Only romantics imagined that the mess uncovered at the 1998 Tour de France would have disappeared by the turn of the century, and the crooked doping programs which defined the era have impacted the image of pro cycling forever. Yes, the Tour de France in the early 2000s was a mess; but we can’t forget the minutes we spent watching the ITV highlights.
The 87th edition of the Tour was held in the year 2000 and it was a pretty solid affair, despite a processional second title for cycling’s number one villain (then cycling’s number one hero).
To celebrate Just Pro Cycling reaching 2000 followers, here are fifteen mildly entertaining facts about the 2000 Tour de France.
1. The Old Man and the Futoroscope
There were four yellow jersey wearers in the 2000 race; a familiar trio of names plus Telekom’s experienced all-rounder Alberto Elli. He was picked as a lieutenant for team leader Jan Ullrich, but at 36 he was the second oldest rider in the race and his impact in the mountains may have been limited. Looking to complete his eleventh straight Tour, Elli described taking the jersey as a dream come true. Both his first Tour (1990) and last (2000) started with a time-trial in the slightly strange French multimedia theme park “Parc du Futoroscope”. What a lovely story. What a great guy!
2. Alberto Elli is not a great guy
Scrap that, in 2001 the police found banned substances in Elli’s hotel room. Forget it.
3. Some doping happened
180 riders shaved their legs and polished their ridiculous time-trial helmets ahead of the opening stage, but only 177 started. The ASO kicked off the 2000s by sending Andrei Hauptman, Rossano Brasi and Serguei Ivanov home for abnormally high hematocrit values following a pre-race health check. Laughably, all three riders were initially labelled as “unfit to ride” rather than “big fat cheaters”. Perhaps more laughable was how these wonderful health checks only uncovered the sins of three riders.
4. More doping happened
Whilst we’re on the topic of doping, all four of the race’s yellow-jersey wearers (David Miller, Laurent Jalabert, Alberto Elli, Lance Armstrong) were eventually given either a doping ban, suspended sentence, or expulsion from the cycling world (depending on how successful they were). New millennium, same old cycling.
5. Hurrah! A 70km Team Time Trial!
The Stage 4 TTT won by ONCE was a whopping 70km long, and is the last Tour de France TTT to hit the 70km mark (although several went close in subsequent years). To put that into perspective, that was 2% of the total route. Race organizers were liberal with road cycling’s team discipline in the 1990s and early 2000s, but thankfully since returning from a break in 2009 there has been a massive reduction in TTT kilometres.
Mercifully for the 2000 race, just 44 seconds separated key protagonists US Postal Service and Telekom; but spare a thought for Kelme-Costa Blanca who lost nearly five minutes. Kelme’s Roberto Heras was fifth by the time the race reached Paris, but experienced 37% of his deficit to Lance Almighty in just 70km of racing.
6. The mighty Dekker and the beginning of the end for the Dutch
The 2000 race saw Erik Dekker take an incredible hat-trick of stage victories (solo, duo, bunch) but this sadly remains the last time a Dutch rider has landed a trio at La Grande Boucle.
Following a number of barren editions, Tom Dumoulin nabbed two in 2016 and Dylan Groenewegen repeated the feat two years later. Prior to Erik’s treble, Jean-Paul van Poppel celebrated four Dutch successes in 1988. The next Dutch hat-trick is scheduled for 2021, courtesy of Matthieu van der Poel.
7 …Italy did well too!
The race also marked the last time Italy celebrated four different stage winners during a single Tour de France. Remarkably, they had also achieved this feat in 1997, 1998 & 1999. Since the turn of the century, Italy have been a diminished presence in July due in part to a reduction in the number of Italian top-level cycling teams. Oh, and they all just love the Giro.
8. Ventoux annoyed everybody
Despite being one of the most anticipated pro cycling visuals of all-time, the finish of Marco Pantani vs. Lance Armstrong on Mont Ventoux annoyed everybody. Pantani harboured limited GC ambitions due to ill-preparation, a year of doping controversy, and the aforementioned TTT. He did, however, carry a fierce reputation as the best climber in the world. Pantani attacked on Ventoux and dizzied the top ten, save for Big Tex. As the two approached the top, Armstrong and Pantani exchanged words (in broken Italian, according to Lance) before Il Pirata rolled over the line to become the first Italian to win atop the mountain.
It soon emerged that Armstrong had gestured for Pantani to take the win, to immense irritation. Pantani received this “gift” with as much happiness as a child unwrapping a lump of a coal of Christmas Day. And the gift-tag said “Ha-ha, got you!” And then Santa took off his beard and coat and it was Lance Armstrong in the yellow jersey with a million-dollar Nike contract, throwing a Livestrong wristband in your face.
However, things were not so rosy for Armstrong either and he seemed to instantly regret his gesture. Perhaps he had momentarily forgotten the magic of Ventoux and was irked by a missed opportunity to join Eddy Merckx and Jean-Francois Bernard with a victory in yellow. This anger seemed to fuel his flying late attack on Ventoux in 2002, but that day he left it too late to catch fellow doper Richard Virenque and had to settle for third.
Neutrals were also annoyed because they were robbed of a conclusive answer. And the French were just annoyed because it wasn’t Christophe Moreau.
9. Phil Liggett looked like this
Okay, that was a long one. This is what the brilliant Phil Liggett looked like in the year 2000.
10. And ITV coverage looked like this
Remember the tune? (Course you do, they never changed it).
11. Score one for Jan Ullrich
The 1m37 that Ullrich took from Armstrong on Stage 16 was the greatest single time gain the German made on his frenemy during Armstrong’s run of seven dominant dances. It was one second greater than Ullrich’s famous TT victory in 2003. It’s probably never talked about because it made absolutely no difference to the final GC.
12. Joining the dots
The 2000 race marks the last time the KotM competition was topped by two riders from the same team (Kelme, of course) and was the first time since 1988 that such a situation occurred (PDM, of course). Santiago Botero eventually moved clear in the standings, but both he and Javier Otxoa claimed mountain stages and spent multiple days in the polka dot jersey.
No team has ever swept a 1-2-3, but that’s probably because no team has ever tried. I did say these were only mildly entertaining facts.
Less than a year later, Otxoa was sadly hit by a car during a training ride alongside his twin brother Ricardo. Only Javier would survive the tragic incident, and he recovered from a coma to win two Paralympic gold medals before passing away in 2018, aged 43. His victory in Hautacam in 2000 is remembered as a fan favourite.
13. Oh Michael!
Rabobank leader Michael Boogerd crashed and was stretchered away on the penultimate stage, and this stroke of bad luck would mark his only incompletion in twelve visits to the Tour de France.
He would eventually lose three finishes to a backdated doping suspension, but I really liked him when I was younger so I’m going to ignore that (I don’t make the rules).
14. Berger King?
Petter Luttenberger (21st) beat Bo Hamburger (36th) by nearly 33 minutes. Luttenberger’s fifth place finish in 1996 remains the highest finish by a Berger/Burger, which means he definitely holds these very niche bragging rights. Movistar’s Gregor Mulhberger finished 25th in 2019, and currently possesses the greatest threat to the throne.
15. And lastly, Ullrich, Pantani and Armstrong looked exactly how they should when they arrived for Stage 1
Pantani looks like Corrado Soprano, Lance looks like he’s attending a BBQ with the boys, and Ullrich looks like… he always did but in a nice Adidas top.