Saturday, July 22, 2006

Tosatto's Day Out

Matteo Tosatto (Quick Step) won yesterday's 18th stage of the Tour de France to Macon.  Part of a 15 man breakaway earlier in the day, Tosatto and Christian Moreni counter-attacked Ronny Scholtz's move with 18 km to go, catching him to form a 3-man lead group to the finish.  Scholtz, the slowest of the three men in a sprint, inexplicably did most of the work in the final kilometers, including leading the other two riders out for the last kilometer.  With Scholtz's chances blown, Tosatto simply took advantage of the work done and outsprinted Moreni.
It was good redemption for the Quick Step team, who had not won a stage in the entire Tour despite having  World Champion sprinter Tom Boonen on their roster.  Boonen did get to wear the yellow jersey for four days, but never quite got his sprinting tactics right to win a stage.  Having abandoned during stage 15 to Alpe d'Huez, Boonen was left facing a second consecutive disappointing Tour after crashing out of the Tour last year (although he did win two stages last year).  However, his abandonment has freed up the responsibilities of the other riders on Quick Step to pursue their own individual goals.  Thus, Matteo Tosatto, normally one of Boonen's leadout men in a sprint, was able to get into a decisive breakaway and win on his own.  Quick Step will feel a lot better about themselves tonight by salvaging some glory in this Tour and winning a stage.
There was no change at all for the overall leadership of the Tour (shockingly).  The peloton cruised in 8 minutes behind Tosatto, more interested in conserving energy for Saturday's all-important time trial.  Everyone was still talking about Floyd Landis's amazing ride yesterday and whether or not he will be able to overhaul the two riders in front of him, Oscar Pereiro and Carlos Sastre, in the time trial.  57 kilometers is all that stands between one of them and their first Tour victory ever.
It's D-Day, the final day to create time gaps to win or lose the Tour de France.  Will it be the American spectacularly recovering from his apparent death in the mountains?  Will it be the diminuitive climber from Spain who came to this Tour with the objective of working for someone else while sacrificing his own chances?  Or will it be the man who was at one point 30 minutes down in the race?  The "race of truth" will decide. 
It will be exciting!  It will be dramatic!  It will be what the Tour de France has always been: the best race in the world.  Vive Le Tour!

- Chris, cyclingfans.com columnist