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Frankie Andreu Talks About the 1992 Tour de France

August 19, 2004

James Witherell's book Bicycle History: A Chronological History of People, Races and Techology is available in both print and Kindle eBook formats. Just click on the Amazon link on the right.

Frankie Andreu, who rode and finished the Tour de France nine times in a row, has been kind enough to help with my oral history project. Here are his reminiscences of the 1992 Tour de France.

Chairman Bill: This was not your first Grand Tour? You rode the Giro in '90?

Frankie Andreu: Yes, that's right, the Giro was my first Grand Tour. I turned Pro in '89. I did the Giro as my first three week race and then I did my first Tour in '92. My Giro was the year Bugno won. I have trouble keeping them all straight now. I remember Bugno winning it, he had the Pink Jersey from beginning to end, all the whole way through. I remember that he won the prologue and then went all the way through with the Pink Jersey.

Chairman Bill: Why did Motorola bring you to the Tour? Did they have a specific plan for you?

Frankie Andreu: I had been trying to do the Tour for a couple of years before that, but they had been nurturing me along and thought I was to young to start right off. Looking back, Jim Ochowicz and Noel, who were the two directors there, knew what they were doing. They were making the right decision. You know, as a young rider, you want to do the biggest bike race in the world. They held me back. The reason I went over was to start learning, to get experience, to start to help out the leaders of the team, Andy [Hampsten] and stuff.

Frankie Andreu (front rider) descending the Peyresourde in stage 10 of the 1992 Tour de France. Sirotti photo.

CB: What the team goals were that year?

FA: Andy, of course for GC.

CB: Were you going for the win or just high GC?

FA: No, just high GC. They knew he wasn't going to win it. They would have been happy with top 5. What did he end up that year?

CB: Andy was 4th.

FA: I remember going in for top 5. The problem was never his climbing, it was his time trialing ability.

CB: He lost a lot of time in that last time trial.

FA: He always lost a lot of time in the time trials. He'd be in a great position in the final time trial against people like Indurain and Rominger and they would just crush him.

CB: Who was the captain of the team?

FA: Well, Andy.

CB: So he was both the protected rider and the captain?

FA: So remind me, who was on the team that year?

CB: You, Andy, Steve Bauer, Sean Yates, Phil Anderson, Andy Bishop, Ron Kiefel, Michel Dernies and Max Sciandri.

FA: There were a lot of captains there. Andy was the leader, but then the respected captains, for sure would have been Anderson, Bauer, Yates. Those three guys, they knew everything.

CB: The reason I ask is that on some teams the protected rider is not the one giving the orders, such as with Zoetemelk on TI-Raliegh. Knetemann and Rass were the captains on the road.

FA: That would be the same way. It would be between Bauer and Anderson. Bauer and Anderson more than Yates. Yates was the motorcycle.

CB: What do you mean?

FA: You mean about the motorcycle? When he was told to go, he could just go. That guy could go so fast for so long. It was just amazing.

CB: To talk about specific stages, stage 6 was interesting. It was a northern European classic type stage where Chiappucci, Lemond, Jalabert and Brian Holm broke away. It started in Roubaix and went to Brussels in the rain.

FA: I remember the cobbles. Lemond ended up getting in that break which really surprised a lot of people. My job on that stage was to both protect Andy and at the same time to help out Bauer and Anderson. At that point we were thinking about stage wins because we knew we're not going to win the whole Tour de France. Every stage was on the team's mind at that point. And a stage like that, that was definitely a stage for Bauer and Anderson. And Yates, but Yates would have been a worker also.

CB: There was the team time trial where your Motorola team beat Indurain's Banesto squad and was not far back from the winner, Panasonic.

FA: Panasonic won it. Did we get second or third?

CB: That one you guys got sixth, you were 2 seconds faster than Banesto. Phil Anderson and Max Sciandri came off before the end. You finished with the team. Did Motorola practice team time trials?

FA: We practiced. Jim Ochowicz was just fanatical for team time trials. He loved the event. He wanted to win this event more than anything in the world. We would arrive a week before the Tour. 2 days before the Tour we would go out and do team time trial training. We'd get the bikes ready. We'd get the formation set. We spent a lot of time thinking about which order to put the riders in. We'd try different equipment. I mean Och', he just loved that event. It kind of grew on us. We started to want to do the event better. It took a bunch of years.

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CB: The next year you did very well, you almost won it.

FA: And a couple of years after that we kept doing well in that event. We never won it. It was always missing. Motorola was never able to get that first place. It was definitely stressed upon in the team that when we came to the Tour that we did a good team time trial.

CB: What kind of gearing did you use in the team time trial?

FA: Back then I don't think we had 11's. So I would say 55 x 12.

CB: 55 x 12?

