What we saw on Alpe d?Huez today was one of the most fascinating day?s racing on the Tour de France for many years.

On the face of it, not much changed ? all the favourites bar stage winner Carlos Sastre finished together in a group. But today was a classic showdown between CSC and race favourite Cadel Evans.

And it?s still not clear who?s going to win the yellow jersey in Paris.

Bjarne Riis?s team left it late. They rode defensively up the Col de la Bonette Restefond on stage 16, and many thought they were playing into the hands of Cadel Evans. They did the same on the Col de la Croix de Fer today. It looked like the CSC of the Armstrong days, content to ride for second place.

All that changed when Carlos Sastre attacked at the bottom of the climb to L?Alpe d?Huez.

And as the Spaniard chiselled out a lead, we had a race on our hands. With a deficit of 49 seconds on the yellow jersey, team mate Frank Schleck, but more importantly 41 seconds on Evans, his lead grew and grew.

Behind him, CSC played a brilliant tactical game. They varied the pace. They slowed, they accelerated, they chased anything that moved, and killed the rhythm of the pursuit. Evans needed a steady pursuit, and CSC did everything to prevent him getting it.

Alejandro Valverde and Vladimir Efimkin?s attacks also broke up the rhythm ? Andy Schleck closed them down with ease, and then slowed, while Evans looked uncomfortable with the erratic pace.

The climb was a throwback to the old days ? no longer are we seeing a consistently hard pace up the climbs, with riders dropping off the back. Now, with the riders incapable of time trialling up mountains, tactics are becoming as important as strength.

The only help Evans received was from the AG2r-La Mondiale squad. The French team are second in the team classification behind CSC, and they needed to limit the gap to Sastre to stay in contention. The kilometre that Stéphane Goubert rode on the front of the group, during which Sastre?s lead grew at a slower rate, might have inadvertently saved Evans? Tour.

And with four kilometres to go, Evans himself took over. The Australian gets a lot of criticism for negative tactics, but he rode his heart out with no other goal than to keep his dream of winning the Tour alive. Ahead, we had Sastre, dancing away in a possible race-winning attack. Behind, Evans fought with everything he had to keep himself within shouting distance of the Spaniard.

By the finish, Sastre had put 2-15 into Evans, giving him an overall lead of 1-34 over Evans.

WHO?S GOING TO WIN?

Evans. Or Sastre. Obviously.

Evans is 1-34 behind Sastre, with a time trial to come that favours the Australian. But is the gap small enough for him to close?

In the last three Tours, Evans has beaten Sastre in the final time trial of the race (all at similar distances to Saturday?s stage to St Amand Montrond).

In 2007, Evans put 2-33 into Sastre. Enough for him, if he repeats that performance, to win the Tour.

But in 2006, the gap was 1-02, and in 2005, it was 1-04. If Sastre can pull out a ride like these two, the yellow jersey is going to Spain.

Either way, neither rider will be 100 per cent confident of victory.



TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage 17: Sastre wins on Alpe d’Huez, takes lead

Stage 16: Dessel wins

Stage 15: Schleck takes lead in the Alps

Stage 14: Oscar Freire wins in Digne-les-Bains

Stage 13: Cavendish takes fourth win

Stage 12: Cavendish makes it three

Stage 11: Arvesen wins

Stage 10: Evans takes yellow jersey by one second

Stage nine: Ricco wins in the Pyrenees

Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse

Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage

Stage six: Ricco storms to win

Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win

Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead

Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break

Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint

Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Analysis: tactical battle on L’Alpe d’Huez [stage 17]

Schleck promises to attack main rivals

Schleck ready to defend Tour lead [stage 15]

Rest day news round-up [July 21]

Saunier Duval riders: “We are honest”

Cavendish talks to Cycling Weekly after quitting Tour

Schleck savours first ever Tour de France jersey [stage 15]

Comment: Why Cav is right to go home today

Cavendish pulls out of the Tour

Barloworld to end cycling sponsorship

Ricco speaks on Italian television

Cavendish joins the all-time greats

Saunier Duval sack Ricco and Piepoli

Tour bosses say fight against doping continues

Ricco denies doping at the Tour

Saunier Duval pull out of Tour

Tour’s top ten changes

Ricco positive for EPO at Tour

Analysis: Tour de France rest day summary

Cavendish battles through Pyrenees

Evans suffers but takes yellow jersey [stage 10]

Analysis: Hautacam shakes up 2008 Tour

Ricco silences critics with solo attack in Pyrenees [stage nine]

Cavendish talks about his second stage win [stage eight]

Beltran heads home but doubts remain about other Tour riders

David Millar: the dope controls are working

Manuel Beltran tests positive for EPO at the Tour

Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit

Doping back in Tour de France headlines

Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]

Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]

Millar to go for yellow [stage six]

Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]

Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win

Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]

Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]

Who is Romain Feillu?

Cavendish disappointed with stage two result

Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey

Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?

Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec

Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win

Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage 17

Stage 15

Stage 14

Stage 13

Stage 12

Stage 11

Stage 11

Stage 10

Stage nine

Stage eight

Stage seven

Stage six

Stage five

Stage four

Stage three

Stage two

Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: BLOGS

Life at the Tour part five

Life at the Tour part four

Life at the Tour part three

Life at the Tour part two

Life at the Tour part one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

Tour de France 2008 homepage>>

News and features>>

All the riders (start list, list of abandons)>>

Day by day summary>>

Route & stages>>

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