Welcome to live coverage of Stage 20 of the Tour de France!
Stage 20: Saint-Etienne-Saint-Etienne (ITT), 55 km
So today will see the riders have their final serious showdown in the GC. It is a 55.5 km loop from St.Etienne to...St. Etienne. The course is bumpy and technical. There is a Cat 3 climb that starts at 35 km and crests at 40 km. This course should really suit specialists like Armstrong (Discovery Channel) and Ullrich (T-Mobile).
Of course, there are several battles for positions in the top twenty on GC. Those riders will start hitting the road in about 20 minutes.
The current leader at the finish line is Luke Roberts (CSC). The Aussie has set a time of 1h 15' 33.910", but Lang (Gerolsteiner) is setting the best time at all the checks on the course. Not far behind Lang, Karpets (Illes Balears) is blazing a new best time.
Lang's new best time is 1h 15' 12". Karpets and Michael Rogers (Quick Step) will put that time to the test soon.
About half of the riders have finished today, so there's still a lot of racing to come. Of course, Armstrong and Ullrich are the favorites for the victory.
Totschnig (Gerolsteiner) hits the road. He had a great stage victory in the mountains earlier this week. He should put in a decent time. Next up will be another stage winner, Paolo "Salvo" Savoldelli (Discovery Channel). The Giro champ might be trying to put in a good ride today to help Discovery in the teams competition.
Michael "Dr. Teeth" Boogerd (Rabobank) rolls into the start house. He rolls out onto the course, riding as though he was being chased by the Cavity Creeps.
Savoldelli almost crashes! He heads into a corner (or a roundabout, actually) and he misses the apex. He almost went into the crowd on the outside of the roundabout. He must be struggling to control that fancy time trial bike.
He's all right, no crash, but that was a close one. Earlier, Santiago Botero missed a corner completely and had to brake hard as he rolled straight into the crowd. He had slowed enough so that the fans jumped out of the way, and he turned and had a bit of a laugh about it all as he got back on course.
Yesterday's hero, Giuseppe "Body Check" Guerini (T-Mobile) is out on the course now. He's not a specialist... he's more of a climber, so that's likely that last the cameras will show of him today.
Karpets is now setting the best time at the third check, 59' 02". That's 27" better than Lang.
It was in 1934 that the French first caught the British disease of time trialing, and the Individual Time Trial was first held in the Tour de France.
It was over 90 kilometres and was won by Antonin Magne - who was to take the Yellow Jersey to Paris.
He covered the distance in 2 hours 32 minutes and 5 seconds, pretty good especially considering it was a twin stage - the peloton had raced over 81 kilometres in the morning, a stage won by Rene Le Greves in 3 hours six seconds.
Was it on a fixed gear?
Hmm, yes, I think they would have been using reversibles by then.
Bobby Julich (CSC) now hits the course. Julich, of course, was the bronze medalist in the last Olympics in this discipline. He's in 18th on GC currently, about 2' 20" behind 17th placed Hincapie (Discovery). So these two Americans (who are also friends and former teammates) will be having a duel for that high spot in the top twenty.
The longest Tour ITT was in 1947, over 139 km, and was won by Raymond Impanis, the Belgian. Raymond averaged 36.324 km/h that day - and put nearly 5 minutes into race winner Robic.
That's a long distance - sounds very British (just kidding).
Yeah, and if you actually showed any expressions of pain or your upper lip didn't look stiff enough, they probably docked you seconds...
Hincapie now hits the road. So two of the five Americans in the top twenty are now on course. Hincapie won the opening time trial of the Dauphine Libere this year, a very very short one, but still an indicator that the Big Hink can time trial when he wants too. He'll be going all out for a good ride today.
The first rider to exceed an average speed of 50 km/h was set by the Dutchman Gerrie Knetemann in 1977.
Karpets is fading a bit... he's only 21" up on Lang at the 49.7 km point. But he should still set the best time at the finish.
Karpets now in the finishing straight... the young Illes Balears rider has a time of 1h 14' 51". That's 21" faster than Lang. With men like Julich and Hincapie on the course, and men like Popovych and Pereiro soon to start, you can expect those best times to fall soon.
Lots and lots of quiet, well-behaved, subdued American fans on the course today. Yeah, right.
