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93rd Tour de France - ProT

France, July 1-23, 2006

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Stage 19 - Saturday, July 22: Le Creusot - Montceau-les-Mines ITT, 57 km

Live Commentary by Shane Stokes and Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Anthony Tan, Hedwig Kröner and Brecht Decaluwé

Live report

Live coverage starts: 11:15 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:10 CEST

The penultimate stage of the 2006 Tour de France is a rolling time test over a course that is similar to one that Jan Ullrich won in 1998 from Montceau-les-Mines to Le Creusot. It will reveal who is the strongest time triallist in this year's Tour and will undoubtedly decide who will win overall.

11:22 CEST   
Welcome to our live coverage of what should be the final showdown in this year's Tour de France: the stage 19 time trial between Le Creusot and Montceau-les-Mines over 57 km. It's an up and down course, but there are no categorised climbs. The highest point is at 397m after 45 km, and the course finishes at at 286m.

The intermediate time checks are at Montchanin-le-Haut (km 16.5), Montcenis (km 34), and Villa-Sirot (km 51.5). The first rider to leave is Wim Vansevenant (Davitamon-Lotto) at 11:15, and then the riders will depart at 2 minute intervals until the final 20 riders, who leave at 3 minute intervals. The last rider to start is race leader Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne), who will roll out from the ramp at 16:15.

The GC situation has Pereiro leading Carlos Sastre by just 12 seconds, and Floyd Landis by 30 seconds. Andreas Klöden is a distant 2'29 back in fourth, but is still a chance of making the podium. Cadel Evans is 3'08 back in fifth, and a very distant podium chance. He may even be overtaken by Denis Menchov, who is sixth at 4'14, but we will see.

11:24 CEST   
Vansevenant was the first to leave, followed by his teammate Gert Steegmans. Then Jimmy Casper (Cofidis), Aitor Hernández (Euskaltel) and Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) roll out.

11:33 CEST   
2004 stage winner Filippo Pozzato (Quick.Step) was off at 11.25, followed by Cedric Coutouly (Agritubel) and Christophe Mengin (FDJ).

The weather is 26.5 degrees at the moment. It rained earlier but while it is overcast, it is dry for now. However there is a chance of rain later on, something which may affect the times somewhat.

11:40 CEST   
Kjell Carlström (Liquigas) goes at 11.31, then Arnaud Coyot (Cofidis), Patrick Calcagni (Liquigas) and Julian Dean (Credit Agricole). At 11.39 Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel) rolls down the start ramp and then it is the turn of TT specialist Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis), who might post a decent ride. That's if he's got anything left at this stage - it's been a long, tough three weeks and some riders who might otherwise give it a go will be thinking only of Paris.

11:44 CEST   
So Steegmans beats his team-mate Vansevenant at the first time check. Both are likely to be in 'survival' mode today, so we don't expect those times to last very long at the top of the leaderboard.

11:51 CEST   
This stage is similar to that used in 1998, but that TT ran in the opposite direction. What’s interesting about the results is that Bobby Julich was just 1’01 behind the winner Jan Ullrich, the American finishing strong at the end of a race he would be third in. But of bigger significance is the fact that Marco Pantani finished just 2’35 behind Ullrich in third place – a very solid ride by the yellow jersey and eventual winner.

Our reason for mentioning this? Simply that the yellow jersey can help give its wearer extra strength and motivation. Oscar Pereiro will be hoping that this is the case today.

Those results from eight years ago:

Stage 20, Montceau-les-Mines - Le Creusot, ITT 53 kms:

1. Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom 1.03.52 (48.851)
2. Bobby Julich (USA) Cofidis 1.01
3. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone Uno 2.35
4. Dariusz Baranowski (Pol) US Postal 3.11
5. Andrei Teteriuk (Kaz) Lotto 3.46
6. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) US Postal 3.48
7. Christophe Rinero (Fra) Cofidis 3.50
8. Riccardo Forconi (Ita) Mercatone Uno 3.55
9. Axel Merckx (Bel) Polti 3.59
10. Roland Meier (Swi) Cofidis 4.29

Of those riders, Ekimov, Rinero and Merckx are here today.

Jan Ullrich has been sacked, as of yesterday, by his T-Mobile team, ending a long association interrupted only by his year with Bianchi/Team Coast. And Pantani is no longer with us.

11:53 CEST   
Spanish rider Aitor Hernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is the current best time in 21'14. Pozzato is 24 seconds back.

11:58 CEST   
Most people are (logically) expecting Landis to beat Pereiro this afternoon. The Spaniard is a solid enough time trialist, though, and will put up a fight to try to hold yellow. He did a good time in the concluding TT at the 2003 Tour de Suisse, covering the 33 kilometre course around Gossau in a time just 16 seconds off that of Jan Ullrich, and was quicker than Alexandre Vinokourov.

1 Bradley Mc Gee (Aus) FDJeux.com 42.20.77
2 Uwe Peschel (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.23.35
3 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Team Bianchi 0.50.26
4 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 1.06.78
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom 1.12.62

12:07 CEST   
Landis did, of course, beat him by 1'40.3 in the 52 kilometres Saint-Grégoire - Rennes ITT earlier in this Tour. The American had also lost approximately 20-30 seconds when he had to change his bike due to a problem with his TT handlebars. So, on paper, he is approximately 2 minutes quicker over a slightly shorter distance than today's race.

