Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 20

Marcoussis to Paris (Champs-Elysees) 146 km

Stage 20 ends the Tour. What a trip. GNB Sports. Welcome.

A beautiful day riding into Paris. Only 31 seconds separate Alberto Contador in Yellow leading the Tour from Levi Leipheimer in third, both riding for Team Discovery Channel. Cadel Evans 23 seconds back is in second for Predictor-Lotto. It's unlikely Cadel will try to move up but with only 23 seconds between them almost anything could be enough to cause the race lead to shift. The race isn't over till it's over. Discovery's job today is to protect the Yellow Jersey all the way to the finish.

After hours of meandering French countryside we're finally about to make the famous turn onto the Champs-Elysees, the roar of the crowd, and eight increasingly fast laps ending with a bell lap where the 141 riders of the 189 who started the Tour will scream past the cheering crowds in a dangerous sprint for the finish. AND ONTO THE CHAMP-ELYSEES THEY COME, around the right corner the peloton of the Tour de France led by Team Discovery the best team this year and George Hincapie leading out the team riding close around its leader Yellow Jersey holder Alberto Contador, the Discovery boys for the eighth year of the last nine, lead the way onto the fabled cobblestones for the first of eight circuits.

Across the finish line team Discovery rides at high speed with 31 kilometers left. And here we go... An hour of breakaways, quick reactions, attempts to sprint clear, tension, counter moves, and chases. What matters is Alberto Contador staying ahead of Cadel Evans, while Cadel Evans stays ahead of Levi Leipheimer. Any attempt by Discovery or Predictor-Lotto to make a move will be hit back hard and instantly. Everyone else can do as they wish as long as they're not seen to be riding in support of the main riders or a danger to the main riders.

Rabobank -- who you may recall pulled Yellow Jersey holder Michael Rasmussen out of the Tour after he won stage 16 claiming Rasmussen lied to the team, then fired him from Rabobank, then pulled the entire team out of the Tour -- has said that they, Rabobank will pay team members their shares of the GC winner's purse for their hard work over two weeks getting and then keeping Rasmussen in Yellow, that is paying the riders a full GC share just as if Rasmussen had gone on to win the Tour. An amazingly classy move by Rabobank.

Speaking of, Alexandre Vinokourov's B sample has come back positive; we know through a media leak, another violation of testing protocol via the French labs via the French press. Our experience with looking at the Floyd Landis case in lots of detail from a year ago through all of the hearings till today, short version, is we wouldn't want to be on trial on the basis Floyd is being tried. His case and that of other athletes in many sports lacks major elements of due process and what people in the U.S. would consider normal constitutional safeguards and protections. Additionally the presumption of innocence is reversed; the athlete is expected to prove a negative in many cases. Finally, the procedures of the French laboratories are sloppy past the point of being believable in any case where careers and reputation hang in the balance.

Having said all this, of course Vino may have doped. Desperate people do desperate things. We hope however no one reading this believes anything about doping because they read about it in the popular press or because the UCI or the Tour organization or the anti-doping laboratories say so, any more than most of us believe the main-stream media. In the same way, you certainly shouldn't believe the riders any more than we believe major media figures. About the Floyd Landis case, Trust But Verify has enormous credibility about doping. Want to learn more about all of the doping cases? Start there.

From London to Paris in 22 days around France. Now we're in the heart of Paris riding around in circles going faster and faster. The break of ten has 25 seconds on the peloton with two laps to go. A slight drizzle has started. The cobblestones are slick and increasingly dangerous.

Remember that stage 8 famous bidon pull Levi made to get back after mechanical troubles, the infamous ten second penalty? Levi's only down to Cadel by eight seconds. The unexpected penalty -- many would say uncalled for -- cost Levi second place on the final podium. Levi of course is nothing but gracious: "If it was for the win, it would have been more heart-breaking. We have two stage wins, the Yellow Jersey, the White Jersey and two guys on the podium. I think we can be happy with this Tour." Levi -- don't forget Discovery is about to win the Team Classification also!

The peloton swallows the break. It's all coming down to a sprint finish as we hit the BELL LAP. Alberto Contador and his Yellow Jersey is enroute to victory, tucked away and protected by his teammates about 20 riders from the front. It's the sprinters now racing flat-out for the stage win in a long line AND DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME AT OVER 55 kilometers per hour at 250 meters to the final finishing line, teammates swinging off, Bennati, Hunter, Thor Hushovd, Hunter, Zabel, Boonen, it's Bennati! Daniele Bennati on the line the man from Italy wins today in Paris.

Final Results 2007 Tour de France

Alberto Contador the 24 year old young man wins both the Yellow Jersey of the Tour de France Overall Win and the White Jersey of the Best Young Rider. Tom Boonen wins the Green Jersey of the Points Competition (Sprinters). Mauricio Soler wins the Polka-Dot Jersey of the King of the Mountains. And Amets Txurruka wins Most Aggressive rider.

2,200 miles, 21 days, and 31 seconds -- that's 500 meters at speed -- separates the three leaders from each other in the second closest ever finish in Tour history, behind only the 8 second gap of winner Lemond and Fignon. Alberto Contador may be the future face of the Tour, the first rider since Jan Ulrich in 1997 to win both the Tour and the White Jersey, although certainly Cadel Evans wants another chance to win Yellow. And Levi may have his eyes set there as well.

The Discovery Team wins the Team Classification award for the first time ever including all the years they rode for Lance. George Hincapie looks SO happy. *sighs*

That's the 2007 Tour de France. No way to sum up this Tour. Our article on doping and trust will be published this week. Thank you for for an amazing 22 days, for your insightful comments and for welcoming this series. It's been fun and worthwhile. Go ride a bicycle.

From the GNB Sports Desk, this has been Jesse Wendel. Goodbye.

Today's video highlights -- Great Tour coverage at VeloNews

A Feast on Wheels: Behind the scenes Tour coverage by correspondent Bonnie DeSimone of ESPN, Boston Globe and the Oregonian.

Cyclelicious -- What's Your Source of News for Le Tour?

TDF Stage 20 Results -- Top 5:
The top five in the 20th stage of the 2007 Tour de France is:
1. Daniele Bennati (ITA) LAM
2. Thor Hushovd (NOR) C.A
3. Erik Zabel (GER) MRM
4. Robert Hunter (RSA) BAR
5. Tom Boonen (BEL) QSI

TDF: Standings after Stage 20

1 112 CONTADOR, Alberto ESP DSC 91:00:26.000 00:00:00.000
2 041 EVANS, Cadel AUS PRL 91:00:49.000 00:00:23.000
3 111 LEIPHEIMER, Levi USA DSC 91:00:57.000 00:00:31.000
4 031 SASTRE, Carlos ESP CSC 91:07:34.000 00:07:08.000
5 071 ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP EUS 91:08:43.000 00:08:17.000
6 018 VALVERDE, Alejandro ESP GCE 91:12:03.000 00:11:37.000
7 027 KIRCHEN, Kim LUX TMO 91:12:44.000 00:12:18.000
8 118 POPOVYCH, Yaroslav UKR DSC 91:12:51.000 00:12:25.000
9 073 ASTARLOZA, Mikel ESP EUS 91:14:40.000 00:14:14.000
10 011 PEREIRO SIO, Oscar ESP GCE 91:14:51.000 00:14:25.000