Totschnig is not setting the course on fire. He comes through the first time check at 17 km over 1' 08" behind Karpets. That's 34th best at this point.
I expected Karpets to do better on GC this year, but he really struggled in the mountains. Glad to see that his time trialing legs didn't abandon him like his climbing legs.
Probably the rider most associated with the Time Trial in the Tour de France is Jacques Anquetil.
White Jersey wearer Yaroslav "Jiffy Pop" Popovych (Discovery Channel) hits the course. He is a strong time trialist. He's looking to improve on his 13th position on GC. He's only 40" behind Mazzoleni (Lampre-Caffita).
What the ?!? Carlos Sastre (CSC) has beaten the time of Karpets by 15" at the first time check! That's amazing!
Sastre is not known as a time trialist... but he's certainly rolling hard today.
"Bug Taster" Moreau (Credit Agricole) now gets his tongue out on the course. He's only 11th on GC, quite a disappointment for the nation of France from what the papers indicate.
Over the last few years the French have had men in that Polka Dot Jersey (like Virenque and Laurent Jalabert), but this year they've only had one stage win to crow about. Not good for the home boys.
Basso (CSC) is on the trainer talking to Bjarne Riis. The Dane is probably telling his Italian star, "You're going to win this thing next year, right?"
Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir) passes Caucchioli (Credit Agricole) on the course. He's got the sixth best time at the 40.2 km checkpoint.
Well, now, more good news for the Colonies: Julich has just gone through the 17 km time check 22" faster than his teammate Sastre. Now we're starting to see some times that will end up in the top ten by the end of the day.
John Kerry, the almost-President of the United States (and still a Senator from Massachusetts), is at the Tour today. Of course, Armstrong has been a friend of President Bush for a long time as both are Texans. Interesting.
We're up into the top ten on GC... Landis (Phonak) and Vinokourov (T-Mobile) are on course and waging their little war for positions 7-9 on GC. And Cadel Evans, of course.
Landis is currently 9th on GC, and he's only 31" behind Vinokourov. For his part, Vinokourov is in 8th and only 22" behind 7th placed Evans (Davitamon-Lotto).
Hincapie goes through the 17 km checkpoint in 2nd so far, 19" behind Julich. A strong ride by George, but he'll need to speed up to keep Julich at bay in their GC battle.
Meanwhile the European press has been speculating that Armstrong is very determined to win this stage. The "Tourminator" has not won a stage or race this year and will be hugely motivated to win on his last ever big performance in his cycling career.
Landis is about 8' into his ride. Landis has the most uncomfortable time trialing position on the saddle I've seen. Every time I've seen him time trial, he is so far forward on the saddle that it looks like he's goosing himself with the front nose of the seat. Ouch.
At the 35 km check, Savoldelli is mailing it in... he's 3' 14" back in 66th place. Now Sastre goes through that check with the best time!
The other big duel of the day is between Ullrich and Rasmussen - 2 minute 12 seconds separate the two men and Ullrich will be pushing hard for another bridesmaid podium place. Rasmussen could well lose out, but he has already won the Polka Dot jersey, so has had a great Tour.
Well, Sastre is fading... he was 15" up on Karpets at the first check, but he is just fractions of a second ahead at this second check.
"Cracker Jack" Horner is through the 49.7 km check in 8th at 1' 28". Respectable ride for the American in his first Tour, likely good enough for top twenty on the stage by the end of the day.
Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) is in the start house to start his battle with Rasmussen and Armstrong. Now the "U-Boat" is out of dry-dock, and churning up to full speed.
Ullrich has 2'12'' to make up, it is a technical, difficult course that does not really suit him, but if he could win today it would save his race, to a degree.
Horner is now crossing the finish line... 8th in 1h 16' 31". Not bad, Chris! Now Rasmussen, the polka dot chicken, escapes the coop.
Sastre still going very well.
Basso, all Italian cool, sets off.
"Cheekbones" Garzelli (Liquigas-Bianchi) gets the 15th best time so far at the finish line. He's my wife's favorite, but not because of his cycling... she met him at the T-Mobile International, and it's just lucky for me that man lives in Italy.
Rasmussen crashes! Over cooked chicken on the roundabout! That's the same roundabout that almost took down Savoldelli earlier. He overcooked it, his back wheel washed out.