FA: Everybody now uses 55 x 11. That's standard. I'd say a 55 x 12 with a 12-19 or 12- 21 depending upon the terrain or the course.

CB: Let's go to another stage. Do you remember the long stage to Sestriere [Chiappucci's long solo victory in stage 13]?

FA: Oh yeah! That was for me.... that was one of the worst stages that I had, one of the harder stages that I had. It was just getting through the day. I came to the brink of not making it through the Tour de France on that day. It was just Hell. Hell, Hell, Hell. I remember when Chiappucci attacked and then everyone started going super hard. And then you're just time-trialing, trying to stay with the group. Then finally it kind of settled back down. And he was just going and it was one of those long breakaways. Everyone thinks the guy is going to die out there and never make it and he stays out there. After that I can't even tell you what happened out on the front. I was just out on my own death march. Just trying to stay with my group. I knew I was in the very last group. I knew I had to stay with this group to be able to make it to the finish.

CB: You were with Ballarini, Museeuw, Alan Peiper, among others.

FA: It was a big group. I was with a really big group. There was this one... it was the final climb before Sestriere. We had to go through this big valley. It was the second to the last climb. And it wasn't that big.

CB: Are you talking about the Mont Cenis?

FA: Yeah, I don't know.

CB: You did the Saisies, the Roseland, Iseran—which was HC—and then Mont Cenis, which was category 1.

FA: Yeah, I think it was that one. And that just killed me. I suffered so much and it was so hot out there. I remember, man, I was just overheating so much. I thought my head was going to blow off......just barely able to pedal. And then finally Och' and our doctor, Max Testa came up and gave me some aspirin and gave me some water and poured some water on my head. I started to feel a little better. I tell you, like it's amazing. A half-hour segment on that category one climb and I was going to end up not being able to finish the Tour de France. But somehow I got in and was through it, but I don't know how. I was at the limit.

CB: That sounds like it's riding that's as hard as it gets.

FA: It was just because it was my first Tour. I didn't know what to expect and I was in this thing. I don't know how I was getting the pedals to keep turning around but somehow they were. I knew I had to stay with this group. If I got dropped from this group I knew I was going to be eliminated by the time cut. They seemed like they were going slow but they seemed like they were going so fast. It was horrible.

CB: Do you remember what gearing you were using on those monster climbs:

FA: 39 x 23

CB: You just broke my heart.

FA: That was pretty much what we used for everything.

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CB: What about that L'Alpe d'Huez stage that Andy won?

FA: Was that this first year? I'll be danged. That one I remember too. It was very hard.

CB: I guess so: Galibier, Croix de Fer and L'Alpe d'Huez.....

FA: And that day, I was pretty much escorted, walking hand in hand with Sean Yates to get to the finish.They wanted to make sure I made it. And pretty much Sean Yates stayed with me. Just kind of helping me along. I was going up some of these climbs, again, barely getting the pedals over. Yates would say, "Get on my wheel".

Sean Yates was the best descender around. Phenomenal going down hills. We would be in a group and I would get on his wheel and we'd fly down this descent so fast that we would catch up to a group that might have gone over 3 or 4 minutes in front of us. So I kept skipping up to these groups. When we got to the Croix de Fer I just got on his wheel and just sat behind him and we rode a tempo that was comfortable for us. I remember that thing was so long, it was like 30 k long. The climb never ended. So by the time we reached the bottom of L'Alpe d'Huez I was way off the back although I was comfortable and in a good group. The only reason I was was because I had been totally escorted by Sean. He pretty much just held my hand and took me through that whole stage.

I remember getting to the bottom of L'Alpe d'Huez ... I was at the bottom so I had 16 k to go up to the top of L'Alpe d'Huez and everybody was yelling that Hampsten won! Hampsten won! Hampsten won! I remember thinking to myself, "Who the hell cares?" because I was so tired and I still had to get up this climb. I didn't give a $%^*#. I was dead. Once we got to the top it was a good celebration. Everybody was super happy. It was huge for Andy and for the team. I mean you can't win a more prestigious stage.

CB: That was winning big.

FA: That was winning big. That was winning huge for us.

CB: You weren't in bad company. You finished 31 minutes down. Fondriest was 28 minutes down.

FA: That's funny.

CB: And the group with Ruiz-Cabestany, who's not bad in the mountains, and Sean Yates, were only three minutes in front of you.

FA: Once we got to the bottom, we all just rode in at our own pace. Obviously my own pace might have been a little slower. At that point you know you made it. You can just relax. It was just a long, long day before that.

I remember Andy got in an early break to be able to make it there to win that. That was totally the tactics of the team. It was, look, when these guys go, you can't just sit in the group. You've got to get in an early break and go up the road and take your chance and go for the win. And that not something that Andy was used to doing. This time he took a chance and it paid off for him. So for us, we set these team tactics in the morning for the race and then in the end, damn, it worked out straight by the book. It was like we were geniuses.

