July 5, 1999
Challans – Saint-Nazaire, 176km
The Tour de France took a new and completely unexpected twist when four of the favourites for the final overall were eliminated at the same time, losing more than six minutes in a stage which theoretically should have concluded with a mass bunch sprint. The sprint happened, but what took place before it broke the race completely.
“The overall is over for me,” said Christophe Rinero at the finish, showing a gift for stating the obvious. But not just for him: Alex Zulle (Banesto), Ivan Gotti (Polti) and Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) all saw their main objective go up in smoke on a flat, exposed stage with nothing tougher than a bridge to climb.
The moment that split the Tour came in the middle of the stretch of a tidal causeway that was still covered with seawater barely an hour before the race arrived.
The bunch had already suffered one major crash, with Boogerd forced to ride with a damaged jaw and a blood-filled mouth, but when one rider skidded and went down the middle of the peloton on the causeway, there was no way the remainder of the bunch could get round the four or five that followed him onto the sea-soaked road.
The race split into three, with an ever-alert Armstrong instantly speeding up the road in a group of 17 along with Mario Cipollini and Casino’s Alexandre Vinokourov.
Once ONCE’s Abraham Olano – who crashed out and hurt his knee on a tour stage in 1993 – and a group of 65 had caught the leading group, the Basque and the Texan rode together and quickly formed a working alliance. Despite the presence of Bobby Julich, Pavel Tonkov and Richard Virenque, this was clearly an opportunity not to be missed.
ONCE’s Luis Perez and Marcelino Garcia began driving strongly at the front, with Postal’s Frankie Andreu and Kevin Livingston lending an occasional but useful hand.
The group behind could frequently see the leading 82 on the narrow, straight boulevards, but it was clear that they would have to organise themselves rapidly if they wanted to catch up on this group.
Zulle’s challenge over
It was not possible. The sight of Alex Zulle leading Banestro strung out behind was a sure sign that the chasing group had quickly reached crisis point, and some ragged support from the Rabobank team, headed by sprinter Robbie McEwen, proved similarly ineffectual. Most of the rest of the second group were pushed just to be there.
In front, the easy roads helped the two most active teams enormously, and when Cofidis decided to forget Rinero and instead play for their Tour on just one card – Bobby Julich – the gap widened enormously. The speed rocketed too, finishing at an average speed of more than 46kph.
The Saint-Nazaire bridge came and went with few desultory attacks, but with Tom Steels (Mapei), Erik Zabel (Telekom) and Cipo all in the front group, it was obvious that the sprinter’s teams would push for a stage win if they possibly could.
And so it proved, with Dublin stage winner Steels coming past Cipollini’s left as they closed on the line, and Jaan Kirsipuu just outsprinting the Italian to become the first ever Estonian to wear the yellow jersey.
But the important news for the tour was in the long line of grim faced riders that rode across the line six minutes later. Definitely a moment to remember.