We will see - Pereiro will certainly be more motivated. As for Sastre, he was 18th in that time trial, 1'10 behind Landis and 30 seconds quicker than Pereiro.

Latest starters:

11:43:00 Christophe Laurent (Agritubel)
11:45:00 Stéphane Auge (Cofidis)
11:47:00 Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
11:49:00 Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)
11:51:00 Victor Hugo Pena (Phonak)
11:53:00 Matej Mugerli (Liquigas)
11:55:00 Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R-Prevoyance)
11:57:00 Michael Albasini (Liquigas)
11:59:00 Matteo Tosatto (Quick-Step-Innergetic)
12:01:00 Eduardo Gonzalo (Agritubel)
12:03:00 Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)
12:05:00 Johan Vansummeren (Davitamon-Lotto)
12:07:00 Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)

12:12 CEST   
A few minutes ago, Wiggins went through the first intermediate time check with the second best time so far. He was 4 seconds behind Hernández.

The Briton is best known for taking three track medals in the 2004 Olympics; gold in the individual pursuit, silver in the team pursuit and bronze with Rob Hayles in the madison. That made him the most successful British Olympian (any sport) at a single Games since 1964.

12:17 CEST   
Pereiro's team-mate Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) goes 5" quicker than Hernández at the first time check. Meanwhile Pozzato is 3" up on Hernández at the second.

Hernández is certainly pushing it today. He was only 164th in the first time trial, 8'44.63 behind stage winner Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile). Gonchar may be hoping for another good showing today, of course.

12:30 CEST   
This may be of interest - a look at the top fifteen overall, and their times relative to the stage winner Serguei Gonchar in the first long time trial.

Interestingly, Boogerd, Schleck, Leipheimer, Cunego and Caucchioli will all need to improve today. They were at least 5' down over a slightly shorter distance.

General classification after stage 18

1 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 84.33.04 (40.747 km/h)
2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC 0.12
3 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.30
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile 2.29
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 3.08
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 4.14
7 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 4.24
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 5.45
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 8.16
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 12.13
11 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 13.48
12 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 13.52
13 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 15.01
14 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crédit Agricole 15.46
15 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 17.18
16 Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 17.23

Performance in earlier TT:

Stage 7 - Saturday, July 8: Saint-Grégoire - Rennes ITT, 52 km

1 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile (50.54 km/h)
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 1.00.62
4 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 1.23.87
7 Marcus Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner 1.41.77
8 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile 1.43.26
9 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 1.43.90
11 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 1.49.39
15 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 2.03.46
18 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC 2.10.59
23 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 2.40.92
36 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 3.31.84
38 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 3.42.11
66 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 5.05.06
72 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 5.15.69
96 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner 6.05.46
106 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 6.22.99
119 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crédit Agricole 6.37.85

12:32 CEST   
Back to today's action...Belgian rider Johan Vansummeren (Davitamon-Lotto) goes through the first time check just 2 seconds behind Brand. Wiggins is now fastest at km 34, 10" up on Pozzato.

12:36 CEST   
Three riders are now through the third time check at km 51.5. Hernández leads Steegmans by 2'35 with Vansevenant a further ten seconds back.

That gives the Spaniard an average speed of approximately 44 km/h. We guestimate that this course will be covered at a speed of about 49 km/h by the winner today, giving him an approximate time just below 1.10'.

12:43 CEST   
The sole South African in this year's Tour Robert Hunter (Phonak) went through the first time check 3'46 down.

12:44 CEST   
He started at 12:09. Since then, the following riders have left:

12:09:00 Robert Hunter (Phonak)
12:11:00 Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole)
12:13:00 Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom)
12:15:00 Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole)
12:17:00 Philippe Gilbert (Française Des Jeux)
12:19:00 Bert Grabsch (Phonak)
12:21:00 Daniele Righi (Lampre-Fondital)
12:23:00 Gustav Larsson (Française Des Jeux)
12:25:00 Bernhard Eisel (Française Des Jeux)
12:27:00 Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak)
12:29:00 Christian Knees (Milram)
12:31:00 Ralf Grabsch (Milram)
12:33:00 Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears)
12:35:00 Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto)
12:37:00 Luca Paolini (Liquigas)
12:39:00 Alexandre Moos (Phonak)
12:41:00 Marco Velo (Milram)
12:43:00 Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner)

12:49 CEST   
There are three new leaders at the various time checks: Bert Grabsch (Phonak) went through the first at km 16.5 with a time of 20.42, 27" quicker than Brard.

Christophe Mengin (Française Des Jeux) beat Pozzato by 1" at the third time check, 51.5 km into the race, while the latter went quicker than Hernández at the finish. However his time at the top of the leaderboard is short; Mengin has pipped him there too, posting 1.15'31, 6 seconds quicker than the Italian.

12:54 CEST   
For those supporting Floyd Landis, this week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. Yellow on l'Alpe d'Huez (something which more often than not correlates with the final yellow jersey in Paris), meltdown the following day and then resurrection in stage 17; it's been a nerve racking time.

My brother had 10 euro on Landis at 10 to 1...he was pretty disappointed on Wednesday but 24 hours later, was feeling a whole lot more hopeful. We heard an unconfirmed report that Eddy Merckx put 100 euro down on Landis after his collapse in stage 16. That's confidence... No idea what odds he got at that point, but we guess they were healthy.

12:56 CEST   
Wiggins is motivated...he's beaten the time of Mengin by a full 19" at the third time check, which is just 5.5 km from the finish.

