Today’s 17th stage of Le Tour was everything fans could have hoped for and more, with the top riders clashing in the Alps, and ending the stage with a summit finish line on the famed L’Alpe d’Huez that put Carlos Sastre of Spain in the Yellow Jersey.
Sastre claimed the stage win, and the Maillot Jaune, by accelerating out in front of the rest of the lead group on the final, and toughest climb of the day. The 210.5 km (131 mile) stage was the final ride through the mountains this year, and was easily the toughest as well. Riders were faced with three beyond category climbs ending atop L’Alpe. A natural climber in the mountains, Sastre managed to pull away for a solo ride to the top, and although he lost a little steam near the end, he managed to roll across the finish line several minutes ahead of the contenders. In the end, he found himself 1 minute, 24 seconds ahead of teammate Frank Schleck, and 1 minute, 34 seconds ahead of both Bernard Kohl and Cadel Evans. Kohl also managed to sweep up the Polka Dot Jersey for the 2008 Tour, crowning him King of the Mountain.
The next two stages, including tomorrows 196.5 km (122 mile) ride from Bourg-d’Oisans to Saint-Étienne, are mostly flat and fast, tipping the advantage back to the sprinters. The top riders will likely hang close to one another and these two stages will have little or no impact on who will be riding onto the Champs Elysees on Sunday in the Yellow Jersey. But Saturday brings the second, and final, individual time trial, which is 53 km (33 miles) in length and favors Cadel Evans, who is amongst the best time trialists in the world.
So there you have it. This year’s Tour comes down to Saturday, with several riders in position to claim the top spot. The time trial should be a blast to watch, and while Evans clearly has the advantage, anything can happen. If the weather is bad or he has a bad fall, it could seriously impact who the final winner is. It’s been a great Tour to watch so far and I suspect that the last few stages should be as well.
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