Final showdown at Tour still looms in today’s time trials |

Final showdown at Tour still looms in today’s time trials

MONTLUCON, France ” At the Tour de France, this is it.

The only stage that now matters in cycling’s three-week showcase is Saturday’s time trial. And for Carlos Sastre, who is wearing the yellow jersey, this is the moment he’s been waiting for.

The Spanish veteran is a strong climber and now needs the time trial of his career if he is to be the winner when the race ends Sunday in Paris.

Five riders appear to have a shot at the title, although surprises could await in Saturday’s 33-mile leg from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond. Three Alpine stages ended Tuesday, cutting the field of legitimate hopefuls.

Tour organizers couldn’t be more pleased: Suspense lasting until the next-to-last stage was exactly what they wanted, and the tension is a welcome respite from the commotion surrounding three doping busts in the first two weeks of the race.

The top of the standings didn’t change after Friday’s 19th stage in which Sylvain Chavanel of France led a two-man breakaway to win the run from Rouanne to Montlucon.

“Tomorrow will be the opportunity of my life,” Sastre said. “I’m going to go all out.”

Overall, Frank Schleck of Luxembourg is in second place, 1 minute, 24 seconds back. Bernhard Kohl of Austria is 1:33 behind, while Cadel Evans of Australia is fourth, a second slower. Denis Menchov of Russia trails by 2:39 and has an outside shot because he’s a strong time-trial rider.

But the odds are on Evans, the Tour runner-up in 2007. The outcome of time trials can be predictable because riders tend to be good in them or not.

In two time-trial stages at the last Tour, which had a similar length to Saturday’s, Evans placed second and was more than two minutes faster than Sastre each time.

Kohl and Schleck were even slower than the Spaniard.

The Australian senses the math in his favor. He calls it “highly possible” that he can be wearing yellow for Sunday’s finale on the Champs-Elysees.

But he still has a 1:34 deficit to erase. And Sastre, who has been among the top 10 five times in the Tour de France, enjoys some advantages.

In the time trial, riders set off one by one down the starter’s ramp in a race against the clock in reverse order of the standings, meaning Sastre goes last. He can see how others fare, and how he might compensate. He said he’ll be looking for tips from CSC teammate Fabian Cancellara, a strong time-trial racer, who will have finished his ride before Sastre even starts.

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