13:02 CEST   
Craig Hoffman from Atlanta has contacted us with the following question, which has been asked by a lot of people in recent days.

"Is tomorrow’s final stage really just ceremony and a sprint stage win or will you have any of the top contenders gunning it out for yellow on a break-away or taking advantage of a wreck etc...?"

Generally, the final stage is a processional one, with the main racing coming from those going for the stage win. However Alexandre Vinokourov overtook Levi Leipheimer for fifth overall after he beat the American in a bonus sprint at Châtenay-Malabry (km 74.9) and then won the stage. That shows that racing continues if the gaps are close enough.

13:04 CEST   
Robert Hunter supporter Sven Mahieu said that the South African's website reported that Eddy Merckx got odds of 75 to 1! So big Ted will certainly be backing Landis today.

13:06 CEST   
Wiggins lost a little bit of time to Mengin in the final run in to the finish, but still posted the best time. He has done a 1h15'20, 11 seconds quicker than the Frenchman.

Meanwhile Johan Vansummeren (Davitamon-Lotto) has set a new best of 44'43 at km 34.

13:19 CEST   
Bert Grabsch grabsches the intermediate lead at km 34, going a full 1'16 quicker than Vansummeren. That's fast..nearly 47 km/h. Meanwhile, Matej Mugerli (Liquigas) has improved from 14th at km 34 to race into the lead at provisional time check #3, doing a 1.09'25. Will Grabsch go quicker? We shall see...

13:25 CEST   
Vansummeren went quicker than Mugerli at the km 51.5 time check, and then continued on to beat him at the finish. 1.14'05 for the Belgian as compared to 1.14'54 for the Slovenian.

13:31 CEST   
A rider to watch is Dave Zabriskie, the winner of the opening time trial last year. He started at 13.25. Amongst the other riders en route now are Stuart O'Grady, Viatcheslav Ekimov, Thomas Voeckler, Erik Zabel (Milram) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank).

12:45:00 Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval)
12:47:00 Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC)
12:49:00 Cédric Vasseur (Quick-Step-Innergetic)
12:51:00 Bram Tankink (Quick-Step-Innergetic)
12:53:00 Joost Posthuma (Rabobank)
12:55:00 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Discovery Channel)
12:57:00 José Luis Rubiera (Discovery Channel)
12:59:00 Pieter Weening (Rabobank)
13:01:00 Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom)
13:03:00 Benoît Vaugrenard (Française Des Jeux)
13:05:00 Anthony Geslin (Bouygues Telecom)
13:07:00 Erik Zabel (Milram)
13:09:00 Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom)
13:11:00 Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank)
13:13:00 Björn Schröder (Milram)
13:15:00 Manuel Calvente (Agritubel)
13:17:00 Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas)
13:19:00 Simon Gerrans (AG2R-Prevoyance)
13:21:00 Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval)
13:23:00 Carlos Da Cruz (Française Des Jeux)
13:25:00 David Zabriskie (Team CSC)
13:27:00 Didier Rous (Bouygues Telecom)
13:29:00 Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
13:31:00 Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole)

13:33 CEST   
The next riders off will be:

Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) was third in the first long TT. He is heading off at 13.37 while the winner that day, Serguei Gonchar, will leave the start house at 14.03.

13:33:00 Juan Manuel Garate (Quick-Step-Innergetic)
13:35:00 Ińaki Isasi (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
13:37:00 Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)
13:39:00 Sandy Casar (Française Des Jeux)
13:41:00 Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre-Fondital)
13:43:00 Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner)
13:45:00 Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital)
13:47:00 Pavel Padrnos (Discovery Channel)
13:49:00 Thomas Lövkvist (Française Des Jeux)
13:51:00 Koos Moerenhout (Phonak)
13:53:00 Christopher Horner (Davitamon-Lotto)
13:55:00 David Millar (Saunier Duval)
13:57:00 Moises Duenas (Agritubel)
13:59:00 Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval)
14:01:00 David Moncoutié (Cofidis)
14:03:00 Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile)

13:40 CEST   
Grabsch grabsches the provisional lead at the finish, doing 1.11'28, a full 2'37 quicker than Vansummeren. That's fast, 47.85 km/h. He averaged 48.5 km/h in the first TT but this looks to be a harder course. He was 23rd then, 2'38 back.

So the guestimate that a winning speed of 49 km/h may win today may be a bit conservative..

13:43 CEST   
Irishman Peter Scott, who rides with the Cestria CC while living in England and gets out with St Tiernan's CC back in Dublin from time to time, has emailed us with a random thought.

"Before the real action gets underway you might consider this. I think Salvatore Commesso's sponsors should reduce his wages since his rolled-up sleeves result in vital advertising being hidden!

"I did check and one of the advertiser's logos cannot be seen on his jersey. With the pressure on cycling to get sponsors, I expect to see teams in 10 years time climbing the Galibier with full arms and legs, revealing various electronic advertising logos!"

Thanks for that..

13:48 CEST   
Tim Heathers gives his prediction for the winning time:

"67'50 is my guess - the last part is very fast for a true TT'er. Landis easily, but 2nd and 3rd overall are hard to predict.

13:54 CEST   
Two riders have moved ahead of Vansummeren at the finish, slotting into second and third behind Grabsch. Gustav Larsson (Française Des Jeux) was 38" back while Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) conceded 52".

