With only one day left in the 2006 Tour De France, the future of the race was still far from decided. America's Floyd Landis was leading, with Spain's Ócar Pereiro only 59 seconds behind. Could he keep up the pace and close that gap?
Stage 20 - 154.5km Sceaux Antony to Paris Champs-Élysées
The last day of the Tour de France almost always has the same theme. After coming up to the outskirts of Paris by train after Saturday's time trial, the riders have a tour of the outskirts of Paris before arriving on the Champs-Élysées and completing a number of laps of a circuit around the avenues of central Paris and the Place de la Concorde.
At the start of the stage, it was all smiles and jokes, with champagne being quaffed throughout the peloton. The race wasn't going to heat up until it reached the Champs-Élysées. As they entered the circuit, the bunch let Viatceslav Ekimov, possibly in his last Tour de France, ride off the front to take the applause of the crowd. Then the race got busy.
The finish on the final stage is the one that all sprinters want to win. The previous year, they had been disappointed as the ever unpredictable Alexandre Vinokourov stole the stage from the sprinters. The only thing certain about the stage this year was that the Kazakh was not going to win again, since his entire team had been withdrawn due to doping allegations. The finishing circuit itself has not changed for many years. The riders climb the Champs-Élysées1 up to the Étoile2, then back round the other side, down and around the Place de la Concorde and the Rue de Rivoli. Both the British riders were looking to make a mark on the stage. Wiggins was hoping to use his world-beating ability over short distances to make a dash for it at the closing end of the stage. Millar had featured in breakaways on most of his past visits to Paris and was aiming to appear again.
Millar did join a break of 15 riders who had at one point constructed a gap of 40 seconds over the main field. Since most teams had riders in the break, there were few riders willing to chase. The disorganised group contrasted with the commitment of the lead riders and it seemed that a rare non-bunch finish would be the order of the day. Finally the chase firmed up, led by the Cofidis team. As a team domestic in the service of team sprinter Jimmy Casper, Bradley Wiggins was made to give up his hopes of a stage win in order to pull the race together. The chase was having an effect, with some of the riders in the break attacking off the front again, trying to use their last reserves of energy to get the win. One advantage that single riders and small groups have is that they can stick to the gutter. The paved gutter is much smoother than the cobbles on the rest of the Champs-Élysées.
The race was pulled together but there was no semblance of order in the field. Moving at high speeds, a missed pedal or a tap on the brakes could send a rider dropping back dozens of places. There was attack after attack; the final attack, within the last kilometre, saw Ekimov hit the front in a vain attempt to get George Hincapie clear. A decade or so ago, the Russian could have ridden off the front with a kilometre or so left and nobody would have caught him; however, after 20 years at the top of the sport and hundreds of thousands of miles in his legs, he no longer had the speed that he was famous for. This attack disrupted the lead-outs of the main sprinters. Robbie McEwen was isolated at the front so he started his sprint too early, and much like he'd done to Boonen in the early stages, he was passed on the line. The winner of the final stage was the winner of the prologue, Thor Hushovd. This was a rare double, and an even rarer bit of symmetry in this, the strangest Tour.
Landis cruised in behind to take his first win, following in the illustrious tyre-tracks of his countrymen Lance Armstrong and Greg Lemond.
The Final Top Ten read as follows:
- Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 89 hours 39 minutes 30 seconds
- Ócar Pereiro (Sp) Caisse d'Épargne at 57 seconds
- Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile at 1:29
- Carlos Sastre (Sp) Team CSC at 3:13
- Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon at 5:08
- Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 7:06
- Cyril Dessel (Fr) AG2R at 8:41
- Christophe Moreau (Fr) AG2R at 9:37
- Haimar Zubeldia (Sp) Euskaltel at 12:05
- Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile at 15:07
With his two major rivals failing to conquer the Alps, Robbie McEwen was dominant in the green jersey competition. Landis's results in the time trials and mountain stages meant that he broke into the top ten in the competition.
- Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon 288 pts
- Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram 199
- Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole 195
- Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Française des Jeux 176
- Luca Paolini (It) Liquigas 174
- Inaki Isasi (Sp) Euskaltel 130
- Francisco Ventoso (Sp) Saunier Duval 128
- Cristian Moreni (It) Cofidis 116
- Jimmy Casper (Fr) Cofidis 98
- Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 98
Michael Rasmussen won his polka-dot jersey for his epic ride on stage 16. He won enough points the next day to secure it but not before Landis had piled on the points to get second in that competition. David De La Fuente won many admirers by trying to defend in the big mountains the jersey he had taken on the small hills.
- Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 166 pts
- Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 131
- David De La Fuente (Sp) Saunier Duval 113
- Carlos Sastre (Sp) Team CSC 99
- Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 96
- Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 93
- Damiano Cunego (It) Lampre 80
- Cyril Dessel (Fr) AG2R 72
- Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 66
- Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile 64
There are not a lot of riders under 24 who raced on the Tour and so it was rather odd that the battle for the white jersey was the closest of the Tour. Damiano Cunego put in an amazing time trial to snatch it from Marcus Fothen by 38 seconds. The next rider was almost 90 minutes further back.
- Damiano Cunego (It) Lampre 89hrs 58mins 49secs
- Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner at 38secs
- Matthieu Sprick (Fr) Bouygues Telecom at 1:29'12"
- David De La Fuente (Sp) Saunier Duval at 1:36'00"
- Moises Duenas Nevado (Sp) AG2R at 1:48'40"
- Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Française des Jeux at 1:52'54"
- Francisco Ventoso (Sp) Saunier Duval at 2:22'03"
- Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank at 2:32'41"
- Benoit Vaugrenard (Fr) Française des Jeux at 2:33'12"
- Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank at 2:36'44"
The Team Competition is based on the cumulative times of the top three riders in each team on each stage. With good performances in the mountains and on the time trials, T-Mobile won this fairly easily.
- T-Mobile 269hrs 08mins 46secs
- Team CSC at 17 minutes four seconds
- Rabobank 23'26"
- AG2R Prevoyance 33'19"
- Caisse d'Épargne Illes Balears 56'53"
- Lampre-Fondital 57'37"
- Gerolsteiner 1:45'25"
- Discovery Channel 2:19'17"
- Euskaltel 2:26'38"
- Phonak Hearing Systems 2:49'06"
At first glance it looked like Floyd Landis's gutsy ride through the Alps when he'd been written off had won him the Tour de France, but was that really all there was to it? How was he allowed to win?
Where Klöden Lost the Tour
Andreas Klöden only really lost time to Landis on three stages. The first was on the first time trial where he lost 42 seconds. This ride against the clock was almost cancelled out by the 30 seconds that Klöden took back in the final time trial. The two killers were in the mountains. If Klöden had held onto the wheel of Landis on stage 11 he would not havelost 1:31 and could have won the tour by a whole two seconds.
(Of course, if Klöden had not lost that time, many other things could have happened. Landis might not have claimed the two bonuses for finishing with a third place and a stage win, Landis might have attacked Klöden on another day, Klöden might not have given the yellow jersey away to Pereiro.)
Obviously the biggest mistake that Klöden and T-Mobile made was letting Landis ride away on stage 17. No matter how good the break was, it could have easily been stopped or at least the damage massively reduced by chasing early. The question is who decided not to chase? One would like to hope that when a rider saw one of his rivals riding back into the race he would give chase, so the decision could well have been taken by team management. Certainly having one of the T-Mobile riders shadow Landis for most of the day had little effect, and it could be argued that Patrik Sinkewitz would have been more use chasing Landis back. Did the T-Mobile management think that the team-mates of Sastre and Pereiro, who were higher up in the classification, should do the chasing? Possibly each team manager was thinking the same, so a giant game of chicken ensued, with Landis being the ultimate winner.
Klöden had a huge advantage over Landis with the strength of the T-Mobile squad over Phonak. When the race arrived at the final climb of a stage, there were often two or three riders accompanying Klöden while Landis was often alone. Klöden did not use this to his advantage at all. When T-Mobile tried to set the pace on stage 11 it proved too hot for Klöden. They might have been afraid of the same thing happening and so didn't try and put even more time between Klöden and Landis on stage 16.
