Tour 2007: Stage 17 – The Show Must Go On

Despite the tumultuous past few days, the race goes on at the Tour de France. Stage 17 lacked the drama and star power o the previous stages, but was a chance for the sprinters to shine in this 117-mile ride from Pau to Castelsarrasin that featured rolling hills as opposed to the grueling mountains that have dominated the past week in the Alps and Pyrenees.

In the end, it was Daniele Bennati of Italy who took the stage win, with a dash to the finish line, allowing him to stay ahead of Markus Fothen of Germany and Martin Elmiger of Switzerland, who finished second and third respectively. It was Bennati’s first ever Tour stage win, and he completed the ride in 4 hours, 14 minutes, and 4 seconds.

The real story of the day however is that Spaniard Alberto Contador is now in the Yellow Jersey following the dismissal of Michael Rasmussen last night by his Rabobank team. Contador now has a 1 minute 53 second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia, and Levi Leipheimer of the United States, is third, 2:49 back. Leipheimer and Contador are teammates on Team Discovery Channel.

Conspiracy theorists will likely have a story to grab on to should Contador go on to claim the Tour victory. International Cycling Union President Patrick McQuaid was quoted earlier in the week as saying that Rasmussen winning the Tour wasn’t good for the sport, in part due to the cloud of controversy over his skipped drug tests, but also because it would be better for a younger rider to win. Rasmussen at 33 was not as marketable, nor did he seem like the future of the Tour. Contador is 24 and fits the bill for what McQuaid was suggesting.

Tomorrow will be another mostly flat and fast stage, but Saturday’s individual time trial should be exciting and fun to watch. The top three riders are within striking distance of one another, but they are also excellent time trialists, so it could come down to a crucial mistake, how they are physically feeling, or a crash.

What a crazy Tour it has been this year.

Kraig Becker

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