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Stage 20 as it happened

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By Chris Whyatt

1705: While Sastre might not display the verve of the Spain's bewitching national football team, Wimbledon winner Rafa Nadal would be proud of the mental strength and bravery his compatriot - 11 years his senior - has shown throughout this Tour.

Another Spanish success then, one assumes, but to make 100% sure that Carlos Sastre doesn't fall off his bike on the way to Paris on stage 21 join me again, same place same time, tomorrow. Adios.

1658: "So much for the close finish! Sastre has a whopping 1 minute 5 seconds lead. Fantastic tour and a great man in yellow." reallywheelie on 606

"Spain won Euro 08, Nadal molested Federer and now Carlos has summed up a good season for Spain." alekindolf on 606

1653: Think it's fair and balanced to say that was engrossing stuff - even if Evans didn't produce a Tasmanian Devil-like performance from the (dis)comfort of his saddle? So, with the dramatic backdrop of the Champs Elysees beckoning, Sastre has the yellow jersey, Oscar Freire the green, Bernard Kohl the polka dots, and Andy Schleck the white.

"The Tour should be won by something dramatic and what could have been a more romantic way to win than a solo escape on Alpe D'Huez? Hang on Carlos." Mike on the 81111 texts

1645: Where's Mickey Douglas when you need him?

Heavy-legged Sastre clambers to the top of the podium flanked by a couple of French beauties and he looks more relieved than joyous as he pulls the maillot jaune over his taut frame once again.

"The mountains let Evans down, his team let him down. It seems the team going alone at d'Huez seems to have taken the juice out of him - hope he wins next year." harshvg on 606

1638: Schumacher wins that stage, his second time trial this Tour, but the champagne corks will be popping over at Sastre's Team CSC. Utter dejection will be rapidly overwhelming Evans right now, I'd harbour, but let's see if we can see what the man himself says.

1630: CSC rider Carlos Sastre pumps a fist and hangs his head in emotion as he whizzes over the finishing line at Saint-Amand-Montrond. He's conceded just 29 seconds to Cadel Evans over this 53km time trial. What a ride.

The Spaniard has as good as won the 2008 Tour de France.

"It's a good ride from Evans, let's not take away from that. It was just expected before today that he would destroy everyone in the field. This was clearly too much to ask of him. He's not too far off Menchov's time and on an ordinary day that would be good enough.

"Fantastic ride by Sastre though, but not unexpected when you're fighting to keep that jersey on your back." Generic Fanboy on 606

1627: Bridesmaid Evans, who must surely be heartbroken that he didn't perform on the day, completes today's time trial two minutes five seconds behind Schumacher. It's looking like a Sastre - Evans - Menchov podium.

1624: Kohl goes through the third intermediate at two minutes five seconds behind the fastest finish, but Evans seems set for another second-place podium finish. This stage hasn't blown up like we thought it would.

1622: "The Tour is about the rider who copes best with everyhing that gets thrown at them. And at the moment, it seems that the expectation and interest has broken Cadel..."
Winton on the 81111 texts

"Sastre is very spooky." harshvg on 606

1617: Vandervelde finishes fourth fastest for today's time trial, one minute five seconds behind Schumacher. Cadel Evans must be hugely fatigued not to perform on what was billed as his stage. The sun's out but his shoulders are rolling.

1615: And... 32 seconds is the overall gap between Menchov and Vandevelde after the third time check at 47.5km. This is making me mightily thirsty.

1612: Sastre is putting in a phenomenal shift and comes through the second check at 36km now having conceded only 23 seconds to Cadel Evans, who has got it all to do. One minute 11 seconds is the 'virtual' difference between the pair.

1608: This is all so close. Quick aside: Andy Schleck is safe in the white jersey. His brother, as I mentioned, is having a shocker. Hard work in the wind-tunnel awaits post-France.

1605: Bernard Kohl has slipped on Evans however, so the Aussie now has a seven second advantage over him as they swap places overall.

1603: Tough to call this as Evans comes through the 36km (53km, remember, is the full length of this course) checkpoint one minute and 30 seconds behind the pacesetters. Those Aussie legs must be heavy. What will Sastre clock at Charenton-Du-Cher?...

