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  Stage 16 Photo  
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  Stage 19 Le Creusot-Montceau Les Mines 57km TT July 22, 2006
by David Balkin

pixelAnybody besides me wonder why a fat lady singing mean it's over? Anyone know?
pixelAnyway, there was a blonde one leaning over the plastic fencing just as Floyd Landis swept around the bend for the last 100 meters of today's 57km time trial. When Floyd flew past she beat the barrier with her hands then raised her arms in joy and open mouthed she must have been in full voice.
pixelMaybe she was singing but what I heard was still music to my ears; the voice of Phil Liggett in his crisp British accent saying Floyd Landis has just won the Tour de France.
pixelBut how can it be over when there's still a 95 mile stage to go? It's simple, the first name of this race is Tour and the last, flat stage into Paris can't be made hard enough for it to be anything but a high profile ride from the countryside into the big city. It's what separates this Grand Tour from lesser races.
pixelOver 3 weeks this race is so hard and so competitive that a flat final stage isn't going to separate any contenders except by accident. The only way Landis or any of the contenders can lose their rightful place on the podium is to get knocked off the bike and not be able to get back up. For a sport that has its dark side there's the right way to win and nobody wants to win or lose a race of this magnitude through a fluke.
pixelThen there's the rest of the field that just wants to finish after coming this far. Nobody can improve their placing enough to matter so they ride conservatively taking no risks. To crash out on this stage would be a bitter disappointment.
pixelIn the TDF's early days they used to make the last stage count. The last time was in 1989 when the organizers made the mistake of going retro and ending with a time trial that they thought would make it suspenseful to the very end. It was. American Greg Lemond astounded everyone by taking almost a minute out of Laurent Fignon over 14 miles to win by 8 seconds in the closest TDF ever.
pixelYes that finish provided high drama but they won't do that again anytime soon. It was nothing much to look at; spent riders peeling themselves off a bike can't begin to compare to a field of the world's best riding up and down the Champs Elysees putting on a show.
pixelIt's a colorful and spirited bunch of riders framed by the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe jumping away for a lap or two and then getting swarmed over. There's always a chance a rider can stay away but in the past 20 years 17 have finished in a bunch sprint that's contested as if everything's on the line. It almost is. Winning on the Champs Elysees is worth a small fortune and for glory the stage winner gets his picture looking invincible on front pages all over the world.
pixelAll of that and more is why a fast ride home has become a final stage tradition; it's just about the perfect way for riders to reward themselves for putting it all on the line for 3 weeks. This is an encore where they entertain a half million spectators who don't care that the results are already in.
pixelTomorrow Floyd Landis will ride into Paris, drink some champagne and wave our flag. Other riders will meander through the peleton visiting friends and countrymen. They'll share moments and thank teammates and others for whatever good deeds they may have done, either by design or serendipitously.
pixelIt's a group celebration because that's the way they ride cooperating with each other when it's to their advantage and then attacking when it's not. Learning to work with your enemies teaches civility and respect and that's a beautiful thing.
pixelThe 3 men headed for the podium may as well be chained to each other for as far apart as they'll finish. Floyd Landis will fulfill the dream of a lifetime. He too is another rider that left the security of team Lance to find out how good he really can be.
pixelNow to today's race of truth. The truth is Landis's 3rd place finish was the same as winning. He now leads the race by 59 seconds. The actual stage winner (of both long time trials) was Serguei Gonchar aka Serhiy Honchar but whatever his name he was best again by 41 seconds over the surprising 2nd place finish of Andreas Kloden and 1:11 better than Landis.
pixelBut the time that mattered saw Landis take yellow away from his good friend Oscar Pereiro who rode the best time trial of his life finishing 4th @2:40 but it was a minute too much and he loses yellow finishing 2nd overall. Kloden also rode the best time trial of his life and will be on the third step of the podium displacing Carlos Sastre who didn't ride well and is disappointed with his 20th place that dropped him to 4th.
pixelWinners need no excuses and Landis wanted to do as Lance did and put his stamp on the race as the strongest rider by winning the final time trial. But he already made that mark in spades with an unbelievable 4 hour time trial up and down 5 mountains a couple of days earlier rescuing himself from the ranks of the living dead.
pixelThe white jersey for best young rider went to Damiano Cunego who came into form in the Alps and continued his good form by also riding the best time trial of his life by far. In the first time trial Marcus Fothen beat the Little Prince by over 5 minutes but on this day Cunego went in with a slim 5 second lead in GC over Fothen and looked like a sure loser on paper but beat him by 31 seconds.
pixelTomorrow it's a spectacle. It's a celebration of a nation passionate about this sport and its signature sports event. It's the best bike race in the world and it's come full circle. The French had their best TDF in 20 years with 3 stage wins so far and great hope for the future. They're still not happy about listening to the Star Spangled Banner on the Champs Elysees (for the 8th straight time) but it sure makes me and a lot of folks I know smile big time.


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