Sunday, July 23, 2006

Floyd Completes Comeback

Floyd Landis took back the overall lead for good in yesterday's Stage 19 57km individual time trial of the Tour de France to Montceau-les-Mines.  Behind 30 seconds to leader Oscar Pereiro at the start, Landis steadily took back time throughout the entire stage to finish 3rd on the day behind stage winner T-Mobile's Serguei Gonchar.  More importantly, though, was his time gain of 1:29 over Pereiro to ensure him a buffer of 59 seconds heading into the final day in Paris.  Barring any injuries or mechanical incidents, today should see him crowned the new champion of the Tour de France.
The day completed an incredible comeback for Landis, who only three days ago was 8 minutes behind the lead after a disastrous stage to La Toussuire.  However, his epic ride to Morzine changed everything as he recovered almost all of his time lost despite a desperate peloton's efforts.  The ride has drawn comparisons to the great Eddy Merckx and has already entered the pantheon of the all time individual efforts of the Tour de France.  This afternoon, he will enter Paris as the new king of cycling, joining Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond as the only ever American winners of the Tour.
T-Mobile also had a great day out, finishing with Gonchar first, who rather unexpectedly won both long individual time trials in this Tour, and their team captain Andreas Kloden second.  Kloden's second place ensured that he moved up one spot in general classification to third and onto the podium ahead of a disappointing Carlos Sastre of Team CSC.  Although Sastre's result (20th) was consistent with his first time trial's performance (18th), he was unable to rise to the occasion despite only being 12 seconds behind the overall lead.  He ended up losing a massive 4:01 to Kloden to fall down to fourth place on GC.  T-Mobile also managed to wrap up their victory in the team classification ahead of Team CSC.
Today's stage into Paris is traditionally a ceremonial affair, so the GC should remain the same.  With all the major competitions wrapped up, the peloton should be in a celebratory mood until they reach the Champs d'Elysees.  Then, expect fireworks, as riders get excited at being so close to the finish line of the Tour.  Will it be a traditional bunch sprint, or will an opportunistic rider steal the stage like Alexandre Vinokourov did last year? 
One thing is for sure, it will be exciting!

- Chris, cyclingfans.com columnist