Montluçon, July 27
Since a certain Greg LeMond took out Laurent Fignon in the final moments of the 1989 Tour, thus imitating Jan Janssen in 1968 and Jacques Anquetil in 1964, everyone demands that the Tour’s final time trial have some degree of drama. Yet this requirement is rarely well received; the Tour plays tricks in its own way, and that way may not necessarily be the way one expects! Besides, how can we demand suspense for the finale, given that a successful Tour de France assumes that the time spent in the mountains has revealed the best riders? And unless we envision that the Alpe d’Huez stage was a wash, and that Chamrousse, Bonascre, Pla d’Adet and Luz-Ardiden were nothing but trifles, one can’t imagine that the protagonists are today playing out the final victory, as if they were contesting a final sprint.
On the other hand, since this time-trial course is 61km long, the idea of a glorious last stand cannot be ruled out; the second or third rider in the overall standings sometimes takes his revenge on the race leader. This is how in 1998, Jan Ullrich, who faltered in the Alps, left Marco Pantani 2:35 back in the last time trial; and the year before, it was Abraham Olano who resurfaced, while Ullrich merely went through the motions, assured that he would triumph in Paris the next day. That said, the wearer of the yellow jersey cannot fail to notice that he has a big psychological advantage. That was the case with Lance Armstrong in both 1999 (at the expense of Alex Zülle) and last year (when he defeated Ullrich), and maybe he’ll put it to good use for a third prestigious finish.