In its debut in the Tour de France, the U.S. Postal Service team is acting like it’s been around a long time. It is one of only three teams with all nine riders still left in the race.
Team manager Mark Gorski is looking to bring them all to Paris on Sunday, a feat that even surprises the former Olympic gold medalist.
“We are proud that we have the whole team left in the race,” Gorski said. “That is somewhat of an accomplishment.”
Gorski won the sprint gold medal on the track at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Now, he is general manager and director of the team that is only the second American-based squad to participate in the Tour de France.
The U.S. Postal Service team got a wild-card invitation based on its season results. It has shown the wild card was deserved by keeping all its riders in the race - including one as high as 15th place - with three days to go.
Only 140 of the original 198 riders who started July 5 are still in the race.
Only two of the 22 other teams also have nine riders still on their bikes: Telekom of Germany, with overall leader Jan Ullrich and Erik Zabel, winner of three stages, and Festina of France, with overall runner-up Richard Virenque.
“I don’t think before the Tour started we realistically thought we would have nine guys finish,” Gorski said. “Now that we have gotten nine to this point, we want to get all nine to the finish.”
The riders will have completed 21 stages and about 2,455 miles by the time they finish Sunday.
Many of the top riders are gone, including Mario Cipollini, who won the first two stages, and world champion Johan Museeuw. Also missing are Alex Zuelle, Yevgeny Berzin and Ivan Gotti, considered among the favorites before the start.
Falls, illnesses and injuries have whittled down the pack.
Yet the U.S. Postal team is intact. Some, like George Hincapie of Charlotte, N.C., (currently 101st) and Marty Jemison of Salt Lake City (94th), are more than 3 hours behind. But they are still in the race as much as Ullrich and Virenque.
“It reflects the individual efforts these guys have,” Gorski said. “But also the overall morale and support system … I am really proud of that.”
Gorski pointed to Tyler Hamilton of Marblehead, Mass., (69th), Pascale Derame of France (133rd) and Jemison as examples of the spirit on the team. They are riders who are not really climbers but made it through the difficult days in the Pyrenees and Alps.
“We were pleasantly surprised that Tyler and Pascale and Marty that they have been able to make it through those stages,” Gorski said.
“Tyler even got stronger. He was not riding in the back of the pack. He was doing well. He was our top finisher (27th) in the mountain time trial in St. Etienne.”
Gorski also is pleased with Jean-Cyril Robin, the top U.S. Postal rider in the overall standings at 15th.
“He is the second Frenchman in the race,” Gorski said.
There is another stage in eastern France before another time trial around Disneyland Paris on Saturday, the day before the race ends on the Champs Elysees.
Vyacheslav Yekimov of Russia (56th), who is the designated leader, has a chance to do well in the time trial. He won several world titles on the track for the former Soviet Union.
The other members of the team are Peter Meinert-Nielsen of Denmark (49th), Dariusz Baranowski of Poland (88th) and Adriano Baffi of Italy (120th).
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