By Shane Stokes
Floyd Landis’ ride on stage 17 will undoubtedly go down as one of the exploits of Tour de France history. The American attacked alone 72 kilometres after the start, opening up a large lead on the first category Col de Saisies and remaining out front for the remainder of the 200.5 kilometre stage. Landis’ collapse on the previous day’s summit finish to La Toussuire meant that he had started the day 8’08 off yellow, but his dominant ride saw him race right back into contention and end the day just 30 seconds down.
Although comparisons were drawn between this and other long distance, stage winning exploits such as those by Merckx in 1971 and Chiappucci in 1992, Landis’s performance and final winning margin was probably closer to that recorded by Merckx during the 1969 Tour. En route to his first Tour overall win, the Belgian attacked on the climb of the Tourmalet, a full 130 kilometres from the end of the stage and, defying instructions from his team manager to ease back, powered on alone to reach the finish in line in Mourenx-Ville-Nouvelle a full eight minutes clear of the next rider.
In terms of bouncing back from a low overall position, though, the closest may be the performance by Charly Gaul in 1958, in the Chartreuse Massif. The Luxembourger had lost ten minutes due in part to mechanical problems and conceded time elsewhere, starting the final mountain stage sixth, a massive 16’03 behind Raphaël Géminiani.
However the torrential rain and freezing conditions encountered on the road to Aix les Bains was perfect for Gaul, who thrived in such weather. He attacked on the Luitel, approximately 100 kilometres from the finish, and ended the stage 7’50 ahead of the next rider, Jean Adriaenssens. Crucially, Géminiani finished back in 7th and lost 14'35". By the start of the final time trial, Gaul was just 1’07 behind new leader Vito Favero and 39” off Géminiani, but he eclipsed both in the race against the clock to win the Tour.
If Landis does the same in tomorrow’s time trial and providing he avoids mishap on Sunday, he can complete that historical parallel from 48 years ago.