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Thursday, July 22, 2004

Beginner's Guide to the Tour, Part 3 

It's all over but the shouting. Lance managed to win yet another stage today (his third in a row, if you're counting), and has a four-minute lead over Ivan Basso.

There's only one stage left where there's a reasonable chance for anyone to lose time: Saturday's ITT. Like the hillclimb on Wednesday, it's a race against the clock, but this time on a basically flat course. But Armstrong is a very strong time trial rider: Ullrich might gain a minute on him on a good day, and it's possible Armstrong won't win the stage outright (though he could; except Ullrich, it appears that almost all of the serious time-trial specialists are out of the Tour now. A guy named David Millar might have challenged, but he missed the Tour after admitting he had taken performance-enhancing drugs), but no major time losses are likely.

The final stage of the Tour is Sunday, and this one is largely ceremonial. By tradition, with the yellow jersey essentially settled, no riders will try to break away and attack until they get to the end of the stage, the 8 laps of the Champs-Elysees. There's a good chance the race for the green jersey won't be finished, so that should produce some interesting sprinting at the end.

There are still the usual hazards of bike racing (the most dangerous of which would be some sort of crash), but at this point in the race Lance doesn't have to attack his rivals, he just has to hold his position and ride to the finish line.

Indeed, the end of the race is bereft of drama. I won't be making any special effort to watch the TT, though if convenient I'll try to catch parts of Sunday's stage. The pack is usually up for a bit of fun on the last day (you might get to see Lance rolling through the countryside, drinking champagne with his teammates), and the awards ceremony is very nice.

Don't forget that there's quite a few cycling events coming up in the Olympics next month. You'll be watching, right?

Corrections: I somehow brain-faded and didn't realize Friday was a road stage, and the tour doesn't end until Sunday. But everything else is still true!

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