1601: Kohl is performing well, looking like he will consolidate that podium finish. But no sign of a kick yet from "wheel-sucker" Evans? He needs to explode through the physical and mental gears.

1556: Menchov comes through the second intermediate checkpoint on 36 km but has... yep, he's lost time and has slipping back a little in that middle section. Vandevelde has an 11 second advantage on him now.

"Nope, not legal. Well, Schleck would have to stay 5m - I think, not quite sure - ahead of Sastre. So he can't provide a slipstream, but he could have been used as a marker for Carlos."
TheGSgirl on 606

1553: Russian Menchov has gained a full 24 seconds on Sastre but it won't be enough if you extrapolate the sums toward the finish. The big fight is still between Cadel and Carlos.

1550: Sastre comes through the 18km check 46 seconds off the pacesetters so, against the pace of Evans, has only lost 12 seconds. Schleck could be slipping off the podium... he was one minutes 31 seconds off the leading pace oat the 18km check.

1548: Kohl came through two seconds quicker at the 18km check and we now have a heat haze sizzling up off the road. Menchov has made up 16 seconds on Evans but more importantly...

"Could CSC tell Schleck to go slow and wait for Sastre to slipstream him to the finish, and would it be legal?"
Simon (at work) on the 81111 texts

1544: Evans has passed through the 18km check 38 seconds slower than the pacesetters... Is he tactically pacing himself?

1540: Menchov has set the third best time so far at 18km (22 seconds slower than Schumacher) while Vandevelde has the fourth best time of the stage, 28 seconds slower.

1535: Sweat glistening on his bald shaven head, Stefan Schumacher - quickest today so far - predicts Evans will made a very decent time.

1531: After doom-laden forecasts, rain is not an issue here folks. David Millar, now in a commentary box, has just predicted that it's going to be very hard for Carlos Sastre, saying that there are no technical tricks to negotiate out there - speed is king.

"Evans is a boring rider? What, exactly, have any of the other leaders done that is so exciting? Sastre's whole race was basically one time-trial up Alpe d'Huez." Patrick on the 81111 texts

1526: Looking like a giant human canary, Spaniard Carlos Sastre - 32-years-old, 12th in the national time trail championships - crouches low in the saddle and is off and away...

1524: What a ride from Schumacher! Grinning from ear to ear, he cruises through the finish line 21 seconds quicker than the world's best time trailer to steal the quickest time from Cancallera in one hour three minutes and 50 seconds.

Franck Schleck, one minute 24 off leader and CSC teammate Sastre, is off...

1520: Cheeks blowing cooly, he looks to have set off at a frightening pace. Christian Vandevelde has got off to a flyer too. Bernhard Kohl is away... This is positively nerve-shredding.

1518: This is is people. Grit and determination, not panache, wins tours right? Fairly hot favourite Cadel Evans is off and away with the figures of one minute and 34 seconds lodged within his head.

1515: Denis Menchov is setting off now... this has to be the ride of his life going away from Cerilly. Looks relaxed, focused, and frankly quite awful to look at with that garish orange skin-suit with the matching team car right behind him. Looks like both have bathed in a popular soft drink which uses fruits of that colour.

"My thoughts on this are AAARGH! I'm stuck in a shopping centre whilst the most exciting finale since 1989 is unfolding!"
Anonymous on the 81111 text

1508: "Eeh, I don't know about that. I do think that if Sastre rides really well he can hang on to yellow, even if only by a handful of seconds. If Evans doesn't go well and Menchov does, the Russian could well vault into second place on GC. I can't see Frank Schleck hanging on to a podium unless one of those three really crack, though." Im_partial - TDF Tops on 606

Schumacher 12 seconds behind Cancallera at the second intermediate checkpoint on 36km...

1458: Focused-looking maillot jaune-wearer Carlos Sastre is pumping away on one of the warm-up bikes near the start alongside Frank Schleck whose brother Andy, donning the white jersey, is out on the course.

1452: A spot of homework tells us that Menchov has a decent time trials record against Evans and has posted times over a minute quicker than the Australian in the past. He lies one minute and five seconds behind Evans today, and two minutes 39 seconds behind leader Sastre. Could the Russian be wearing yellow as we head down the Champ Elysees tomorrow?

1447: Frenchman Sandy Casar, winner of the white jersey (for best young rider) at the 2004 TdF, has just set off. The top 20 are now starting in three minute intervals.

1444: Gerolsteiner's Schumacher, looking full of self belief, has matched Cancallera's time exactly at the first checkpoint on 18km. Doubt he will have any prooblem being picked up by a team next year, he's had a fantastic Tour this year.

1441: "I believe in Tours gone by the Tour's French journalists and photographers used to give out two awards: le prix orange for the most cooperative rider and le prix citron for the most uncooperative rider. ...I don't know if this award is still given but if it is I think Evans is a very safe bet for le prix citron." reallywheelie on 606

1437: Chavanel, by the way, finished in one hour seven minutes and currently lies sixth in today's standings. More Carlos vs Cadel stat-crunching for you: Carlos, on average, concedes 2.75 seconds per km on Cadel... which would mean two minutes 25 seconds today. But, with Sastre wearing the yellow jersey and perhaps in better physical shape than Evans, surely it's going to be closer than that?

1432: It is becoming very evident that Cancellara has posted a really decent time with 91 riders having finished now. Winner of the fourth stage, Stefan Schumacher has rolled down the starting gate and is close to the 18km checkpoint. Look at a cross-section of this course and it appears a tad hilly, but it's not. Little bit of a tail-wind for the riders today.

1425: Weak shadows are being cast by trees which line the course as the sun tries to burst through irregular clouds - but still no rain. Can you imagine a heavy downpour in an hour? That would lead to some tasty cycling.

The last few riders starting at two minute intervals are starting off now... the final 20 men, remember, will leave at three minute intervals. George Hincapie is going for a strong ride and looks to be turning quite a big gear.

1417: Slamming his soles down hard on the pedals, thighs pumping furiously, French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel has gone through the first checkpoint (at 18km) in the second quickest time today - though it's still 41 seconds behind Cancellara.

1413: "Grandplan - the jerseys are worn in the priority order: yellow, green, polkadot, white; you wear the jersey with the highest priority. If you hold two, the one you are not wearing is worn by the rider who is second in that classification." MagpieMatt on 606

1407: The roads have dried out which favours the more powerful riders, rather than the lightweights. The crowds look fairly fulsome today and will, in an hour or so, no doubt be bursting beyond the steel boundaries.

Cooling down from his rapid ride, Cancellara predicts a Tour victory for CSC teammate Sastre come Paris tomorrow. On the stage he has just completed in no time: "The best information I can give Carlos is to push, push."

1402: David Millar, exhausted last night apparently, clocked the fastest time... but Cancellara screeched through not long after him to steal that mantle in one hour four minutes and 11 seconds. A whole minute and 16 seconds quicker than the Brit. What a time from the man to beat in sprints.

1356: Barloworld's British-registered Kenyan Chistopher Froome blazed into third in today's fastest finishes so far, 41 seconds behind German leader Sebastian Lang.

Apologies if this has already been answered, but my daughter wants to know what happens when you are the holder of more than one jersey? What do you wear? grandplan on 606

1349: My team of domestiques are very slack here and I had to refuel myself, so sorry about that... Sebastian Lang has just set the fastest finishing time of the day with one hour six minutes and six seconds (35 seconds quicker than Danny Pate) while world champ Cancellara is absolutely flying as he speeds through the 36km checkpoint of 42 minutes 38 seconds.

1330: Have I spelt this out yet? The leading riders/ main contenders set off at the following times (BST):

1514: Menchov
1517: Evans
1520: Kohl
1523: Schleck
1526: Sastre

Rain is being forecast for later on which could have a huge impact though, of course, the leaders will all have to battle the same conditions.

1325: "My highlight? Ricardo Ricco after giving us the best performance in years to be found doping... its been a dreadful tour where until Sastre went up Alpe d'Huez none of the favourites did a thing. And a tour ruined once again by cheats. I won't be watching next year." bobhickey on 606

"It's past 10pm in Australia and the wine is flowing nicely. We've just put the All Blacks to bed and now it's on to Le Tour ... Good luck Cadel!" sassicaia on 606

1318: I can see a rainbow.... world time trail champion Fabian Cancellara is out of the starting blocks in Cerilly. And, at the 18km checkpoint, he's 43 seconds quicker that David Millar.

