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  Stage 16 Photo  
  © 2010 A.S.O. Amaury Sport Organisation - All rights reserved.  
  Stage 11 Tarbes-Val d'Aran Pla-de-Beret 207km July 13, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelYesterday's stage split the race apart and today's ordeal, a 6 hour 5 mountain climb, blasted it to smithereens. When the smoke cleared Floyd Landis took over where Lance left off as the next American in yellow by dint of aggressive riding that led to an 8 second bonus for finishing 3rd.
pixelLandis has not been a force in the race until this day. He's been a quiet, looming presence and by far the most visible American rider. In the early stages he was content to let others dictate the tempo and do the work chasing down breaks. That's just about the way he rode on yesterday's first mountain stage, willing to lose a chunk of time to save the energy.
pixelIn fact it took him 11 stages and 2000 plus kilometers before he stuck his nose in front and when he finally did it was with purpose. After 5 hours it came down to a final selection of 19 that was winnowed down to 5 and then to 3. Landis was an active participant in the winnowing. But it was a reborn Levi Leipheimer who was the most aggressive, desperately trying to shake anyone nearby.
pixelIn the final 3 kilometers the 3 men left standing attacked each other on the way to the line but none could open a gap. In the sprint Rabobank's Denis Menchov was too quick for Leipheimer and Landis rolled across the line a nearby 3rd letting the other two battle it out. All finished with the same time.
pixelAg2r deserves huge credit for trying to defend Cyril Dessel's yellow jersey. Three climbs into the stage they were still at the front riding over their heads and limiting the time gain of the escapees. Eventually that proved too much for an inspired but nonetheless so-so team. Wearing yellow transforms the rider and Dessel was valiant. He rode hard all the way to the line and came up tied but he lost yellow by the aforementioned time bonus. I don't know what they'd do in case of a tie but I'll bet it's not two yellow jerseys; the French are big on protocol; they must have one for that.
pixelWhen Ag2r gave it up, the depleted T-Mobile team once again set the tempo delivering their newly chosen team leader, Andreas Kloden into the final 19 for the last climb and from which he eventually got dropped. He finished 9th 1:31 down. Overall he's 6th 2:29 down and not out of it but can't time trial with Landis and there's a long one of those yet to go. He's going to have to somehow gain time before then.
pixelWearing yellow is the thrill of a lifetime and a millstone too. How heavily it weighs on Landis we will soon find out. They can choose to defend it by chasing down breaks or they can let it go and wait for the Alps where Landis's climbing ability will take it back and the penultimate time trial will seal the deal.
pixelFrom Landis's post race comments there doesn't seem to be a clear cut strategy and playing it by ear is what I heard. He says it's still anyone's race. He's right as long as your name is Floyd Landis, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, Andreas Kloden, Michael Rogers or Levi Leipheimer. Those are the only men who have a realistic chance to win GC except Levi not so much. He's in it only if he rides every remaining stage as well as this one where he looked the part of a pre-race favorite.
pixelIt would take a miracle to resurrect team Discovery that has become unglued without a leader. The powerful train that controlled races while protecting Lance disintegrated today with their highest finisher Jose Azevedo 15th some 4 minutes behind and 7:27 down in GC. Everyone else disappeared along the way. George Hincapie? A don't ask 46th dropping 21:23. With a long way to go anything can happen but they are no hopers; Humpty-Dumpty comes to mind.
pixelOne thing is painfully clear, for the men of Discovery it was a lot easier to sacrifice for Lance and then peel off spent but with enough left to ride it in comfortably under the time limit. Lance made them better because he was better than anyone and proved it an inconceivable every single time no matter what. It inspired and demanded a level of riding that these same men can't come close to replicating.
pixelStill I can't believe that Discovery is completely shattered and I'm hoping they revert to their support role and pick one rider to kill themselves for and have a go at making something happen in this race. That'd be Jose Azevedo who appears much the strongest.
pixelThere's no redemption after the high expectations placed upon them but winning a stage or two would help heal these gaping wounds. In fact a dejected Hincapie says winning stages is the only objective left. Big George is a great rider but not right now.
pixelHere are the American placings after this stage: Landis 1st by .08, Leipheimer 13th @5:39, Vandevelde 28th @13:41, Hincapie 40th @23:01, Zabriskie 71st @41:33 and Horner 102nd @55:47.
pixelTomorrow begins the first of 3 transitional stages before the Alps. It's Bastille Day and French riders go all out to make an impression. These stages are much harder than the earlier flat stages and the sprinters will be hard pressed to have their day. Tom Boonen thinks they are inhumane in both length and contour after two brutally hard stages. Tom is outspoken "...I'm also supporting the ban on doping but with these sort of stages the battle will never be won."


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