Meanwhile Viatcheslav Ekimov (Discovery Channel) is second behind Grabsch in the first two time checks.

13:58 CEST   
Former double TT winner David Millar is starting now. His Saunier Duval Gilberto Simoni leaves four minutes later but the thoughts of the Italian chasing behind won't trouble him... At 14.09 Jens Voigt (Team CSC) goes and could do a decent ride if he is motivated.

13:55:00 David Millar (Saunier Duval)
13:57:00 Moises Duenas (Agritubel)
13:59:00 Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval)
14:01:00 David Moncoutié (Cofidis)
14:03:00 Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile)
14:05:00 Salvatore Commesso (Lampre-Fondital)
14:07:00 David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval)
14:09:00 Jens Voigt (Team CSC)
14:11:00 Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile)
14:13:00 Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas)
14:15:00 Matthieu Sprick (Bouygues Telecom)
14:17:00 Ińigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
14:19:00 Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole)
14:21:00 Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner)
14:23:00 Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis)
14:25:00 Patrice Halgand (Crédit Agricole)
14:27:00 Ruben Lobato (Saunier Duval)
14:29:00 Ivan Ramiro Parra (Cofidis)

14:02 CEST   
Tim Molloy gets in touch to say that this has been the best Tour in many years.

"The yellow jersey didn't give Laurent Fignon an extra boost in the 1989 Tour's final ITT when he went into the it with a 50 second lead and lost 58 seconds to Lemond. That is one stage I will not forget watching live on tv. No matter who wins this Tour, for me it has been one of the most exciting in many years. Let's face it, the last few years of Lance's domination have been pretty predictable and I feel most were riding for second."

14:06 CEST   
Having placed third in the first long TT, Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) is determined today. He is now the new leader at the first time check, 14" quicker than Grabsch. Dave Zabriskie is 6th best.

Joost Posthuma is doing a good ride; fifth at the first time check, third at the next and then second at km 51.5. He has been accelerating all the way and was just 7" behind Grabsch with 5.5 km remaining. It will be interesting to see what he does at the finish.

14:09 CEST   
Posthuma finishes behind Grabsch at the finish, but it doesn't matter a huge amount as Ekimov has now gone fastest! He is 2" quicker, recording a time of 1.11'26.

14:14 CEST   
Gonchar and Millar are both on the course, riding fast... Gonchar is twiddling his normal small gear grinding a monstrous cog as he gets every last bit of speed out.

Garzelli starts. He has had a reasonably quiet Tour and is well down overall.

14:17 CEST   
Zabriskie is now fourth at the km 34 check, 24" behind Grabsch.

Millar is riding in a very aero position, with his elbows extremely close together. A strong ride today will be his goal and would give him a lot of encouragement after returning from a long suspension. Not hard riding the Tour as your first race..

14:18 CEST   
Millar got one of the early corners wrong and lost time. He seems to be moving well now, though.

14:19 CEST   
Gonchar catches his two minute man Moncoutié and flies past...

14:23 CEST   
Lang comes to the second time check at 34 km and goes quickest, 1" up on Grabsch.

Gonchar is riding at 59 km/h at this point...coming to the first time check now.

14:25 CEST   
Phonak team manager John Lelangue has just given his thoughts on the time trial course to French TV. "It is very good...a course for a specialist time trialist without any really technical parts."

14:28 CEST   
Gonchar is smoking up this course...he has stormed thorough the first time check a full 41" quicker than Lang! If he keeps up this speed, it is estimated that he will improve on the current best time posted by Ekimov by three minutes...

He's already caught Moncoutié and now has Simoni in his sights.

14:28 CEST   
Millar was 7th at the first time check, 1'05 behind Gonchar's time.

14:33 CEST   
Leroy Heidrich from Sydney has been in touch, talking about Landis' avascular necrosis in his hip. "I myself have had it. It is the one of the most painful things I've ever had. I didn't have a hip replacement, but had a hole drilled into my femur. He must be one tough cookie mentally."

Monica Foulkes has been on, wondering what happens to Landis' gloves during the stage. He sometimes rides with them but is missing them at the finish, as was the case during his long break on Thursday. We are not sure, but perhaps it's a literal example of him throwing down the gauntlet or saying "the gloves are off" :)

14:35 CEST   
Garzelli is riding hard on his way to the first time check. Sweat is dripping from his face, showing the heat and also the effort he is putting in.

14:36 CEST   
Zabriskie is finishing! He's pulled out the stops and finishes very quickly, going 5" faster than Ekimov..

14:40 CEST   
That's a good ride, although Gonchar looks like he will be significantly faster if he can keep this up.

David Millar is turning the gears nicely as he continues on his ride. He is catching Chris Horner for two minutes now and his Saunier Duval directeur is cheering him on, via the loudspeaker. Some riders like to have that encouragement, others prefer to go their own thing.

He flies by Horner.

14:41 CEST   
Gerolsteiner DS Christian Henn told Cyclingnews this morning, "We saw the course after the Dauphine. It's hillier than expected. I expect the best times to be 1:11 or 1:12."

14:43 CEST   
French TT champ Sylvain Chavanel is riding hard, doing 59 km/h on a slightly downhill section. He is the anti-Landis, with his forearms pointing downwards.

Correction - Zabriskie's official time puts him 6" faster than Ekimov.

14:50 CEST   
Wow...Gonchar is ripping this course apart. He goes through km 34 in 41'19, a full 2'07 better than Lang.

