Tour of redemption?


None of which should take away from the fact that the Tour did survive largely intact, and much of that was due to the presence of one man: Lance Armstrong

Never in the history of the Tour was media scrutiny as intense as in 1999. After the disasters of the previous year, media presence increased dramatically, with many of the newcomers seemingly more interested in picking over the bones of a corpse than in reporting the racing. In the end, the Tour emerged largely unscathed, but it was a close run thing. At the announcement of teams three weeks before the race, Jean Marie Leblanc banned several riders and teams, most notably TVM and Richard Virenque, but intervention by the UCI saw Virenque re-instated, having not been given the mandatory one month's warning. Not for the first time, one was left wondering just who the UCI were representing. Certainly their action seemed more like political point scoring against the Société du Tour de France than a concerted effort to clean up the sport. Earlier, the UCI had shortened the bans of those Festina riders who had admitted taking EPO by one month on the grounds that in any case they wouldn't be fit enough to ride the Tour. Thus at the start, of the eight Festina riders from last year's squad still active professionals, seven were on the start line at Le Puy de Fou, and three of those - Zülle, Dufaux and Virenque - were to play major roles in the race.

None of which should take away from the fact that the Tour did survive largely intact, and much of that was due to the presence of one man: Lance Armstrong. When Armstrong won the prologue and then held the yellow jersey to July 4th, US Independance Day, the sport had a feelgood story for once. Here was the man who had not only survived cancer, but recovered to the extent that he was leading the World's greatest bike race. Subsequently the lead went as the sprinters took every stage in the first week - with Mario Cipollini winning four stages in a row, the first time such a feat had occurred since 1930. But if few pundits believed that Armstrong would have much further impact on the race, Armstrong himself had - excuse the pun - a clinical self-belief. An innocuous causeway on the stage to St Nazaire caused several of his rivals to lose six minutes - most notably Zülle, 1998 King of the Mountains Christophe Rinero and double Giro winner Ivan Gotti. Then at the first long time trial, Armstrong rewrote the expected script: not only did he win the time trial, but caught World Time Trial Champion Abraham Olano in the process. Only Zülle stayed anywhere close in contention. Skip ahead to Sestrières, and the reborn Maillot Jaune was away again, winning by 30 seconds once again in front of Zülle. At l'Alpe d'Huez, Telekom's de facto leader Giuseppe Guerini survived an over-exhuberant fan to win, but Armstrong was in close attendance. In the Pyrenees, Armstrong showed a touch of weakness, but even a grandstanding attack by Fernando Escartin was really only scrabbling for second overall: Armstrong still had six minutes in hand. The final time trial just confirmed the domination, leaving Armstrong to ride to Paris with the second biggest margin this decade.

So the Tour had an undeniably "clean" winner, though his domination was not the unnatural performance that certain sections of the French press tried to accuse him of. Take away the stage over the Passage de Gois, and his lead over Zülle is a rather more mundane-looking 1½ minutes. And the Tour threw up several other imponderables. There were no French stage winners for the first time since 1926. The transition stages saw breaks of minor riders gain huge leads each day, with the big stars seemingly content to have four days off. Yet for all the drug-free culture, the average speed was over 40kmh for the first time ever. Even allowing for the easier route this year (and arguably it was in fact a harder route than some of those in the seventies and eighties), one is left with questions. If a drug-free peloton could ride so fast, what was the point of taking EPO in the past? And if EPO does have an effect, was 1999 really a drug-free peloton?

