Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Stage 15 - Le Tour 2006 - Alpe d'Huez

What a stage. Magnificent scenery, an 145km attack, a long chase and as always a spectacular launch up Alpe d'Huez with reputations made and lost. Cunego almost fulfilled his destiny but Schleck emphatically did. Landis and Kloden proved their form is top shelf and the others close but not close enough. Riders like Jens Voight, Dave Zabriskie and Axel Merckx played their team roles to perfection and ensured that the cream would rise to the top. And it did. And tomorrow's at least as hard!

So let's look at the top 18 or so on GC. Axel Merckx is 18th at 10min 25secs. He's a support rider doing his job for Floyd and Phonak. Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak is of course the leader overall and with his TT ability only has to match attacks from here to win the race. Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears has dropped one place to 10secs back and Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance has hung on gamely to take 3rd on GC at 2.02 back. Pereiro is the better climber so he may put up a fight from here, hoping to stay on the podium or top 5 at worst. However Dessel whilst motivated and fighting hard will surely sink out of the top 10 over the next 2 or 3 days.

Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank is close behind Dessel and remains a true contender. He is close enough to attack but Landis probably has him covered. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC at 2.17 has proven he is close to his best in the climbs and has a good chance of top 5. Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile is at 2.29 and has finally demonstrated that he is a real contender - if only Stage 11 hadn't cost him such time! At 7th Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto is 2m56s back and looking to reverse his fortunes over the next 2 stages and cement a Top 5 with a great TT. He is a real chance if he loses no more time and - hopefully - goes on the attack.

Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile is way back at 5.01 and will ride support for Kloden. Still good for top 10 and may live up to expectations in the TT. The unfortunate Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner remains too far back at 6.18 - again, earlier losses continue to haunt him. All the usual comments apply... he should be in 3rd or 4th place, but isn't.

Thereafter we have Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi , Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance, today's winner Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC , Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel, Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel , Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner, Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank and Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis at 9.56 to round out the 'sub-10-minute' riders. Many of these are support riders, others are hoping to rise further up the GC. Any of these riders have a show of making the action or getting a slice of it.

The next 2 mountain stages will tell the tale. And the 57km TT will be the final roll of the dice.

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