CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07
Stage 19 - July 28nd, Cognac to Angoulême, 55.5 km Individual Time Trial
Cognac needs little introduction as one of the most famous brandies in the world. Today the time trial passes through some of the vineyards that produce this illustrious drink. Like so many fine things in life, Cognac is the result of a long and meticulous process and the drink itself improves with age.
The 'Cognac still' produced another vintage Tour winner!
The Tour has much in common with the way Cognac is produced. Becoming a Tour winner is a long and very tough challenge. Tour winners ride into the great barrel of vintage Tour champions and their legends often improve with age!
Getting to the final TT in this Tour has been considerably more stormy than usual. But after the “great shake-out” which dispatched the cheaters from the race with little mercy, we were left with three worthy adversaries to fight for the final Yellow Jersey.
While some other rider may win the TT today, all eyes were riveted on current race leader Alberto Contador (Discovery), Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto) at 1m 50s and Levi Leipheimer (Discovery) at 2m 49s. Contador is a climber who can turn in a good TT. Evans is a powerful rider, strong on both the flat and in the hills but Leipheimer is the better time trialist of the three. The big question of the day is ‘can Contador' save his Yellow Jersey and if not can Leipheimer spring over both Evans and Contador?'
We have become accustomed in the past to witnessing two-man duels in the final Tour TT. Today's three way battle is almost unprecedented and for the Discovery team a dream with two certain podium finishers in the last big test.
Cadel Evans chases Contador [ Image ©: AP ]
Alberto Contador hammers to stay ahead [ Image ©: AP ]
At the first time check at 17.5kms the story started to unfold. Evans was closing in on Contador and had trimmed 24s from his GC deficit. However up the road ahead of Evans Levi was on fire and had produced the fastest time check of all and 14s faster than the Australian.
The sun was shining, a brisk wind was blowing and truly huge cheering crowds lined the roads. The Tour, and cycling in general, may have its scandals but the general public continues to support the Tour with incredible enthusiasm. The doomsayer's should take good note!
The next time check at 35kms saw Leipheimer take another 21s from Evans. He had now pulled back 35 of the 59 seconds advantage that Evans had at the beginning of the day. Meanwhile Contador was losing to the two raging time trialists and was 1m 29s slower than Levi and 1m 6s slower than Evans. It looked now as if Levi could in fact trounce both Contador and Evans. As for Evans his style started to betray tiredness. The final 20kms would make or break these guys.
Levi hit the line in 1hr 2m 44s (53.1kmph). Evans came home completely wasted in 1h 3m 35s, but he rode the last 5kms slightly faster than Levi. Only Contador was left on the road now and the clock ticked away ominously. He needed 1h 5m 25s to hang on to his Yellow Jersey. He did 1h 5m 2s!
Supreme Effort!!! [ Images ©: AFP ]
Levi won the day but not the Tour. Contador retained his jersey by just 23seconds from Evans who in turn managed to hold off Leipheimer by just 8 seconds. To seasoned Tour observers this tight spread is breathless after 3417kms of the hardest racing in the world.
All three riders rode a brilliant race and the end result is the closest spread of top three GC times (just 31 seconds) in Tour history. Yes, there are time bonus sprints on the final stage into Paris tomorrow but the Discovery team will be all over the Predictor Lotto boys controlling everything. Also, complicating the task for Evans, assuming that he thinks that he can still trounce Contador, is the matter of the Green Jersey. Tom Boonen and his Quick Step team need to control the race to make sure Tom is does not lose his jersey to Robbie Hunter or Erik Zabel.
In spite of everything that has happened in this Tour we have been rewarded with a memorable race worthy of Tour tradition. Amazingly after Lance Armstrong's seven year run his team has once again triumphed. Last year the team seemed to have lost its direction but once again Johan Bruyneel has got his troops back on track and displayed his brilliance as a team manager. The icing on the cake is that Bruyneel not only has two of the podium riders to celebrate but Discovery will most likely take the highly coveted team prize and the white jersey as well! Tres formidable!
How sweet it is!!! [ Image ©: AP ]
Tomorrow : Paris at last! Check back with CyclingRevealed for the “Final Impression”.
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