Half way through the 2006 Tour De France and this was already a race to remember. Before the start it lost favourites Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso and Francisco Mancebo due to blood doping allegations, the same allegations that meant that the team of Kazakh favorite, Alexandre Vinokourov, had to be withdrawn. Within the first few days the Tour lost another possible race winner in Alejandro Valverde in a crash while Bobby Julich, a former podium placed rider also ended his participation injured in the gutter.
Of the remaining favourites, the Team Discovery trio of George Hincapie, Paolo Savoldelli and Yaroslav Popovych had struggled in the time trial and the Pyrenees. Levi Leipheimer of America had also lost large amounts of time. As the race left the first range of mountains, American Floyd Landis led the race by eight seconds from Frenchman Cyril Dessel. The overall top ten standings were as follows.
- Floyd Landis (USA/Phonak) 49 hours, 18 minutes and 7 seconds
- Cyril Dessel (Fra/AG2R) +8"
- Denis Menchov (Rus/Rabobank) +1:01"
- Cadel Evans (Aus/Davitamon-Lotto) +1:17"
- Carlos Sastre (Spa/Team CSC) +1:52"
- Andreas Klöden (Ger/T-Mobile) +2:29"
- Michael Rogers (Aus/T-Mobile) +3:22"
- Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa/Agritubel) +3:33"
- Christophe Moreau (Fra/AG2R) +3:44"
- Markus Fothen (Ger/Gerolsteiner) +4:17"
Meanwhile in the competition for the Green Jersey for most consistant finisher1, everything was falling apart for World Champion Tom Boonen. He constantly mistimed his sprints and had been beaten time and again by Spain's Oscar Freire and Australia's Robbie McEwen. McEwen held the Green Jersey.
For once the French were not having a bad tour, they had taken a stage win with Jimmy Casper and Cyril Dessel had held yellow after a long break on the first Pyrenees stage. The Basques weren't doing so well, as their great hope, Iban Mayo, had again flopped in the mountains. While it would be possible to claim that the two Brits were underperforming (Bradley Wiggins was over an hour behind the leaders as the race left the Pyrenees) it was a great achievement that both were still there considering it was Wiggins' first Tour and David Millar hadn't raced for two years.
Week Two Continued
There were three transition stages to take the race between France's major mountain chains. These are long, hot drags through the sun baked roads of Provence. The rolling hills and intense heat make it ideal territory for breakaways as the main field are generally too hot to chase anybody down. The Tour's leading contenders are generally not too bothered to control breaks that do not contain threats as they will likely fade away in the Alps.
Stage 12 - 211.5km Luchon to Carcassonne
With just one big climb to tackle before they finally leave the weather beaten hills of the Pyrenees the Tour set off towards the walled city of Carcassonne. Today was 14 July, Bastille Day, and it was traditional for a French rider to try, and fail, to win the stage. Discovery's Tour went from bad to worse as they lost two riders including Savoldelli.
As expected a group broke away, it contained Yaroslav Popovych, Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel and sprinters Alessandro Ballan and Oscar Freire. Coming into the closing stages it was obvious that the main field, containing an irate Robbie McEwen who spent ages trying to convince somebody to help him chase down his rival Freire, were not going to catch them. Le Mevel was first to be dropped, so there would be no French win today. Popovych knew that against two sprinters he couldn't win the stage if it came down to a sprint so he launched attack after attack. Just once the other two hesitated and Popovych got a much needed win for his team. Ballan beat Freire for second a few seconds back. Le Meval was over half a minute behind, with the main field coming in over four minutes back. At last Tom Boonen led the main field in, it was just a shame that it was a sprint for the minor places!
Stage 13 - 230km Beziers to Montelimar
This was another tough day in the baking heat (over 40C) of Southern France. Although the stage consisted of only 5 4th category climbs2, the nature of the rolling hills were also going to be draining.
Tradition dictates that it is the responsibility of the team of the Yellow Jersey holder to control the race. Every other team looks to them to start chasing down the attacks. If there is no rider in a breakaway who poses a threat to the overall lead then the chances are that, especially on a hot day, the breakaway will succeed.
