Saturday, July 28, 2007

Casar Wins, Time Trial Awaits

Sandy Casar (FD Jeux) won yesterday's stage 18 of the Tour de France from a four-man breakaway containing Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Axel Merckx (T-Mobile), and Laurent Lefevre (Bouygues Telecom).  He attacked his companions with 2km to go, going up the inside of a divided curve while the rest of the riders went on the outside.  By the time the 4 riders were back on the same road, Casar had a large gap.  Although his attack was eventually pulled back with 1km to go, the energy that the other riders used to get back to his wheel meant that they had nothing left in the sprint.  Casar easily powered them off his wheel and won the stage.

The peloton was in no mood to chase yesterday, preferring to let the breakaway go.  However, there was a bunch sprint for 5th place to battle out points for the green jersey.  Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) "won" the sprint, meaning that he is now 24 points ahead of Robbie Hunter (Barloworld).  Barring a situation on the Champs d'Elysees where Hunter finishes in the top 3 and Boonen doesn't finish in the top 25, Boonen has now won his first ever green jersey.

The other development of the sprint was that Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) took out 3 seconds from the Discovery Channel duo of Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer.  In the sprint, Contador simply couldn't follow Evans' wheel and a gap opened, allowing Evans to pull back just a little bit more time.

Crash/Abandon Notes Stage 18: It was a quiet day on the crash/abandon front.  There were no abandons to report as all the riders who started the day finished it.  There are still 141 riders left in the race.  The only crash of note happened to the stage winner Sandy Casar.  For the second time this Tour de France, a crash was caused by a dog running loose onto the road (a circumstance that I cannot remember ever seeing before the Tour, though it's now happened twice in the last two weeks).  After only about 25km into the day's stage, Casar was riding in the breakaway when the dog ran out onto the road, causing him to crash violently and also taking out Frederick Willems (Liquigas).  Casar sustained road rash on his right buttock and elbow.  Willems finished the stage last of the 141 riders, 11' behind Casar.

Today's stage is the final showdown of the 2007 Tour de France.  The 55km individual time trial from Cognac to Angouleme is fairly flat, quite different from the first time trial that was rather lumpy. Can Contador hold off Evans, who would have won the first time trial if Alexandre Vinokourov had been excluded?  Can Leipheimer catch Evans, sitting less than a minute behind the Australian?  Will it be 8 wins for Johan Bruyneel and Discovery Channel/USPS?  Or will it be the first ever win for an Australian in the Tour de France?  Today's stage, which will come down to seconds, will answer all of those questions over the next 55km.


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