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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems
Looking at the route of the 2004 Tour de France last fall, team directors and riders knew Stage 18 would be the last chance for opportunists to take a stage win. Covering small mountains and situated between the final big Alpine stage and the last individual time trial, today’s stage was tailor-made for a breakaway.
Once the composition of the breakaway was finalized, the six-man group rode away to fight for the stage win. Back in the peloton, there wasn’t much incentive to chase or race aggressively. T-Mobile wasn’t going to be able to attack and isolate Ivan Basso to gain time on him because CSC is a very strong team. Not to mention, U.S. Postal would also chase any move by T-Mobile, giving it even less of a chance of escaping. Likewise, Basso had little chance of getting away from T-Mobile to increase his margin over third and fourth places.
Even if T-Mobile or CSC could have changed the time gaps between their lead riders, it would have cost an enormous amount of energy to do so. Bjarne Riis would rather have his lead rider, Basso, as fresh as possible for tomorrow’s time trial.
Andreas Klöden has a good chance of overtaking Basso in the general classification in Stage 19, but an equally good chance of being steamrolled by his own teammate. Jan Ullrich is such a strong rider against the clock that taking four minutes out of Basso in 55 kilometers is actually possible. To do so, the former Time Trial World Champion needs to be 4.5 seconds faster than Basso every kilometer. To put that in perspective, if Basso managed to ride 50kph, Ullrich would have to ride 53.3kph to move ahead of him in the general classification.
With Ullrich likely setting a blistering pace ahead of him on the road, Lance Armstrong is going to need a very strong performance to win Stage 19. Even though the danger of losing eight minutes to Ullrich is miniscule, Armstrong wants to beat Ullrich tomorrow because he believes winning the final individual time trial of the Tour de France is a fitting way for the yellow jersey to confirm his position in the race.
Further down the leader board, the men in the bottom half of the top ten will be fighting to retain or improve upon their current positions. Levi Leipheimer stands a chance of moving up to eighth place, but even with a stellar ride, that’s about as far as he can move up. The Rabobank leader also has to watch out for Peitro Caucchioli, the Alessio-Bianchi leader just eight seconds behind him in tenth place. The other close race within the top ten might see Georg Totschnig overtake Francisco Mancebo for sixth place overall.