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By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong enters the second half of the 2003 Tour de France witha real fight on his hands. The four-time champion endured attacks in threepunishing days in the Alps but still emerged with the yellow jersey onhis back.Armstrong enjoyed a quiet rest day on Wednesday, riding for about twohours with his U.S. Postal Service teammates late Wednesday morning nearthe team’s hotel in Montpellier. He later lunched with his family and enjoyeda relaxing day away from the race and the media.VeloNews caught up with U.S. Postal’s director Johan Bruyneelafter the team’s training ride. Here are excerpts from his statements:On the Tour so far: “It was a good first week. We have avoidedthe crashes, we were super in the team time trial and now we have the maillotjaune after the first mountain stages. Some people are saying Lance isnot as strong in the mountains, but we are very satisfied where we arenow. The team had to work at a minimum in the week and we are fresh andmotivated for the second week.”On Armstrong’s rivals: “Before the Tour we were hearing thingsabout Beloki, Simoni, Gonzalez, now none of them are a threat. It’s toobad for Beloki because it would help us to have him in the race. He helpedmake the race hard, which is better for us. Now we see Mayo, Vinokourov,Hamilton, Ullrich, Zubeldia. This [is the] group of candidates we haveto control. We’ve seen Mayo have a super day at Alpe d’Huez, but he profitedfrom the vigilance that Armstrong paid to Beloki and the others.”On the remainder of the Tour: “We start every Tour de Francefrom zero. The 2003 Tour is what we are fighting for now. What’s happenedin the past doesn’t count to help us now. We had a great team time trialand made important differences. In the mountains now Lance has to ridein a calculated manner.”On this year’s course: “The stages are different. The courseis different. Two time trials after the mountains is very different, butto have 100 kilometers of time trials after the Alps is a good thing. TheTour de France is a three-week race. We still have almost two weeks left.You can’t say too much after just a few stages. The goal is not to be thebest in a stage, but to win the Tour.”On Armstrong’s form: “Until now we haven’t seen any big demonstration,but until now there hasn’t been any need for it. In the past we were alwaysa little bit behind. Three years ago we were 35 minutes behind and [we’refar] from that situation [when] in every uphill finish we had to go hardfrom the bottom. It has not been necessary so far. You always have to seehow the Tour is and the order of the stages. There are two long time trialsand four hard stages in the Pyrenees. It’s a calculation.”Hamilton Pushes On
Tyler Hamilton has become one of the inspirational stories of the 2003Tour de France. Not only for his grit and determination to press on despitefracturing his right collarbone in the Tour’s first stage, but becausehe’s riding with the best. Despite the pain and discomfort, Hamilton rolledout of the Alps sitting in fifth place overall only 1:52 back. He saidthe reaction from fellow racers has been positive.”Most people tell me I’m crazy,” Hamilton said in a rest day press conference. “There have been a lot of people coming up to me, showing a lot of respect, saying how tough I am. I’ve never had anybody coming up to me and questioning whether or not I have a broken collarbone.”Hamilton said he’s still taking the Tour day-to-day. “The hardest partis waking up in the morning when I am really stiff,” said Hamilton, whosaid he’s feeling a new pain in his back. “I’ve been able to do my ownrace. I’ve had a hard time getting up out of the saddle accelerating. Comparedto the Giro, it’s a little bit more difficult.”Hot Tour
This year’s Tour is being labeled as the hottest in decades. Temperatureshave soared into the mid-90s each day since the Tour started July 5 inParis.”It’s the hottest Tour we can remember,” said Lance Armstrong afterTuesday’s stage. “We’ve had hot days before, but never so many in a row.You have to focus on hydrating, before the stage, after the stage. We reallytry to super-hydrate before the stage because it’s hard to drink enoughduring the race.”Tour race doctor Dr. Gerard Porte predicts mass abandonments in thePyrenees if the heat wave continues. “I fear that if the high temperaturescontinue there will be a lot of abandons in the Pyrenees. So far, we’vehad few abandons at the start of the Tour, but 22 in the Alps in the threedays,” he told L’Équipe. “Because they arrive in form at the Tour,they don’t feel the fatigue in the first eight days. But after that youstart to see riders eliminated, abandons, digestive problems, cramps andtendinitis. All that happens in the second half of the Tour.”Riders took stock after the rigors of the first week. Most teams werepreparing for the battle that lies ahead and planned to keep their ridershydrated. Many teams, including Crédit Agricole and Cofidis, havereported their riders have gone through 15 to 20 bidons a day when normallythey might use half that number.”This year is exceptional. We’ve had extreme conditions with the ridersand who, despite this correct hydration, have lost two, three, sometimesfour kilos by a day’s finish,” said Cofidis team doctor Jean-Jacques Menuet.Tour sponsor Aquarel, the official water supplier of the race, has reportedthat demands for water from teams has doubled since the beginning of theweek. To meet demands, Aquarel is bringing in 30-percent more bottled waterinto Toulouse for the final half of the Tour.