While he got a place on the podium, it really was a case of what could have been. Klöden said that the team would have won the Tour if they had had Ullrich, and this was possibly the reason he didn't win: he did not believe that he should have been fighting for the win.
How Discovery Lost Their Tour
Discovery had a three-pronged plan; they were relying on the tactical brain of Paolo Savoldelli, the tenacity of George Hincapie and the potential of Yaroslav Popovych. Over the seven years of Armstrong's reign the team had effectively ruled the race. They chased who Lance wanted chased, they helped him up the mountains and were vital in winning the race. However, the way Armstrong commanded his team was just as vital to its success and nobody seemed to be able to do the same this year.
It was probably a mistake not to name a team leader, but nobody could have seen the problems that the team would suffer. Savoldelli retired and neither Hincapie nor Popovych were the forces they were touted to be.
How McEwen won his Tour
McEwen had two targets in the race. He wanted to win every flat road race stage and he wanted to win the green jersey. The more stages he won, the more points he would have towards the green jersey.
His task was made a whole lot easier by the withdrawal of Alessandro Petacchi, the latest Italian to make a claim on being the 'fastest man in the world', after an injury in the Giro. His list of rivals was looking rather short. Tom Boonen was the obvious rival, a rider at least as quick as McEwen with a team totally dedicated to getting him to the finish ahead of everybody. McEwen's team had two priorities; McEwen at the beginning, then helping Cadel Evans's bid for the overall title. This would cost McEwen in some stages as his own team were not willing to chase down his rivals.
Spanish sprinters are a rare breed, and with three World Championships, Ócar Freire was one to be reckoned with. His Rabobank team lost Erik Dekker, a breakaway specialist, early in the Tour and so Freire was their best chance of stage wins until the mountains. In years gone by, Rabobank and its previous incarnations under other trade names were full of flat race specialists and could always be relied on for some wins.
McEwen's other competition looked like the previous winners of the green jersey. This included his countryman Stuart O'Grady, not as quick as the other sprinters but very good at being near the front when needs be. Thor Hushovd won the 2005 green jersey without winning a stage and was arguably a little bit short on speed compared with the major contenders. Erik Zabel had seen it all and won it all before. However, his heyday was many years ago and he had lost a lot of his speed. Zabel did have one thing in his favour, the Milram team. Milram were built as a team with one aim, to make sure Petacchi got to the finish first. With the Italian out of the competition, Zabel got the best lead-out boys in the business.
In the end McEwen won his stages by brilliant tactics. His lead-out man got him to the right position and let him fly, and three times it worked. Boonen on the other hand was having a nightmare, being set free and made to sprint from too far out time and again. McEwen is an elusive rider. He will stay safe in the pack, unseen by camera for all but the last couple of kilometres, then he will slip up the field, almost unnoticed until he appears in the last 100 metres and normally crosses in the first three. His ability to stay out of trouble and not expend unnecessary energy meant that when his rivals faltered and retired in the mountains, McEwen just rode onwards and upwards.
How the Brits conquered their Tour
While neither Brit achieved their stated aims of stage wins, it was a remarkable achievement for both to finish.
It was Bradley Wiggins's first three-week tour. For a man who trained most his life to ride hard for four kilometres, he did well to cope with the longer distances. Added to the pressure of riding his first Tour was the pain that comes with being dropped time and again on the stages and having to ride in alone. Time and again he rode on. By the time he finished the Tour, Wiggins had been in the saddle for 200 more minutes than Landis.
For Millar it was a different challenge. Riding clean, and actually trying to enjoy the sport again, he found a new love for cycling and enthusiasm for the rest of the season. Most experts said that it was not possible to ride the Tour De France having not raced a single mile in the previous two years. Somehow Millar proved everybody wrong. While he was not up to the same level as he had been pre-ban, he had a number of decent results and looked like he was eyeing up a proper challenge for 2007.
Thor Hushovd's wins were not the only moment of symmetry in the 2006 Tour. The Tour started under the shadow of doping scandals, and just days after it ended, there were more accusations flying about.
How Floyd Landis lost the Tour
With the winner of the 2005 Tour of Spain found to be a drugs cheat and the winners of the 2006 Tours of Italy and Switzerland under investigation, the last thing the sport of cycling needed was another scandal. So guess what the reaction was when it became clear that Floyd Landis had failed a drugs test?