Today's big break consisted of five riders: Germany's big powerhouse from Team CSC, Jens Voigt, Oscar Pereiro from Spain, France's Sylvain Chavanel, Italy's Manuel Quinziato and Andriy Grivko from Ukraine. The best placed rider in the overall standings was Oscar Periero from the Caisee d'Epargne team and he was nearly half an hour down. Caisee d'Epargne, who had lost their main rider, Alejandro Valverde, early in the first week have an illustrious history with Miguel Indurain and Pedro Delgado, but have been waiting over a decade for a worthy successor.
Floyd Landis' team, Phonak, were well aware that Pereiro had lost vast amounts of time in the Pyrenees and were not to worried about his challenge, so happily sat back and let him go. The other teams of the main contenders didn't want to take up the chase so the breakaway's advantage stretched till over thirty minutes. Nobody was too concerned that Pereiro had finished tenth in the previous two Tours, or that the nature of the Alps meant that some riders who fail in the Pyrenees may not crack in the Alps.
Grivko was dropped first from the breakaway, leaving four riders from the four major countries of European cycling. Quinziato and Chavanel were dropped near to the finish and Jens Voigt out-sprinted Pereiro for the win. This gave Team CSC a much needed stage win and few people would begrudge Voigt, a man who regularly features in attacks, a win.
Robbie McEwen led the main field in just three seconds short of half an hour after Voigt. According to the rules, this meant that all but six of the riders finished outside the official time limit and should have been disqualified. This would obviously been silly so the rules were not enforced.
Pereiro had claimed the Yellow Jersey by one minute 29 seconds. The French press were outraged that Landis had effectively given away the Yellow Jersey because he didn't want the pressure. But it wasn't just his team that were responsible. Klöden was now almost four minutes behind the leader after T-mobile had also refused to chase. He was obviously hoping that Pereiro would drop another thirty minutes in the Alps, but the yellow Jersey does strange things to riders.
Stage 14 - 180.5km Montelimar to Gap
After yesterday's break, it was pretty much guaranteed that there would not be anything to match it today. The main race favourites would not want to lose another thirty minutes to anybody and Pereiro would want to keep his paws on the yellow Jersey as long as possible.
This stage sits in between a hilly transition stage and a full on mountain stage and it would take the race into the heart of the Alps. There were two 2nd category climbs and two 3rd categories. The killer was going to be the Col de la Sentinelle, a second category climb less than 10km from the finish. In theory the descent would allow lone riders and small groups to maintain their gap ahead of the bunch because they can use the entire road to descend and not have to worry about the other 170 riders buzzing about their back wheel.
It was hardly a surprise that a breakaway of six riders formed off the front of the race. The riders were David Canada, Rik Verbrugghe, Matthias Kessler, Mario Aerts, Pierrick Fedrigo and Salvatore Commesso. They were making decent headway on the roads of the South of France, many melted by the incessant sun of the European heat wave.
With about 40km to go, the break was dramatically halved. Verbrugghe and Canada had almost identical accidents as their back tyres broke away on the apex of a corner, they were forced to the outside of the road on both tumbled over an Armco barrier and into bushes below. Kessler had no choice but to try and avoid, riding his bike straight into the barrier and vaulting over head first. Kessler was able to continue but Verbrugghe broke a thigh bone and Canada his collarbone. Kessler dropped back to the main group rapidly, exhausted, bruised and rather shaken.
Aerts could not take the pace too much longer and dropped back leaving France's Fedrigo and Italy's Commesso to try and hold onto their rapidly dwindling lead. They were first over the Sentinelle as the main group charged on in pursuit, shedding many riders out of the back door. Commesso has the reputation as a decent sprinter, but Fedrigo refused to take the lead, forcing the Italian to use up his energy bringing the pair to the finish ahead of the bunch. Fedrigo won the sprint, outsmarting one of the best tacticians in the race, but it was a close call.