Well, he has road rash on his right leg now. He is back and running but is looking a little shaky.
Meanwhile, Julich has smashed the time at the 2nd check (35 km) by a full 46"! Julich's time at that point is 47' 37", very fast that. Armstrong is now in the start house. The fans are going, "Who is that guy again?"
The Tourminator, yellow jersey, makes his historic last TT ride in the Tour. "El Jefe" is on the road and looking to put everybody into their place one last time. Senator Kerry is in the race official's car that will follow Armstrong on the route.
He's off, huge crowds cheer him on; barring accident or disaster, Armstrong should secure his 7th Tour de France.
At the 17 km time check, Pereiro (Phonak) is 4th and Moreau is 5th. Both are at 32" behind Julich. So Pereiro is holding onto his 10th place on GC so far in his battle with the Frenchman.
There is a slightly plucked look to poor Rasmussen... he's got a big graze on that right drumstick. Hopefully, it will give him a surge of adrenaline that improves his time rather than slowing him down.
Ullrich has gained 50 seconds on Rasmussen so far, partly due to his crash. Grazed chickenleg award for him today...
At the 17 km point, Landis has now taken the 2nd spot, only 5" behind Julich. So it's three Americans at the top of the leaderboard at that point, with Julich 1st, Landis 2nd @ 5", and Hincapie 3rd @ 19". When Ullrich comes through that will surely change. Leipheimer should come through before too long... he's in a battle for 5th on GC with Mancebo (Illes Balears).
Well, Vinokourov has the best time at 17 km now! He's 12" up on Julich, which is bad news for Landis.
Julich pips teammate Sastre to take best time at that point so far. His time is 57' 50", 45" better than Sastre.
Armstrong is doing his magic dance on the pedals up a slight incline. He looks very good. On the other hand Rasmussen is not looking so good today, he seems to be suffering.
Hincapie 2nd at the 40 km point - just behind Julich. Well, well, Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) now sets the 2nd fastest time at 17 km. He is only 11" behind Vinokourov. This means that Landis is not going to climb out of 9th on GC, and that it's down to Evans and Vino for 7th.
Sastre powers to the line, 2nd behind Karpets by just 5 seconds. Great ride by the CSC man, but he really faded after that last climb.
Leipheimer comes through the 17 km point at a very mediocre 45" behind Vinokourov, only 9th best. He'd better watch it... he's trying to climb up to 5th on GC, but he could lose his 6th and fall back if he doesn't speed up.
Ullrich still eating into Rasmussen's lead, the gap between the two men has dropped to 55 seconds.
Popovych is 6th at 1' 04" behind Julich at the 35 km check. He'll hold onto that White Jersey, but can he climb up on GC? Sastre had punctured and had to change a bike - so he was unlucky not to take the top spot.
Ullrich 12 seconds faster than Vino at 17 km, and has reduced the GC gap to rasmussen to just 12 seconds.
Mancebo has actually taken 4" out of Leipheimer at the 17 km point as well. The man in 5th on GC has had his best Tour ever.
Julich sets a great time at the 49.7 km mark, 1h 07' 29", which is 1' 22" better than Karpets and 53" better than Sastre.
No shots of Basso yet today. I wonder how the man in 2nd on GC is doing? His time trialing has improved a lot this past year.
Ullrich grinding on his bike like he's trying to teach his big gears a lesson. No wonder he's had knee problems.
Julich finishes with the best time in 1h 13' 19". It's curtains for Karpets! The rug's been pulled from the Karpet!
Basso is 17 seconds faster than Ullrich at 17 km! Holy cow, Basso is showing that he is the man to beat in next year's Tour! Very impressive, that.
That's the kind of ride that will make the homies say "ho!" and the girlies wanna' scream. Remarkable performance for Basso, who showed in the Giro how much his TT ability had improved. That Lance fellow is approaching the 17 km mark. Armstrong is slower than Basso!
But Ullrich is just 3 seconds away from a podium place. Painful to watch Rasmussen, each pedal stroke seems to be agony.
Ullrich is back on the podium!!!
Hincapie comes in with the 2nd best time in 1h 14' 11". That's 53" slower than Julich. So Armstrong is 2nd behind Basso by 7" at the first time check.
Rasmussen has a mechanical! How horrible for the Dane!
