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Friday, July 21, 2006
Great time trial battles in Tour history

By Andrew Hood
Special to ESPN.com

MACON, France -- Saturday's time trial will be a three-rider showdown between overall leader Oscar Pereiro, second-place Carlos Sastre and American Floyd Landis.

With just 30 seconds separating the trio, the Tour de France likely will come down to the 56 kilometers from Le Creusot to Montceau-les-Mines.

This isn't the first time the Tour de France has come down to the final few days. Here are some other great time-trial battles in Tour history:

1989: LeMond vs. Fignon

Considered the greatest comeback in Tour history (until Landis entered the picture), Greg LeMond erased a 50-second deficit and overtook Laurent Fignon on a 24-kilometer time-trial course on the final stage of the '89 Tour. LeMond used cutting-edge triathlon handlebar extenders and an aero-helmet -- everyday equipment these days -- while Fignon vainly let his trademark ponytail flit in the wind. LeMond set a speed record for time trials and won the Tour by eight seconds, the narrowest margin of victory in Tour history.

2003: Armstrong vs. Ullrich

After suffering one of the worst days of his Tour reign, Lance Armstrong was on the ropes when he forfeited 1:36 in the first time trial and entered the final time trial just 1:05 ahead of longtime nemesis Jan Ullrich. When the big German came too hot into a corner and went sprawling to the pavement under torrential rain, Armstrong coasted to the finish to win a record-tying fifth straight Tour.

1987: Delgado vs. Roche

Spanish rider Pedro Delgado grabbed the lead in the Alps but lost the Tour by 40 seconds to Irish winner Stephen Roche in a time trial in Dijon. That was the same year Roche also won the World Championships and the Giro d'Italia.

1968: Janssen vs. Van Springel

Herman Van Springel of Belgium was leading Dutchman Jan Janssen by 16 seconds going into the final-day time trial. But the Dutchman got the better of the Belgian, edging him just enough to win the Tour by 38 seconds, the smallest margin in Tour history until LeMond edged Fignon in 1989.

Andrew Hood is a freelance writer based in Spain who has covered the Tour de France for ESPN.com since 1996.