Sat, Jul 15, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Tour riders halfway to Paris finale

CYCLING Halfway through this year's Tour de France, the Pyrenees have taken their toll on riders, reducing the number of realistic contenders to a handful

DPA , LUCHON, FRANCE

The pack rides during the 11th stage of the Tour de France between Tarbes, France, and Val-d'Aran, Spain, on Thursday. The 11th stage took the riders over 206.5km.

PHOTO: EPA

The 12th stage of the Tour de France got underway yesterday in the French city of Luchon, with American Floyd Landis in the race leader's yellow jersey.

After a highly dramatic excursion into Spain on Thursday, when the 30-year-old Landis took over the lead and many presumed contenders fell out of contention, the Tour returned to France yesterday and to relatively flat ground.

Yesterday's stage -- 211.5km from Luchon to Carcassonne -- took the 165 riders left in the race out of the Pyrenees Mountains, and gave the title favorites a chance to rest before they tackle the Alps, beginning tomorrow.

As a result of Thursday's stage in the Pyrenees, the list of realistic pretenders to the throne of seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong has been reduced to a handful.

With the Tour now at the halfway mark, the strong favorite is Landis, who leads Frenchman Cyril Dessel by 8 seconds in the standings, with Russian Denis Menchov, who won Thursday's stage, 1 minute 1 second adrift in third place.

The manner in which Landis controlled Thursday's grueling stage, countering every attack up the final climb without appearing to push himself to the limit, suggests that he will be formidable in the Alps, where the Tour will probably be won.

Landis, who rides for the Swiss Phonak team, on Thursday confirmed that this may be his last Tour because a degenerative hip ailment will force him to undergo hip replacement surgery, so he will be highly motivated.

Dessel is not a threat for the title, but Menchov also looked strong on Thursday and received a lot of help from two Rabobank teammates, Dutchman Michael Boogerd and Michael Rasmussen of Denmark.

Other favorites now include Germany's Andreas Kloeden of the T-Mobile formation, who faded on Thursday when the going got rough, but trails Landis by only 2 minutes 29 seconds, a gap that could easily be made up on one excellent day in the Alps.

Australia's Cadel Evans, 1 minute 17 seconds behind, and Carlos Sastre of Spain, at 1:52 minutes, are also still in the hunt despite losing ground on Thursday.

American Levi Leipheimer, who had a terrible first week, finished second on Thursday, just ahead of Landis, and appears to have regained his form.

However, he trails his compatriot by 5:39 minutes, and would need all of his rivals to collapse to have a realistic chance for the victory.

Thursday's stage was disastrous for Spaniard Iban Mayo, who lagged far behind and ultimately dropped out of the race, and for the American Discovery Channel team, which Armstrong led last year.

Former Armstrong lieutenant George Hincapie lost more than 21 minutes on Thursday and is now well out of the running, as are two other Discover Channel riders once considered possible title contenders, Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych and Paolo Savoldelli of Italy.

The Tour de France ends next Sunday in Paris.

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