Saturday, July 23, 2005

Tour de France - Stage 20

Today is the penultimate stage in the tour. A 55.5 km individual time trial that starts and ends in Saint-Etienne. Unlike many individual time trials in the past this is no flat course. There are several small hills along the route. There is also several turns in the villages that turn though almost 180 degrees.

Today was also Lance Armstrong's last real chance to win a stage in this years tour.

The race today had each rider starting 2 minutes apart in reverse order of their current standing in the tour. The last 20 riders, which are the top 20 riders in the tour start 3 minutes apart.

Today we got to see two different races. Lance Armstrong riding the course like a man possesed hunting down his closest rivals in search of an illusive stage win.

We also got to see Mickael Rasmussen's personal Tour of Terror.

First up - Lance Armstrong. Lance had very little to gain today. He was looking for a stage win, which he really doesn't need. But LAnce had plenty to lose, an accident or slip on the road could easily cost him the yellow jersey.

At the first 17 km time check Ivan Basso led the way with Armstrong seven seconds back and Ullrich another 10 seconds behind Lance.

At the second (35 km) time check Armstrong held the fastest time followed by Ullrich at 19 seconds and Basso at 53 seconds.

The third time check at 40 km showed Lance flying up the road a little over 30 seconds ahead of Ullrich and over a minute ahead of anyone else.

The fourth time check came at 49 km, Again Lance set the fastest time. Ullrich was 36 seconds back. The next closest rider was Alexander Vinokourov over a minute behind.

At the end Lance won by 23 seconds to finally take his 22 tour de France stage win.

Today Lance rode like a man possessed. HE just flew over the hills and through the turns. He certainly didn't llok like a man who is only a day away from retirement.

Then there was Mickael Rasmussen. Rasmussen went into the todays stage needing to just arrive in paris tomorrow to win the polka dot climbers jersey. But he was also sitting third in the overall classification just 2:12 a head of Jan Ullrich. Ullrich has been aiming at Rasmussen for several days trying to get himself back onto the podium in Paris.

While working his way through a traffic circle Mickael went down. He jumped back up right away and started fiddling with the rear wheel on his bike. Then he climbed back on the bike and started racing again. Over the next 15 minutes Mickael's Dream tour de France turned into the ride from hell. He had to have a wheel replaced on his bike. Then the whole bike replaced - twice. Then he went down again. He roade right off the road and tumbled over the handlebars. Then a third bicycle change.

When the bleeding was done, Mickael Rasmussen was passed on the road by Ivan Basso who started 3 minutes behind him, then he was passed by Armstrong who started 6 minutes behind him. Mickael dropped 7:47 seconds to Lance Armstrong. He dropped from his third palce podium spot all the way to 7th in the GC.

It was painful to watch. Rasmussen had ridden so well for the first three weeks. He had acheived his goals. In only his second tour he had won a stage and was going to wear the polka dot jersey into Paris. To see a rider's race tumble into disaster was heartbreaking. I wouldn't even wish that kind of bad luck on Bjarne Riis, and I don't like Bjarne Riis.

So Lance basicslly just has to stay in the saddle tomorrow and talk a wrong turn once he starts having a couple toasts.

The guys tomorrow who have to watch out are the sprinters and Levi Leipheimer He is in 5th place in the GC but only 2 seconds ahead of Vinokourov. So watch for some sprint attacks by Vino tomorrow. Levi needs to park himself on Vinos back wheel and every time Vino attacks he needs to outsprint him to whatever line he is chasing.

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