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>>
Teams and riders>>
About the Tour>>