
Bjarne Riis was satisfied with his team after the stage: "Our riders were at the front of the peloton at the beginning of the stage and they were all eager to make it into today’s breakaway. Peter was the lucky one. Once again, we were able to get a rider into a breakaway and that shows that we are more alert than the other teams. It is such a pleasure to witness. The fact that Peter is the one who gets away speaks volumes about the mood in the team. Everybody wants to get out there and show what they can do and that is a great attitude to have”.
Peter Luttenberger finished 0’17 behind Knaven in 7th place and moved into 13th overall. Team CSC increased their lead in the teams classification and is now 16’57 ahead of Euskaltel in second place.