July 14, 2006
Stage 12 on the road
Phonak's Floyd Landis is rolling in yellow today, unveiling a yellow and black BMC frame, contrasting with the rest of his team's red and black.
Discovery Channel has been very active in the day's probing breaks, with George Hincapie getting in a 15-man break that included 7 other previous stage winners. Davitamon-Lotto shut that break down, since it included Daniele Bennati, who could pose a threat to Robbie McEwen's green jersey.
As that group was caught, Discovery's Yaroslav Popovych, Rabobank's Oscar Freire, Lampre's Alessandro Ballan, and Credit Agricole's Christophe Le Mevel attacked, and Phonak took over the chase. Popovych is 9 minutes back, the best placed rider in the break. Freire will be looking for green jersey points, while Le Mevel will want the stage win on Bastille Day.
Some more bad news for Discovery Channel: Paolo Savoldelli abandoned at 43 kilometers into the stage, followed a few kilometers later by Benjamin Noval. Agritubel's Jose Martinez and Caisse d'Epargne's Isaac Galvez have also abandoned.
With about 65 kilometers left to ride, the four-man break has 3:50 on the peloton.
With about 50 kilometers to ride, the gap is 4:15, and the breakaway approaches the final sprint line. Freire leads Ballan, Le Mevel, and Popovych over the line, to move up one point behind Tom Boonen in 3rd in the green jersey competition.
With 20 miles/31 kilometers to ride, the gap is still 4:25. Milram is helping Phonak at the front.
The 4-man break is going to stay away. Freire and Ballan are good sprinters. Popovych is a level below that; look for him to try to launch late. And Le Mevel? I think he'll be hoping for strategic tacks in the road; I don't see him taking this stage.
At 20 kilometers to ride, they have 4:40, and are working very well together. Eight Phonaks are on the front of the peloton.
With 7 kilometers to ride, Popovych blisters the break, launching a strong attack. Freire goes all-out to catch back on, and Ballan comes across, but Le Mevel is done.
Now Freire probes them, then Popovych attacks again, but he only gets 20 meters. Popovych goes again, but then softpedals. And again from the back, and he's got 30 meters, as they go through the 3 kilometer arch. Ballan has had to chase Popovych every time, and he's now hesitant to tow Freire up.
Popovych has got 15 seconds now, with 2 kilometers to go. Freire and Ballan are chatting side-by-side. They're not going to bring him back like that.
Popovych is in the town square, in sight of the line. He looks back, sees he's clear. Shifts up, zips the jersey, crosses himself 3 times, and takes the victory! Ballan is sitting on Freire's wheel; Le Mevel is coming back up. Freire doesn't contest 2nd, so it's Popovych, Ballan, Freire, Le Mevel.
Now we'll see how Popovych moves up; the pack is coming into the final straight. Zabel and Hushovd are up front; Boonen has a leadout, Bennati is up there, and here comes McEwen...It's Boonen for the 5th-place field sprint, at about 4:30.