1315: "My highlight of the tour? Mark Cavendish. Not only winning his first stage, but then proving to the world that he is probably the best in the world at the moment by winning three more. Gold in Bejing next." EnglandLad23 on 606

1310: Green jersey owner Oscar Freire, the 77th rider to begin the time trial, has just torn out of the blocks and Britain's Garmin rider David Millar is off now too.

Here's some intriguing (and ominous?) insight into the course from Silence-Lotto sprinter Robbie McEwen, a teammate of Cadel Evans. "It's a hard course. At the start itís like you've got a tailwind and so you relax a little but after about 10km: boom! It hits you in the face and you have to start fighting," he told the Tour's official website.

"The road surface is dead. Itís like riding on sawdust or carpet: you have to really fight to stay on top of your gears. It's a course that someone like me hates but Iíve never been good at time trials. For Cadel, it's perfect."

1252: Before we fully commit to the high drama of today's "race of truth" let's mull some highlights of the 2008 Tour so far.

That sensational young French breakaway on stage three, Britain's Mark Cavenish winning his first ever Tour stage on day five from a long way out, Cav winning again in the driving rain on stage eight, Cadel bouncing back to clinch stage 10 by one second, the monstrous Alpine climbs of stage 17 perhaps?

Did I just see Michael Douglas on a clip of maillot jaune-wearing Sastre celebrating atop a podium? Random.

1239: American Danny Pate, the under-23 time trial world champion from 2001, has just set a faster time than Leif Hoste. He flew through the 18km checkpoint 11 seconds quicker than the Belgian.

Love him or hate him, Cadel Evans has already ridden the course earlier on today at about 0930 BST according to Silence-Lotto directeur sportif Hendrik Redant.

"Cadel does it as always: paying close attention to all the corners and even stopping, turning back and riding some again to make sure he understand what the best path to take is," he said.

1227: "Cadel's an ugly climber (writhing all over the bars); an ingracious loser (he's been sulking ever since he lost the yellow jersey) and he's constantly petulant with the press (who remembers the slap? hilarious!). I'd much prefer Menchov to win but he's got no chance today. It's just between Evans and Sastre... and Evans (ugh) will get it today." sjrm201 on 606

1220: Lots of talk after L'Alpe D'Huez that, in the absence of a team strong enough to support him, Cadel showed immense bravery in fighting toe-to-toe against CSC's foot soldiers to stay in relative contention up in the mountains. There was also a steady stream of criticism that Evans is, essentially, a boring rider.

So he's a Marmite kinda guy then?

1218: "Could this end up being the closest Tour de France finish ever with several riders all within a few seconds of each other?

"Would the normal truce of the final stage be suspended, and might Evans actually attempt to attack? Would CSC manage to contain the attacks?

"And what would be the effect of a three or four way battle for yellow, on the traditional sprinters grand finale on the Champs Elysee?" SG19 Cowshed on 606

1212: Lotto's Belgian rider Leif Hoste is rampaging through the heart of France right now and has clocked the fastest times at each intermediate check....

And he's taken the fastest overall time thus far - one hour seven minutes and 40 seconds. No doubt he will have some words of wisdom for teammate Cadel Evans over the state of the course and where's best to hit top gear.

1203: "It looks as though Wim has secured a Lantern Rouge hat-trick! Get in! He is 36 now though, will he back next year or will he sign off with this monument to grit and determination. A champion for all the losers out there." timmy_went_missing on 606

You're right Timmy. Vansevenant has finished in one hour 14 minutes and 46 seconds and may well finish last come the climax of this year's TdF tomorrow. And, as it's never been done before, a hatrick would make history. Timmy. Timmy... where are you?

1151: Ten riders have finished so far, with Milram's Austian Brett Lancaster clocking the the quickest time in one hour eight minutes.... the French duo of Christophe Riblon and Stephane Auge are second and third ranked, 17 seconds, the two minutes and 33 seconds slower respectively.

1139: In answer to gulnihal7's question (see 1120)...