Just three seconds behind them was American Christian Vandevelde who rode off the front of the field on the drop into Gap. Four seconds later the main group of favourites, lead in by Christophe Moreau and Georg Totschnig crossed the line. The Sentinelle had blown the race apart with riders coming in eight or ten minutes back.
Pereiro kept his race lead and there was little change at the top of the standings. Although Robbie McEwen had finished well down, he should be satisfied, with only two flat stages left, barring head butting or crashes, his Green Jersey was safe, but nothing would be decided in the 2006 Tour until everybody had safely passed the finish line.
The Tour had put Monday down as a rest day, so everybody could spend the whole day staring out of their hotels at the great rock challenges to come in the next three days. Much to everybody's surprise nobody else announced that they would need major surgery as soon as the race finished.
Stage 15 - 187km Gap to Alpe D'Huez
In the Tour de France there is no greater prize than a victory on at the top of 'The Alpe'. The history books record wins of past champions and courageous outsiders as they tackle the 21 hairpins and 13.9km rising over a kilometre above the town of Bourg d'Oisans to the ski centre at the top.
If that wasn't enough, they also had to contend with another Hors category climb, the Col d'Izoard which rises to a height of 2,360m above sea level. From the top of the Izoard it would be another 100km and the category 2 Col du Lautaret, another mountain that rises above 2,000m, before the finish. Although the Lautaret was not a long climb, its altitude could easily cause problems. Race cycling 2 kilometres above sea level in the intense sun of July in the South of France is not an easy thing and you are only a pedal stroke away from cracking and losing vast amounts of time.
A sixteen man breakaway had gone off the front early; obviously ignoring the fact that only three people had won on The Alpe from long breaks. After a series of attacks on the final climb by the young Italian climber Damiano Cunego the group was splintered along the mountain road with only Frank Schleck of Luxemborg about to keep up.
Behind the pace was equally devilish. Riders with big reputations were falling backwards from the remaining favourites. The big losers were Australia's Cadel Evans and Russia's Denis Menchov who effectively saw their chances go on this stage. Landis, Klöden and Italy's Stegano Garzelli maintained a relentless pace. Eddy Mazzoleni, Klöden's teammate who had spent the day out front dropped back to help out Klöden for a bit before succumbing to the gradient.
One notable thing about the stage was the comparative lack of spectators. The Alpe is infamous for being home to hundreds of thousands of cheering fans, but while there were lots of people, it was nowhere near as packed as normal.
As the leading pair reached the chalets of the ski village Schleck kicked again breaking Cunego's heart as be crossed the line 11 seconds ahead. Schleck became the first citizen of the Grand Dutchy to win on the Alpe and drew comparisons with his fellow countryman, the Angel of the Mountains, Charley Gaul. Cunego did his challenge for the White Jersey of best young rider no harm at all
Garzelli crossed the line one minute, 10 seconds behind followed by Landis and Klöden. Ruben Lobato was a few seconds behind and a few seconds ahead of Sylvain Chavanel. Mazzoleni finished 18 seconds behind his team-mate Klöden. Spanish climber Carlos Sastre finished ninth with Levi Leipheimer actually looking almost like the pre race favourite he was touted to be in tenth, 1:49 behind.
Pereiro finished well, fighting for every second, but lost his Jersey to Landis by a mere ten seconds. Landis' lack of attacking in the stage lead to the French press again branding him as a mouse.
David Millar had a surprisingly good stage, finishing only nine minutes behind. Bradley Wiggins lost over half an hour. Boonen on the other hand bowed out the race after failing to win a single stage. Even though he wore the yellow jersey for a few days, his Tour could be fairly described as a failure.
