Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tour de Floyd

In the immortal words of LL Cool J, "Don't call it a comeback!"--it's more like resurrection! After riding a strong but conservative Tour de France so far and holding the maillot jaune, the yellow jersey designating the overall leader, American Floyd Landis (Phonak) simply blew up on the final climb of stage 16 yesterday, losing nine minutes on the day to his nearest rival, Carlos Sastre (CSC). This dropped him to 11th place, 8:08 arears of Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne). "Now it's Landis whose name is scratched off the contenders' list," writes "His dreams of winning this Tour de France [are] completely shattered."

But today was a new day. Long-time cycling commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen call it the greatest single day of bike racing they've seen in 35 years as professionals. Let's face it: the Tour was boring with Lance; with a team stacked like the 1927 Yankees, there was no question who would win; the only question was: by how much? And Landis provided the excitement today in the most wide-open Tour in a decade.

Starting 50 km into the first of the day's four major climbs in the Alps, a
Categorie 1 (5 being the least difficult, 1 the most difficult), Landis and his Phonak boys cranked up the tempo, splitting the pack. Landis then took off on his own, bridging to the eleven-man breakaway group and catching them on the second mountain, a Categorie 2. Continuing to hammer away, he dropped all but a few on the day's third mountain pass, another Categorie 1.

On the the fourth and final major climb, the viscious
Hors-Categorie (so difficult it is beyond categorization) Col de Joux-Plane, where legends are made and hopes are dashed, Landis rode away for good, coming over the top 5:08 ahead of Sastre. Landis then gained another 30 seconds on the dangerous, winding descent to the finish, giving him his first-ever Tour de France stage win and catapulting him from a hopeless eleventh to third place overall, only 30 seconds behind Pereiro, who holds the maillot jaune.

Saturday's 57km time trial (a solo race against the clock) should decide it all. Landis, having finished second in the first time trial, is the odds-on favorite to win. Can the scrappy Pennsylvanian do it?

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