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July 23, 2006

Stage 20 on the road

For the first and only time this Tour, OLN's “Pre-Race Coverage” actually starts before today's stage. There are two 4th-Category “climbs” on the day, but they'll have no impact on the climber's jersey race, which will be won by Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen. Similarly, there are two intermediate sprint lines and bonus points at the stage finish, but they'll have no impact on the sprinter's jersey race, to be won for a 3rd time by Davitamon-Lotto's Robbie McEwen. French champion Florent Brard of Caisse d'Epargne couldn't start this morning after breaking his hand during yesterday's time trial. Robbie Hunter of Phonak also doesn't start, as he finished outside the time limit yesterday. That means 139 riders start Stage 19. Landis sips champagne in yellowAs retiring Tour director Jean-Marie LeBlanc signals the end of the neutral zone, Landis and Pereiro ride side-by-side. White jersey Damiano Cunego rides just behind, next to Viatcheslav Ekimov, today finishing his 15th Tour de France. Fifteen starts, fifteen finishes. Robbie McEwen in the green jersey rides at the field's left front with Michael Rasmussen. Photos all around, as riders and the journalists get photos of all the jersey leaders. Landis poses with the obligatory flute of champagne, Phonak poses stretched across the road in front of the field, and riders chat peacefully in the peloton. The 4 jerseysWith 110 kilometers to ride, Michael Rasmussen comes to the head of the Phonak parade, and leads the field over the day's first little climb, to increase his polka-dot jersey lead. He's got 166 points, while Landis teammates Moerenhout and Grabsch are 2nd and 3rd. Some idiot is standing in the middle of the road; the riders smoothly split and go around, but that's the sort of thing that can quickly change the face of the Tour. At the second 4th-Category climb, it's Victor Hugo Peña of Phonak ahead of CSC's Fränk Schleck and Caisse d'Epargne's David Arroyo. With that, the climbing competition is over: Rasmussen 166, Landis 131, David de la Fuente 113. As they approach the first sprint line of the day, Robbie McEwen rides out of the pack on teammate and lanterne rouge Wim Vansevenant's wheel. As they near the line, McEwen pulls alongside, and pushes Vansevenant across the line first. Then McEwen, then Victor Hugo Peña, leading the peloton at the head of the Phonak team. Vansevenant picks up 6 bonus seconds, narrowing the battle for the last-placed rider: he's now only 10 seconds behind Jimmy Caspar of Cofidis. The pace is picking up, and Phonak is leading the peloton to the Champs-Elysees for the 1st circuit. Discovery Channel's Viatcheslav Ekimov comes to the front and leads the field to the Place de la Concorde, in recognition of his 15th Tour finish. He's ridden 36,000 miles in the Tour alone. Eki goes back into the field, and quickly we have our first attack; Bouyges Telecom's Walter Beneteau, pursued by Carlos da Cruz, and quickly absorbed. Next it's a Euskaltel, Aitor Hernandez, and he's got 50 meters. Hernandez leads at the close of the first lap, and is captured. Commesso is off the front with a Saunier Duval, David Millar, who is right in the gutter, 4 inches from the curb. They can't get a good gap and are recaptured. Cunego has flatted! He's off the back. If he loses 36 seconds, he'll lose the white jersey, and he's soloing back. Landis on the Champs-ElyseesJens Voigt has attacked off the front, with Fabian Wegmann and Mikel Astarloza; Wegmann leads Astaloza and Voigt over the sprint line. They're caught, but not by the peloton, by about 5 other riders. If they form a group, It's a strong one. Horner is hear, a Discovery -- looks like Popovych -- is here, Johann van Summeren is here. Horner and Van Summeren are disrupting the break as well as they can. Philippe Gilbert, Garcia-Acosta, Reuben Lobato, Christian Knees, are there. Bothcarov, Albasini, and Da Cruz are chasing to the escapees. Cunego is back on the rear of the peloton. Liquigas and Cofidis have missed the move, and they're powering hard at the front of the field, 20 seconds behind the 15-rider break. It was as much as 40 seconds. Gilbert attacks out of the escape, and Chris Horner jumps onto his wheel. They now lead the other escapees by 50+ meters. They're reintegrated. Gerolsteiner's Sebastian Lang flats with 3 laps to ride, and it takes a long time to get a wheel change. Six riders Millar, Astarloza, Chris Horner, Christophe Mengin, Vincente Garcia-Acosta and David Millar lead the race, but are only 9 seconds ahead of the peloton. The rest of that break are back in the field. Padrnos is in a 5-man group chasing, and it's been gobbled by the Liquigas and Cofidis-led pack. As they come through the flamme rouge for 2 laps to go, Astarloza raises the pace, and his breakmates match it, but the field is breathing down their neck. They're captured. Landis is right at the front as they take a 180-degree turn. Française des Jeux leads the pack, and now Davitamon-Lotto comes forward. Discovery is coming up the right side of the pack en masse as they come to the beginning of the final lap of the day. Gonzales of Agritubel is gone up the left side; 1 lap, 6.8 kilometers, less than 4 miles to race. Three DVL riders, a QuickStep and an FDJ push the pace at the front, and Gonzales is reabsorbed. Jens Voigt takes a little dig, but nothing doing. With a half-lap, Flecha tries to go, gets 5 meters, and here comes Ekimov! He's riding them off his wheel. Schleck is behind him; Hincapie and Popovych are just behind. Hincapie and Popovych are off the front! Popovych goes super hard. He's countered by a Liquigas and Calzati. Popovych drops off and the sprinters are coming forward, with 400 meters to go. Zabel follows McEwen, Hushovd goes hard , and Thor Hushovd takes the Prologue and the final stage of the 2006 Tour de France! Incredible sprint by Hushovd, getting maybe 5 meters on McEwen, who takes the green jersey. Floyd Landis finishes safely in the field, and completed his amazing 2006 Tour victory.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 23, 2006 in Fabian Wegmann, Floyd Landis, Thor Hushovd, Tour de France 2006 | Permalink

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