Speaking of Lang, he is finishing now...he looks on course to be the quickest... Yes, he does 1.11'03... That's 17 seconds faster than Zabriskie's mark.

14:55 CEST   
Jens Voigt (CSC) is arriving at the second check but is well outside the top 5 there.

George Hincapie is on the course and looks to be going well so far. He was a very close second in the prologue what seems like 10 weeks ago, but didn't really deliver on that. He is 1 hour 7 minutes down on GC. Azevedo is Discovery's best rider, 19th overall.

14:59 CEST   
Axel Merckx (Phonak) has just left the start house. His father Eddy (who rode a bike once or twice, we think) has close links with the team. No, they don't use his bikes, but rather he is close friends with John Lelangue, the manager. The two grew up together as Merckx and Lelangue's father a) rode together on the same team and then b) worked together in the great Belgian's bike factory.

Merckx junior told Cyclingnews earlier this year that he wanted to work together with John Lelangue due to that bond. Interestingly, Eddy Merckx was one of those who encouraged Lelangue, Landis and the team to keep fighting after Wednesday's disappointment.

15:04 CEST   
Hincapie adjusts his front brakes as he pedals - they were either rubbing slightly or else he was just trying to get the tension right for braking. He looks very lean this year - indeed, he told us prior to the Tour that he expected to be at a racing weight of 72 or 73 kilos which, for a rider of 6'3 or so, is very light.

Perhaps that has cost him some strength - it can be a bit of a balancing act to get weight reduction exactly right, especially at such lean levels.

15:06 CEST   
Hincapie has a nifty paint job on the side of his aero helmet - looks like a shark's head and gaping mouth. He shall forever after be known as Jaws Hincapie.

15:08 CEST   
Millar comes in to the finish...he's digging deep as he comes to the line. 1.11'46 - that's good enough for fifth.

Yaroslav Popovych leaves the start house now. He's quickly onto the aerobars and turning a big gear.

Gonchar goes through the 51.5 km check a full 3'21 up on Lang... wow!!

15:10 CEST   
Chavanel continues his time trial, but has a large wedge of tissue in his left nostril. Looks like a nosebleed... A couple of riders had the same problem in the mountains.

Rogers and Klöden (T-Mobile) are warming up now, shielded from the sun's rays by a cover next to the team truck.

Here comes Gonchar...

15:13 CEST   
Best time! 1.07'45, a full 3'18 ahead of Lang. That could win it.

That's an average speed of 50.48 km/h, marginally slower than his winning average in the first test, 50.54.

Meanwhile his team-mate Patrik Sinkewitz leaves the start house.

15:23 CEST   
Oscar Pereiro is warming up, wearing earphones to listen to music as he pedals.

Hincapie was 21st at the first time check, 1'31 behind Gonchar.

At the finish, former mountains leader David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) comes in. He's 33rd, almost 8 minutes back...

15:25 CEST   
Robert Hunter's finishing time was 1.25'54 so he is 18 minutes off the time of Gonchar. There is a chance he could be eliminated due to the time limit of 16'56.

Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) is underway, clad in his KOM jersey. He's got less pressure than last year, and will be hoping for a less eventful ride.

15:31 CEST   
Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) sets off next. He was the best young rider for quite a while, but Damiano Cunego now has the jersey. But it's only by 5 seconds, and Fothen expects to take back the white jersey today.

15:34 CEST   
Cyclingnews just spoke to Serguei Gonchar (T-Mobile), who currently holds the best time in today's stage. "I'm happy to have done such a good time trial at the end of a three week Tour," he hold us. "I'm not sure if it will be the winning time, as the big favourites are still to come, especially Landis, who is very strong."

15:35 CEST   
The battle for the white jersey is underway... Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner) left the start house at 15.30, followed three minutes later by Damiano Cunego (Lampre). Fothen did a significantly quicker TT before so he should have the edge.

15:37 CEST   
Chavanel comes in for tenth, 4'32 back.

The current standings are as follows:

Finish - km 57

1 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 1.07.45
2 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 3.18
3 David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC 3.35
4 Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus) Discovery Channel 3.41
5 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Phonak 3.43

15:41 CEST   
George Hincapie is coming to the second time check now, at km 34.5. He is 16th there, 3'48 behind Gonchar.

Levi Leipheimer now gets his TT underway. He had a disappointing first test but will hope that the horsepower has returned today. It must be hard for the confidence, though, especially after his storming ride in the Dauphine.

Cunego is pedaling away but doesn't seem to have a very aero position. I guess that is a problem with small riders; getting a TT frame low enough to be able to push the bars right down and thus keep the back flat.

15:43 CEST   
Even if he doesn't hold onto the white jersey for best young rider, Cunego will be pretty happy with his first Tour. He came here aiming to build experience and certainly did that, riding strongly in the third week. He was second to a very strong Frank Schleck on l'Alpe d'Huez and said he is determined to return and win there in the future.

Cunego's plan is to concentrate on the Giro next year, then return to the Tour in 2008 to go for the overall.

15:44 CEST   
Speaking of Schleck, he is now in the start house, looking concentrated..

15:47 CEST   
That's concentrated as in focused, rather than extra strong. But he's hoping the latter will be the case too.

In the overall standings, he is just four seconds ahead of Michael Boogerd and 1'13 up on Levi Leipheimer. If he wants to hold onto his 11th place overall, he'll have to push hard.