Stage winners

 StageWinnerOverall Leader
PrologueLe Puy de Fou, 6.8km TTLance ArmstrongLance Armstrong
Stage 1Montaigu - Challans, 208kmJaan KirsipuuLance Armstrong
Stage 2Challans - St Nazaire, 176kmTom SteelsJaan Kirsipuu
Stage 3Nantes - Laval, 194.5kmTom SteelsJaan Kirsipuu
Stage 4Laval - Blois, 194.5kmMario CipolliniJaan Kirsipuu
Stage 5Bonneval - Amiens, 233.5kmMario CipolliniJaan Kirsipuu
Stage 6Amiens - Maubeuge, 171.5kmMario CipolliniJaan Kirsipuu
Stage 7Avesnes-sur-Helpe - Thionville, 227kmMario CipolliniJaan Kirsipuu
Stage 8Metz - Metz, 56.5km TTLance ArmstrongLance Armstrong
Rest day
Stage 9Le Grand Bornand - Sestrières, 213.5kmLance ArmstrongLance Armstrong
Stage 10Sestrières - L'Alpe d'Huez, 220.5kmGiuseppe GueriniLance Armstrong
Stage 11Le Bourg d'Oisans - St Etienne, 198.5kmLudo DierckxsensLance Armstrong
Stage 12Saint Galmier - Saint Flour, 201.5kmDavid ExtebarriaLance Armstrong
Stage 13Saint Flour - Albi, 236.5kmSalvatore CommessoLance Armstrong
Stage 14Castres - Saint Gaudens, 199kmDmitri KonyshevLance Armstrong
Rest day
Stage 15Saint Gaudens - Piau-Engaly, 173kmFernando EscartinLance Armstrong
Stage 16Lannemezan - Pau, 192kmDavid ExtebarriaLance Armstrong
Stage 17Mourenx - Bordeaux, 200kmTom SteelsLance Armstrong
Stage 18Jonzac - Futuroscope, 187kmGian Paolo MondiniLance Armstrong
Stage 19Futuroscope - Futuroscope, 57km TTLance ArmstrongLance Armstrong
Stage 20Arpajon - Paris, 160kmRobbie McEwenLance Armstrong

In a nutshell

Results

Overall

1st: Lance Armstrong, (USA), US Postal Service, 3687km in 91h 32' 16" (40.278km/h)
2nd: Alex Zülle, (Switzerland), Banesto, @ 7' 37"
3rd: Fernando Escartin, (Spain), Kelme, @ 10' 26"
4th: Laurent Dufaux, (Switzerland), Saeco, @ 14' 43"
5th: Angel Luis Casero, (Spain), Vitalicio Seguros, @ 15' 11"
6th: Abraham Olano, (Spain), ONCE-Deutsche Bank @ 16' 47"
7th: Daniele Nardello, (Italy), Mapei, @ 17' 02"
8th: Richard Virenque, (France), Polti, @ 17' 28"
9th: Wladimir Belli, (Italy), Festina, @ 17' 37"
10th: Andrea Peron, (Italy), ONCE-Deutsche Bank, @ 23' 10"

119th: Chris Boardman, (Great Britain), Crédit Agricole, @ 2h 47' 48"
(141st: Jacky Durand, (France), Lotto-Mobistar, @ 3h 19' 09")

Mountains

1st: Richard Virenque, (France), Polti, 279
2nd: Alberto Elli, (Italy), Deutsche-Telekom, 226
3rd: Mariano Piccoli, (Italy), Lampre-Daikin, 205

Points

1st: Erik Zabel, (Germany), Deutsche-Telekom, 323
2nd: Stuart O'Grady, (Australia), Crédit Agricole, 275
3rd: Christophe Capelle, (France), Big Mat-Auber 93, 196

Youth (Souvenir Fabio Casartelli) (Under 23)

1st: Benoît Salmon, (France), Casino, 92h 01' 15"
2nd: Mario Aerts, (Belgium), Lotto-Mobistar, @ 10' 22"
3rd: Francisco Tomas Garcia, (Spain), Vitalicio Seguros, @ 16' 32"

Combativity

1st: Jacky Durand, (France), Lotto-Mobistar, 61
2nd: Stéphane Heulot, (France), La Française des Jeux, 55
3rd: Thierry Gouvenou, (France), Big Mat-Auber 93, 51

Team

1st: Banesto 275h 05' 21"
2nd: ONCE-Deutsche Bank @ 8' 16"
3rd: Festina @ 16' 13"