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Tour Tidbits: Remembering Kivi, flight delays and Aussie cooperation

Spare a thought for... Andre Kivilev, the deceased best friend of Tour de France hope Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) who was killed in a race crash during Paris-Nice in 2003. “Kivi,” says the Kazakhstan national champion, will be with him throughout the Tour as the race enters the Alps and then the Pyrénées over the next two weeks. “It remains a turning point in my life,” said Vinokourov of Kivilev's death in an interview with the French sports daily L`Equipe. “I have understood since that day what are my real priorities. My outlook on my job has also changed a lot. I have especially

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By Rupert Guinness, Special to VeloNews

Ullrich had a longer-than-expected wait at the airport

Ullrich had a longer-than-expected wait at the airport

Photo: AFP

Spare a thought for…
Andre Kivilev, the deceased best friend of Tour de France hope Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) who was killed in a race crash during Paris-Nice in 2003.

“Kivi,” says the Kazakhstan national champion, will be with him throughout the Tour as the race enters the Alps and then the Pyrénées over the next two weeks.

“It remains a turning point in my life,” said Vinokourov of Kivilev’s death in an interview with the French sports daily L`Equipe. “I have understood since that day what are my real priorities. My outlook on my job has also changed a lot. I have especially learned to appreciate the moment. But Kivi is always there. I will have to be as good as him to not disappoint him.”

Ullrich beaten again
Not only has Jan Ullrich been unable to beat Lance Armstrong on the bike (so far),he can’t get one over the Texan in a plane, either. Well, at least that was the case in yesterday’s transfer from Mulhouse to Grenoble at the foot of the Alps.

The Tour organization chartered two planes to fly the peloton south, with Armstrong in the first one scheduled to take off for the 40-minute flight and Ullrich in the second.

While Armstrong’s plane took off without a hitch, there was a 90-minute delay with Ullrich’s plane due to a technical glitch that required the attention of airline mechanics. Armstrong landed in Grenoble at 7:47 p.m. and he was well fed, rested and ready for a day’s “R and R” by the time Ullrich’s flight touched down at 9:15.

As for Ullrich and his injuries from a second crash in yesterday’s ninth stage? A victory salute to photographers by the smiling German from a Grenoble Hospital where he had x-rays said enough to show he will be A-OK for Tuesday’s entry into the Alps.

His T-Mobile team later released a statement confirming he did not sustain any fractures in the fall after about 10km on the decent of the first climb of stage nine, the third category Col de Grosse Pierre.

He can’t miss a trick
FOR the first Richard Virenque, the now retired seven times Tour de France King of the Mountains champion, will get to watch what happens in the Alps in comfort.

Well, he’s doing it in a lot more comfort than what he experienced during his days a racer during those marathon breaks in the mountains that often reaped success.

A year ago to the day Virenque had won the Tour’s 10th stage from Limoges to to Saint Fleur; but he is now working as a television commentator for Eurosport’s French language broadcast.

Virenque, who made his commentating debut on Paris-Roubaix and in the Giro d’Italia, swears that he has no regrets about retiring despite being swept up by the emotion of the Tour as a suiveur (spectator).

While Virenque says he understands the need for objectivity as a media representative, he admits that there are times when the heart strings pull deeply; as they did when seeing French rider Christophe Mengin (La Française des Jeux) crash coming into Nancy last week.

“When I found myself in front of Marc Madiot (interviewing him) and he was speaking about the crash, I couldn’t just remain insensitive to what he was feeling,” Virenque recalled. “Madiot was on the cusp of crying and I understand why.”

Corsica at last?
Moves are afoot to convince the Societe du Tour de France that it should hold several stages of the 2010 race on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica.

Since its inception in 1903, the Tour as never visited Corsica; but now a campaign to rectify that exclusion has been launched by former journalist Pierre Cangioni, according to the French daily Dauphine Libéré.

Cangioni’s proposal has already been sent to the mayors of Bastia and Ajaccio, the two largest communities on the island. The Tour organization, however, remains tight-lipped about any progress.

“We have to have more contacts than the good ones we have with Pierre,” said Tour directeur-adjoint Christian Prudhomme who will replace Jean Marie Leblanc as Tour boss next year.

Stand by your man – the Aussie way
Two of Australia’s three Tour de France top-10 hopes Michael Rogers and Brad McGee are willing to do in the mountains what the Aussie sprinters can’t do in the flat stages – help each other.

Rogers (QuickStep), McGee (La Française des Jeux) and Cadel Evans(Davitamon-Lotto) are bracing themselves for two back-breaking days in the Alps that start with Tuesday’s 192.5km 10th stage from Grenoble toCourcheval.

None of them will be supported teammates once the gradient rises in the Alps and Pyrénées because their teams are bolstered with riders for the sprints.

While Evans is a pure climber who has the explosiveness to attack or follow any sudden moves; Rogers and McGee are power climbers, meaning rely on riding high tempos in the mountains rather than explosive attacks to gain time.

And the Aussie duo realize that if they can’t follow an attack and are dropped that they may find themselves having to work together to bridge back time.

They certainly won’t be head-butting and elbowing each other out of the way as sprinters Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) and Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) found themselves doing in stage three to Tours.

“If there is anything (that can work) with `Dodger` (Rogers) and I and we are caught between two groups, why not? You could do it with anyone, but more (with him) because we can communicate,” McGee told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Rogers agreed.

“When it comes down to it, I am sure we are all willing to chip along together,” Rogers said. “It depends on when the big attacks goes, who can go with it and can’t.”

All three Australians – McGee, Rogers and Evans – proved they are up to the challenge in the two days that the Tour spent in the Vosges mountains.

In the first mountain test on Saturday – stage eight to Gerardmer – they all finished in the first group that included the main overall contenders.

Sunday’s 171km ninth stage from Gerardmer to Mulhouse was more subdued, but they again rode comfortably over six climbs alongside favorites such as six-times winner Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel).