Saturday, July 26, 2008
At the Tour de France, this is it.
The only stage that now matters in cycling's three-week showcase is today's time trial. And for Carlos Sastre, who is wearing the yellow jersey, this is the moment he's been waiting for.
The Spanish veteran is a strong climber and now needs the time trial of his career if he is to be the winner when the race ends tomorrow in Paris.
Five riders appear to have a shot at the title, although surprises could await in today's 33-mile leg from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Three Alpine stages ended Tuesday, cutting the field of legitimate hopefuls.
Tour organizers couldn't be more pleased: Suspense lasting until the next-to-last stage was exactly what they wanted, and the tension is a welcome respite from the commotion surrounding three doping busts in the first two weeks of the race.
The top of the standings didn't change after yesterday's 19th stage in which Sylvain Chavanel of France led a two-man breakaway to win the run from Roanne to Montlucon.
"Tomorrow will be the opportunity of my life," Sastre said. "I'm going to go all out."
Overall, Frank Schleck of Luxembourg is in second place, 1 minute 24 seconds back. Bernhard Kohl of Austria is 1:33 behind, while Cadel Evans of Australia is fourth, a second slower. Denis Menchov of Russia trails by 2:39 and has an outside shot because he's a strong time-trial rider.
But the odds are on Evans, the Tour runner-up in 2007. The outcome of time trials can be predictable because riders tend to be either good in them or not.
In two time-trial stages at the last Tour, which had a similar length to today's, Evans placed second and was more than two minutes faster than Sastre each time. Kohl and Schleck were even slower than the Spaniard.
The Australian senses the math in his favor. He calls it "highly possible" that he can be wearing yellow for tomorrow's finale on the Champs-Elysees. But he still has a 1:34 deficit to erase.
-- From News Services