Saturday, July 15, 2006

Stage 12 - Le Tour 2006 - Discovery bounce back

After yesterday's mountains the bunch needed a rest, but it didn't happen. A route of rolling hills proved tempting to the escape artists and numerous early attacks were closed down. The final, successful move really only came about when the peleton chose to slow and allow riders a 'comfort stop' beside the road - something that happens every day but today fortuitously occurred when Oscar Freire was in the break. McEwen couldn't allow Freire to get all the sprint points so he chased, drawing the ire of many. However McEwen alone couldn't bridge the gap and he succumbed to the will of the many, allowing the break to go.

As it turned out it was Popovych who took full advantage, winning the stage, gaining time back and bringing himself back to the top 10 on GC. With 20 minutes left to run Freire was either exhausted or had done a deal with Popovych or perhaps Ballan to let them have the final points and the stage win... Freire neither contesting the Discovery rider's break nor the final sprint for 2nd. Freire had picked up some intermediate points, so he may have been satisfied... or tired... in any case he clearly didn't want to help Ballan chase Popoyvych. They exchanged words and started working together but for 2nd and 3rd. Popyvych profited - deservedly so after a long break and 3 or 4 savage attacks on his companions in the break. Ballan tried to get away by countering Popovych - dropping the Disco rider at one point - but Oscar was mysteriously uninvolved when it mattered and satisfied to sit on Ballan's wheel. It was a long hot day after all.

Boonen won the bunch kick but McEwen retained green. The GC lead is unaltered bar Popovych dragging himself up to 10th. It was a big gain and gives a boost to Discovery's chances. Landis will want to limit further moves tomorrow and retain his lead into the Alps, where the mountain action will recommence. Landis and Phonak look strong but one bad day could see Menchov, Evans, Sastre, Leipheimer or even Popovych pounce and grab both a stage win and a big time gain. It's still wide open. Rabo and T-Mobile kept out of trouble today. Expect them to do the same on tomorrow's long stage before resuming the battle in the mountains.

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