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  Stage 16 Photo  
  © 2010 A.S.O. Amaury Sport Organisation - All rights reserved.  

Stage 18 Morzine-Macon 197km July 21, 2006
by David Balkin


pixelOther than the 96°F heat this was just another day on the road but Paris is in sight. A weary peleton looking to rest up for tomorrow's final time trial allowed a group of 15 no-hopers to get away and stay away. They were fun to watch attack each other and eventually winnow themselves down to 3 at the final sprint.
pixelAfter 122 miles of racing the 3 main contenders, Floyd Landis, Carlos Sastre and the man in yellow Oscar Pereiro remain within 30 seconds of each other. After tomorrow's time trial one of them will ride into Paris on Sunday wearing yellow as the last and best man standing. Chances are excellent all 3 will be on the podium.
pixelFloyd Landis is the odds-on favorite to win his specialty event and take more than enough time out of the men in front of him to assume the mantle of greatness he so valiantly positioned himself for and richly deserves.
pixelIf he doesn't win he's still great. Nothing can ever change what he accomplished yesterday which was simply the single greatest one day ride under pressure in the storied history of the world's most compelling stage race. Until yesterday the French press saw Landis as a boring rider who was staking claim to their prized possession with little style and zero élan.
pixelThey actively disliked Lance because he was far better than anyone else and he made it look way too easy. Landis is hard to dislike and when he toppled out of contention they felt compassion but inwardly smiled; they're sick of Americans winning; even worse he was as exciting as American cheese.
pixelThe French had a point, throughout the race Landis looked much stronger than the others but was unwilling to show any more than he needed; he looked like a man who just wanted to get the job done and get on with the rest of his life. There's little romance in that but his startling collapse and impossible resurrection breathed new life into what was a long, hot grind.
pixelWhen Landis did the unimaginable he captured the imagination and hearts of every cycling aficionado including the men he is racing against. It now comes out he told his rivals before the stage exactly what he planned to do and when. These guys know each other well; train together, some were once teammates, and all with a common bond that makes them friendly enemies and at crunch time bitter rivals. His part time friends told him he was crazy. It would never work.
pixelIt certainly wasn't meant or taken as a taunt but these are definitely not the guys you tell to catch me if you can. But Landis did exactly as he said and that he got away with it will always be beyond belief.
pixelToday's stage was won by Matteo Tossato whose role heretofore was to lead out Tom Boonen. Tornado Tom didn't need his services today; like the rest of us Tom was watching it on TV. But it serves to prove how good all these guys are. Most never find out how good because they're signed on to support a team leader. Boonen is a prime example, he was unwilling to play a role and left Lance's team because there was only room for one star.
pixelAnd speaking of Lance's team, Discovery was almost a no show this year. They had all the same bricks in place but lacking the mortar they fell totally apart. It's not normal for one man on a team this strong and this well managed to make all the difference, but Lance Armstrong is not a normal rider. The French think he's a robot.
pixelThe one thing this year's Discovery team proved is it's totally easier to ride in support than to lead. Since they never discovered a leader they were completely lost.
pixelLevi Leipheimer has been riding aggressively in the Alps trying to make amends for digging himself a hole in the first time trial. Today he was recognized as the most combative rider. He made the break and then selflessly positioned his teammate Ronny Scholz in the final 3 up sprint giving him a chance of a lifetime to win a stage. Scholz was forced to lead out and finished 3rd. It's the thought that counts.
pixelIn tomorrow's time trial Levi will wear a red number signifying his most combative honor. He moved up a little bit in GC to 13th and has a decent chance to make the top 10 if he performs well in the time trial an event in which he specializes.
pixelNo surprise that Floyd Landis wore the red number today and if the French had any style they'd retire it for the rest of this race as a tribute to everything the sport stands for.
pixelThe green jersey winner is Robbie McEwen. Oscar Freire did not start today (bronchitis) eliminating any slim chance that Robbie would fail to win it for the third time. The amazing Erik Zabel, who won it a record 6 straight times, will finish second. At 36 he's way too old to be a world class sprinter but nobody's bothered to tell Mr. Consistency.
pixelThe KOM is also decided. The Chicken, Michael Rasmussen will stand on the Paris podium in polka dot for the 2nd straight year. Incidentally Landis finished 2nd in that competition after collecting mega mountain points during the course of his great escape. David De La Fuente put up a game fight to finish 3rd but was overmatched.
pixelThe white jersey is still up for grabs. Marcus Fothen is 5 seconds back of the Little Prince, Damiano Cunego, but he was faster by several minutes over the first 32 mile time trial; this one is 35 miles and he should be wearing white in Paris.
pixelTomorrow the winner is revealed. The envelope please.


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