Stage 19 commentary: A tale of two racers and one winner!

There are two main tales of todays 19th stage. The first is that Lance Armstrong won his 15th stage and is now ready to race into Paris tomorrow with a lead of over seven minutes.

Not wanting to take anything away from the Texans outstanding success — as we can certainly talk about the details of what will be his fourth overall victory in the Tour de France at the end of tomorrows stage — but the second story is about Raimondas Rumsas; and how equipment failure cost him dearly.

Yes, Lance was superb. He won the stage just as hed hoped to. His 47-kph average shattered the efforts of the Colombian, Santiago Botero, who beat him in the 52-km time trial of stage nine (but today finished over two minutes behind).

Lance proved that hes The Boss of the bunch and that he can cope with the strain of being the race leader and the defending champion. He can spin a cadence of about 110rpm and not even need to rise from the saddle on a climb like the one in todays stage. He can part the enormous crowds that oozed onto the roads and saluted him with a magical "Mexican Wave" as he passed them by.

But all of this might have not have happened were it not for Rumsass faulty handlebars.

Over the rise, Raimondas had a lead of 17 seconds on Lance. By the time he arrived at the 33-km split, he had dropped behind by seven seconds. The Lithuanian wrestled his bike with such vigor that the bolts on his bars lost grip. And he rode the final 40 kilometers with a dodgy bike — and without the ability to pull on his bars for fear that they might move more and cause a fall.

Rumsas isnt a "could have been" kind of guy. He coped with the hassle with dignity. But frustration must factor when he was not only on course to win the stage — but also improve his overall standing from third to second!

At the finish his second place was one minute better than Joseba Beloki — the rider who will stand next to Lance in second place in Paris. But before that, Rumsas had been on track to make up the two-minute, eighteen-second deficit he began the day behind Beloki with.

Thats life. Thats cycling. Its a sport that requires good legs, a steady head, a committed team — and reliable equipment. Its his first Tour and hell start next year as one of the likely candidates to make Lances race toward a record-equalling fifth title that little bit harder. Next time, he might just overlook his mechanics as they prepare his time trial bike.

There were other riders who benefited from the hot race against the clock, but the result sheet tells that story. The final paragraphs of this report must now focus on the fact that tomorrows "parade" to Paris will still be a race. For one jersey is yet to be decided.

The time trial was treated as a training day for two riders. Both Erik Zabel and Robbie McEwen were only thinking of the stage to Paris — where they will ensure that interest remains right through to the end of the Tour because they are separated by just one point at the top of the sprint classification.

McEwen has worn the green jersey since the 13th stage, but only yesterday did he push ahead on points. This is the only classification that is yet to establish a stable leader with both Zabel and McEwen racing stage 13 through 18 with 229 points apiece.

The plan is simple, said McEwen after his time trial today. Follow Erik. If he attacks the intermediate sprints, I will too.

Thats a scenario Armstrong has said hes not looking forward to.

The final day is meant to be a bit of a parade, Lance said two days before the time trial. But it looks like well have to race all day long — and not play around with wigs and the like as weve done on the final day before.

Frustrating for the end of a long race, but nothing new for the rider who seems destined to win his fourth title when he rolls across the line in Paris behind the sprinters.

It was a similar scenario last year. Stuart OGrady had worn the green jersey from stages eight to 19, but the concerted effort from Zabels Telekom team made the difference on the last day. OGrady will start the 20th stage third in the sprint competition, hardly a failure for a rider who began racing again only three weeks prior to the Tour (after a leg operation in March this year).

There are two intermediate sprints in the 20th stage. And the final sprint has points from 35 to 1 for the first 25 riders. The battle for the green jersey is made all the more important because of the role it plays in the history-making stakes. If Zabel wins, hell have seven successive sprint titles to his name; if McEwen wins, hell be the first Australian to stand on the final podium since Phil Anderson won the Best Young Rider title in 1982.

Zabels advantage is a complete team; but McEwens top-end speed is what most pundits are tipping will give the Australian champion the win when it matters — and hes no stranger to success on the Champs Elysees: He won the final sprint in 1999.

Perhaps thats what it will take for the Lotto rider to stand next to Lance Armstrong, Laurent Jalabert and Ivan Basso with the prize jerseys of the Tour.

Discuss This Article