Stage 16 - 182km Bourg d'Oisains to La Toussuire Les Sybelles
It would be a fair bet that all of the remaining sprinters who woke up today and looked at the route map over there breakfast would have burst into uncontrollable floods of tears. This was a nasty recreation of Dante's Inferno, a spiral route over the mountains to the ski resort of La Toussuire. The race started at Bourg d'Oisains, the town at the foot of L'Alpe D'Huez and almost immediately hits the 42km climb of the Col Du Galbier. At 2645 meters above sea level, the Galiber is the high spot of this year's Tour, a hors category climb that rises 1900 meters from the start of the stage. On the way down the other side, the descent is interrupted by the Col du Telegraph, a four kilometre long climb that on any other stage would merit a fair few points in the King of the Mountains, but today is just an added torture. The next climb is the Col du Croix de Fer, another hors category that is in fact two climbs in one, the riders climb the whole of the Col du Glandon before turning left and onto the final few kilometres of the Croix de Fer. Then the riders take another drop down the valley before six kilometres of the second category Col du Mollard. The last climb of the day would be the climb to the ski station at La Toussuire, a 1st category climb. Half the day's route was uphill, the total climbs rising over 5km up.
The story of the day was looking to be written by Denmark's Michael Rasmussen. The climber had been on the leash up till now looking after his team leader Denis Menchov on the climbs, his energy used up in pace making long before he could make an attack, but with Menchov's failure the day before Michael Rasmussen was allowed to be his own man and go after the King of the Mountains Jersey. He set out on a break with Sandy Casar and Tadej Valjavec after only 10km.
Breakaway rides in the mountains are a completely different prospect than on the flat. If the riders, like the three in this break are far enough down in the overall classification then there is no major chase from the main field. The sprinters aren't looking to win, they are looking to survive, and most of the riders normally drafted in to chase are thinking the same thing. The key to surviving in the front is pacing yourself and not using up all your energy before the final climb.
Rasmussen led over the Galiber before kicking on and dropping his companions on the Croix de Fer. He was looking to ride to the finish alone and reclaim the King Of The Mountains Jersey that he won last year. David de la Fuente still held the lead in that competition.
No matter how well you prepare for a race, no matter how well your team has prepared, there is always something you forget. Today Floyd Landis forgot to drink enough. When this happens, you can suddenly crack and loose almost all your energy. One would think that with a fair shot at the race win, somebody on the team was keeping an eye on what and when Floyd was taking on fluids, but on the final climb he cracked in spectacular fashion. He had been hanging onto the back of the lead group for most of the race, but it was generally assumed that he was doing the same trick that his former team mate, Lance Armstrong, did and watch for weaknesses in your rivals. But as T-mobile raised the pace and Carlos Sastre powered off the front in pursuit of Rasmussen, Landis dropped off the tail of the lead group and into the history books, under the heading of 'Those who threw it away in the Mountains'. It also showed how stretched his Phonak team was, they had no rider around him to help Floyd in his hour of need.
Sastre was proving a very able climber, and without Basso to support he was the revolution of the race. It was looking like Team CSC's Bjarne Riis had unearthed another gem. The other surprise of the race, thriving without his team leader in the race was Oscar Pereiro. Try as they might, and it could be argued that Klöden wasn't trying hard enough, Pereiro was not allowing himself to be dropped in the Alps like he was in the Pyrenees.
Rasmussen won the stage, arriving at the finish after a brilliant ride that proved what a classy little rider he is. Sastre took second, 1:41 behind. Pereiro sprinted away to finish at 1:54, two seconds ahead of Cadel Evans and Andreas Klöden. Landis lost over 10 minutes on one mountain.
Pereiro had reclaimed the yellow jersey with Sastre nearly two minutes behind. Andreas Klöden was at two and a half minutes. Cyril Dessel and Cadal Evans made up the top 5, both of them were less than three minutes away from the leader. Landis was now in eleventh place, eight minutes and eight seconds off the pace.
There were only two stages left before the final time trial. One of these was a mountain stage, the other was relatively flat. After the time trial there was just the run into Paris and overall positions were not likely to change. Compared with the two Spaniards, Klöden was the much stronger time trialist, however it was doubtful he could make up the deficit on Pereiro in the 57km against the clock. He would have to attack and gain back time, and the final mountain stage would be the only place he could do it.
