Final TT to settle overall struggle
By Andrew Hood
Matteo Tosatto collected Italy’s first victory of the 2006 Tour de France in a broiling transition stage over the Jura Mountains. There were no major shakeups in the overall as everyone is looking ahead to Saturday’s decisive final time trial.
The Quick Step-Innergetic rider out-shot compatriot Cristian Moreni (Cofidis) to win Friday’s 197km 18th stage, which ran from the cool heights of Morzine onto the sticking hot flats along the Saône, out of a 15-man breakaway that included Americans Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) and Dave Zabriskie (CSC).
“To be the first Italian to win this year is nice for me,” Tosatto said. “I usually work for others, so I had to take advantage of this situation because an opportunity like this only comes once in a lifetime at the Tour.”
Tosatto’s win gives Quick Step its first victory after world champion Tom Boonen abandoned the Tour without winning a stage despite a run in the yellow jersey.
The big Italian chugged away as part of the day’s main break, which pulled away about 50km into the undulating stage after an early breakaway attempt by Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) and David Millar (Saunier Duval) was reeled in.
Tosatto, Moreni and Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) pulled away from their fellow escapees with about 15km to go just after an earlier move involving Leipheimer and Iñaki Isasi (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was checked. The trio rolled in about one minute ahead of the break.
The win is big for the 32-year-old Tosatto, who has spent most of his career working for other sprinters such as Boonen and Alessandro Petacchi. Tosatto joined Quick Step this season after six years at Fassa Bortolo.
“I am a fast rider and I can win sprints in groups of 40 to 50 riders. I knew it would come down between me and Moreni,” Tosatto said. “I started the sprint and I didn’t make any mistakes. I’ve won some big races in my career, but this is by far the most important.”
Leipheimer, who earned the day’s most aggressive rider award for his attack, said he had hoped to take more riders with him when he went.
“I was hoping that there were going to be more than two of us when I attacked,” Leipheimer said. “It was a hard moment and a lot of riders didn’t look so good and there was still a little bit of climbing ahead. I thought it would be a good chance to make a split. I was hoping more would come with me, but they didn’t. At that point I thought, ‘Well, I’ll go for it.’”
Leipheimer was the best-placed rider in GC in the group and he moved up from 18th to 13th, but even he admitted he wasn’t thinking about that when he joined the group.
“I was just going for the stage win,” he said. “If I was thinking of the time trial, I wouldn’t have been in the breakaway today.”
Time trial will be a battle for it all
The main bunch was content to let head-bangers battle for the day’s prize with Saturday’s 57km TT looming. Austrian Bernard Eisel (Française des Jeux) led the peloton across the line at eight minutes back. Oscar Freire (Rabobank) didn’t start and David Garcia Lopez (Euskaltel) abandoned, leaving 141 riders in the peloton.
Pereiro was happy to cool his jets after fending off attacks for two hard days in the Alps. He’ll line up Saturday wearing the yellow jersey, 12 seconds ahead of Carlos Sastre (CSC) and 30 seconds up on Floyd Landis (Phonak).
“Tomorrow is the most important time trial of my life,” Pereiro said. “It’s obvious that Floyd is the favorite for victory. I have good options to finish on the podium, but maybe I can still win the Tour. It’s going to be complicated.”
After such a crazy Tour, most pundits have given up trying to predict what’s going to happen. Still, everyone is expecting Landis to be able to make up the time to the two Spaniards and become the third American to win the Tour.
Landis seemed cool when he considered what’s sure to be the most important day of his racing career.
“I am confident in my time trialing,” Landis said after the stage. “Today went fine. I was hoping a breakaway would go away. It took a while and some of the other teams rode at the front. It was a bit of a recovery day for me.”
Landis’ heroics the day before created a huge buzz at the Tour. Rivals and experts alike were in agreement that his attacking ride Thursday was one of the most epic demonstrations in cycling history. L’Equipe called it the “Ride of the Century.”
Landis handled all the attention with typical aplomb. He answered a few questions from journalists before disappearing after the stage. He’ll preview the course in the morning and then race for his place in history.
“I was strong yesterday. I did a bit of a time trial yesterday,” he said joking. “So it was a good warm-up.”
His calm public demeanor is in marked contrast with the ambition and desire burning within his frame. Maybe it was a charged-up fan who put it best, who yelled out as Landis slipped away.
“Give ‘em hell tomorrow, Floyd, give ‘em hell!”
If Landis’s performance so far in this Tour is any indication, that’s the one thing you can safely bet on.
1. Matteo Tosatto (I), Quick Step-Innergetic
2. Cristian Moreni (I), Cofidis, same time
3. Ronny Scholz (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:02
4. Manuel Quinziato (I), Liquigas-Bianchi, at 0:47
5. Sébastien Hinault (F), Crédit Agricole, at 1:03
6. Jérôme Pineau (F), Bouygues Telecom, s.t.
7. Sylvain Calzati (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, s.t.
8. Vaugrenard Benoít (F), Française des Jeux, s.t.
9. Inaki Isasi (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
10. Egoi Martinez (Sp), Discovery Channel, s.t.
11. Mario Aerts (B), Davitamon-Lotto, s.t.
12. Patrik Sinkewitz (G), T-Mobile, s.t.
13. Antonio Juan Antonio (Sp), Rabobank, s.t.
14. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Gerolsteiner, at 1:06
15. David Zabriskie (USA), CSC, at 2:25
1. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-I.B.
2. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC
3. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak
4. Andréas Klöden (G), T-Mobile
5. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto
6. Denis Menchov (Rus), Rabobank
7. Cyril Dessel (F), Ag2r Prevoyance
8. Christophe Moreau (F), Ag2r Prevoyance
9. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi
10. Michael Rogers (Aus), T-Mobile
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