15:49 CEST   
Now world TT champ Michael Rogers starts. Fourth on stage 7, he'll be thinking of top three (or better) today.

15:54 CEST   
Leipheimer is driving hard, turning the pedals over quickly. He's wearing a red dossard (back number) as yesterday's most aggressive rider.

Christophe Moreau (AG2R) gets underway to a huge cheer...

Popovych goes through the second checkpoint but is outside the top ten. He is 17th, 3'28 back.

Meanwhile, Fothen is fifth at the first check...but Cunego is third...just 46 seconds back. This white jersey race is on....!!

15:58 CEST   
Cunego impresses at the first time check with a third place at 46 seconds behind Gonchar! That's 12 seconds better than his white jersey rival Fothen. Great ride by the Italian, who is not renowned for his abilities against the clock.

Meanwhile, Cyril Dessel (AG2R) starts his ride, as Marzio Bruseghin gets to the second time check in around 12th place.

15:59 CEST   
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) will be next off, and he's on his way. Let's see how the Russian goes in this race, which is one of his better disciplines.

Floyd Landis is getting ready near the start house, as Oscar Pereiro finishes his warm up.

16:01 CEST   
Menchov gets up to speed, taking the first part steadily before getting down into his TT bars. His teammate Michael Boogerd is struggling along a bit further up the road. TTing is not really his top discipline.

16:03 CEST   
And now Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) gets his countdown and leaves the start house, as Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) sits behind and waits for his turn. Evans accelerates up to speed, looking a bit more determined than Menchov did.

16:05 CEST   
Christian Vandevelde (CSC) is 14th at km 34.5, having a solid ride today.

Boogerd is 35th at the first time check. It's not really his thing. He's rocking a bit on the saddle.

16:08 CEST   
Andreas Klöden has left the house. The fourth placed rider on GC will do his best to get on the podium, but he's 2'29 behind Pereiro.

Hincapie finishes his ride in 1:13:15, having caught a rider en route, maybe Merckx. Karpets follows him in in 1:12:42 for 13th.

16:09 CEST   
And now...Floyd Landis is on stage. He has a mean look on his face, and gets the countdown. He looks very motivated, and so he should be. This ride could win him the Tour de France.

16:10 CEST   
Landis sets off, quickly getting up to speed and down into his aero tuck. His bars are in a lower position than normal, adhering to UCI regs.

Michael Rogers is through the first time check in 7th at 59 seconds. He is traditionally a slow starter in time trials. Or a fast finisher, depending on whether you're a glass half full or half empty person.

16:14 CEST   
And now Sastre is off....second overall, aiming for first.... He's been riding well in this Tour, becoming the designated leader of the team after Ivan Basso was ejected before the Tour started.

Yellow jersey Oscar Pereiro is already in the start house, eager to get this underway. They won't let him go just yet, though :)

Patrik Fedrigo (Bouygues) comes in for 18th place.

16:14 CEST   
Fothen is now at the second check - 11th, at 2'57. Cunego is next on the road - where will he be?

16:15 CEST   
Pereiro is in the start house, looking nervous... Nice shoe covers, though.

16:15 CEST   
He lunges out of the start house to a huge roar, the spectators hanging over the barriers and willing him on. So all the riders are on the course now (except those who finished already, of course!)

16:17 CEST   
There has been no change to the top riders in the timechecks for quite a while.

Wow...said too soon.. Cunego is absolutely flying! He isn't known as a TT rider but he's pulling a great ride out...he is 3rd at the second time check, just 2'07 back. Lang is only fractionally faster.

16:18 CEST   
Floyd Landis' coach Robbie Ventura rode the course with Floyd this morning. He commented to OLN about Landis' new position. "Floyd's handlebar position has changed, it is now right at the legal position for the UCI. His hands are lower but that hasn't changed his body position. He looks good and took a drink of water early which is super."

16:19 CEST   
Pereiro looks to be going well so far. So too Landis, who is munching up this course. It must have been hard for his rivals to motivate themselves after his dominant ride on stage 17. As he said, he had a "bit of a warmup" for the TT...namely, approximately 130 kilometres in front of the peloton.

Moreau has his secret weapon today, AKA The Tongue. He's panting along but looks quite fast.

16:19 CEST   
Popovych comes in to the finish, taking 15th, 4'57 back.

16:20 CEST   
George Hincapie told Cyclingnews at the finish, "I went flat out but once I saw I was behind at the intermediate time check, I backed down and saved the little energy I had left."

Asked if he spoke with Landis: "I spoke with him yesterday. I think Landis will win it. I’m happy for him."

16:22 CEST   
Moreau is pedaling a biiiiiig gear but was only 17th at the first time check.

Vandevelde comes in now, looking fast inside the final kilometres. He takes 13th, 4'51 back.

16:23 CEST   
Landis takes a wide line around a corner, while Pereiro takes it a bit more tightly. Sastre looks great, pedaling probably the highest cadence of the three.

16:26 CEST   
Landis motors along on the flat, riding right on the nose of his saddle. He is flying today. Pereiro's bars are pointing down, so he's got quite a different position to Landis.

Evans goes through the first check in 11th place, 1'03 behind Gonchar. He punctured though, and lost some time.

Marzio Bruseghin finishes 17th in 1:12:44.

16:27 CEST   
Back with Pereiro - he is pedaling a big gear and although he's going fast, Floyd is definitely going quicker. But we'll see at the first time check.

