No, not Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, and maybe not exactly to the day, but 20 years ago Greg Lemond was the first American to ever win the Tour de France. He was obviously better than the rest of the field, and his only rival was his teammate, Bernard Hinault (EE-no). Greg won again in 1989 and 1990. We all know about Lance Armstrong who won seven races from 1999 to 2005.
Now, poised to possibly win his first Tour is Floyd Landis who is as I write this warming up to ride the most important ride of his life. It’s a 57Km time trial that will determine how he finishes in the 2006 Tour. Landis has had an incredible Tour. He had been the most consistent rider and had grabbed the yellow jersey of race leader a couple of times. However, the 16th stage of the 20 stage race was very cruel and Floyd wound up losing 10 minutes to the winner that day. Now even those knowledgeable to the sport would say that making up the time that he lost would not be possible, given that the only opportunity would be the next day in an equally tough stage. Well the next day, Landis defied belief when he broke away early from the pack and won the stage by 5 and a half minutes and made up all but 30 seconds on the leader.
Today, is a stage that suits Landis very well, and the only riders who can challenge him for the win are at a considerable deficit. This race has been unpredictable, and therefore anything still can happen. We’ve been spoiled by Lance Armstrong who dominated for 7 years, where the only drama was who was going to come in second. That last sentence is filled with hyperbole as anyone knows that until the race is over you don’t know who will win. Just ask Greg Lemond who on the last day of the Tour trailed the leader by 50 seconds, and only had a 24Km time trial to make it up. Impossible by most people’s standards. Lemond beat his rival by 58 seconds and wound up winning the 1989 Tour by 8 seconds, the closest margin of victory ever in the Tour de France. The 17th stage of the 2006 Tour de France will also now go down in history as one of the greatest comeback rides in Tour history. Floyd now has just a little more work to do today to etch his name into the Tour history books, and it’s funny that it’s almost exactly 20 years later, by another American. C’est Encroyable!
UPDATE: Floyd rode a very good time trial today. Not enough to win, but enough to take the overall lead by about 1 minute. That is a very safe lead going into the last day where not much can happen in the overall standings because of how flat and how controlled the racing is. Floyd Landis will be the latest American Tour de France Champion!