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  Stage 16 Photo  
  © 2010 A.S.O. Amaury Sport Organisation - All rights reserved.  
  Stage 16 Bourg D'Oisains-LaToussuire Les Sybelles 182km July 19, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelThey say it's impossible to win the TDF without a strong team. In his 7 wins Lance was almost without exception surrounded by teammates who not only shielded him but forestalled attacks because they never penetrated through to the yellow jersey. On the few occasions when the team failed to respond adequately Lance took over and always delivered the goods.
pixelUnlike Lance, Landis has been isolated at key times throughout this excruciatingly long, hot and hard race but always responded with calm demeanor and a poker face. He was always in control without a hint of bother. Not so today where he ran out of steam at the worst possible time, at the bottom of the last climb. In 7 miles he lost 10 minutes. He's out of yellow for good mired in 11th place 8:08 back. There's no way.
pixelThis sporting event punishes riders day after relentless day and it takes a toll that's hard to immediately measure. When Tom Boonen was complaining about the inhumane transitional stages, that wasn't idle chin music from an inflated ego. He was right and right to say the drug war won't be won with racing this hard.
pixelWe know Tom's clean because he got off the bike. Putting a foot down on this world wide stage is the last thing a bike racer of his stature wants to do but the risk of screwing up the rest of his season clearly took precedent.
pixelWith absolutely no intent to make illegal performance enhancement presentable, it has to be mentioned that most of the riders who do it are more interested in survival than winning. We read about the tip of the iceberg, the superstars but most riders don't know how to win, that's not their job. Riding hard day after day for months on end to make a decent living is.
pixelPerformance enhancement is big business and the market is created when road racing crosses the line into extreme sports. With 95-100°F temperatures and 5-6 hour stages the TDF crossed that line this year. While an accident of climate, race organizers are always looking to make their event stand out and the easiest way is to make it really hard.
pixelDo we know if everyone racing this TDF is clean? No and no sport works harder to rid itself of drugs than cycling as proven by the wholesale suspension of those under strong suspicion. Additionally, no country is more vigilant than France; this is not the place for details but trust me they make an ornery pit bull look like a tabby; they are ferocious. Within the limits of science the TDF is guaranteed to be the cleanest race in any town.
pixelThe problem is drug tests are in a catch up mode with purveyors that provide their clientele with sophisticated regimens that's a challenge to detect. Test results are seldom clear cut; they're more like a Rorschach and have to be interpreted by skilled personnel. Not surprisingly it's sometimes subject to debate. I don't pretend to know anything more than that about the science of it and I really don't care to. It's the beauty not the dark side of the sport that's compelling and it's enough for me to know the teams and managers are doing everything possible to clean it up.
pixelBack to the race, Landis was ticking along same as usual only this time sandwiched between 3 teams with no teammates to help. It looked like much the same as the last miles of every other stage but early on he'd drifted to the back of the pack and then came back. One of the commentators thought he may have been playing possum as Lance did a couple of tours back before launching a killer attack. Unfortunately Floyd was playing possum too well.
pixelAt the bottom of the final climb, T-Mobile, Rabobank and CSC all attacked. The first attack Landis covered with the help of T-Mobile but after that he had nothing. Landis went backwards fast and never recovered enough to even maintain a tempo. He lost an incredible 10:04 and can't win. This is a stand up guy and he made no excuses saying it was just a bad day right from the start and he hid it as long as possible. He gave his team credit for its early help and says he's going to give it everything tomorrow and in the final time trial to see how much higher he can move up.
pixelMichael Rasmussen rode an astounding race to win the stage and in doing so collected maximum points to distance himself from David De La Fuente and win the KOM competition. Yesterday he promised his wife and new baby he'd win at Alpe D'Huez but was called off to support his teammate Denis Menchov (6th @ 3:58) and still a contender.
pixelToday his team set him free and the chicken that flies went off the front 10km into the stage with 2 others but shed them halfway through and never looked back. He rode the last 70 or so miles solo. Rasmussen says he's on the form of his life and proved it beyond any doubt.
pixelAnd guess who is in the yellow jersey, it's Oscar Pereiro who rose from the dead after a miserable start in the Pyrenees losing almost 30 minutes in those first 2 mountain stages. For a man not on form he looked really strong and met every challenge with élan. But tomorrow in yellow he'll be fair game and he'll have as many aggressive people after him as Frodo.
pixelPereiro's team is not strong but he was never taken seriously as a contender so it hasn't been an issue. One thing's for sure he's too good a rider to be given a 30 minute gift and all the teams regret it.
pixelThe white jersey has turned into a battle with Damiano Cunego taking another 4 minutes out of Marcus Fothen who holds a precarious 2:42 lead. Cunego is coming into his own again after a bad season. This one will go down to the wire.
pixelTomorrow is another hard stage 120 miles and 5 climbs and there are 5 riders within 4 minutes of Pereiro has 4 riders within 3 minutes and any one of them could be in yellow by day's end.


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