CB: All you needed was a guy who could fly up a hill. Was there any question as to whether he could do this since he had made the big break the day before? He had been in the chase group with Indurain the day before going over five major climbs.

FA: He had to be there. That's his job for the GC. But this was different because he got into an early break, not with the main contenders of the Tour. It was a break going up the road. It was a little bit different. They knew that if he wanted to win the race, that was what he had to do. If he got to the bottom with everybody, they'd out-gun him. He couldn't have done that. Andy was a very good climber, but he wasn't the best of the best. If he got to the bottom of a mountain-top finish with the best of the best, he'd come out about fourth. And there is a big difference between first and fourth.

But it was a great night when Andy won.

CB: And then the other big day was the final time trial that Indurain won.

FA: Where was that one?

CB: That was from Tours to Blois. Indurain won it. Bugno was second at 40 seconds. Everyone else was 2½ minutes or more down. Andy lost 5 minutes.

FA: That happened a lot. Andy worked hard to improve his time trialing every year. And he did get better. But it was definitely the thorn in his side. Och' and Max Testa would be just biting their nails that whole last day. They knew that the work for all the 3 weeks could just go up in the air.

CB: An entirely different subject. How did the Tour de France differ from the Giro? Did they have a different feel and sense and rhythm?

FA: In the Giro there are a lot of "piano" sessions, meaning slow. There would be times when you would cruise and ride easy for 3 hours and then race flat out for 2-2½ hours. Not that that made the race any easier because once you started going flat out, it really was flat out. It was so fast and so hard in the Giro.

Where in the Tour every day from the gun these guys are going and they're going all day long and there's so much pressure to perform well because it is the Tour. The sponsors, the fans, everybody is just scrutinizing every part of the Tour de France. In the Giro, you don't really have that. You don't feel that pressure. You just try to do well because you've put that pressure on yourself. It's just two totally different kinds of races.

And the Giro route changes every year. But lately the Tour has stages that are specialized for certain individuals. You have the flat sprinter's stages, you have time-trial stages, you have the mountain climbing stages. The Giro mixes it all up. A lot of these [Giro] stages are for these all-rounders for these guys who can climb and stuff like that. There's not necessarily 7 flat days that are good for the sprinters. It's different that way.

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CB: You're a big man, 6-2?

FA: Yeah, 6-2 and that's a lot of the reason why I struggled in the climbs.

CB: When I talked to Celestino Vercelli (owner of Vittoria Shoes), he said that when he raced in the '70's, at 6 foot, 2 inches, he was the biggest man in the peloton. Martin Vandenbosche was taller, but Vercelli was bigger, carrying more body mass. In the '90's were you exceptionally bigger than the other pros?

FA: No, there were some other big guys. I was tall, but not the tallest and big, but not the biggest. There were definitely other heavier guys. I was not out of the ordinary in that respect. Now, there are a lot of smaller guys, that's for sure.

CB: Do you think that this is because they are now able to train smaller men to put out a lot of power?

FA: I don't know, but that's a good point. I think it might be that bigger guys can't get over the damn mountain and bike races always have mountains. Maybe a small guy now you can train him to have more power and do a good time trial. Almost always you can train a bigger guy and he can become a good climber, but he can never become a great climber. There's just too much body mass.

Indurain in that respect was remarkable in that he could climb as well as he did. He wasn't one of the best climbers because he would get dropped on all the climbs and just limit it. He did very well just limiting his losses to a minute or 2. It was pretty remarkable. And then he would just kill them in the time trial.

'92 was my first Tour, so for me everything was exciting. But after that, when he started winning 5, he was the most boring guy to watch race. He's just sit back, get there to the climb, limit his losses and kill everybody in the time trial. He never attacked, I don't think, even once.

CB: He never won a road stage in the Tour.

FA: Really? See, there you go. He never attacked. He never took a chance. He just rode along and let his team control. Of course, his team had to be phenomenal. They were good.

CB: It looked like Indurain's Banesto team would go to the front and ride just hard enough to discourage attacks while they were shelling guys out the back, much like today's US Postal or Merckx's Moltenis. Is this correct?

FA: Yeah. A lot of times there would be easy pacing, just riding and letting breaks go up the road because that fit their strategy. Other times they would just make it uncomfortable. They wouldn't do that so much in the mountains. They couldn't. They couldn't make it too hard or they would put Indurain in trouble. There were some good climbers on Banesto. If one of their climber guys went to the front and went flat out, he could definitely put Indurain in some difficulty.

CB: Like Armstrong's complaining about Heras?

FA: Or when Azevedo would take off.

It was time to end the conversation. Andreu has promised that we'll continue this when I finish my 1993 Tour history.