16:28 CEST   
Floyd's team director John Lelangue tells him he has 35 seconds on Carlos Sastre. He's already overtaken him on GC, that means.

16:28 CEST   
Andreas Klöden is second at the first time check, just 10 seconds behind Gonchar! Excellent ride by the fourth place GC man.

16:29 CEST   
Landis is 1 second quicker than Gonchar at the first check! He's on a flyer today.

16:32 CEST   
Rogers is at the second check in 9th place, 2'36 behind Gonchar.

16:34 CEST   
The gap between Landis and Pereiro is 21 seconds...so Landis is already a long way towards making up his deficit...

16:36 CEST   
Carlos Sastre is only 14th at the first time check, 1'05 down.. He's therefore very unlikely to take yellow.

16:36 CEST   
Patrik Sinkewitz (T-Mobile) finishes 35th at 7'32 behind Gonchar. We asked him about the chances of Andreas Klöden. "Yeah well, after three weeks of racing, it's just the freshness that counts and you just think that Andreas has an advantage on this course over some others, especially Pereiro."

16:37 CEST   
Menchov was 8th, 58" back off Landis' time.

16:40 CEST   
Oscar Pereiro has gone through the first time check...he is only ten seconds back! So Landis needs to try to make up at least another 20" on him.

Pereiro's team were talking about the tactic of him starting off quickly to try to a) discourage Landis and b) boost his own morale. So we will see...has Landis held back at the start, or is he too going flat out?

16:43 CEST   
Michael Rasmussen comes in, placing 68th...he didn't look like he was pushing it at the finish, though.

Damiano Cunego is 5th at the third time check, 3'32 back off Gonchar's provisional best time. And now Fothen finishes, 8th at 4'14. So Cunego should hold on to the finish, beating the rival that many thought would do a better TT than him.

16:45 CEST   
Cunego finishes - 6th, 1.11'29. So he beats Fothen and will hold onto the white jersey. That's unexpected, so great ride by Cunego!!

Floyd Landis is now, unofficially, yellow jersey on the road!

16:49 CEST   
Cadel Evans had a puncture earlier but he is coming back strongly. At the second time check, he is 5th, 2'35 back.

Landis is now five seconds clear in the overall classification...

Meanwhile Klöden comes to the second time check. He is flying, going through 32" behind the best time and running second on the road. Can he overtake Sastre in the general classification and nab third? He needs 2'17...

16:52 CEST   
This has been described by many as the most exciting Tour in many years...hard to argue with that sentiment...

Landis comes through the second time check...he's dropped back slightly to Gonchar, but he's still riding very strongly. He is second, 25'41 back. However he’s losing time to Gonchar and Kloden…has he stared too quickly, or it is all under control?

This second time check will be very interesting, re Pereiro’s time…

16:54 CEST   
Leipheimer finishes 23rd, 6 minutes back... So that's another below-par TT from the Gerolsteiner rider. He will be disappointed with that.

The crowds are cheering Pereiro on as he passes below the 25 km to go banner. He's losing time to Landis, though..

16:56 CEST   
Sastre is uncomfortable out there....he has already lost over 2 minutes to Landis.

He goes through the second time check 16th, 2'45 down. Ouch... So it looks like Klöden will overtake him and nab third on the podium.

16:58 CEST   
Pereiro is riding well, but not well enough. He's 4th at the 34.5 km check, 1'22
behind Gonchar's time and, crucially, 57" down on Landis. So The Floyd marches on...

17:02 CEST   
Of course, anything could happen in this chaotic, unpredicatable and ever-changing Tour. It's not over yet..one puncture could change things around.

Rogers comes in, looking tired. He is 14th, 4'34 off Gonchar's time, which is looking more and more like it could be the day's best.

Landis is now 27" clear of Pereiro in the virtuel GC. Sastre is 2'02 back, with Klöden at 2'05. Could it be Landis-Pereiro-Kloden on the podium?

17:03 CEST   
The top five at the first two time checks:

Intermediate timing

km 16.5 (all riders through)

1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 19.46
2 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 0.01
3 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 0.10
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile
5 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.42

km 34 (all riders through)

1 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile 41.19
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.26
3 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile 0.33
4 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 1.23
5 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner 2.07

17:04 CEST   
Landis is hunched over his TT bars, digging in...He's got a good cadence going.

Moreau comes in to finish; he's only 23rd, 5'32 back...

17:07 CEST   
Klöden is looking good, much more comfortable than Sastre. He's pretty still looking on the bike, turning the pedals nicely and holding a very aero position. In contrast, Sastre is dropping his head, raising it, shifting around in the saddle and generally appearing uncomfortable.

Pereiro gets out of the saddle on a hill, willing the bike upwards. His maillot jaune is fading, the light dimming on his GC hopes.

17:08 CEST   
Zubeldia comes in 22nd, 5'29. That will ensure he holds his 9th overall - Rogers couldn't get enough time on him.

Sastre is now 50 seconds behind Klöden in terms of the general classification...

17:10 CEST   
Dessel finishes....he has had a tough time out there, but should keep 7th. He is 27th, 5'57 back.. .

17:11 CEST   
Klöden is 47" behind his team-mate Gonchar at the 51.5 km time check...the top three overall are yet to reach that point.

17:12 CEST   
He is about to catch Evans... Meanwhile, Menchov finishes... He takes 13th, 4'32 down.