Landis meanwhile when up to his hotel room to get drunk.
Stage 17 - 200.5km St Jean de Maurienne to Morzine
Well, there were only four big climbs left in this year's Tour. The stage starts with a long flat run until it hits the Col des Saisies around the 70km mark. The first category climb is followed quickly the second category Col des Aravis. There is little rest as they drop then up onto the first category Col de la Colombiere. The decent of the Colombiere takes the race through Cluses, home of the French rider and one time contender Charley Mottet. After a little 3rd category ‘bump' the riders take on the last major climb, the hors category Col de Joux-Plane. From the top it was a 12km drop to the resort of Morzine.
All eyes were on Klöden and the T-mobile squad who had to put in at least a minute on Pereiro. The flat start allowed a big group of riders to break away, then Landis broke away at 70km. Now, having read through so far, and having seen the effects that unchecked breakaways have had on this race, the one thing that you would think is that when the rider in yellow just a day before breaks away, they would chase him. Well, you would be wrong.
T-Mobile managed to get Patrik Sinkewitz onto his back wheel, but that seemed all they were willing to go. Unless their tactic was for Sinkewitz to spend the next 130km telling Landis how he'd blown all his chances and should just retire, you couldn't really see the point of their moves. The teams of Sastre and Pereiro were just as guilty in letting the guy go.
Over the past decade the whole peleton has been radioed up. Where, in the past, riders used to rely on reading timing boards and their own race sense; today riders are told what is happening every minute by their team manager over the team a radio, he is listening to race radio, and most likely getting picture feeds in his car. Many followers of the sport have complained that this technology means that riders do not have to think anymore, they do not have to work out overall standings and how the time gaps on the road affect them as they have a manager to do that for them. The manager will also tell riders when and where to attack. One could argue that in the days before radio there would have been a response to Landis's attack.
Meanwhile Landis was at the head of the race building a massive lead and he had even made back the eight or so minutes he was behind. He dropped Sinkewitz on the Joux-Plane and rode towards what should be a famous victory. The mouse had finally roared!
For the second day running Sastre rode off the front of the leading pack on the final climb. He finished five minutes and 42 seconds behind Landis. France's Christophe Moreau was 16 seconds behind him. The Italian climber Damiano Cunego did his Best Young Rider Jersey chances no harm at all as he finished six minutes and 40 seconds behind the American. Micheal Boogard finished at 7:08, heading a group containing Schleck, Pereiro, Klöden and Haimar Zubeldia of the Basque lands. Cadal Evans finished another 12 seconds further back. Klöden's attack had not come
That ride had put Landis into third position overall, just 30 seconds behind Pereiro. Sastre was only 12 seconds back from his compatriot. Klöden was in fourth, still 2:29 behind.
While the yellow jersey was still in the balance, the other two competitions were just about over. None of Robbie McEwen's main rivals had survived the mountains, and so he was well clear of his remaining competitors for the Green Jersey. Rasmussen could not be caught in the King of the Mountains competition and all he had to do was cross the line in Paris.
The race now waved goodbye to the high passes and deadly descents of the Alps and turned West, towards Paris.
Stage 18 - 197km Morzine to Macon
The race waved goodbye to the Alps today as it headed to Mâcon in the Rhone valley. Three climbs were on the route today, the largest being the second category Col de Berthland. With the final time trial coming up tomorrow, there was little chance of any of the favourites wasting their energy on an attack. While everybody was looking towards Saturday, there was still the matter of over four hours of racing to get through.
With just three days to go in his return to the Tour de France, David Millar featured in an attack off the front with Yaroslav Popovych early in the stage. The main attack of the day featured 15 riders including former contender Levi Leipheimer. With a large group all working together there was little chance of the main field catching them. With most teams represented, the chase would be down to the teams that were left behind and few of them wanted to get involved.
