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A look ahead to Stage 17: The longest stage

With five stages to go and with 10 teams still without a stage win, competition is again going to be fierce on Wednesday’s 239.5km jaunt from Pau to Revel, which is the longest stage of the 2005 Tour de France. As on virtually every other road stage to date, expect attacks right from the start until the right combination of riders and teams is together. On Tuesday, the first substantial move by 13 men didn’t work because Discovery Channel’s Yaroslav Popovych was in the mix. The next, from 11 riders, also seemed a little suspect because then 12th-placed Cadel Evans slipped into the break. In

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By John Wilcockson

With five stages to go and with 10 teams still without a stage win, competition is again going to be fierce on Wednesday’s 239.5km jaunt from Pau to Revel, which is the longest stage of the 2005 Tour de France. As on virtually every other road stage to date, expect attacks right from the start until the right combination of riders and teams is together.

On Tuesday, the first substantial move by 13 men didn’t work because Discovery Channel’s Yaroslav Popovych was in the mix. The next, from 11 riders, also seemed a little suspect because then 12th-placed Cadel Evans slipped into the break. In fact, the other 10 men working hard to establish a gap asked Evans to drop back so they would have a better chance of succeeding.

The Aussie however said that his teammate Fred Rodriguez would help to establish the breakaway on the flats and he would keep the pace steady on the first couple of climbs and see how things went. Because Evans started the day almost 13 minutes behind race leader Armstrong, the break was allowed to develop a “catchable” six-minute gap — that was cut to three minutes after some spectacular in fighting among the GC leaders on the ultra-steep Col de Marie-Blanque.

The tactical nuances were justified when Evans dropped the rest of the break on the hors-cat Col d’Aubisque, and the stage was won by Phonak’s Oscar Pereiro, who bridged with a spectacular solo move that began on the Marie-Blanque and lasted until he caught Evans on the descent of the Col du Soulor 60km from the finish.

With Phonak now in the “win” column, expect the remaining 10 teams in the “blank” column to fuel the attacks on Wednesday marathon stage on rolling terrain across the south of France. The last two times that a stage has finished in Revel, two men have arrived together after a long breakaway to contest the finishing sprint. In 1995, it was Sergej Uchakov who outthought a youthful Lance Armstrong, while in 2000, on an almost identical course as this year’s, Erik Dekker got the better of Santiago Botero.

The key to victory could be the closing 12km loop at Revel that includes the Cat. 3 St. Ferréol climb 7km from the finish line. Should a break of say a dozen riders be in the picture, perhaps two of them will use the hill as a springboard to victory. The most likely winners are Bouygues Télécom’s Thomas Voeckler, Lampre-Caffita’s Salvatore Commesso or Crédit Agricole’s Patrice Halgand.