The Return of Floyd
What can you say about yesterday's stage? Absolutely phenomenal.
Floyd Landis, the man left for dead just 24 hours before, broke away from
the peloton with 127km to go and stormed his way to his first ever stage
victory in the Tour. More importantly, though, was the 5:40 he put
into Carlos Sastre and 7:08 he put into maillot jaune wearer Oscar Pereiro
and everyone else. Landis now sits in 3rd place on the general classification,
a mere 30 seconds behind Perreiro. With the final 57km time trial coming
on Saturday, Landis, the biggest favorite for that time trial, is suddenly
poised to claim final glory in Paris.
The stage started out like almost any other stage of the Tour, when 11 riders
in a breakaway went up the road. At the base of the Col des Saisies,
however, Landis put his men out on the front to whip up the pace. After
whittling the gap to the breakaway from 11 to 7 minutes in just 4km, Landis
decided to attack. Initially, a group containing Sastre, Andreas Kloden,
Michael Rogers, and Cadel Evans tried to stay with Landis, but Floyd was
having none of it. Accelerating again, he was simply too strong for
anyone to follow, with the rest of the riders retreating to the safety of
the peloton. By the top of the climb, Landis had put 3 minutes into
the peloton and surged on in pursuit of the breakaway. Landis eventually
caught and then passed the breakaway riders, building up a maximam advantage
of 9:06 over the peloton. Finally, CSC and T-Mobile began to lead a
desperate chase to the base of the Joux Plane, pulling Landis back to within
6 minutes. But that would be all that they would get as Floyd was a
man on a mission. Crossing the top of the Joux Plane 5 minutes ahead
of Sastre, Landis would gain an additional 30 seconds on the descent into
Morzine, pumping his fist emphatically as he crossed the line.
Landis will not be denied in this Tour; his ride was up there as one of the
greatest single performances in Tour history. And, given what had happened
during the previous stage, it was all the more incredible. Any other
rider would have thrown up the white flag, but Landis showed a determination
and tenaciousness that only true champions possess. As long as he does
not suffer any mechanical problems or injuries, he should go on to complete
the fairytale comeback in Saturday's time trial and take the golden fleece
onto the Champs d'Elysees. Then again, who knows? With 3 men
within 30 seconds of the lead, anything is possible. This Tour has
changed every single day, with the improbable becoming the possible.
Nothing is assumed at this point.
What a day, what a race, what a sport. This Tour, at risk of being
overshadowed by Operation Puerto, has developed into something out of a storybook.
One of the best Tours ever. What will happen next?
- Chris, cyclingfans.com columnist