With 17km to go, three riders broke off the front of the group, with Italian Matteo Tosatto beating his countryman Cristian Moreni and Germany's Ronny Scholz. They were 47 seconds ahead of Manuel Quinziato and 63 seconds in front of the rest of the group led in by Sebastien Hinault. Levi Leipheimer was 14th, a few seconds off the back of the group. The main bunch arrived 8 minutes back.
So the stage was set for the time trial, with the top ten overall reading:
- Oscar Pereiro (Spain / Caisse d'Epargne) 84:33:04"
- Carlos Sastre (Spain / Team CSC) +12"
- Floyd Landis (U.S. / Phonak +30"
- Andreas Klöden (Germany / T-Mobile) +2:32"
- Cadel Evans (Australia / Davitamon - Lotto) +3:11"
- Denis Menchov (Russia / Rabobank) +4:17"
- Cyril Dessel (France / AG2R) +4:27"
- Christophe Moreau (France / AG2R) +5:48"
- Haimar Zubeldia (Spain / Euskaltel) +8:19"
- Michael Rogers (Australia / T-Mobile) +12:16"
The numbers were simple, Landis had to make up half a minute on Pereiro over 57km to win the Tour De France. He also had to claw back 18 seconds on Sastre and make sure that he didn't lose more than two minutes to Klöden.
Meanwhile the race was nearly over for the two Britons who were just trying to reach the finish. David Millar was in 61st place, just over two hours behind the leader. Bradley Wiggins was not faring as well, he was in 128th place, almost 200 minutes behind Pereiro.
Stage 19 - 57km Time Trial Le Creusot to Montceau les Mines
The chances were that nobody would actually care who won this time trial, a rather long route for the discipline. In the pre-race predictions, this would be where Jan Ullrich would confirm his victory after having recovered from a poor week in the Pyrenees by having his traditional strong third week in the Alps. The stage was the reverse of the stage where in 1998 Ullrich won the final time trial on his way to second place behind Marco Pantani. In reality, the stage winner this year would not matter, it was just the positions of the first three riders overall. It was to be a fight between three men: Lance Armstrong's former helper, literally riding with a dead hip and with seemingly superhuman levels of bounce-backability, a Spanish climber with little pedigree and a Spainish chancer who happened to be in the right break at the right time and had fought like a mad man to retain his yellow jersey.
The riders would set off at three minute intervals, starting with the man in last place overall and with the yellow jersey starting last. Pereiro would receive information on how all his rivals were riding, but the question was could he actually respond to them?
Just like in the previous time trial, the early pace was set by Sebastian Lang of Gerolsteiner. As the day progressed it turned out that Serhiy Honchar would be the man to beat. By completing the course in a time of one hour, seven minutes and 46 seconds, 3:18 quicker than Lang, the T-Mobile rider posed the question why has this 32 year old not raced at the Tour before? His second stage win of the race, the team's third of the Tour, was equally as dominating as his first.
From the other early starters, there were good times from David Millar who ended up 11th just over 4 minutes behind, Cunego secured his White Jersey with a 10th place ride and the legendary Viatceslav Ekimov3 came in seventh, 3:41 behind.
At the first checkpoint the times were close. Landis was setting the best pace of the leaders, with Klöden close on time. Pereiro though was not lying down; he was fighting for every second, like he had done for the past week.
As the miles past, it was becoming clear that Klöden was on a mission, while others were dropping back from the Ukrainian Honchar at the time checks, Klöden was still almost in contact. He had a podium position in his sights, and now he was without his team to support him and his manager to offer tactics and orders it was only his to lose. Klöden's charge was obviously a nasty surprise for Cadel Evans. Evans, an able time trialist, started only a few seconds off Klöden overall and was hoping to claim fourth place for himself. Klöden caught and past him for three minutes, a shock given that Evans was heading to a top ten place on the stage.
Behind him on the road Carlos Sastre had blown, much more at home in the mountains, he could not live with the speed of the other riders and was losing more and more time at each checkpoint. He was not only losing his second place to Landis, he was losing his podium place to Klöden.
