Friday, July 21, 2006

Stage 18 - Friday, July 21: Morzine - Mâcon, 197 km

It was a not-flat flat stage. As in possibly good for sprinters but very good for a breakaway. And, of course, there was a break. In that break, among others, was Levi Leipheimer, trying yet again for a win. Much to his team's chagrin, he didn't manage the win. Neither did his teammate, Ronny Scholz, although third place isn't that bad. I actually just finished watching the stage and it's taken me almost an hour longer to watch it than the cyclists were on the road (phone calls and Dell service person coming to fix my computer does that).

It was not, as everyone will tell you, an important stage. Unless, of course, you're racing it and you want to win. There were a lot of teams in the break who hadn't won stages and wanted to win. So really this was a day for the big names and others who want to do well tomorrow to rest. And for the rest? It was a day to try and get that last win for your team.

Sadly, Saunier Duval missed the break and thus spent most of the stage chasing it down. The speculation is that this was punishment for missing the break, but who knows. They never did catch them, but it wasn't that big a deal. There was one incident when Robbie McEwen road off the front of the peloton in what people first thought was some strange breakaway attempt. Of course it wasn't (this is McEwen we're talking about) and he was just off to yell at the motorbike who he thought (and he was probably right) was pacing Saunier Duval as they attempted to catch the break.

Other than that, it was a mostly uneventful stage. But it was hard and hot. Both the peloton and the break were really riding fast -- probably because the sooner the stage is over, the sooner they can rest up for tomorrow (and the sooner the end of the race will be).

It was the break that decided the action on the stage. Sylvain Calzati attacked first, follow later but Leipheimer and others. But it wasn't until Cristian Moreni attacked that anything happened. The break never caught him, but Matteo Tosatto and Ronny Scholz did. Scholz tried hard to win the stage for Gerolsteiner, but failed. He ended up dragging both Moreni and Tosatto for several kilometers. But it was Tosatto who beat Cofidis' Moreni to the line. And, in winning, he won Quick Step's first stage of this Tour. Surprising since Tom Boonen had started (though did not finish) this year's tour. It was nice redemption after losing so many other sprint finishes.

The remaining breakaway riders trickled in, followed by a charging peloton. It was fight for the few remaining points -- though McEwen was not involved. Probably because he's leading by something like 84 points. Eight minutes after Tosatto finished, Bernhard Eisel was the first to the line, followed by Luca Paolini and Erik Zabel.

Of course, what everyone was talking about (instead of the stage that was being raced) was the time trial. It'll happen tomorrow and we should know the winner of the tour by the time it's over. It'll be exciting and I can't wait.

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