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Stage 20 Sceaux Antony-Paris Champs Elysees 155km July 23, 2006
by David Balkin


pixelTradition rules and the ceremonial final stage was just that. Floyd Landis made it official winning the TDF today by finishing 57 seconds ahead of 2nd place Oscar Pereiro with Andreas Kloden 3rd 1:29 back.
pixelAll the other jerseys also stayed where they belonged: green for sprinting to Robbie McEwen, polka dot for climbing to Michael Rasmussen and white to Damiano Cunego for being best under 25.
pixelAs a foregone conclusion the final stage may lack suspense but more than makes up for it in raw excitement and pure fun. The fun begins on the roads into Paris where riders chat it up, hug each other, have their picture taken with the yellow jersey, in short do everything but race the bike.
pixelGoofy things are also part of the act but not so much this year. There was Levi Leipheimer who for no apparent good reason went flying off the front and opened a few hundred meter gap. He then got off the bike to become a spectator. After giving the passing peleton a round of applause he jumped back on his bike and continued on to Paris.
pixelThe excitement came at the end when the TDF morphed into an 8 lap, one hour long criterium on the world's most famous and most beautiful boulevard.
pixelA criterium up and down the Champs Elysees is priceless and in their own way so are the hundreds scattered throughout this country that are the mainstay of the U.S. bike racing scene. In Europe crits are exhibition races and the highlight of a town's day long party. Here Crits are the easiest to put on and have the most spectator appeal.
pixelThere are two in my neighborhood a day apart this coming September. A Friday night one in York Beach Maine and a Sunday afternoon shindig around Portsmouth NH's historic Market Square. They're block parties and FREE family entertainment at a time when it's sorely needed.
pixelThroughout Europe after the TDF crits spring up in cities and towns where the sport is part of the culture. Riders that have distinguished themselves get start money and they draw big crowds.
pixelIn a sport where nothing's easy crits are less demanding. Generally they're without terrain and with corners it favors riders that can handle a bike in close quarters and react quickly to repeated changes in tempo.
pixelOccasional sprints for a few hundred to a few thousand Euros is the spice that livens things up until the final sprint that's always a dogfight because everyone's strong enough to still be around. It's a show that's fun to watch and spectators can get so close to the action they feel the breeze. If one comes to a neighborhood near you check it out.
pixelToday's final kilometers were incredibly exciting as rider after rider took flyers off the front hoping to escape. Teams also took turns launching a designated rider but the peleton was a magnet pulling it all back. In the bunch sprint Thor Hushovd came off Robbie McEwen's wheel and won easily with a dozen riders nipping at their heels.
pixelHushovd also won the short prologue time trial and it's probably the first time a rider has won the opening and closing stages of a TDF. Big Thor finished 121st in GC over 3 hours down. That's no reflection on how he rides but it is on how hard this race is.
pixelIn the life isn't fair category, Phonak's Robert Hunter was eliminated after failing to come in under the time limit in yesterday's time trial. Hunter rode the TT standing up because of a world class saddle sore. He destroyed himself the previous day helping launch Landis on his ride of redemption.
pixelIt's a shame. The ride into Paris as a member of the yellow jersey team is a special moment that riders dream of and Hunter deserved. They relaxed the rule twice for big groups but kicked out Hunter. For him it's a huge personal disappointment and the one sour note for this winning team.
pixelT-Mobile won the team GC for the 3rd straight year, with CSC 2nd and Rabobank 3rd. Teams don't think about going for it until there's nothing else left for them to win. T-Mobile won it last year when they were the antithesis of a team and all rode for themselves and individual glory. This year they rode more like a team and also did well individually.
pixelPreviously I wrote about the need for riders from different teams to cooperate with each other until it no longer suits their purpose and how that builds character and a bond of mutual respect. That's great stuff but there are also a few hockey player types and some bad blood between competitors.
pixelAmong the men who are known not like each other are sprinters Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady both Aussies. Not so today. They were chatting it up acting like the best of friends. It could have been a civil discourse about killing each other at the very next opportunity but I think not. O'Grady finished 3rd today alongside McEwen and both remained upright. Maybe everything we read in the press isn't accurate.
pixelThe Lantern Rouge is the last place finisher and that honor went to Wim Vansevenant 4 hours down in 139th. But don't think a low finish means a poor performance. Wim rode for Lotto who protected two high maintenance riders, McEwen and Cadel Evens who was a contender for GC and finished a very decent 5th. It's a team that did a lot of work and Wim did his share every day before peeling off to ride it in under the time limit.
pixelIn fact the reverse podium distinguished themselves. Jimmy Casper was next to last at 138th and won a stage. That's huge! He's French and a hero till next year.
pixelGert Steegmans 137th also rode for Lotto and was the replacement lead out man for Robbie McEwen when his long time main man, American sprinter, Fast Freddie Rodriguez crashed out. That's a hard job to jump into but Steegmans was a fast learner and gave Robbie a perfect lead out to win a stage and was also thinking about Evens whenever he could.
pixelFor me it's withdrawal time.


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