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July 21, 2006

Stage 18 on the road

Stage 18 should be fairly quiet, but nothing in this Tour has gone to script.

Oscar Freire didn't take the start; David Lopez Garcia of Eukaltel abandoned during the stage. Freire was in 2nd in the green jersey competition.

Discovery Channel has been active today; Yaroslav Popovych attacked with Saunier Duval's David Millar, and took the first sprint of the day. Robbie McEwen actually launched a field sprint to take 3rd, or 2 points, at that sprint.

Liquigas chased the pair down, and at around 48 kilometers ridden, a 15-man escape went free, including:

Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer and Ronny Scholz, Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha, Discovery Channel's Egoi Martinez, Davitamon-Lotto's Mario Aerts, CSC's Dave Zabriskie, T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz, AG2R's Sylvain Calzati, QuickStep's Matteo Tosatto, Credit Agricole's Sebastian Hinault, Euskaltel's Inaki Isasi, Bouyges Telecom's Jerome Pineau, Française des Jeux's Benoit Vaugrenard, Cristian Moreni of Cofidis, and Manuel Quinziato of Liquigas.

On the day's first climb, the break went out to 4:00 ahead of the peloton, with Aerts, Zabriski, Hinault, and Calzati taking points on the 3rd-Category climb.

The pace has been very high this morning, averaging 48.4 kilometers/hour for the day's first 2 hours.

Saunier Duval on the frontWith 85 kilometers to ride, the gap is down to 3:15. Saunier Duval is doing the chasing.

Leipheimer is the best-placed rider in the break, and his group is now starting up the 2nd-Category Col du Berthiand, with a 3:21 gap. This climb looks like a springboard for an attack, but it's 68 kilometers from the finish.

Calzati paces the break over the top. It's mostly downhill from here, with a little 4th-Category climb in 9 kilometers on the way down to Mâcon.

LeipheimerCaisse d'Epargne is working at the front of the peloton. Florent Brard leads, with Oscar Pereiro a few places back. Phonak has a few riders up there as well, sheltering Landis. The peloton is over the Col du Berthiand, with a gap of 3:45.

Lepheimer leads the 15-rider break, intact, over the Cote de Chambod, with the peloton 3:10 behind. Saunier Duval still leads the field.

Calzati attacks the break. It's split the 15-man group. Martinez has bridged, Leipheimer comes up, and they've recaptured him. As they get him back, Inaki Isasi goes, and Leipheimer follows him up the road. Sinkewitz is trying to bridge, but the group isn't cooperating well. Jerome Pineau goes, and he's got a gap, but well behind Isasi and Leipheimer.

Pineau is recaptured, but Leipheimer and Isasi have 30 seconds on the 13-man chase group, and 4:03 on the peloton with 46 kilometers to ride.

Robbie McEwen sprints out of the field, ahead of the Saunier Duval's and waves his arms -- he's chasing the lead motorcyle out ahead of the group. He felt the lead moto was letting the Saunier Duvals creep up too close.

With less than 40 kilometers to ride, Leipheimer and Isasi maintain about 30 seconds on the break, and have almost 4:30 to the field.

The break is slowly bringing Leipheimer and Isasi back. Now Leipheimer lifts the pace, but Isasi matches him. The gap is 25 seconds to the break, and 5:10 to the field, with less than 30 kilometers to ride.

Leipheimer leads Isasi over the day's last intermediate sprint; the chase group comes through just 16 seconds later. They've got Leipheimer and Isasi in sight. The gap to the peloton keeps going out; it's 5:46 with 26 kilometers to ride.

The break has finally recaptured Leipheimer and Isasi, with 20 kilometers to ride and a 6:46 gap to the field.

After a brief detente, Ronny Scholz has shot out of the breakaway. Tosatto and Moreni are chasing, as Scholz passes through 15 kilometers to ride.

Tosatto and Moreni catch Scholz. The break is splintered; Flecha, Sinkewitz, Leipheimer, Pineau, and Quinziato are chasing together, with 7 riders a few seconds behind. The gap to the field is more than 8 minutes.

Now the 12 chasers reform, and spend a few seconds looking for motivation, before Hinault attacks, followed by Flecha. They're back together again. With 7 kilometers to go, Scholz, Tosatto, and Moreni have 36 seconds on the chase.

Can Moreni come around?Quinziato is trying to ride across, but the gap is 41 seconds. The rest of the break is looking for someone to chase, and nobody's stepping up. The 3 men up front still work together with 5 kilometers to ride.

With 3k to ride, it's 40 seconds out to Quinziato. Scholz sees he has a gap, and lifts the pace, but Tosatto rces back on. Now with 2 k to ride, Scholz again opens a gap, and Tosatto pulls Moreni back across. They're swinging from one side of the road to the other as they come to the flamme rouge, 1 kilometer to the line.

Tosatto celebratesScholz is 1st, then Tosatto, then Moreni. 300 meters to ride, and Tosatto picks it up, now Tosatto goes hard, and Moreni has his wheel, but Moreni can't come around, and Tosatto takes his first Tour de France stage win, and the first of the Tour for QuickStep. Quinziato is 4th at :49. Hinault takes the breakaway sprint at about 1:04 for 5th.

Here comes the field sprint for 16th, Française des Jeux's Bernhard Eisel leads Luca Paolini and Erik Zabel at the head of the peloton 8 full minutes behind Tosatto.

Here's a shot I took of Tosatto suffering up Lookout Mountain in April's Tour de Georgia time trial.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 21, 2006 in Dave Zabriskie, Levi Leipheimer | Permalink

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Comments

I love McEwen riding up to yell at the lead motorcycle. He's awesome.

Posted by: Dave at Jul 21, 2006 11:04:04 AM

Robbie "Napoleon Dynamite" McEwen, protecting his turf - that cracked me up.

Nice move by Leipheimer to get in the break - with the 7 minutes he gained on most of the other top-20 GCers, he's set himself up to crack the top 10 with a good time trial tomorrow. That would be a nice way of salvaging his Tour. Despite not getting any huge results from his efforts, Levi has shown a lot of guts and done some great attacking riding in the past week or so.

Man, am I looking forward to the TT tomorrow - what a way to finish this tour, which started with a yawn (mostly because of the less-than-imaginative first-half route planning) but then blew sky-high as soon as things hit the first mountains, and has not disappointed since. Go Floyd "Hipster" Landis!

Posted by: ewmayer at Jul 21, 2006 2:03:20 PM

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