Stage 18: Morzine - Macon

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

Look! A QuickStep jersey crossing the line first! Tossato won on a day controlled by the breakaway, getting a win for QuickStep where Boonen could not. Fifteen riders got away and stayed away as Saunier Duval gave a half-hearted chase. With most of the sprint teams missing their big sprinters -- Boonen abandoned, Bennati crashed/abandoned, Freire did not start -- and with Lotto having Aerts in the breakaway, no one really had a reason to help out SD. The good news for Phonak is that Saunier Duval did try to chase as it meant that they wouldn't have to worry about Levi Leipheimer in the break. Even though Levi was 22 minutes down, Pereiro's yellow jersey has something to say about that. Levi still gained almost seven minutes in the GC, which moves him within striking distance of the top ten.

Gerolsteiner went for the win with Levi and Scholz in the break. Levi made the first attempt at going for the win, jumping off the front of the break and pedalling with Euskatel's Isasi, but they were eventually pulled back with 20k to go. Scholz then attacked and two riders jumped across to join him. That attack was successful, but Scholz seemed fairly spent in the final kilometers. Tossato and Moreni came around easily in the final sprint.

Zabriskie was in the break but ended up finishing by himself, 2:23 down. I hope that means that he intentionally dropped off to save some energy for tomorrow. I'm still picking him for the time trial, though I have a feeling that the week may have been too difficult for CSC as they vaulted Sastre up the standings. Landis is the better bet for the time trial, especially with Zabriskie having to go very early in the day and setting a benchmark for others to follow. But CSC has fought back after losing two leaders and a domestique, getting stage wins by Schleck and Voigt in week two, leading the team classification for a bit, and putting Sastre on the podium. It's a strong squad of six and I'd like to see them get another prize.

Prediction check: * My prediction: Breakaway.George Hincapie has been going into break after break with no results. I'll pick him, but I'm also wondering if Chris Horner finally has his legs back. McEwen should win the bunch sprint easily as all of his competitors are out. Freire abandoned today, Boonen and Bennati previously abandoned. * Actual: Popo was in the first break and Martinez in the second, but no sign of Hincapie. McEwen didn't even bother participating in the sprint.

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Prediction: Breakaway.George Hincapie has been going into break after break with no results. I'll pick him, but I'm also wondering if Chris Horner finally has his legs back.

Prediction update: McEwen should win the bunch sprint easily as all of his competitors are out. Freire abandoned today, Boonen and Bennati previously abandoned.

Stage log

Levi and Zabriksie are in a 15-rider break 3:21 ahead. Egoi Martinez is Discovery's rider covering the break. Saunier Duval is chasing. I'm surprised to see Zabriskie covering the breaks and not saving up for tomorrow.

The previous break was Popovych (Discovery) and Millar (Saunier Duval). I don't know if Saunier Duval is doing the chase to try and setup Millar again or if they have another rider in mind.

Col du Berthiand, Cat 2

Gap is still at 3:15. Saunier Duval's chase isn't doing much, but it is holding Levi in check for Landis/Phonak. Calzati drove it up and over the climb.

Cote de Chambod, Cat 4

Fairly easy climb and Levi rolls over the top first.

Calzati did a sneak attack from the team cars. Martinez and Moreni are going across. It all comes back together but now Isasi jumps and Levi decides to go with him.

Isasi and Levi are clear by almost half a minute. The peloton has let the breakaway get out to 4:18 with 40k to go. Saunier Duval really has to pick it up at this point if they want to bring it back, but right now it looks like a successful break.

Robbie McEwen angrily sprinted forward and chased away a motorbike. Saunier Duval is at the front of the peloton trying to chase down the break and Robbie is making sure that they don't get any help trying to chase down Robbie's teammate Aerts, who's in the break.

5:11 with 32.4k to go. Time to start betting on the riders in the break. Levi/Isasi are being held at 0:27 in front of the rest of the breakaway riders. I'd love to see Levi get his stage win and, honestly, he's the last person I expected to see up front when I looked at this stage profile.

It looks like the Levi/Isasi attack is going to fail. 0:18. And it fails.

Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Moreni (Cofidis), and Tosatto (QuickStep) now have the lead break. Levi is handing over the chance at victory to his teammate. Levi is sitting on the back of a chase group.

With 8k to go the chase breakaway group is now swarming up to try and catch the 3 riders ahead. They have a a 0:36 lead. Levi is doing his best to disrupt. Quinziato is trying to bridge. The chase is dissolving as no one wants to pull to Quinziato.

5k to go. The big chase group is at 0:50. Quinziato is somewhere between -- 0:39.

Scholz attacks. He isn't able to get clear from Tossato. Moreni comes through to the front.

2k to go.

Scholz puts in another weak attack and Tossato pulls it back. Tossato comes trhough to the front then holds up. Now Scholz is in front again, weaving.

1k to go. Scholz hasn't had much power. I think it's Tossato right now

Tossato leads it out. Moreni gets on his wheel. Tossato holds him off as Scholz didn't even try to contest. From his weak attacks before I think he was spent.

Quinziato comes in about 45 seconds down. Now Levi's group rolls through. Levi may get about 7 minutes or so in the GC standings. Not a bad day for him though Gerolsteiner wanted the win

related articles: Tour de France 2006
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