He takes TWO bike changes.
Rasmussen gestures to the team car - he is not a happy chicken. It was a problem with the rear wheel of some sort. Basso flew by Rasmussen while he was getting that first bike change. I think there may have been damage to the rear wheel from the crash - and then the Rabobank team made a pig's ear of the change round.
Popovych is 5th at 1' 22" through the 40.2 km time check. He has taken over 2' from Mazzoleni so far, so Popo will move up at least one spot on GC by the end of the day.
Not seen such mechanical trauma since Riis took up bike throwing way back in 1997.
Vinokourov, no chance to attack his teammates today, is probably wondering what to do. Armstrong is looking good, but so is Basso. But Lance is having trouble getting his gel out of the pouch in his skinsuit. He needs those calories, man!
Rasmussen is having problems reminiscent of those suffered by his compatriot Bjarne Riis in 1997, when the defending champ was eclipsed by his young teammate Ullrich and threw his time trial bike after a mechanical in the time trial. That was during the race.
If there was a jersey for the rider focusing on a big contract for next season with a new team then Vino would be wearing it. It should be green with big dollar signs... he's rumored to be interested in Discovery, after all.
But Bruyneel has said he is not interested in him since he doubts he could ever win the Tour.
But Vinokourov moves into first spot at kilometre 40. He's best by 17". Evans has faded now... he's 10" behind Landis at the 35 km point. So that's good for Landis.
Popo will win the White Jersey - he comes home - 1' 14'54.
Rasmussen crashes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! His race has fallen to pieces! Coming down the slope he lost the curve and fell into the ditch.
It's the biggest Danish tragedy since Hamlet, but Mancebo could gain advantage from Rasmussen's misfortune.
Evans is going well at the 40 km check. He's faster than Landis by 27" now. He picked up a lot of time on that Cat 3 climb. So Evans is now 3rd at that check, 24" slower than Vino. Evans could hold onto his 7th on GC!
Armstrong - fast on the descent, very tricky, the road is a poor surface, the tarmac is melting and the odd man hole cover adds to the danger.
Ullrich blows away the best time by 41" at the 35 km check. His time of 46' 57" will likely fall when Basso comes through.
Yeesh, that is a sketchy descent. Moreau approaches the finish line.
Basso has slowed down considerably... he's over 30" behind Ullrich at the 2nd check! So Basso is 2nd fastest at 35 km, 34" behind. But now Basso will pick up time on the climb.
Rasmussen has just lost all coordination, his confidence is shot, he is having a dreadful time, he is pedalling square wheeels and takes a relatively easy corner very badly. It's terrible to watch.
Moreau finished in 6th at 1' 39". Not bad. Behind, Armstrong has beaten Ullrich's time at the 35 km mark by 19". Armstrong fastest at 35 kilometres!
Ullrich is now 37" faster than Vinokourov at the 40 km mark. Ullrich is flying.
So Ullrich is fastest after that Cat 3 climb, but Basso and Armstrong have yet to go through. Rasmussen hasn't made it through either, but it's looking like he'll get passed by Armstrong before the end.
Armstrong, distinctive style, high cadence, flat back, powers up the hill, out of the saddle and determined to win
Landis comes up to the finish. Landis is 2nd best at 1h 13' 38". He'll fall back much further before the end of the day.
Armstrong is now passing Rasmussen. Sad, but not surprising really.
Sorry, Landis was 2nd in 1h 13' 48", 29" behind Julich. Now Vino comes through. Vinokourov - 1h 13' 02". Fastest so far - that is 17" better than Julich.
Armstrong is dancing up that Cat 3 climb now. Basso is nearing the summit of the climb.
Many sedate American fans yawn as Armstrong rolls by. At least their keeping their pants on, at least so far...
Basso is only 3rd best now at the 40 km check. He looks tired now, maybe he set off too fast and forgot to eat his porridge this morning. He's 46" behind Ullrich.
Evans is now coming to the finish. He's racing for 7th on GC. He is 50" behind Vinokourov at the finish line. Cadel Evans 4th - he loses his 7th spot to Vinokourov.
Armstrong really has that big can of Texas Whupass out for this one final stage.
