Friday, July 14, 2006
Landis in yellow
After Lance, does Floyd own the road to Paris?
by Pete Geyer

 Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer on Mont Ventoux, 2005 Dauphine Libere
 Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Levi Leipheimer (in yellow in rear) on Mont Ventoux, 2005 Dauphiné Libéré

Greg Lemond, the first American to win the Tour de France, won the 1989 edition of the race, his second of three overall victories, in a final day time trial from Versailles to Paris.  After three weeks of racing, Lemond had defeated Frenchman Laurent Fignon by just eight seconds.

American Floyd Landis of the Phonak team took over the race lead of the 2006 Tour on Thursday, by just eight seconds over Frenchman Cyril Dessel.

Landis won't likely win the Tour by just eight seconds, if he wins at all, and Dessel isn't considered a threat for overall victory.  But like Lemond and Fignon in 1989, Landis may yet find it difficult to keep the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.  In what many consider the greatest Tour ever, with Lemond and Fignon battling each other most of the race, Lemond took the yellow jersey first in the stage 5 individual time trial, a whopping 73km to Rennes, coincidentally the same city where Landis had the best time among the race favorites in the first big race against the clock this year.  Fignon took the jersey from Lemond on the stage 10 climb to Superbagnères, with the stage win going to Robert Millar of Great Britain.  Lemond took the jersey back in the 39km stage 15 time trial, a brutal climb to Orcières-Merlette, the stage win going to Steven Rooks of Holland.  But a rest day and two stages later saw Fignon taking the jersey from Lemond once again, on the stage to L'Alpe d'Huez, with Gert-Jan Theunisse of Holland taking the stage.  That set up the dramatic, final exchange of the jersey on the final day in Paris.  Fignon put on the yellow jersey nine times in that race, Lemond eight.  All that mattered was the last one.

So if Landis were to lose the yellow jersey, at least temporarily, to a rival in this Tour, who might that rival be and where might the jersey exchange take place?  Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) and Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) are the obvious choices.  Tuesday's stage to l'Alpe d'Huez is the first of three tough stages in the Alps.  We may see a man-to-man-to-man-to-man battle during those three stages.  Wednesday's stage to La Toussuire goes over the very same climbs as in a stage, won by Iban Mayo, of last month's Dauphiné Libéré.  Thursday's stage, though it doesn't finish on a climb, should be exciting and potentially very dramatic with the climb to the Hors Catégorie (beyond category) Col de Joux-Plane before a 12km descent into Morzine.  One exciting scenario, no doubt wishful thinking, would have several of these rivals all getting a day in yellow next week, particularly when you consider that at the moment only 16 seconds separate Menchov and Evans, with Sastre just 35 seconds behind Evans.  Andreas Kloden and Michael Rogers of T-Mobile Team, currently in 6th and 7th places, respectively, could potentially contribute to the battle, though they have appeared a notch below Landis, Menchov, Evans and Sastre.

When Lemond beat Fignon in 1989, it was one former Tour winner beating another.  This year, Landis, Menchov, Evans and Sastre also share something; none of them have ever won the Tour.  One of these four will likely stand on the top step of the podium in Paris.

Should Landis indeed lose his jersey next week to one of his rivals, as long as he can stay close he still has the final individual time trial to get it back.  Just like Lemond in 1989.

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