Cycling: Landis sitting pretty as Paris beckons

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Floyd Landis fulfilled the predictions and, in the Tour's final time trial, regained - definitively - the yellow jersey he had twice lost before.

Just two days after his spectacular return to the battle for the overall lead with an epic ride in the Alps, yesterday afternoon the 30-year-old Pennsylvanian showed that he is all but matchless in individual races against the clock as well.

On a rolling 57-kilometre course deep in rural eastern France between Le Creusot and Montceau-les-Mines, the over-night leader, Oscar Pereiro of Spain, initially made a stout defence of his 30-second advantage over Landis. But after 20 kilometres and in temperatures reaching the mid-thirties, while Landis continued to maintain a rock-solid position on his bike, Pereiro's shoulders began to sag.

Halfway though the course, the scales had tipped in the American's favour, while Pereiro, though not cracking completely, was clearly on the road to defeat. Come the finish, just as had been the case in the time trial in Rennes two weeks ago, Landis was unable to dislodge the Ukrainian Serhiy Honchar from taking his second victory against the clock.

"I gave it everything today, just like my team did during the whole Tour." Landis said. "Winning in the Alps was one of the best days in my life on the bike, but this one isn't bad.

"There are certainly no plans now for me to give the yellow jersey away again. I tried to go too hard early on."

Pereiro - gifted the yellow jersey by Landis early on in the Tour and then able to return to the lead after the American's near-collapse on Wednesday - said: "I paid a high price, suffered badly in the final 40 kilometres."

The rivalry between the Spaniard and the American, though, extends no further than on the bike: immediately after the stage the two gave each other a lengthy and obviously sincere hug of mutual congratulation.

Pereiro and Landis switching places, with the American now leading the Tour by a slender but sufficient 59 seconds, was not the only change on the podium after the last day of serious racing.

The Spaniard Carlos Sastre, third before the time trial, finished nearly five minutes down on Honchar, and his near-disaster allowed the German Andreas Klöden to take over the CSC rider's place on the podium.

Barring major upset (and there have been more than enough of those during this year's Tour) today, thanks to Landis, "The Star Spangled Banner" will ring out again over the Champs- Elysées for the eighth year running. But Landis's victory could not have been achieved in a more different style to that of his predecessor, Lance Armstrong.

Whereas the Texan employed what his team nicknamed "the template" to secure seven consecutive victories, making one devastating attack in the mountains, Landis's first win has been littered with incidents.

A split tyre delayed him at the prologue, then he all but crashed in the first time trial, and after taking the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees, he opted to ease the pressure on his team by gifting it to Pereiro in the second week.

As if that was not enough, back in yellow on Alpe d'Huez, Landis was near to collapsing on Wednesday, when he lost 10 minutes on the day's final climb. But his spectacular comeback to form 24 hours later, with a stunning stage win at Morzine, once more put the American back in the picture.

"That was one of the best days of my life," Landis agreed yesterday evening, "but people shouldn't think too specially of me. I'm just a human being who works hard. Today is the reward."

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly