© Copyright Amaury Sport Organisation / A.S.O. 2003
The two best cyclists of their generation meet in dramatic fashion tomorrow for what could be the deciding stage of what has been a fascinating, exciting and dramatic race.
Lanterne Rouge, Belgian rider Hans De Clercq, starts proceedings at 10:49 C.E.T. over the 49km course between Pornic and Nantes. Last man off is four times winner American Lance Armstrong at 16:02. The riders will set off at two-minute intervals with the exception of the top twenty men who will have a three-minute gap.
As if the team managers of Bianchi and US Postal do not have enough to worry about, there is a good chance of rain with temperatures around the 69° F. / 21° C mark.
The American Armstrong has decided to race using the new Bontranger handlebars, lighter and narrower, which should guarantee a more aerodynamic position, while the German Ullrich will use his extra special Bianchi, made especially for him with the highest level of care and precision by the expert technicians of the Bianchi racing department.
An extra light bike, as are its components, has already allowed Ullrich to produce two surprising performances, the Parisian prologue, which took place on the 5th July over 6.5km, and on the 12th stage, the time trial over 47km from Gaillac to Cap’ Découverte.
On both of these occasions, Jan Ullrich managed to overturn the eve’s forecasts and overtake the super favourite Armstrong.
In Paris, the Bianchi Team leader was faster by 5 secs; while at Cap’ Découverte he led by 1 min 36 secs over the winner of the last four races over the Grande Boucle.
© Copyright Bianchi
Ullrich flexed his muscles 50 kilometres into today’s stage where he came second in the intermediate sprint, with Armstrong just behind, to gain two seconds on the yellow jersey. It was a small gain for Ullrich time wise, but Armstrong will be well aware of the significance of the gesture. Ullrich's manager Rudy Pevenage saw it as a demonstration of the Bianchi boy’s confidence -
"It's Jan himself who made the decision, but with a side wind it was a little risky. Jan was in the front, he saw the sprint could suit him and seized the opportunity to take a few seconds. I was a little surprised for it was a bold gamble. But he really believes in his chances," he said.
However, the defending yellow jersey saw events slightly differently -
“Those two seconds will never be decisive for the outcome of the Tour. It’s much more important to win the Tour tomorrow during the most important individual time trial of my entire career. Anyway, I keep cool and won’t let others put notions into my head. Looking back at the last four years, I also know that I’m always at my best in the last time trial.”
Armstrong also has the advantage of starting off last, and the cooler weather conditions should suit him. He remains the favourite particularly with former riders -
Stephen Roche "For a while I said that anything is possible when there's only a margin of a minute. 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."
Cyrille Guimard "I know the time trial route down to the last metre. I used to train on it myself 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 sees it as a battle - "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, 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 considers the parcours definitely to Ullrich’s liking - "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."
Jokers US actor Robin Williams has made the trip to support his friend Armstrong and will definitely think that the man from Austin will win. Ullrich relies on team joker, Fabrizio Guidi, for comic relief - responding to Jan’s taunt that he would be sent to punishment camp if he did not win a stage, Guidi replied, "You will be coming with me to Siberia if you don’t win the Tour tomorrow."
© Copyright USPS-BerryFloor
However, the last or penultimate stage as a moment of high drama is not unprecedented.
Since World War 2 the final stages have been decisive on 5 occasions.
1947 Jean Robic attacks on the last stage between Caen and Paris to take the yellow jersey from the Italian Pierre Brambilla.
1964 Just three days after the famous duel on the Puy de Dôme, Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor battle it out again over a 27 kilometre course from Versailles to Paris. Anquetil puts another 21 seconds into his rival to win the tour by 55 seconds.
1968 The Belgian Herman Van Springel is in yellow going into thelast stage, a 55.2 kilometre time trial from Melun to Paris. Dutchman Jan Janssen, (and unusually, former green jersey winner) wins by 54 seconds to take the yellow jersey by 38 seconds.
1987 A 38 kilometre time trial around Dijon sees Pedro Delgado, a climbing specialist, losing his yellow jersey to Stephen Roche.
1989 The closest and possibly still most famous moment in Tour History - Fignon is outpaced by LeMond by a mere 8 seconds after 3285.3 kilometres of racing.
Starting Times CET
10h49: De Clercq, Bertolini, Becke, Andriotto, McEwen, Munoz
11h01: Usano, Dumoulin, Cooke, Liese, Hinault, Finot, McGee, J.-P. Nazon, Bossoni, Van Bon, Edaleine, Hary, D. Nazon, Peschel, Cuesta, Gaumont, Moerenhout, Knaven, Bramati, Garcia Acosta, Gonzalez de Galdeano, Christensen, Hushovd, Oriol, Voeckler, Wauters, Vogondy, Vainsteins, Piil, Geslin
12h01: Casar, Fornaciari, Bodrogi, Mengin, Poilvet, Jalabert, Zabel, Flecha, Clain, Guidi, Padrnos, Landaluze, De Groot, Karpets, Vasseur, Freire, Lopez de Munain, Renier, Aldag, Da Cruz, Zberg, Turpin, O'Grady, Pena, Aerts, Zampieri, Krivtsov, Baguet, Portal, Andrle
13h01: Simoni, Commesso, Artetxe, Cioni, Fritsch, Ekimov, Landis, Pellizotti, Noè, Latasa, Nozal, Pineau, Paolini, Garmendia, Bruseghin, Serrano, Lastras, Lefèvre, Van de Wouwer, Glomser, Boelts, Trentin, Bénéteau, Sacchi, Pradera, Millar, Casero, Canada, Peron, Petrov
14h01: Brandt, Zandio, Miholjevic, Hincapie, Bettini, Kessler, Blaudzun, Parra, Soerensen, Rogers, Moncoutié, J.E. Gutierrez, Halgand, Flickinger, Chavanel, Ludewig, Mercado, Guerini, Heras, Brochard, Boogerd, Chaurreau, Goubert, Astarloza, Niermann, Pascual Llorente, Nardello, Azevedo, Botcharov, Garcia Casas
15h01: Plaza, Dufaux, Rubiera (15h05), Rous, Jaksche, Laiseka, Lelli, Virenque, Beltran, Luttenberger, Totschnig, Menchov