Then there were two, Floyd Landis and Oscar Pereiro. Resplendent in his Yellow Jersey, Pereiro was putting in the ride of his life, an achievement after having spent the previous week doing exactly the same. However hard he rode, Landis, with his awkward style, was gaining time on him.
Landis crossed the line in third position, 30 seconds behind Klöden and a minute and eleven seconds behind Honchar. All eyes were on Pereiro and the clock above the finish. He could not make it, crossing the line in fourth place; his best ever ride in a time trial, but he was two minutes and 40 seconds behind the winner. He had lost the lead of the Tour de France by 59 seconds.
Stage 20 - 154.5km Sceaux Antony to Paris Champs-Elysees
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-Elysees 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 is all smiles and jokes with Champagne being quaffed throughout the Peleton. The race wasn't going to heat up until it reached the Champs-Elysees. As they entered the circuit the bunch let Viatceslav Ekimov, possibly riding 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 spinters want to win. Last year they were 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. The finishing circuit itself has not changed for many years. The riders climb the Champs-Elysees4 up to the Etoile, 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-Elysees.
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 and the Russian could have ridden off the front with a kilometre or so left and nobody would have caught him, however twenty years at the top of the sport and hundreds of thousands of miles in his legs. 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 the strangest Tour.
Landis cruised in behind to take his first win and following in the illustrious tyre-tracks of his countrymen Lance Armstrong and Greg Lemond.
The Final Top 10 read as follows:
- Floyd Landis (US) Phonak 89 hours 39 minutes 30 seconds
- Oscar Pereiro (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne 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' 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) Francaise 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 (US) Phonak 98
Micheal Rasmussen won his Polka-Dot Jersey by 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 the Jersey he took on the small hills in the big mountains.
- Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 166 pts
- Floyd Landis (US) 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 (US) 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 Lovkvist (Swe) Francaise 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) Francaise 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'Epargne 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 won him the Tour De France, but as that really all there was too 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 have not lost 1:31 and could have won the tour by a whole 2 seconds.
Of course, if Klöden had not lost that time, many other things could have happened. Landis may not have claimed the two bonuses for finishing a third place and a stage win, Landis may have attacked Klöden on another day, Klöden may 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 it early. The question is who really decided not to chase. You would like to hope that when a rider saw one of his rivals riding himself back into the race they would give chase, so it could well have been an order not to chase from team management. Certainly having one of their 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. Perhaps the T-Mobile management thought that the team-mates of Sastre and Pereiro who were higher up in the classification should do the chasing. Probably each team manager was thinking the same, so a giant game of chicken ensued with Landis being the only 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 may 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 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. Part of that reason was that the team was not dominating the race as it used to and not able to provide support to its leaders.
How McKwen won his Tour
McKwen 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 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 McKwen with a team totally dedicated to getting him to the finish ahead of everybody. McKwen's team had two priorities; McKwen at the beginning, then helping Cadel Even's bid for the overall title. This would cost McKwen in some stages as he would his won team were not willing to chase down his rivals.
Spanish sprinters are a rare breed, and with three World Championships, Oscar 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.
McKwen'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 is very good at being near the front when needs be. Thor Hushovd won the 2005 Green Jersey without winning a stage and is arguably a little bit short on speed compared with the major contenders. Erik Zabel was seen it all and won it all before. However his heyday was many years ago and 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 gets to the finish first. With the Italian out, Zabel gets the best lead out boys in the business.
In the end McKwen 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. McKwen is a very 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 meters 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 McKwen 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' 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 was 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 there was no question that he was 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. Which 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 under estimated 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 reason that his break was allowed to escape were that most teams had a rider in that break and that 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 loose another half hour in the Alps, but the in the annals of the Tour de France it is often the case that the yellow jersey is more of a performance enhancement than EPO 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 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 Britian as the favorite, but abandoned 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 voluntary and involuntary 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'Epargne 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 shear effort and tenacity made whim 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 cylcing 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 starts, nobody really knows who offically won the 2006 event. Not a situation for the sport to be proud of.