2006 Tour de France – Stage 15, Stage 16, and Stage 17

Jul 21 2006

If I were Jerry Bruckheimer, and you brought me this year’s Tour de France in screenplay form, I would pitch a fit and throw you out of my office, making sure to dismiss you with the requisite “you’ll never work in this town again!” I mean, come on – Floyd Landis loosing and then perhaps winning the entire Tour on consecutive days? Sounds a little far-fetched, don’t you think? But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Continuing from my last update, the slog up Alpe d’Huez was just that, long and dull. Sure, Frank Schleck added a win on the Dutch Mountain to his Dutch Classic victory (woe to the Luxemburger’s bedmate should he go for the Dutch Trifecta). Still, behind him, Floyd, after giving the field a little tug, was content to twiddle along just fast enough to retake the yellow jersey. Afterwards he scoffed at the critics, saying the objectors to his hyperconservative style didn’t know anything about bike racing. Apparently he didn’t read these comments from Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, two riders who have each won and lost a Tour or two.

Then, because Jack London is generally right about this sort of thing, Floyd was punished for his irreverence to the windy old farts. His sentence: losing the Tour. He bonked at the base of the last climb on Stage 16 and limped home putting out some strictly Cat 4 wattages. He finished a fat 10 minutes down, which might not have been such a big deal had he built up a few minutes’ cushion earlier in the race. But now eight minutes out of GC contention, with only two decisive stages left (and no hilltop finishes), it was pretty clear that his tour was over.

Rather than be a man about things and just accept his loses, on Stage 17, Floyd struck out boldly through the mask (which is also manly; masculinity is a tricky subject, no?) with a seemingly suicidal attack some three cols and 120k from the finish line. Others tried at first to follow, but were like “man, f-that.” The GC threats sat up as Pereiro’s Illes Balears boys flamed themselves out one by one in pursuit of the ex-Menonite. The now-isolated maillot jaune asked for help coming over the third-to-last climb, but Frank Schleck passed on the word that Bjarne had said “nothing doing”. It made no difference in the end as both CSC and T-Mobile strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage and then were heard no more; letting Floyd “die in the hills” proved to be a strategy told by idiot directeurs sportif, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

When the dust had settled, Pereiro still stood atop the GC, 12 seconds up on Carlos Sastre, who’d launched a late attack and then tossed away 30 seconds of it in the final 5k by descending like a girl (I’m all for shades of gray, but there’s nothing manly about overdoing it with the clamps). A further 18 seconds back lay the Phonak man, the two Spaniards within easy striking distance of his dreaded (though somewhat less so, recently) praying Landis maneuver, with just a transitional stage, a time trial, and the parade to Paris to go. I’d love to say that it all comes down to the TT now, but the way this Tour has gone, nothing is settled until the lanterne rouge makes his last lap of the Champs Elysees.

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