MACON, France -- After a leisurely ride Friday, one of the
most dramatic Tour de France editions in years reaches a crucial
stage Saturday -- the individual time trial.
The question on everyone's lips: Can American Floyd Landis
overcome a 30-second deficit and wrest the yellow jersey away from
race leader Oscar Pereiro of Spain?
The two men have traded the yellow jersey back and forth since
last Saturday. Now, the time trial likely will determine who will
wear the maillot jaune when it counts -- Sunday in Paris.
"I feel pretty good about my chances," Landis said after
Friday's mostly flat stage, in which the leading contenders rode
together, trying to recharge after three agonizing days in the
Saturday's race against the clock is a 35.4-mile ride that
snakes from Le Creusot to Montceau-les-Mines. It shouldn't take
riders, who will leave one by one in reverse order of the
standings, much more than an hour to complete.
The last three riders to go will be Landis, second-place
Spaniard Carlos Sastre, who's 12 seconds back, and Pereiro.
The course is about the same length as the Stage 7 time trial,
though a little more hilly. Landis finished second in that stage,
1:10 faster than Sastre and 1:40 ahead of Pereiro.
But extrapolations mean little in this year's Tour, which has
featured seven different riders in yellow -- one short of the
Wild, unpredictable finishes are replacing Lance Armstrong's era
Whereas Armstrong meticulously chipped away at his rivals,
30-year-old Landis has shown a flair for drama -- nearly cracking
one day, then coming back with a once-in-a-lifetime ride.
He became a fan favorite Thursday, winning the final Alpine
stage to slash his 8 minute, 8 second deficit to Pereiro to 30
seconds putting him back in contention.
Making it even more incredible is that Landis is riding with an
arthritic hip, an injury from a 2003 crash that he hopes to correct
with surgery this fall.
"The other day, when I saw Floyd (struggle) ... I can say in my
heart that I wasn't happy," said Pereiro, a former Phonak teammate
who calls Landis a friend. "Now I am."
"But it's clear that it's going to be harder for me to win the
Tour," he said, acknowledging that Landis is typically stronger in
"I'm going to push the limit."
What's it going to take for American Floyd Landis to win Saturday's all-important time trial in the Tour de France? With just 30 seconds separating Landis from overall leader Oscar Pereiro and second-place Carlos Sastre, the American needs to take care of business on five fronts, writes Andrew Hood. Story
LeMond vs. Fignon. Armstrong vs. Ullrich. Those are just two of the several great time-trial battles featured over the years in the Tour de France. Andrew Hood offers his insight. Story
Friday, he and the other top riders took it easy as Italy's
Matteo Tosatto won the 18th stage, outsprinting two other breakaway
riders at the end of the 122.4-mile ride from Morzine to Macon.
The Quickstep rider clocked 4 hours, 16 minutes, 15 seconds.
Pereiro, Landis and Sastre cruised in 8 minutes later.
Pereiro, of the Illes Balears squad, holds a thin 12-second lead
over Team CSC rider and fellow Spaniard Sastre.
But the Spaniards aren't even their teams' biggest stars.
Ivan Basso of Italy, the Team CSC leader, was disqualified on
the eve of the Tour, implicated in a Spanish doping investigation.
The star of Pereiro's team, Alejandro Valverde, crashed out in
Stage 3 with a broken right collarbone.
The doping probe -- and the absence of now-retired Armstrong --
have played havoc with fans' attempts to figure out the favorites
for the title. Going into the Alps on Tuesday, several cyclists
held out hope for the yellow jersey.
Thursday's final Alpine stage has narrowed the focus to Pereiro,
Sastre and Landis.
Even so, T-Mobile rider Andreas Kloeden of Germany, the 2004
Tour runner-up and a strong time-trial rider, has an outside shot
at the title, 2:29 behind Pereiro.
And for the first time in years, Sunday's finish in Paris could be a venue for last-ditch jockeying.
"It's not over yet," Landis said.