Tour de France 1999, stage two: Challans – Saint-Nazaire
1. Tom Steels (Belgium) Mapei 176km in 3-45-32;
2. J Kirsipuu (Casino);
3. M Cipollini (Saeco);
4. E Zabel (Telekom);
5. J Casper (FdJ);
6. G Hincapie (US Postal);
7. J Svorada (Lampre);
8. S Martinello (Polti);
9. S O’Grady (Credit Agricole);
10. F Simon (Credit Agricole);
11. C Capelle (BigMat);
12. S Hinault (Credit Agricole);
13. C Moreau (Festina);
14. F De Waele (Lotto);
15. Z Spruch (Lampre);
16. H Vogels (Credit Agricole);
17. E Dekker (Rabobank);
18. M Aerts (Lotto);
19. R Huser (Festina);
20. J Voigt (Credit Agricole);
28. L Armstrong (US Postal);
30. P Jonker (Rabobank);
42. B Julich (Cofidis);
54. K Livingston (US Postal);
67. C Vande Velde (US Postal) all st;
72. F Andreu (US Postal) at 48sec;
98. T Hamilton (US Postal) at 6-03;
122. R McEwen (Rabobank) at st;
130. C Boardman (Credit Agricole) at 15-16;
171. J Sweet (Big Mat) at 19-23
DNF. J Vaughters (US Postal); M Wauters (Lotto)
1. Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia) Casino 8-49-38
2. Armstrong at 14sec;
3. O’Grady at 22sec;
4, Olano at 25sec;
5. Moreau (Festina) a 29sec;
6. Steels at 31sec;
7. Hincapie at 32sec;
8. Vinokourov (Casino) at 35sec;
9. Gonzalez (ONCE) at st;
10. Peron (ONCE) at 37sec;
11. Vandevelde at st;
12. Dufaux (Saeco) at 37sec;
13. Casero (Vitalico Seguros) at 40sec;
14. Tonkov (Mapei) at 42sec;
15. Simon (Credit Agricole) at t;
16. Julich at st;
17. Gonzalez De Galdeano (Vitalico Seguros) at 43secs;
18. Dekker (Rabobank) at st;
19. Savoldelli (Saeco) at 45sec;
20. Jonker at 46sec;
27. Vogels at 50sec;
46. Livingston at 1-01
72. Andreu at 1-39
77. Hamilton at 6-44
105. McEwen at 7-10
126. Boardman at 15-46
165. Sweet at 20-37
1. Jaan Kirsipuu (Estonia) Casino 87 points;
2. Steels 65;
3. O’Grady 59
4. Zabel 52;
5. Hincapie 46;
6. Casper 42;
7. Martinello 40;
8. Moreau 37;
9. Simon 33;
10. Capelle 29.
1. US Postal Service 26-30-27
2. ONCE at 4sec;
3. Credit Agricole at 19sec;
4. Festina at 20sec;
5. Casino at 25sec;
6. Vitalico Seguros at 37sec;
7. Saeco at 44sec;
8. Rabobank at 45sec;
9. Telekom at 55 sec
10. Mapei at 56sec.
1. Mariano Piccoli (Italy) Lampre, 8 points;
2. Cerezo (Vitalico Seguros) 5;
3. Brochard (Festina) 5;
4. Konyshev (Mercatone Uno) 4;
5. Simon 3;
6. Merckx (Mapei) 1;
7. Barbero (Mercatone Uno) 1.
Stage 2: the key moments
Profile: flat but very exposed and windy in the middle section. Fourth-cat climb of pont de Saint-Nazaire 10km from finish.
Weather: sunny but with some gusting crosswinds
Abandons: Two; Jonathan Vaughters (US Postal) and Prutour winner Marc Wauters (Lotto)
Average speed of winner: 46.822kph
Km 35.5: Avoiding a massive crash minutes before, Jaan Kirisipuu (Casino) takes the first hot spot spring ahead of Stuart O’Grady (Credit Agricole) and Damien Nazon (FdJ)
Km 72: Peloton back together after seven kilometres attack by Jacky Durand (Lotto).
Km 82: Crash on passage du Gois splits peloton in three. Armstrong, Axel Merckx (Mapei) and Vinokourov in front of group 17, which is quickly joined by another 65 riders including Virenque, Julich, Olano and Escartin, However, Gotti, Boogerd, Rinero and Zulle are among the riders caught behind.
Km 96: ONCE and US Postal at front – the lead is now up to 38 seconds.
Km 109.5: The lead is now over a minute as Cofidis lend a hand as well. Kirisipuu takes his second hot spot pursuit ahead of O’Grady and Hincapie.
Km 142.5: The second groups sits up; by the third hot spot sprint at Chauve the 82 leaders have a gap of more than 3-30. Kirsipuu takes his third sprint of the day. The Estonian is now the yellow jersey on the road.
Km 166.5: Over the Pont de Saint Nazaire attacks by Ellio Aggiano (Vitalico Seguros) and Francois Simon (Credit Agricole) are brought back.
Km 176: Steels wins the bunch sprint. Kirisipuu takes second and the yellow jersey. The second group with ex-tour favourites finishes 6-02 behind.