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  Stage 16 Photo  
  © 2010 A.S.O. Amaury Sport Organisation - All rights reserved.  
  Stage 17 Saint Jean De Maurienne-Morzine 201km July 20, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelThe man that didn't have a prayer shocked the cycling world. For me it's a thrill to be wrong. Floyd Landis accomplished the inconceivable by riding away and staying away from a field of riders that collectively were determined not to let him go. Individually each man doubted Landis could pull it off after yesterday's near total collapse and they watched in disbelief as he blasted away bent on redemption.
pixelAt this level in this insanely physical sport riding is 90% mental. Landis was on a mission and Andreas Kloden described his 25mph acceleration up the first climb as an all or nothing attempt that he and the other contenders couldn't match and didn't want any part of. Here's how it went down.
pixelPhonak may not be the strongest team but they are intact and are turning themselves inside out for a man they believe in. Landis came in expecting to win this race but after yesterday's collapse just wanted to prove to his team that he was a worthy leader who can deliver the goods. Afterwards he said he never expected to ride as well as he did and gain back so much time.
pixelToday's ride began with a plan and a predetermined launch site at the bottom of the first climb some 80 miles from the finish. Phonak sent 8 men to the front where they set a blistering pace setting up Landis who went flying off the front and up the side of a mountain. The contenders were all with him but couldn't believe what they were seeing and could do nothing about it but wait for him to come back as he surely would.
pixelStrike another note for serendipity; the course was a perfect profile for the miracle that unfolded. It was one climb after another and the peleton never got together long enough to mount a charge. Indeed, it turned into a frayed rubber band getting shredded on climbs and just when they'd come together on the descents, it was back up through another shredder. They were chasing hard but never got organized.
pixelOnce free Landis went after the requisite early break of (11) no-hopers some 10 minutes up the road. Landis caught them, went to the front and over a few miles got rid of them one by one. Only T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz was able to hold his wheel. They rode together for 30 or so miles with Sinkewitz sitting behind offering no help with none expected.
pixelIn a best case strategy Sinkewitz was sent out early to help his team leader Andreas Kloden, should he somehow get away from the bunch and come up the road to join the break. But Kloden was riding backwards and so was Sinkewitz once they got to the final climb, the Joux-Plane, that some say is the hardest of the entire race.
pixelThe final descent was one of those palpable moments in sport when everything is on the line. It was a hot day; the tarmac was sticky in spots making the descent incredibly dangerous. Landis proved he was in control only because he made it in one piece.
pixelLandis recently said he's not crazy and would never risk life and limb just to win a race, but did just that taking another 30 seconds out of 2nd place finisher Carlos Sastre on the downhill run in to the finish.
pixelLandis won the stage by 5:42 and moved up from a hopeless 11th @ 8:08 to 3rd 30 seconds down. Oscar Pereiro in yellow rode courageously finishing 7th to hold on to the jersey by 12 seconds over Sastre.
pixelLandis's ride is being called the greatest single day ride in modern TDF history. It put him back in contention and more than that make him the favorite to be in yellow in Paris.
pixelTomorrow's stage is a mostly downhill run that offers the hope of recovery for the weary contenders. While nothing is predictable in this year's TDF it most likely will see the contenders all finish with the same time. Robbie McEwen may even be around at the end and win the final sprint providing some no hopers don't manage to stay away.
pixelSaturday's 57km time trial will be the decisive stage. It's Landis's specialty and he is a man on a mission. In stage 7's 52km time trial Landis inexplicably came to the line late losing maybe 30 seconds and finished 2nd but still took 1:10 out of Sastre and 1:40 out of Pereiro. In this discipline there are minor miracles but everything favors Landis if he didn't destroy himself with today's monster effort.
pixelDamiano Cunego took the white jersey away from Marcus Fothen who was wearing it almost from the beginning of the race. Cunego climbed extremely well in the Alps and now has a 5 second cushion but Fothen took almost 5 minutes out of him in the first time trial. Fothen should win but it's all in the legs that are different after all these miles.
pixelCyril Dessel is one tough bike rider the French can be proud of. He's come from nowhere to ride the race of his life. Today he dropped from 4th to 7th but still has an outside chance at a podium finish.
pixelOn the final descent he crashed taking a nasty tumble at high speed and rolled around in the roadside gravel. He bounced right back up and was back on the bike without checking to see if there was any damage and back at it in less time than it takes to write about it.
pixelThe insane heat and the length of the mountain stages have made this year's race even harder than usual. Once again the time limit was altered. On this stage it was 12% of the winning time but became 14% otherwise 76 riders would have been eliminated. That wouldn't look good in Paris. This is a weary band of brothers that will be grateful when it's over and proud just to finish.


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