The test was taken after stage 17, Landis's epic ride back into contention. It showed that Landis had abnormal levels of testosterone. The test measured the ratio of testosterone in the body to its naturally occurring shadow epitestosterone. Increased levels of the sex hormone make the person more aggressive and able to undertake harder physical exertions. Various explanations were dealt out by Landis, his lawyers and his representatives.
One of the main ones was that Landis naturally generated a lot of testosterone. Many experts pointed out that as well as random checks, the top finishers on every stage and the top riders overall are tested every day as a matter of routine. Given that Landis held the yellow jersey a number of times over the three weeks and had some good finishes in the time trials and the mountains, he was tested a lot over the course of the Tour. In none of the tests before stage 17 or afterwards did he test positive. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that he had taken something that altered his levels of testosterone for one stage. The question is why do it? Raised testosterone is one of the easiest thing to spot in a urine test and he was definitely going to be tested.
However, if people understood why people want to cheat their rivals and their fans, then perhaps they could stop the cheats.
By mid-August the Phonak team folded. Phonak, the sponsors, did not want to be associated with the squad anymore and nobody wanted to step in and take over. Although some of the potential sponsors were turned off the sport by the events before the Tour, most were turned off by Floyd Landis's drug tests. The loss of interest in the sport was not confined to the former Phonak team. The German television channel that covered the race said that they wanted nothing more to do with the sport.
How Klöden lost the Tour, Part Two
With Landis's positive test, the results should read Pereiro first and Klöden second. This leads to the question of how Pereiro, a man who lost vast tracts of time in the first set of mountains, was able to gain back enough time to win? The answer was simple; everybody underestimated the Spaniard. Having two top ten finishes in the Tour is normally enough to be considered a potential threat, but it seemed that the big teams ignored him. The other reasons that his break was allowed to escape were that most teams had a rider in that break and Phonak wanted to give up the yellow jersey. All the other teams of the major contenders were looking at Phonak and each other to start a chase and nobody did.
Since Pereiro's team leader, Valverde, had retired early in the race, he had the backing of his whole team. Most people would have been betting on the Spaniard to lose another half hour in the Alps, but in the annals of the Tour de France it is often the case that the yellow jersey is more of a performance enhancement than EPO3 ever was. While he was dropped at the end of stages, he always kept himself just about in contention, Klöden never doing enough to break him completely.
Klöden knew that coming into stage 17 he had to attack on the last climb to give himself a chance of toppling Pereiro in the time trial. Landis's attack meant that Klöden was much more concerned with limiting his losses to the American than beating the Spaniard and he did not manage to drop him. Klöden's efforts in the Time Trial were almost matched by Pereiro's ride that would turn out to be a ride to victory.
By the time the 2006 Tour of Britain started in late August, Klöden had given in his notice to T-Mobile. He was not happy with the team tactics during the Tour de France. He started the Tour of Britain as the favourite, but abandoned it on the first stage.
A Worthy Winner?
Though it was unlikely he thought so at the time, Pereiro was the only rider who went out there every day to win the Tour de France. He fought to keep hold of his yellow jersey even when the odds were against him. Landis gave away the yellow jersey both voluntarily and involuntarily during the race, while Klöden was too conservative to make a decisive attack. Carlos Sastre was unrivalled in the mountains but was too limited against the clock to maintain his challenge.
In previous incarnations, Pereiro's Caisse d'Épargne team were sponsored by Reynolds and Banesto. In those days they picked up five Tour wins with Miguel Indurain and one with Pedro Delgardo. For the last ten years they have been looking for a successor. While it is doubtful that Pereiro will ever be in the same class as Indurain, his sheer effort and tenacity made him a worthy winner.
One year after the 2006 Tour started, the court of enquiry into Floyd Landis was still considering if Landis was really a cheat. The cycling world was shocked when it was revealed that Landis's manager had tried to blackmail Tour legend Greg Lemond into not giving evidence. As the 2007 Tour started, nobody really knew who officially won the 2006 event. Not a situation for the sport to be proud of.