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A look ahead: On record pace

With just three days remaining in the centennial Tour de France, Lance Armstrong has covered the 3023km to date at the highest average speed in race history. The current 40.478 kph (25.151 mph) is significantly faster than the record 40.273 kph set by Armstrong in 1999. And with two flat stages and a time trial to come, all of which will be raced at closer to 50 kph than 40 kph, the record is certain to be broken. One reason for the ultra-fast Tour has been the willingness of riders to attack from the start virtually every day — even in the mountain stages. On Thursday, for instance the

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By John Wilcockson

On track for a record-setting Tour

On track for a record-setting Tour

Photo: Graham Watson

With just three days remaining in the centennial Tour de France, Lance Armstrong has covered the 3023km to date at the highest average speed in race history. The current 40.478 kph (25.151 mph) is significantly faster than the record 40.273 kph set by Armstrong in 1999. And with two flat stages and a time trial to come, all of which will be raced at closer to 50 kph than 40 kph, the record is certain to be broken.

One reason for the ultra-fast Tour has been the willingness of riders to attack from the start virtually every day — even in the mountain stages. On Thursday, for instance the riders had barely left the start area in Dax and done a brief loop around the city’s narrow streets before 10 riders from 10 different teams went clear.

It wasn’t a move that was certain to get away — even though green jersey leader Baden Cooke was happy to see it succeed. He had a teammate in the break, Frenchman Christophe Mengin, and so there was a chance of a stage win (though Mengin came in third). But to get established, the break had to race more than 50km in the first hour.

More important for Cooke was the fact that the 10 leaders would take all the points at the two intermediate sprints, along with the bulk of the points at the finish. Had the race come back together, and the final field sprint seen the same result — 1. McEwen, 2. Zabel, 3. Cooke — then the former Mercury team rider would have lost his green jersey.

Points for first, second and third on the stage are 35, 30 and 26; for 11th, 12th and 13th (the places they finally sprinted for) are 15, 14 and 13. So Cooke conceded only 2 points to McEwen instead of 9 points, and kept the points lead by 6 points over the defending champion.

It’s possible that the same scenario will happen on Friday’s stage 18 to St. Maixent-l’École. This is wine country, with the early kilometers through the Bordeaux vineyards, followed by the famed brandy town of Cognac halfway though the stage, and a finish not too far from the Muscadet-producing areas of the Loire.

With the Tour nearing its end, and with just a time trial and the Champs-Elysées stage to go, there are still 12 teams that haven’t won a stage. The 149 survivors’ legs may be tired, but their spirit is still willing. So we can again expect a flurry of attacks and another high average speed.