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Fabulous Floyd takes the maillot jaune

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Floyd Landis (Phonak)

Floyd Landis (Phonak) (Image credit: AFP)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak)

Floyd Landis (Phonak) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne)

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile)

Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre)

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)

Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile)

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak)

Floyd Landis (Phonak) (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile)

Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) (Image credit: AFP)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne)

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak)

Floyd Landis (Phonak) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Christophe Mengin (Française des Jeux)

Christophe Mengin (Française des Jeux) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Viatcheslav Ekimov (Discovery) was a top 10 finisher

Viatcheslav Ekimov (Discovery) was a top 10 finisher (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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David Zabriskie (CSC) had a good day to end 6th

David Zabriskie (CSC) had a good day to end 6th (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Carlos Da Cruz (Française des Jeux)

Carlos Da Cruz (Française des Jeux) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) was fifth

Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) was fifth (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Iñaki Isasi (Euskaltel)

Iñaki Isasi (Euskaltel) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner)

Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Alessandro Ballan (Lampre)

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) was the best rider today

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) was the best rider today (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom) passes his 2 minute man Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir).

Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom) passes his 2 minute man Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir). (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Stephan Goubert (AG2R)

Stephan Goubert (AG2R) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) was hungry as a shark today

George Hincapie (Discovery) was hungry as a shark today (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Christian Vandevelde (CSC) was again solid and finished 22nd

Christian Vandevelde (CSC) was again solid and finished 22nd (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) trying to put time into Cunego

Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) trying to put time into Cunego (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) trying to put time into Fothen

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) trying to put time into Fothen (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Christophe Moreau (AG2R)

Christophe Moreau (AG2R) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) was the man again

Floyd Landis (Phonak) was the man again (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Oscar Pereiro (Illes Balears) trying to hold yellow

Oscar Pereiro (Illes Balears) trying to hold yellow (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Oscar Pereiro (Illes Balears)

Oscar Pereiro (Illes Balears) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Robbie Hunter (Phonak) had to ride the whole TT out of the saddle

Robbie Hunter (Phonak) had to ride the whole TT out of the saddle (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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David Arroyo (Illes Balears)

David Arroyo (Illes Balears) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Jose Azevedo (Discovery)

Jose Azevedo (Discovery) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Mickael Rasmussen (Rabobank) had a better TT than last year

Mickael Rasmussen (Rabobank) had a better TT than last year (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile)

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank)

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) kept his fifth overall

Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) kept his fifth overall (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) was super in finishing second

Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) was super in finishing second (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) fell back to fourth overall

Carlos Sastre (CSC) fell back to fourth overall (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) powering along during stage 19

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) powering along during stage 19 (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) brings it home

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) brings it home (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre) after the finish

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) after the finish (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) triumphant on the podium

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) triumphant on the podium (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) almost there

Floyd Landis (Phonak) almost there (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) drives it home

Floyd Landis (Phonak) drives it home (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) finishes third

Floyd Landis (Phonak) finishes third (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) after his ride

Floyd Landis (Phonak) after his ride (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) rounds the final bend

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) rounds the final bend (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) heads for home

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) heads for home (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) crosses for fourth

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) crosses for fourth (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) after the finish

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) after the finish (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) receives commiserations

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) receives commiserations (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) crosses the line with the best time

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) crosses the line with the best time (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) finishes

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) finishes (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) powers home for second

Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) powers home for second (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) kept his sixth place on GC

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) kept his sixth place on GC (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) sprints for home

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) sprints for home (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) finishes his ride in 10th

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) finishes his ride in 10th (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) surrounded by media

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) surrounded by media (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) rehydrates

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) rehydrates (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) happy to have kept the best young rider jersey

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) happy to have kept the best young rider jersey (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Photographers catch David Millar

Photographers catch David Millar (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) was top 20

Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) was top 20 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) again lost six minutes

Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) again lost six minutes (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Christophe Moreau (AG2R) was not brilliant today, but he held his GC place

Christophe Moreau (AG2R) was not brilliant today, but he held his GC place (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) didn't do so good

Carlos Sastre (CSC) didn't do so good (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner)

Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Frank Schleck (CSC) covered in sweat

Frank Schleck (CSC) covered in sweat (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Dave Zabriskie (CSC) has the fastest time for a while

Dave Zabriskie (CSC) has the fastest time for a while (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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RAI commentators Davide Cassani and Auro Bulbarelli

RAI commentators Davide Cassani and Auro Bulbarelli (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) is proud

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) is proud (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) smiles

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) smiles (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) on the podium after his second stage win

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) on the podium after his second stage win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes the crowd

Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes the crowd (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) has done it

Floyd Landis (Phonak) has done it (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) is happy with this yellow jersey

Floyd Landis (Phonak) is happy with this yellow jersey (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes

Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) smiles in yellow

Floyd Landis (Phonak) smiles in yellow (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) is the man

Floyd Landis (Phonak) is the man (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) is a happy man

Floyd Landis (Phonak) is a happy man (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) puts on the maillot jaune

Floyd Landis (Phonak) puts on the maillot jaune (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) likes the fit

Floyd Landis (Phonak) likes the fit (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) on the podium with Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault

Floyd Landis (Phonak) on the podium with Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Eddy Merckx congratulates Landis

Eddy Merckx congratulates Landis (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) salutes in the white jersey

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) salutes in the white jersey (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) is the best young rider in the Tour

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) is the best young rider in the Tour (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) warming up

Floyd Landis (Phonak) warming up (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) warming up

Floyd Landis (Phonak) warming up (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) was not the fastest today, but he did more than enough to take the maillot jaune

Floyd Landis (Phonak) was not the fastest today, but he did more than enough to take the maillot jaune (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) speeds towards victory

Floyd Landis (Phonak) speeds towards victory (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) was compactly fast

Floyd Landis (Phonak) was compactly fast (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) sprints for the line, but was only good enough for fourth

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) sprints for the line, but was only good enough for fourth (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) was once again the best today

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) was once again the best today (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) en route to second and a third place on the overall podium

Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile) en route to second and a third place on the overall podium (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) powers home

Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) powers home (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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David Millar (Saunier Duval) rode a good TT to finish 11th

David Millar (Saunier Duval) rode a good TT to finish 11th (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) surrounded by the media after his ride

Floyd Landis (Phonak) surrounded by the media after his ride (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) is very happy with his second stage win

Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile) is very happy with his second stage win (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes on the podium

Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes on the podium (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) is the maillot jaune again

Floyd Landis (Phonak) is the maillot jaune again (Image credit: AFP Photo)

Podium positions decided as Gonchar takes two out of two

The final test of the 2006 Tour de France saw no real surprises. Evergreen TT train from Ukraine, Serguei Gonchar, once again asserted his dominance in the race of truth, notching his second time trial victory, while a resurgent Floyd Landis continued his fairytale comeback from two days ago, his third place 1'29 faster than overnight leader Oscar Pereiro, and more than enough to place him back into the maillot jaune.

"Well, I was confident," said Landis, "But when the yellow jersey is on the line, I knew he'd be inspired and that it wasn't going to be easy.

"Pereiro did an exceptional time trial; I was also a little concerned about the four-hour time trial I did two days ago. That took a lot of energy out of me, so I hoped I would be okay," he said.

With just the traditional afternoon procession to Paris' Champs-Elysées remaining, it's more than likely a maillot jaune for keeps. But first, a comment from today's stage winner, who said that despite being one of the favourites, he didn't expect to be so good.

"I wasn't very convinced this morning," said Gonchar on his chances. "But everybody in the team wanted to do a good chrono because we could improve our position in the teams classification. I wanted to surprise myself and I think I did that today."

Asked how he managed to turn around his below-par performance in the Alps so swiftly, the sprightly 36 year-old replied: "It's a mystery to me as well."

"I was ill in the Alps and I had to take antibiotics. But this morning, our team manager told us that we had to fight for the teams classification, so that's what I did."

It was always going to be an uphill battle for Pereiro to keep the maillot jaune, but at the first time check after 16.5 kilometres, the 28 year-old Spaniard was only 10 seconds down on Landis. He was allowed to lose another 19 seconds more, and while he resisted, Pereiro eventually succumbed to the strawberry-haired blonde by one and a half minutes. Nevertheless, second step on the Paris podium is most certainly nothing to sneeze at, and everything to write home about.

Another surprised at his own performance was Gonchar's team-mate Andreas Klöden, and so he should be. 2'29 down on Pereiro at the start of the day, the 31 year-old T-Mobile man rode the race of his life to finish second on the stage, just 41 seconds down on Gonchar.

More importantly, however, Klöden moved into third place overall by almost two minutes over the man he displaced, Team CSC's Carlos Sastre, who cracked on the road to Montceau-les-Mines and lost nearly five minutes to the stage winner.

"I'm overwhelmed!" he exclaimed with joy. "After the difficulties I had this spring and the setbacks in the Alps, it's great to perform so well in the last time trial. My team always believed in me; they motivated me yesterday, and this morning, they told me I could do it.

"I actually asked my directeur-sportif Valerio Piva not to give me any times during the first 25 kilometres, as that would have only driven me crazy," said Klöden. "When he started giving me the times, I was already one and a half minutes' ahead of Sastre.

