July 20, 2006

Landis charges back, Pereiro still in yellow

By Jean-Paul Couret

MORZINE, France (Reuters) - Floyd Landis produced an
incredible comeback a day after saying he had lost the Tour de
France, to claim the last mountain stage of the race from
Saint-Jean de Maurienne to Morzine.

The Phonak rider, who cracked on Wednesday's Alpine stage,
crossed the line five minutes and 42 seconds ahead of Spaniard
Carlos Sastre (CSC).

Oscar Pereiro finished seventh 7:08 off the pace and
retained the yellow jersey with a lead of 12 seconds over

Landis, having climbed four daunting passes in five hours
23 minutes and 36 seconds at an average speed of 37.18 kph, cut
his deficit from 8:08 to 30 seconds.

"Yesterday (Wednesday), I had a bad day. I was very
disappointed because my team had worked well," the 30-year-old
told reporters.

"I had to make up for it, I had to show I deserved to be a

Asked about his chances of winning the Tour for the first
time, Landis answered: "I'm very confident in my time trailing
ability but I just have to wait and see."

After a transitional 18th stage from Morzine to Macon, a
57-km time trial will decide the winner of the Tour on the eve
of Sunday's last parade on the Champs-Elysees.

Landis is regarded as the best time trial specialist of the
overall top three and defeated Sastre and Pereiro by 1:10 and
1:40 respectively in the first stage against the clock.


"Landis did a sensational stage and deserves
congratulations," Sastre said.

"He went like an eagle on the first climb and against that
you can't do anything."

On Thursday, the third consecutive day of high mountain
climbing in the Alps, 11 riders broke away soon after the start
of the 200.5-km 17th stage.

The shock attack, however, came 73 km into the race when
Landis destroyed the peloton on the opening climb, the first
category Col des Saisies.

Following Wednesday's disappointment, Landis had written
off his chances of the overall victory saying: "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."

True to his word, the former lieutenant turned rival of
seven-times champion Lance Armstrong, launched a brave and
solitary challenge to his adversaries and maybe to himself on
the long and hot climb.

At the summit, the American was two minutes and 57 seconds
behind Frenchman Patrice Halgand, who was the first to dive
over. The main bunch, led by Pereiro, was 6:03 behind the

In an amazing ride, Landis caught most of the leading
group, except Halgand, in the valley between the Col des
Saisies and the second category climb, Col des Aravis.


Over the top, Halgand's lead on Landis was down to 1:12 and
with 76 km to go, the Frenchman was caught.

Landis led with German Patrik Sinkewitz, Italian Daniele
Righi (LAM), Australian Stuart O'Grady and Halgand.

Approaching the first-category Col de la Colombiere, the
Phonak rider suffered a puncture on his rear wheel but he went
straight back to the front on a spare bike.

Righi, Halgand and O'Grady gave up on the slopes and Landis
was first at the top with Sinkewitz just behind him.

The hors-category Joux-Plane, a monster of a col with an
altitude gain of about 990 meters and a maximum gradient of
10.5 percent, loomed.

Landis dropped Sinkewitz and dived into the sharp and
tricky 12-km descent to Morzine.