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Armstrong Gives Up Tour's Yellow Jersey


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

In that great bicycle race, the Tour de France, Germany's Jens Voigt has taken the lead. Lance Armstrong has fallen back to third place after his team drifted behind yesterday in some steep climbs through the French Alps. For more on the race, we're joined by the editorial director of the magazine VeloNews, John Wilcockson. He's been covering the Tour de France for almost 40 years. He's also the author of a book about the race called "23 Days in July."

John Wilcockson, welcome to DAY TO DAY. And how much of a setback is this for Lance Armstrong and his Team Discovery Channel?

Mr. JOHN WILCOCKSON (Author, "23 Days in July"): Well, it's actually not a setback at all. It's just a temporary state of affairs. The two riders who are above Armstrong on the overall classification now will probably drop down the classification tomorrow, Tuesday, when we have our first really major climbing stage, and this is Roy Alps(ph) with a the finish at Courchevel, which is a ski resort, at something like 6,200 feet. So it's just a temporary thing.

CHADWICK: Over the weekend, though, Lance Armstrong seemed disappointed by the performance of his teammates who, for the last six years, have really helped make possible his victories. But on Saturday they couldn't keep up with him as he tried to go after the people who'd taken the lead.

Mr. WILCOCKSON: Well, yes, there was a bit of overconfidence on the team's part; that's what Lance said himself. And also I believe they underestimated the climb at the finish that day, on Saturday. And those two factors they corrected yesterday on Sunday when they were much stronger, and I don't think we're gonna see them as weak in the next few days through the French Alps.

CHADWICK: Isn't an awful lot of this psychological as well as physical? And maybe this is that kind of opening that the other teams are going to pounce on now and say, `Hey, maybe the guy actually is vulnerable'?

Mr. WILCOCKSON: Well, that's exactly right, and particularly the German team, T-Mobile, but especially a Kazakhstan rider, Alex Vinokourov, who was very aggressive on Saturday, and he's going to be attacking in the Alps.

CHADWICK: Lance Armstrong said about this performance over the weekend that `It's not important who's wearing the yellow jersey'--That's what goes to the leader of the race--`right now. All that matters is who's wearing it at the finish line.'

Mr. WILCOCKSON: That's exactly true. But I fully expect Armstrong to take the yellow jersey back probably tomorrow, Tuesday, at Courchevel because even if he doesn't attack, he can just follow the attacks by the others, the much stronger climbers than Jens Voigt. Jens Voigt is not a strong climber, and he'll probably lose five or 10 minutes tomorrow, so Lance can be on the defensive tomorrow and still take the yellow jersey.

CHADWICK: I read an account from the news wires that said Lance had said that he thought that first week of the ride, which is now just gone by, had been especially fast, one of the fastest ever, and that may be why his team got a little tired out. Do you know if that's true? Was this first week especially fast?

Mr. WILCOCKSON: It is indeed. It's the fastest first week on the record in 102 years of Tour de France history. The average speed for the first almost 1,500 kilometers has been 46.22 kilometers an hour, which is just shy of 29 miles an hour, and that's like two or three miles an hour faster than normally. And a big reason for that is that they had tail winds all the way from the Atlantic coast all the way up to Germany, where we were a couple of days ago. But the fast racing has made it harder because when a pack of cyclists is moving that fast, there's much more likely to be crashes and there have been quite a number. It's a real factor when they have to change pace from that very fast speed to the much slower speeds going up mountain climbs.

CHADWICK: Which begins tomorrow after this day of rest. John Wilcockson, editorial director of the VeloNews, reporting for us from the Tour de France.

Thank you, John.

Mr. WILCOCKSON: Been a pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.