“I don't expect to win this Tour anymore. It's never easy to get back eight minutes but I'll keep fighting till the end and try.”
That was Floyd Landis, after yesterday's stage 16.
OLN's ratings for the Tour de France are down a lot this year, which is not surprising with Lance Armstrong's retirement. Fans of cycling who stuck with the sport and followed today's stage, though, witnessed one of the most incredible efforts in Tour history. I didn't arrive home from LA until 3am last night, and my Pacific-time-zoned body stayed up until 6am watching yesterday's stage off of my DVR. Then, my alarm woke me at 8am, and despite feeling like Landis looked on that final climb yesterday, I dragged myself out of bed just to see if anything interesting had happened in the stage.
I flipped on the TV, and within seconds I knew I wouldn't be sleeping again this day. Floyd was away already, on a desperate, near suicidal attempt to rescue his yellow jersey dreams. This is one time I wished I was in France (well, actually, that's lots of times) because OLN's coverage started too late to capture Floyd's attack as it came so early in the stage.
A day earlier, Floyd bonked on the final climb and lost a staggering 8 minutes plus and fell from first all the way to eleventh. Just about everyone wrote him off, me included. Only two stages remained for Landis to regain time: today's final mountain stage in the Alps, and Saturday's final time trial. Friday and Sunday's stages are flat, too difficult for a podium contender to get away from his competition. So today Landis had no choice but to attack. Everyone knew he had to attack, and everyone knew his team was not strong enough to support him. He'd have to do it on his own, and to make up serious time, he'd have to attack early.
Every other team knew it, and despite all that, when Floyd attacked on the very first climb in pursuit of an 11-man breakaway, none of his contenders could follow. He left all of them panting in the wake of a devastating acceleration.
He caught the 11-man breakaway, then sliced them up like a Santoku knife through chicken breast. Up and down over five climbs, Landis never let up. Many had noted that even after Landis gained the yellow jersey, he hadn't put his mark on this Tour, hadn't attacked. Without a strong team, he'd ridden conservatively, simply marking his key opponents.
The French press will have to find something else to complain about now. Landis's ride today was the type of bold, courageous, solo effort that recalled the greatest cyclist ever, Eddy Merckx. I had goosebumps for nearly the entire broadcast.
Now, Landis has to be the favorite again, especially as the strongest time trialist among the contenders. He sits third, 30 seconds behind race leader Pereiro, with Sastre sandwiched in between in second. I expect Landis to ride himself inside-out in Saturday's time trial, just in time to don the yellow jersey for the final ride into Paris.
Just awesome. Catch the replay of today's stage on OLN tonight. Hopefully they'll have more footage from Landis's initial attack.