He's 32 seconds faster than Ullrich at 40 km. Current standings at the finish line: 1. Vinokourov @ 1h 13' 02", 2. Julich @ 17", 3. Landis @ 46", 4. Evans @ 49", 5. Hincapie @ 1' 09". Lots of English being spoken in the top five today.
Rasmussen, last man through the check point, his face completely blank - he looks mentally and physically exhausted.
He is falling down the GC faster than Savoldelli coming down Alpe d'Huez. Leipheimer is driving home... He is only about 2" up on Vinokourov on GC now, I think... he's barely managed to preserve his 6th place.
Leipheimer finished 1' 57" behind Vino on the stage, and he started the day 1' 59" up on Vino in the GC standings. So I guess Vinokourov will have more excuses to attack tomorrow, as he'll likely chase the bonus sprint seconds in an attempt to jump over Leipheimer in the GC standings...
Ullrich in at 1.12.09 - he takes the lead and is almost a minute faster than team mate Vino. And with team mates like Vino you don't need many rivals.
At least Vino wears a different colored kit... makes it easier to distinguished friendly friend from friendly foe.
Armstrong continues to pick at the lycra on his butt. He doesn't look to be very comfortable in that new yellow skinsuit. 5km to go for Armstrong - now he's out of the saddle, sprinting. Seems to be giving him a big yellow wedgie or something, that skinsuit.
Basso is under the 3km banner. Basso is struggling. Lance, on the other hand, is flying.
Guess if I had a yellow wedgie, I'd ride faster too.
Rasmussen, 7'18'' lost so far - a very bad day for him.
Basso finished in 4th so far, but Armstrong will push him down to 5th. Lance is now in the finishing straight. Armstrong will win the stage. He crosses in 1h 11' 46". Pandemonium at the finish! That's 23" faster than Ullrich.
Armstrong wins his first race of the season in champion's style and will win his 7th Tour de France.
Rasmussen 7' 47'' minutes back at the finish. He has tumbled down the GC - but no one can take away his Polka Dot jersey.
1. Armstrong (Discovery Channel) @ 1h 11' 46"
2. Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 23"
3. Vinokourov (T-Mobile) @ 1' 17"
4. Julich (CSC) @ 1' 33"
5. Basso (CSC) @ 1' 54"
6. Landis (Phonak) @ 2' 02"
7. Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 2' 06"
8. Hincapie (Discovery Channel) @ 2' 26"
9. Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 2' 51"
10. Karpets (Illes Balears) @ 3' 06"
11. Popovych (Discovery Channel) @ 3' 09".
Mancebo had one of the rides of the day... he's climbed up to 4th on GC.
Armstrong's mom looks happy at the finish. Great ride today by Hincapie... he held off Julich, and may have actually climbed up a spot or two on GC. Good for Julich too, who may have also climbed up the GC a bit. Five Americans in the top twenty on GC, and four in the top ten on the stage. George Washington would be proud.
Holy cow, Rasmussen fell to 7th on GC. Leipheimer is up to 5th (barely ahead of Vinokourov).
General Classification standings:
1. Armstrong @ 82h 34' 05"
2. Basso @ 4' 40"
3. Ullrich @ 6' 21"
4. Mancebo @ 9' 59"
5. Leipheimer @ 11' 25"
6. Vinokourov @ 11' 27"
7. Rasmusssen @ 11' 33"
8. Evans @ 11' 55"
9. Landis @ 12' 44"
10. Pereiro @ 16' 04"
11. Moreau @ 16' 26"
12. Popovych @ 19' 02"
13. Mazzoleni @ 21' 06"
14. Hincapie @ 23' 40"
15. Zubeldia @ 23' 43"
16. Jakcshe @ 24' 07"
17. Julich @ 24' 08"
18. Sevilla @ 27' 45".
So Hincapie jumped three spots on GC, and Julich moved up one with their solid performances today. Nice.
With the top spot, two men in the top five, three in the top ten, and five in the top twenty, this is the best ever performance by Americans in the Tour de France. Lance goes to the podium for his stage win awards. He looks relieved.
So tomorrow Vinokourov will likely try to liven up the party a bit by attacking for those 2" he trails behind Leipheimer, but otherwise it should be a sedate day. At least until the big sprinters come up and fight for the points and the final stage victory.
That's our coverage for today - please join us for the parade to Paris tomorrow! See you then!
Commentary today by podofdonny and Locutus.