17:13 CEST   
Here comes The Floyd....his time check will be next.

17:13 CEST   
Klöden is really driving it as he reels in Evans inside the final kilometre. Klöden is drilling it, trying to get by...

17:15 CEST   
He gets him...Evans tucks in behind for a second, then Klöden blasts it out of a corner. Second, 40.36" back! So T-Mobile 1-2 so far..

Landis was third at that time check, 1'08 back... Sastre is next to pass there, then Pereiro...

17:17 CEST   
Landis' back is really flat in this extreme position. He has 2 km to go, so he needs to just stay upright and out of trouble, then a bright, new maillot jaune will be his...

Cue maniacal laugh: "It's mine, I tells ya, it's mine.....!"

17:19 CEST   
He is going to be third on the stage, with Gonchar and then Klöden first and second.

Landis finishes, 1'11 back. He is immediately mobbed by team officials and photographers. He gets quite angry at the latter, who don't give him enough space. They can be pretty relentless at times...

17:22 CEST   
Landis walks around at the finish, dripping water and looking determined/satisfied.

Sastre is 18th at the last time check, 4'26 back. That's very disappointing for him.

Pereiro continues to drive it. He knows the yellow is gone, but he's ridden very courageously and will be very happy with his second overall. He was well out of it in the Pyrenees but got a lot of time in that long break. Many would have expected him to slip right back in the Alps but he really rose to a new level.

He was 4th at the final time check, 2'38 back.

17:22 CEST   
Pereiro will keep second, despite Klöden's excellent ride.

17:25 CEST   
Pereiro comes to the 3km to go banner.. meanwhile, Sastre is approaching the finish. He is suffering a lot, puffing and panting, but kicks out of the saddle and drives it home.

He takes 19th, 4'41 back. He was 18th in the first TT.

17:27 CEST   
And now Pereiro...he comes in to the finish to a huge cheer, sprinting for all he is worth. Very good ride, considering he is not a TT specialist. He was 4th, 2'40 behind a super Gonchar. Significantly better than his 23rd place in the first long TT.

17:30 CEST   
Landis gets hugs and smooches from his wife Amber, and looks very, very happy. Michael Rasmussen congratulates him warmly.

He's already got his victory shades on.

"I told everyone in January that we were going to do it," he told the TV crews at the finish. "There were times when it looked a little less likely but I kept believing."

"Now I am glad it is over, that is more stress than I like to deal with. I said before the most exciting way to do it is to win in the time trial, but wasn't really hoping to do it that way!"

17:33 CEST   
Providing all goes to plan tomorrow and he has no problems on the way to Paris, Landis will be a very worthy winner. He missed his prologue start, had a mechanical problem in the first TT and then suffered an unexpected collapse in form on the second day in the Alps. But he showed superb character to come back from that with a true exploit, finishing the day just 30 seconds off a yellow jersey many thought he had said goodbye to forever. That set things up perfectly for today and while he didn't win the TT, he rode very strongly under pressure to take the race lead once more.

17:37 CEST   
Kudos too to Serguei Gonchar and Andreas Klöden who had very good rides today. To Gonchar the stage win, to Klöden the third step on the podium. Pereiro also should be happy as he showed very good character.

17:44 CEST   
Landis also got warm congratulations from Oscar Pereiro at the finish. They were team-mates last year and get on very well. Even though the former just took the jersey off the back of the latter (literally), there is a lot of mutual respect there.

Robbie McEwen and Michael Rasmussen have been awarded their green and polka-dot jerseys; both classifications are secured in advance of tomorrow's final stage. Damiano Cunego also looks secure in the white jersey for best young rider.

Landis seems to have been warmly received by the press in France and further afield, with his superb ride in the mountains on Thursday earning praise.

17:46 CEST   
Unfortunately Landis' team mate Robert Hunter seems to have missed the time cut today, as he is not appearing on the official results. That would be cruel, given that there is just one stage to go. Perhaps he will be able to appeal it.

17:58 CEST   
Damiano Cunego's performance today confirms him as a complete rider; can he win this race in the future?

That completes our coverage of today's penultimate stage of the 2006 Tour de France. Well done to all the riders and thanks to you for surfing on over to follow what was a very exciting stage with us. We'll be back tomorrow for coverage of the final stage in the race.

Intermediate timing

km 16.5 (all riders through)
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                            19.46
2 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile                        0.01
3 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    0.10
4 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                             
5 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                     0.42
km 34 (all riders through)
1 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile                       41.19
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                             0.26
3 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                         0.33
4 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    1.23
5 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                     2.07
km 51.5 (all riders through)
1 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile                     1.02.36
2 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                         0.46
3 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                             1.08
4 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    2.38
5 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                     3.20
Finish - km 57 (all riders through)
1 Serguei Gonchar (Ukr) T-Mobile                     1.07.45
2 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                         0.41
3 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                             1.11
4 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    2.40
5 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                     3.18
6 David Zabriskie (USA) Team CSC                        3.35
7 Viatscheslav Ekimov (Rus) Discovery Channel           3.41
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                                       
9 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Phonak                             3.43
10 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                 3.44

General classification after stage 19

1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                             85.42.30
2 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears        0.59
3 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                             1.29
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                              3.13
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                         5.08
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                              7.08
7 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance                        8.41
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance                   9.37
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                  12.05
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                           15.07 


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