"Of course, that motivated me a lot, and I had Serguei's times as well to gauge myself. In the end, I had Cadel Evans in front of me, so that psyched me again. It certainly was one of my best time trials ever."

Apart from first and second places as well as third and fourth positions on GC being reversed, the rest of the top ten remained unchanged - Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Cyril Dessel (AG2R-Prevoyance), Christophe Moreau (AG2R-Prevoyance), Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) all held their fifth to tenth spots on the Classement Général.

A little further down the leaderboard, youngsters Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) and Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) were duking it out to see who would become the best young rider of the 93rd Tour de France. Since his fantastic ride to L'Alpe d'Huez where he finished second to Fränk Schleck, 'Kid' Cunego has been riding like a man reborn, and today provided proof of that, holding off Fothen by half a minute to keep his maillot blanc.

"I'm delighted - this is the best time trial I've ever done," he said.

"I had some doubts this morning, but it's true that at the end of the Tour, the legs count more than being a specialist in the time trial.

"I dreamed about Fothen last night!" remarked Cunego with a smile. "I deeply wanted to win this jersey; this time trial is a good test for the future. This experience at the Tour shows me that the best result can come with serenity instead of pressure."

Lamented Fothen, "I think I gave it all I had... I didn't expect that Cunego would ride so fast; I don't know if anybody did. That was a great performance from him."

Floyd Landis may be saying the Tour's not over till it's over; understandably, it's a little premature to ask him how it feels to win the world's biggest bike race and begin a new chapter in the history of La Grande Boucle. Though barring disaster, a little after half-past five tomorrow afternoon, he'll need to have an answer to these questions. And plenty more.

"I wished and hoped that some day I'd have the opportunity to be the leader of a team and to get the jersey," said Landis on his time riding with seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong. "I know that it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices from a lot of people. Then, on top of that, some luck. So I feel lucky."

How it unfolded

By Tim Maloney

The penultimate stage of the 2006 Tour De France was a rolling time test over a course that is similar to one that Jan Ullrich won in 1998 from Montceau-les-Mines to Le Creusot. Ullrich beat Bobby Julich by 1'01 eight years ago, with the late Marco Pantani third. The long TT was where riders had little chance to recover and was a great test for which riders still had energy at the end of a long and difficult, wide open Tour.

The weather was hot and very humid eight years ago, as it was today, with temperatures expected to rise into the mid-thirties. 141 riders would exit the start house on Saturday for the long, tough time trial. Davitamon-Lotto's Wim Vansevenant was the first man off at 11:15 and set the fastest time, but the first serious time was from Phonak rider big Bert Grabsch, who set an excellent time, 1h11'28 for an average speed of 47.85 km/h, but first it was 40 year-old 2000 Olympic TT champ Slava Ekimov (Discovery) who bested Grabsch by 0'02, then CSC's Dave Zabriskie powered home six seconds under Eki's time to take the lead. But Dave Z wasn't long in the hot seat as German Seppel Lang in his elegant white German National Champion's jersey flew home in Montceau-les-Mines in 1h11'03, 0'17 faster than Zabriskie.

Out on the parcours of Stage 19, a Ukrainian TGV was out of control as stage 7 winner, T-Mobile's Sergei Gonchar, was fastest at all the time checks. Finally he humped and pumped his 55X11 over the finish line with the tremendous time of 1h07'45, an average speed of 50.48 km/h.

Gerolsteiner's Marcus Fothen finished in 1'12'00 and many expected him to take the maillot blanc of best young rider, but tough little Italian Damiano Cunego (Lampre) wasn't having it. Clad in his white skinsuit, Cunego not only held off Fothen, who had beaten him by 5'00 in the stage 7 TT, but the young Italian had the best time trial of his career: 1'11'29 for for an eventual 10th best time. He would now finish his first Tour De France

Floyd Landis (Phonak) started off at 16:19 and went out hard, passing through the first time check in Montchanin-le-Haut (16.5km) in 19'46, already pulling 10 seconds back on Pereiro and setting the new best time.

In Montcenis after 34.4km, Andreas Klöden had a fast 41'52, then Landis powered across the mid race time check in 41'45, now the second fastest time. Landis was 0'26 behind Gonchar's and the Phonak man had also lost some time to Klöden, who had closed within 0'07 of him. But maillot jaune Pereiro had already lost time to Landis, who was now maillot jaune virtuel, 0'15 ahead of the Caisse d'Epargne man.