"Riders are given the same time in the peleton as if they were all racing for the line it would be carnage, crashes everywhere as people battle to get near the front, its simply not workable. If you are part of a group it is seen that you are working together and are given the same time as the front person.

"Also, if you crash in the final 3kms on a flat stage then you are still given the same time if you cross the line than the peleton. Its complicated but its the right ruling for sure." saint_conor on 606

1128: But to bill this purely as a two-man contest would be wrong.

Bernard Kohl - the surprise package Austrian currently lying 3rd - and Luxembourg's popular Frank Schleck (2nd), who held the yellow jersey until they went up that exhilarating L'Alpe d'Huez climb a couple of days ago, must both be in with a shout, no?

And perhaps Russia's Denis Menchov (5th), if he's had an impeccable night's kip, could have a slight chance. What you saying?

1125: "I don't think you can count out Sastre - with the Maillot Jeune on his back for extra motivation, plus a showery & lumpy TT course today, he may just hang onto enough time advantage to still be wearing yellow tomorrow in Paris..." SG19 Cowshed on 606

As the 606 posts show, we've got wily experts to complete novices - and everything in between - following today's action. Good to have you all aboard the good ship, erm, Cadel vs Carlos 2008. Destination Saint-Amand-Montrond me-hearties.

1120: "I have a question: I am new to watching cycling races and I do not understand why all the riders in the peloton who finish a stage of TdF are given the same time. Sometimes there are 100 riders in the peloton and they certainly do not finish at the same exact second, yet when I check the finishing times on the official TdF site, all of the peloton is given the same time. Why is that? Could anyone explain this to me?

"PS - I think Evans will win." gulnihal7 on 606

1115: There are three intermediate time checks over today's route - at 18km, 36km and 47.5km - with which to monitor gradual progress.

What do riders think of to block out the pain?...

Cerilly, from where the riders get going, produces the high-quality oak which is used to make barrel staves for the best Cognac and Bordeaux wines. I doubt it's nuggets of useless information like that.

1105: And already there are riders pumping away on their pedals... Silence-Lotto's Wim Vansevenant - the Lanterne Rouge in the last two Tours - and Team Columbia's Bernhard Eisel were the first to go. When they set off about 40 minutes ago, Eisel was three hours 47 minutes and 11 seconds behind leader Carlos Sastre - that's after 3,362km of racing.

1051: Rain fell overnight and this morning in the Allier and Cher departments through which the Tour passes today and, though it's dry in the sky now, the roads are wet. But it's fairly hot and I'm guessing that any stagnant moisture will evaporate.

Riders go in reverse order according to their place in the general classification with the first 125 setting off at two minute intervals. The final 20 - the nerve-jangled contenders - will be separated by three minutes.

1039: It's a lung-busting race against the clock at break-neck speeds today and Evans (five times a top-10 Le Tour finisher) is quite clearly the man - with a 14-0 time-trial record over Sastre.

Cadel is precisely one minute 34 seconds behind Carlos (who put himself into the snug yellow jersey with that surprising break over L'Alpe D'Huez) and will be quietly confident he can claw back nearly two minutes.

In the first time trial of the Tour, Sastre lost one minute 16 seconds to Evans - albeit over a shorter distance. Extrapolate that over today's course and Evans would make up two minutes 19 seconds, thus snatching the yellow jersey.

I'd love to, but.... I can't take the credit for that light-shedding calculation. It was in one of this morning's papers.

1020: Nineteen stages, thousands of kilometres, barrell-loads of sweat, and billions of calories. Hello folks. This is the one.

Laid out before us as, utterly agog, we follow this crucial 53km stage 20 individual time-trial from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond are four riders within about 90 seconds of each other.

Spaniard Carlos Sastre has the lead but "wheel-sucking" Australian Cadel Evans, the favourite throughout, is widely expected to gorge up the the seconds like a herd of starving wildebeest.

Why not gaze into your crystal ball and predict a winner...

see also
Sastre set to win Tour de France
26 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Sastre hails Team CSC team-mates
26 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Tour de France stage 20 photos
26 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Sastre takes over as Tour leader
23 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Cavendish out of Tour de France
20 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Tour de France 2008 preview
02 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Cycling on the BBC
11 Jul 08 |  Cycling

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