Stage 17 of this year’s Tour de France was
the stage of the decade (sorry Lance). Floyd Landis rewrote the quixotic script
once more, winning the stage and putting himself into favouritism with a 30
second deficit to make up in the stage 19 timetrial.

Cadel Evans went out of contention,
finally, and Andreas Kloden also fell out of contention for the win. Oscar Pereiro
leads Carlos Sastre by 12 seconds and Landis by 30 seconds. Kloden is at
2’29” and Evans is at 3’38” – they are long odds to get on the podium
from there.

Landis used his eight-minute deficit to go on
an epic breakaway, and one seasoned commentator astutely surmised his rivals misjudged
the length of the descents. Descents are difficult to pull back time on
breakaways and there was very little flat road in this stage.

Landis waited and launched his attack on the
first climb. He was allowed to get out to a nine-minute lead, with teams shadow-boxing
in the chase, hoping to dynamite the last climb for their team leader.

Breakaway chases are chaos theory in practice.
Without any collaboration in the chase the maillot jaune’s team just did not
have the manpower to keep Landis in check. Landis only gave up two minutes on
that climb before extending it on the final descent, a skill legacy of his
mountain-bike days.

Landis is the most accomplished timetrialler
at the top of the field, so the 56 kilometre timetrial on Saturday should see
him ride into yellow. Sastre is also a very competent timetrialler, albeit a lightweight
climber without the power of Landis. He should be able to mitigate his losses
to Landis, but 18 seconds seems optimistic.

Saturday’s 56 kilometre timetrial over
rolling terrain will take between 70 and 80 minutes, so there will be big time
gaps. Most riders will save their legs, and only the top ten riders have an
incentive to ride themselves into the Gallic tar.

It suggests the first Tour AL (After Lance)
is set for a cracking finish.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey