Golden Hams of the Day
Tossato victory at the line Photo
c. Ben Ross
Matteo "Tailgunner" Tosatto (Quick Step).
Quick Step finally got off the schnide today with a great performance
by the man with the military buzz cut. Tosatto is usually the leadout man for
Tom Boonen, but today he rode the perfect race in that long breakaway to take
the stage from some very determined men. It's always great to see strong riders
who spend most of their time helping other men get his own moment in the sun.
Tosatto is one of the best in the business, and now he has a Tour stage win to
Elated Matteo his first tour victory Photo
c. Ben Ross
Levi "Button Fly" Leipheimer and Ronny "Sergeant"
A great effort and some classic teamwork almost got Gerolsteiner the
stage win. Levi charged off to join Isasi and held the other men in the break at
bay for a good twenty kilometers. Then Scholz counter-attacked and only the
concerted chase of Moreni and Tosatto was able to bring him to heel. At the end,
Scholz was 3rd and Leipheimer 14th on the stage. This hasn't been the best Tour
for Gerolsteiner, but they are going out of this race as animators, fighting
until the very end. For Leipheimer, he moved back up the GC and now sits in 13th
at 15' 01". That is small consolation for man with such lofty goals, but he and
his team can be proud of how they have attacked this race.
Levi "Most Combative" rider Stage 18 Photo
c. Ben Ross
Inaki "Double Aye" Isasi (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and
"Sister" Christian Moreni (Cofidis).
Another long break for these two men, and both gave it a great run.
It was Isasi who started the serious attacks in the break, launching at the 50
km point with such fury that only Leipheimer could nail him back. Then he worked
with Leipheimer and put in what could have been a winning effort, but the
chasers finally got it together long enough to catch him. Moreni then launched a
vicious counter-attack to nail back the charging Scholz, and then put himself in
the perfect position heading into the sprint for the line. Unfortunately,
Tosatto was just too strong at the end. But both Isasi and Moreni really showed
some nerve and talent out on the roads today. Without them, this stage could
have been a real snoozer.
Hinault best of the second gruppo. Photo
c. Ben Ross
Ham-Gazers of the Day
Floyd Landis (Phonak).
So the man who is 3rd on GC at 30" behind Pereiro sat back in the
peloton behind his boys and just tried to recover from yesterday's monster
effort. Tomorrow is the biggest race of his life, and he is now the favorite to
win the stage and the whole Tour de France. He will need to build a lead of over
35" on the field by the end of the time trial, or Sunday's final stage into
Paris could turn from a parade into a pitched battle for bonus seconds. A 1' 00"
lead would be ideal, because then he could drink his champagne in peace and
enjoy the parade. So he'll have to bring all of that fury to bear on that long
technical course and drive this victory home once and for all. If you're
interested, Floyd was 6th in the final time trial last year at 2' 02" behind
some guy named Armstrong. The five men who finished in front of Landis that day
are not in the race this year. That makes him the favorite to win tomorrow.
Oscar pulls on the Maillot Jaune, perhaps for the last time
c. Ben Ross
Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne)
Pereiro sat behind his boys and had an easy day too today. He is
going very well right now, and he is looking ready for tomorrow's showdown.
Pereiro is no dog: he was 10th on GC in the Tour de France in both 2004 and
2005. Last year he was 15th in the final time trial at 3' 25" back, which means
that he lost 1' 23" to Landis on the 55.5 km course. If history repeats itself,
he would lose to Landis by about 55 seconds, but he would also probably end up
on the final podium. The Yellow Jersey can do strange things to a man, however,
and some say that the Yellow Jersey is worth about a minute in a time trial.
Part of the reason for this is inspiration. Part of it, however, is also the
tactical advantage of going out on the course last and knowing the time splits
of all of your rivals so you know what to shoot for. Don't be too surprised if
Pereiro does something special tomorrow and ends up almost even with Floyd on GC
after the stage. It would be strange, but this hasn't exactly been a normal
Peloton sprints for leftovers... Photo
c. Ben Ross
Carlos Sastre (CSC).
Sastre too took it easy and saved his last few bullets for tomorrow.
In last year's final time trial, Sastre was a very strong 12th on the stage at
only 3' 10" behind Armstrong. This means that Sastre lost 1' 08" to Landis, and
he gained 15" on Pereiro. Right now Sastre is 12" behind Pereiro on GC, so that
makes the battle between these two look dead even for tomorrow. This will be a
time trial for the ages, and what is usually decisive in this final effort is
who still has gas in the tank after the three grueling weeks of racing. Sastre
has shown over the years that he is extremely strong at the end of the Tour, so
look for him to ride a powerful performance to challenge for the Yellow Jersey.
Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile).
Klöden finished the day in the bunch and goes into tomorrow's time
trial 4th on GC at 2' 29" behind Pereiro, 2' 17" behind Sastre, and 1' 59"
behind Landis. Klöden didn't finish the Tour last year, but in 2004, when Klöden
got 2nd on GC, he had a very strong final time trial. On that day in 2004 he was
3rd at 1' 27" behind Armstrong, whereas Landis was 4th at 2' 25", Sastre was
17th at 4' 55", and Pereiro was 21st at 5' 21". While I think it is a mistake to
put too much stock in old results, what this shows is that Klöden is capable of
winning the stage tomorrow and threatening for the Yellow Jersey. I don't think
he'll be able to get enough time to win the race, but I think the podium is
still a realistic goal for the powerful German. In other words, this entire race
is still wide open and up in the air, and any of the guys in the top four is
capable of winning this thing. This has never happened in my lifetime, and it
might be a very long time before we see a Tour de France that is this close
again. Sit back, slam some coffee, and tune in to our live ticker (even if
you're watching the race) and enjoy what is shaping up to be one of the most
exciting stages of bike racing in modern history.