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Tour de France '08 Stage 20 Link Roundup

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    <h2><span class="stage-span"><a href="/race/tdf2008/stage20/">Stage 20</a></span></h2>

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Stage 20: The Race is Decideth

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letour.jpgI had a really nice stage summary, really, but the Internets ated it and I had to take off for Comic-Con. But here is a simpler summary:

Everyone was wrong

Evans didn't race Sastre for the yellow jersey; he raced Bernard Kohl for second, which either reflects poorly on Evans, really well on Kohl and Sastre, or both.

I could also say:

Bjarne Riis was right

Riis may have raced with three GC contenders, but Sastre was his go-to rider. Sastre is his ever-consistent Grand Tour rider, full of experience and strong GC finishes. Even with Frank Schleck in yellow, Riis bet it all on a Sastre gambit on Alpe d'Huez. That gambit put Sastre in yellow, strained Evans, and delivered today's outcome.

As someone who's always emphasized the role of teams in the sport of cycling, I was a bit worried that Evans would defy this pseudo-truism. There's much to admire in Evans gutsy attempt, the mix of strong TT abilities and solo defenses on the climbs. It would also have been a nice storyline to have the Tour bookended with Silence Lotto's Evans and first and Wim Vansevenant in last.

But it is a team sport. CSC once again proved that. Kudos to Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck, Volodymir Gustov, Jens Voigt, Fabian Cancellara, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, and Nicki Sorensen. Evans, Valverde, Cunego, and Vande Velde are just a small sampling of their victims. Bernard Kohl found himself asking them permission to collect his KOM points.

Even on today's Individual Time Trial they did their damage as a team and they will rightly ride into Paris first together tomorrow with all nine of their riders.

Hushovd gets another stage win as he edges out McEwen. It was fitting that Hushovd closed out this year's Tour after he surprised everyone by winning the prologue and donning the first yellow jersey for this Tour, a yellow jersey that ended up being worn by many riders: Hushovd, Hincapie, Boonen, Gonchar, Dessel, Pereiro, and Landis.

Floyd Landis has won in Paris today and I'm happy for American cycling. I never thought after seeing Floyd in yellow at the Tour of California that he would have such an affinity for it this season. With the exception of the Dauphine, Floyd was pretty much in the yellow jersey from the start of his season to it's Tour de France conclusion. He won both of the American Tours, Paris-Nice, and now, the hardest and biggest of them all, the Tour de France. There is no asterisk for this Tour -- it was too good of a race for that. I just hope Landis will come back next year with his super hip and win again so the press can speculate whether or not his hip replacement is performance-enhancing. Landis has had one of the best seasons for a Tour winner in recent memory, biased by the fact that Armstrong has for the past seven years raced with full focus on the Tour, often with no wins anywhere else. Landis gave us an entire season to cheer through, especially for the American fans that saw him win twice on American soil. I'm really looking forward to the next Tour of California -- the Landis effect should be amazing.

I never thought Landis would win. I thought he would crack because of his team, and he did, but then he delivered a stunning comeback that said, "I am an Army of One." I also never thought Pereiro would be on that stage, but like many of the other top five riders, he managed to occupy leap into the overall spot of an absent leader, in this case Alejandro Valverde.

Operation Puerto was the start of this Tour's story, then it was followed by the crashes of and abandons many of the remaining contenders -- Valverde, Julich, Mayo. With so much damage to the top of the field, the story of the Tour switched to the lieutenants that stepped forward: Sastre, Kloden, Dessel, Moreau, Zubeldia, Rogers, and finally Pereiro. If you look at the top five, and swap in the names of the riders for their expected team leader, you'll see a top five that looks a lot like what people expected before the Tour; the lieutenants and teams really rose to the challenge.

And then of course there was Landis, who despite defending the efforts of his team, built his lead entirely on efforts done by himself: two time trials and the long solo mountain stage. Landis contributed two stories of comeback to this year's Tour. At the first rest day, we learned of his 2005 comeback and future adversity as x-rays of Landis' hip flashed across our TV screens. Perhaps that bode well for Landis, as it now seems a necessary element of the American cyclist champion that he overcome major health obstacles to stand atop that podium in France, whether it be shotgun shots, cancer, or dead hips. Then came the other comeback, the one that followed a ten-minute collapse, where previously Landis had seemed invulnerable on any mountain.

The only surprise for me was the absense of Discovery, which may have fallen victim to one too many captains, but really just seemed not in the right condition to compete. Levi Leipheimer was also more off-form than expected, but showed a resiliency and determination that was fun to cheer on. The American cyclists didn't do as well as expected, especially in the time trial, but it only takes one atop that podium to hold the banner of American cycling high.

Now I'm looking forward to next year. We may get to see Tom Danielson race his first Tour -- we'll definitely get to see his second Vuelta soon enough. Who knows what team Landis will be on. Will George finally get his Paris-Roubaix? The second Tour of California -- I'll be there -- and the Tour de Georgia -- will I be there as well? American cycling has never been more fun to watch.

Prediction check: * Prediction: Robbie McEwen, though with so many sprinters out of the competition a breakaway has a good chance today. Not much sense in trying to pick a breakaway rider, so I'll stick with Robbie. * Actual: Hushovd first, McEwen second

Armstrong's final victory, first of this Tour, and a great conclusion to his career. It looked like it would be a close one at the first check, with Basso in front of Armstrong and Ullrich, but by the next check there was no doubt: Armstrong was going to win this one and he would get the stage victory he needed to legitimize his yellow jersey. Armstrong will win this tour by 4:40, not his biggest margin, but a huge margin nevertheless.

Today's victory by Armstrong was all about preparation. While all the other riders were struggling through the technical course with their aerodynamic, rear disc wheels, Armstrong was nimbly picking apart the turns with a much more maneuverable three-spoke rear wheel. The equipment choice seemed to hurt Basso, who looked hesitant on the technical second leg of the course, dropping from seven seconds up in the first time check to 34 seconds behind Ullrich through the second check.

Top 8 finishers (four Americans!) and their gear choices: Hincapie, Evans, Landis, Basso, Julich, Vinokourov, Ullrich, Armstrong

The course was treacherous enough to cause 3rd-now-7th place Rasmussen to disintegrate, crashing twice and switching bikes 4+ times. Rasmussen was the real disaster story of this stage, and I can't ever recall seeing a worse performance by a rider in an individual time trial. Rasmussen wasn't going to hold 3rd place against Ullrich, but his collapse pushed him out of the top five overall. People will remember this stage for both it's great and horrible performances: Armstrong's dominating farewell and Rasmussen's catastrophe.

The Tour may be all but over for Armstrong, but some of the other GC contenders will duke it out tomorrow. Leipheimer broke into the top 5, but Vino had a great performance today and is now only 2 seconds behind him. It should make some of the intermediate sprints more interesting.