Tour De France Promises Close Finish

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Sunday is the final day of the grueling three-week Tour de France. Phil Liggett, a cycling commentator on the Versus television network, the U.S. broadcaster of the tour, says Spain's Carlos Sastre is leading but Australia's Cadel Evans is close behind.


The Tour de France heads into its final two stages this weekend. It's a very tight race with no clear idea who will win. This year's race was marred again by doping. Three riders were kicked out after positive drug tests. Today's stage was 103 miles across a fairly flat stretch in the center of France.

And we've reached Phil Liggett just outside, where today's stage ended in Montlucon. He is cycling commentator on the Versus television network. Welcome to the program, Phil.

Mr. PHIL LIGGETT (Cycling Commentator, Versus Television Network): Lovely to be with you.

BLOCK: Going into this weekend's final two stages, the number one leader in the overall standings, wearing the yellow jersey is Carlos Sastre of Spain, but he does not have this locked up. Who is he looking over at his shoulder at?

Mr. LIGGETT: No, he doesn't. I think Carlos knew he had to get a big lead in the mountains, which ended a couple of days ago in L'Alpe. And I think he, ideally, he would've liked two minutes. He didn't get two minutes, he got 1 minute 34 seconds. Now, to their level, he's not only good at climbers' (unintelligible), that's why he used his advantage in the L'Alpes, but Cadel Evans is a very good lone rider against the watch. We call it the race of truth, the time trial.

Now, by tradition, the ultimate day of the tour is a time trial. It's 53 kilometers long, about 32 miles. And 1-minute-34 is quite possible to recoup with a rider of the ability of Cadel Evans. So we're going to wait and see. But it's by - far from certain which one of those two will win.

BLOCK: Cadel Evans is Australian, came to road-racing from mountain-biking, right?

Mr. LIGGETT: Yes, he did. He was a brilliant mountain biker. He stayed as a mountain biker with a very lucrative contract until the year 2000. Because at the Sydney Olympics Games in his own country, he wanted to win a gold medal. But seven weeks before the Olympics, he broke his collarbone. He rode the Olympics, but he didn't ride well, he didn't medal. So he started road-racing, which is what many people had advised him to do.

He went straight to the top of road-racing. And his Tour de Frances have always indicated one day, he could win it. He was second last year, he finished eight the year before. And he said I can improve every year. Well, the only year he can improve now is to be first. No Australian has ever won the tour.

BLOCK: You said today in your commentary on Versus, you said, the time trial tomorrow - this is the race against the clock, one rider at a time - that it could be one of the greatest time trials of all time.

Mr. LIGGETT: Yes, it could. Because it also - it's not just the race for the yellow jersey, which I think is between those two riders. But it's a very good race for the young American - well, not young anymore - Christian Vande Velde, the American from Chicago who has completely surprised all of us. He's been up into third place in this race where he held that for two weeks. Now, he's lying sixth, but he is a very good time trial rider and he could, on a great day, finish the Tour de France in fourth or fifth position, which is an outstanding result for him.

BLOCK: So things wouldn't be Tour de France these days if we're not talking about doping. And this year, of course, we saw cyclists taken away in handcuffs, a whole team…

Mr. LIGGETT: Yeah.

BLOCK: …dropped out after their leader was kicked out of the race. We've seen a lot of sponsors that have dropped away because of all this. Do you think the Tour de France can get rid of this taint?

Mr. LIGGETT: Well, it's - in every sport, don't let us fool ourselves, cycling is been a lot more, than other sports, been in the public eye, because the only way you stop it is to go for you by the throat, and that's what the organizers, the riders themselves - in fairness, and the big teams, and the world governing body, they've all combined.

BLOCK: Well, what do you think the tour can do, and the sponsors and the organizers, to give confidence back to this sport and give confidence back to France?

Mr. LIGGETT: No more than what they're doing now. It's not the sport of cycling that's at fault, it's the individuals, some individuals within that sport of cycling. And so, they are doing what they can. The riders themselves are forming clean teams, they're signing agreements with the manager, with the sponsors. There's not all bad news, but I don't think the sport can do any more to clean up its act than it's already doing.

BLOCK: Phil Liggett, thanks so much.

Mr. LIGGETT: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

BLOCK: Phil Liggett speaking with us from Montlucon, France where he is cycling commentator for the Tour de France on the Versus television network.

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