CSC's second placed on GC Carlos Sastre came through Montcenis in 44'05 for 16th fastest and was 2'13 behind Klöden and just about to lose his podium place. Maillot jaune Pereiro was hanging tough and motivated by his precious tunic of race leadership. The Caisse d'Epargne rider was at 42'42 after 34.5 km and had already lost 0'57 to Landis and was 1'00 slower than Klöden, but had a 2'29 margin on the German and was looking good to finish as runner-up in Paris.

At the third time check in Villa-Sirot after 51.5km, Gonchar's was still fastest at 1h02'36. Klöden had ridden through in 1h03'22, 0'47 slower than his T-Mobile teammate and then caught his three minute man Cadel Evans in the last kilometre. After a fast start, Landis had faded over the second half of the long TT and was third fastest at 51km in 1h03'44, and the American then finished his race against the clock in 1'08'56, enough to take over the maillot jaune and take command of the 93rd Tour De France.

CSC's Carlos Sastre tried with all he had in the long ITT, but the Spanish climber crossed the line in 1h12'27 for 20th, falling to 4th place. Maillot jaune Pereiro was still riding with class and force, and had the best TT performance of his career to finish in 1h10'25 for 4th, and his superb effort held off Klöden for second place. Chapeau to T-Mobile's Sergei Gonchar's for dominating both time trials at this year's Tour De France as he won Stage 7 in Rennes and Stage 19 in Montceau-les-Mines. Good rides also on Stage 19 from David Zabriskie (CSC) in 6th, Discovery Channel's 40 year old hard man Viatcheslav Ekimov in 7th, best young rider Damiano Cunego (Lampre) in 10th, and comeback rider of Le Tour, David Millar (SDV) in 11th.

Today was the fifth time in recent history that the maillot jaune changed hands after the final time trial at the Tour De France. In 1978 Hinault took charge, then 1987 when Roche beat Delgado and 1989 and 1990 when LeMond beat Fignon and then Chiappucci to win Le Grande Boucle.

With only Stage 20's 152km separating the Tour peloton from the final parties in Paris, Floyd Landis looks like he has his first Tour De France win all but locked up, while gutsy runner-up Oscar Pereiro Sio at 0'59 and smooth operator Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) at 1'29 will round out the podium at the finish. Team CSC's Carlos Sastre tried valiantly to fill the shoes of Ivan Basso, but the Spanish climber just wasn't strong enough against the watch and fell off the podium after Stage 19. 5th place Davitamon-Lotto's Aussie Cadel Evans leaped like a 'roo up the GC ladder after his 8th place last season and can still improve his Tour performances in the years to come.

Rabobank's rockin' Russian Denis Menchov ended up a respectable sixth and had a stage win, but more was expected at this Tour from the defacto winner of the '05 Vuelta. Once again, AG2R-Prevoyance showed they are the best French team even though they don't have the biggest budget, placing two French riders in the top 10 with audacious unknown Cyril Dessel in 7th and old warhorse Christophe Moreau in 8th. Steady, smart riding got Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) back into the top 10 in 9th place, while Aussie World TT champ Mick Rogers (T-Mobile) had his best ever Tour finish to round out the top 10.

12th place Damiano Cunego (Lampre) will take the maillot blanc of best young rider back home to Italy after his first Tour, closing strongly with good climbing and a strong TT in the third week and showing he's got potential to come back to Le Tour and move up the GC ladder in the future. Props to CSC's Christian Vandevelde. The likeable American from Lemont, Ill. Was in the form of his life and despite doing yeoman's work all Tour long, he still finished this Tour in 24th place.

Finishing 13th, Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer was a disappointment at the 2006 Tour and even if the American could get back the 6-plus minutes he lost in Stage 7's TT, the would have still finished just inside the top 10. With José Azevedo in 19th place, Yaroslav Popovych in 25th and George Hincapie in 32nd, it's decidedly back to the drawing board for Discovery Channel's sports director Johan Bruyneel, as for the first time in almost a decade, the Belgian will not direct the winning rider and team at the Tour De France. But barring any unforeseen circumstances, tomorrow afternoon on the Champs-Elysees, the remaining riders, team staff and hundreds of thousands of the assembled masses will hear the Star Spangled Banner play as Floyd Landis is crowned Tour De France champion.

Stage 20 - Sunday, July 23: Antony (Parc de Sceaux)-Paris Champs-Elysées / 154.5 km

It's fun, fun, fun on the final stage as the maillot jaune and his team celebrate on the way to the Champs-Elysées for the final 50km criterium around the French capital, then the pomp and circumstances to crown the new Tour champ. With Boonen gone, it must be maillot vert Robbie 'Aussie Oi Oi Oi' McEwen as the winner.

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