Top 10 moments from 2006 Tour de France
PARIS -- It was one of the most unpredictable Tours in recent memory. There were ups and downs, crashes and comebacks. Here are our top 10 moments from the 2006 race:
1. Morzine, Stage 17
Many are calling this stage one of the classics of all time. Less than 18 hours after Floyd Landis lost the yellow jersey, a rumor started circulating through the peloton that the upstart American was going to go on a desperate, race-busting solo breakaway. Weary riders begged him not to do it, but he just laughed and told them to drink a Coke because he was going to attack on the day's first climb. By the time the favorites organized a chase late in the five-climb march across the Alps, it was too late. Landis held a six-minute gap over the punishing Joux-Plane climb and soared into Morzine to become America's ninth Tour stage winner. In one audacious attack, Landis jumped back into contention at just 30 seconds back. A legend was born.
2. La Toussuire, Stage 16
Landis looked like he was on cruise control until bonking in the Tour's hardest climbing stage. With a tortuous roller coaster stage over the towering Galibier and Croix-de-Fer climbs, Landis couldn't find a flat patch of road to give his overcooked legs a chance to recover. By the time the peloton hit the final 18-kilometer climb up La Toussuire, Landis suffered one of the worst collapses while wearing the yellow jersey in Tour history. His legs zapped of energy, his yellow jersey soaked in sweat and his ashen face slumped over the handlebars, it looked like his chances of winning the Tour were disappearing up the road. He lost 10 minutes and tumbled out of first to 11th. Rivals and pundits alike wrote him off.
3. Tour decapitation
The craziest Tour in a generation started out ominously with nine riders from four teams being told the day before the opening prologue they couldn't start after being implicated in a blood doping investigation in Spain. Among the banned riders were 1997 Tour champ Jan Ullrich and 2006 Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso. With Lance Armstrong retired, Alexandre Vinokourov's Astana team not able to field a full squad and Francisco Mancebo also banned, the top five from last year's Tour weren't in the race. Their absences made for a wild, out-of-control Tour with no dominant team stepping up to dictate the race.
4. Montceau-les-Mines, Stage 19
Oscar Pereiro started the stage with a 30-second head start on Landis, but it wasn't going to be enough despite a brave fight. Landis was the heavy favorite to jump back into the lead, but the so-called "race of truth" can always spring surprises. Unlike his first two time trials of this Tour, Landis rode without any mechanical problems and had just enough in the tank to get the job done. He finished third, but erased the deficit to Pereiro to seal overall victory.
5. Pla-de-Beret, Stage 11
Landis revealed that he wasn't going to do anything flashy in trying to become the third American to win the Tour. While Armstrong would attack with deadly flourish to suck the life out of his competition in the mountains, Landis chose a more conservative tactic. Instead of charging to victory, he chose to follow the moves of Denis Menchov and Levi Leipheimer and snuck into the yellow jersey thanks to finish line time bonuses. The stage also marked the end of yellow jersey dreams for George Hincapie, another American who was hoping to inherit the Tour throne vacated by Armstrong. Hincapie faded on the steep road into the Spanish Pyrenees and gave up hopes of winning the Tour.
6. Paris, Stage 20
The final-day celebration down the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées is one of the greatest spectacles in sport. There couldn't be a better setting to finish the world's greatest bike race. The Place de Concorde on one end and the Arc de Triomphe on the other. There was a slight twist on tradition, when Landis' Phonak team let respected veteran Viatcheslav Ekimov of rival Discovery Channel lead the way past the grandstands in what was his 15th Tour. The 40-year-old Russian is expected to retire at the end of this season. After goofing around early in the stage and posing for pictures, the peloton ramped it up for a final frenetic spring. Thor Hushovd, the blonde Norwegian who won the opening prologue, won the most prestigious stage for sprinters. Landis enjoyed his moment in the French soleil.
7. L'Alpe d'Huez, Stage 15
With 21 switchbacks and hundreds of thousands of beer-guzzling fans lining the route, the Alpe is the Tour's most famous climb. This year, it was the battle of the rising stars as Tour rookie Frank Schleck edged 2004 Giro d'Italia champion Damiano Cunego to become the first rider from Luxembourg to win there. Landis followed the wheel of the attacking Andreas Kloeden to ease back into the yellow jersey just a day before his meltdown on La Toussuire.
8. MontÚlimar, Stage 13
This otherwise innocuous transition stage between the Pyrenees and the Alps proved critical when race leader Landis' Phonak team let a two-man breakaway ride nearly 30 minutes ahead of the main pack. Jens Voigt won the stage, but Pereiro snuck into the yellow jersey. Landis thought the Spanish rider would fade in the Alps, but Pereiro had twice finished in the Tour's top 10. The strategy almost backfired as Pereiro fought to the end to keep his yellow jersey.
9. Strasbourg, Stage 1
Hincapie was the only rider to be part of all of Armstrong's historic seven straight Tour victories. The faithful lieutenant came to the 2006 Tour ready to step up as team leader and things started off well enough for the friendly New Yorker. He just missed winning the opening prologue and then grabbed the yellow jersey in Stage 1 using time bonuses. Nice guys sometimes finish first.
10. Valkenburg, Stage 3
A chaotic stage in the Tour's first week that served up the best of what the Tour can offer in the rolling, mostly flat transition stages ideally suited for the fast-twitch sprinters. The Tour route hit some of the same roads used during the Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege spring classics and came down to a thrilling charge up the Cauberg climb. German rider Matthias Kessler snagged a thrilling victory as the 2006 Tour was finding its legs.
Andrew Hood is a freelance writer based in Spain who has covered the Tour de France for ESPN.com since 1996.
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