Americans Knocking on the Door as Pyrenees Await

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The New York Sun

It is fitting that in this bizarre edition of the Tour de France, bereft of its marquee performers and eclipsed by World Cup drama, it is led by riders who were, for the most part, anonymous before the weekend began.

A 36-year-old Ukrainian,Serhiy Honchar, won Saturday’s time trial and launched himself into the leader’s yellow jersey. He specializes in the event — he won a world championship in the time trials four years ago — but otherwise is about as nameless in the Tour de France as are the pair of young Germans who occupy fourth- and fifthplace, respectively — Patrik Sinkewitz (Honchar’s T-Mobile teammate) and Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner).

It is one of regular reminders that this year’s Tour de France is still there for the taking.

Looming large in Honchar’s rearview mirror, though, is American Floyd Landis (Phonak), who has battled his way to second-place overall and is emerging as the favorite in this unpredictable Tour.

One thing you can bet on is that Landis will ride this race on his own terms. In the opening time trial, the cavalier Pennsylvanian strolled up late to the starting gate. At the start of Saturday’s time trial, Landis was hassled by Tour organizers for the unusual positioning of his handlebars, and was forced to realign them.

But the last-second change didn’t faze him. Had it not been for a technical problem midway through (a tire change that cost him 17 seconds) Landis would have finished less than a minute behind the Ukrainian. Instead, he rolled in just 1:01 behind.

His performance earned him at least a psychological edge in front of his rivals from the Discovery Channel team. Other favorites — Germany’s Andreas Kloden (T-Mobile), Australia’s Cadel Evans (Davitamon), Landis‚ American roommate David Zabriskie (CSC), and Russia’s star climber Denis Menchov (Rabobank) — are snug behind him in the top 10, while the enigmatic Discovery Channel, who have maintained a press silence from France’s top sports journal, L’Equipe, did not fare quite as well over the weekend.

New York native George Hincapie and Italy’s Paolo Savoldelli are between two and three minutes behind, while their teammate and Ukrainian protégé, Yaroslav Popovych, lags by 3:27. The three are jockeying for the role of Discovery Channel leader,vacated by seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who retired after last July’s podium in Paris. After their mediocre performance this weekend, the job is still there for the taking.

After today’s rest day, the Tour moves south, and that vaunted position might start to open up for whomever conquers the first real climb of this Tour, in the Pyrenees on Wednesday: the stretch between Cambo-les-Bains and Pau. On Thursday, the peleton arrives at Val d’Aran, a new venue for the Tour. Although the ascent is more moderate this year than in Tours past, it includes four category-one climbs, an excellent occasion for a contender to stand up and make his name heard.

jmoretti@nysun.com


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