Stage 7: Dutch Cold War, Marc Sargeant and Frans Maassen, 1992

This story is a chapter from Richard Moore’s book Étape: 20 Great Stages from the Modern Tour de France, which assembles the greatest days of modern Tour history into a Tour de France of incredible victory, glorious failure, shocking revelation, and beautiful memories. Moore assembles an incredible cast of interviews with riders including Armstrong, Cavendish, Fignon, Hampsten, Hinault, Julich, LeMond, Merckx, Roche, and others. In the words of those who were there, Étape recreates each day vividly and reveals the beauty and the madness of cycling’s greatest race. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 22, 1992

La Bourboule to Monlucon

189 km, 117 mi flat

Etape by Richard Moore tour de france stages 1992 Chapter 7 Dutch Cold WarIt wasn’t initially clear what was happening. It was late in the 1992 Tour, only four days from Paris, and a typical transitional stage in central France. After a frantic first hour, when numerous riders tried to get into the break that inevitably forms on stages such as this one, three riders were rewarded with their freedom.

The trio was over 15 minutes clear of the peloton; now there were only 35 km remaining, just 22 miles, and it was certain that one of them was going to win.

Then one of the three, having spoken to his team car, stopped working. He moved to the back. When he moved forward to do his turn on the front, he soft-pedaled. The speed dropped dramatically.

It was way too early for cat-and-mouse tactics. What was he doing? For almost 10 km one of the other riders tried to coax him to carry on working, to pull his weight at the front. Then this second rider spoke to his team di- rector. And then he stopped working, too. The two nonworkers shrugged, looked at each other, spoke to each other, and shrugged again. When they did go to the front, they eased up, soft-pedaled. The impetus was lost; the momentum went out of the break.

And the third man, Jean-Claude Colotti, was confused.

The two nonworkers were Marc Sergeant of Panasonic and Frans Maassen of Buckler. Both rode for Dutch teams, with directors Peter Post at Panasonic and Jan Raas at Buckler. The directors had once been allies—the bespectacled Raas had been a mainstay of Post’s all-conquering TI-Raleigh team in the 1970s—but were now bitter enemies.

One rider who knew both well, riding for Post and alongside Raas, puts it bluntly. “They hated each other,” says Leo van Vliet.

It was their enmity that provided the context to one of the strangest Tour de France stages, one described as “diabolical” and “grotesque” by French TV commentators. What happened was weird; the instructions Post and Raas gave their riders were perverse and self-defeating, and brought shame—as well as a severe reprimand from the Tour organizers—upon them and their teams.

But what happened later that evening, in a forest close to their hotels, was perhaps even stranger.

Twenty years later, I meet Sergeant, now the director of the Lotto-Belisol team, at their winter training base in the south of Spain. We talk about his team’s plans for the upcoming season, and then I say that I’d like to ask him about stage 17 of the 1992 Tour.

“The stage with Colotti?” he asks. “That’s the one.”

“Ha ha ha.”

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