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July 29, 2007

Stage 20 on the road

It's the closest Tour de France final stage in history, with only 31 seconds between 1st and 3rd.

Discovery Channel's Alberto Contador is the golden boy, dressed in yellow and riding a yellow bike. Riding through the neutral zone, French national champion Christophe Moreau and the 4 jersey wearers (Contador, Tom Boonen in green, Mauricio Soler in polka-dots, and Amets Txurruka in white, where Contador and Soler lead the competition) go off the front of the field for pictures. Txurruka has also been named the most combative rider of the entire Tour.

VS. broadcaster picks:
Liggett: Boonen
Trautwig: Hushovd
Sherwen: Hunter
Roll: Contador

Sherwen has wrapped up the VS. competition.

We'll see whether Cadel Evans wants to contest today's stage. Levi Leipheimer won't attack his own teammate, and it's hard to see any way for him to make time on Evans without threatening Contador. CyclingNews.com yesterday reported on the possibility of a “spectacular” rider demonstration during the stage.

Should the gaps hold, we'll have the closest podium in Tour history. The current closest was in 1987, when Stephen Roche beat Pedro Delgado by :40 and Jean-François Bernard by 2:13. Also close was Greg Lemond's final win in 1990, where he beat Claudio Chiappucci by 2:16 with Erik Breukink at 2:29. (In 1989, when Lemond beat Fignon by :08, Delgado was 3rd at 3:34.)

We've got two 4th Category climbs before the first intermediate sprints, where those all important bonus seconds are on offer.

1st climb, Cote de Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse, 4th Category:
1) Gert Steegmans, Quick Step, +3 pts
2) Thomas Lovkvist, Française des Jeux, +2 pts
3) Frederick Willems, Liquigas, +1 pt

Gert Steegmans has launched a campaign to win the King of the Mountains jersey. Unfortunately, it looks as if Tom Boonen's big leadout man may have waited a bit too long.

2nd climb, a 4th Category:
1) Gert Steegmans, Quick Step, +3 pts
2) Michael Albasini, Liquigas, +2 pts
3) Yaroslav Popovych, Discovery Channel, +1 pt

And that does it for the KoM competition for the year. Just two intermediate sprints and the finish on the Champs-Elysees are left.

So, will he or won't he? The big question as the race approaches the Châtenay-Malabry intermediate sprint is whether Cadel Evans will be hunting for bonus seconds on the course. Discovery Channel puts 3 men at the front of the field, and Evans moves up near the front, while Quick Step, protecting the green jersey of Tom Boonen, has 4 men up front.

With a kilometer to the line, Quick Step's Carlos Barredo and Steven de Jongh ride off the front of the field to take the points (and therefore the bonus seconds) off the board. Française des Jeux's Lilian Jegou tries to bridge up, and as the line nears, he comes around the Quick Steps, who don't contest the sprint. Evans stays in the field. Looks like he's content with 2nd.

1st intermediate sprint:
1) Lilian Jegou, Française des Jeux, +6 pts/6 secs
2) Carlos Barredo, Quick Step, +4 pts/4 secs
3) Steven de Jongh, Quick Step, +2 pts/2 secs

Coming onto the Champs-Elysees, Discovery Channel moves to the front, and it's George Hincapie, who may switch teams in the off-season, who leads the field onto the finishing laps, ahead of the 8 surviving Discovery Channel riders.

Agritubel's Freddy Bichot launches the first real attack of the stage, quickly matched by Chris Horner. They're pulled back.

A big group gets away with 40 kilometers to ride. It's Caisse d'Epargne's José Ivan Gutierrez and Nicolas Portal, Rabobank's Juan Antonio Flecha, Milram's Christian Knees, AG2R's Simon Gerrans, Lampre's Alessandro Ballan, Liquigas' Maurilo Fischer, Credit Agricole's Anthony Charteau, Gerolsteiner's Ronny Scholz, and Française des Jeux's Mickael Delage. Flecha's a former stage winner, and Fischer a sprint specialist. Their gap quickly grows to around 30 seconds, and they take the points at the 2nd intermediate sprint.

2nd intermediate sprint:
1) Gerrans, AG2R, +6 pts/6 secs
2) Ballan, Lampre, +4 pts/4 secs
3) Portal, Caisse d'Epargne +2 pts/2 secs

Barloworld, looking to set up Robbie Hunter for a 2nd sprint stage win, moves to the front to bring the 10 men back, but to little effect, and with 3 laps to ride, the gap was out to :45.

Finally, Credit Agricole joined in the chase, and the lead started to fall. With 15 kms to ride, the gap was 30 seconds. With 9 kms/5.5 miles to ride, it was 18 seconds. With 7.5 kilometers to ride, Gutierrez attacked from the leaders group, matched by Flecha, avoiding the recapture of the 8 surviving members of the escape group, but they were quickly overtaken, and the field rode as one with 5.5 kilometers to the finish.

Lampre moved to the front, trying to set up Daniele Bennati for the win, and all the sprinters' teams started to try to set up their lead-outs. As they came back up out of the tunnel and onto the finishing straight with 250 meters to go, Lampre had a man at the front, Quick Step had a lead-out behind him, Robbie Hunter was set up ahead of Tom Boonen, and here we go! Hunter swings way to his right, Bennati is the man behind the Quick Step leadout, and he's got an unimpeded line, going hard, there comes Zabel, Huter's going hard, here comes Hushovd, where's Boonen, and it's Bennati taking the stage!

Bennati leads Hushovd then Zabel, Hunter and Boonen to take his 2nd stage win of the 2007 Tour.

Back in the field, there are no time gaps, no miracle attacks by Cadel Evans, and Discovery Channel's Alberto Contador has nailed down the overall victory in the Tour de France at 24!

Posted by Frank Steele on July 29, 2007 in 2007 Stage 20, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Daniele Bennati, George Hincapie, Tom Boonen | Permalink

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