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American Regains Lead in Tour de France


American Floyd Landis is wearing the leader's yellow jersey today in the Tour de France. He reclaimed it yesterday after the 15th stage of the race, which included three alpine peaks.

Joining us is sports journalist James Raia. He's trailing the cyclists on the tour. Good morning.

Mr. JAMES RAIA (Sports journalist): Good morning. How are you, sir?

YDSTIE: Fine, thank you. Luxembourg's Frank Schleck won yesterday's stage, so explain to us why Floyd Landis is wearing the yellow.

Mr. RAIA: Well, Floyd is, you know, cycling is very much a sport of tactics and you don't necessarily have to win a stage to take the leader's jersey. So we've had two very difficulty mountain stages and Floyd finished third in the first one and fourth in the second one. And cycling is very much a chess game, so he strategically finished fourth but he finished higher than the guy who held the jersey previously, so Floyd Landis, the rider from San Diego, California, took a 10 second lead in today's 16th stage. He had the jersey after the 11th stage but on purpose he kind of gave up the jersey so he and his team didn't have to race so hard.

YDSTIE: Now today's competition continues to be in the mountains and will also be grueling. What makes this particular stage so difficult for cyclists?

Mr. RAIA: Well, in today's stage the riders climbed about 25 miles right at the start of the stage over the most famous mountain in the Tour de France, called the Col du Galibier and it rises up to 8,000 feet, approximately, in the Alps. A very, very steep climb (unintelligible) switchbacks, narrow roads, very sharp descents, so it's the most well-known mountain in the Tour de France and the riders did it today. And they've been riding for more than two weeks, so, you know, they're kind of at the limits of endurance, but there's today and tomorrow still in the Alps and it's the two most difficult days.

YDSTIE: Some wobbly legs and burning lungs by the end of this stage.

Mr. RAIA: Pretty much. As a matter of fact, the reigning world champion of cycling, Oscar Freire - he's won the world championship three times - he finished last in the stage yesterday, 36 minutes behind the leader. So even the best cyclists can have their bad days when they go to their limits, and that's it for the day. They have to finish to continue but sometimes it's pretty far back from the leader.

YDSTIE Floyd Landis was a teammate of Lance Armstrong and actually helped pave the way for three of Armstrong's wins. Now it's looking like this may be his year for victory.

Mr. RAIA: I think so. You know, he only has a ten-second lead right now. And as I mentioned earlier, with the two Alp stages left, you know, Floyd could have a bad day. He could puncture and crash. I mean, anything could happen, but he is the favorite in the race. And you're right, he was a very strong rider for Lance Armstrong and now Lance is retired and Floyd is the captain of his own team - the Phonak team - and he was a pre-race favorite and now he's regained a jersey, but it's only by ten seconds and they have a long way to go. You know, five good days until the riders arrive in Paris. But I would say Floyd has a pretty good chance - a better chance than most of the field - to be the third American to win the Tour de France.

YDSTIE: Sports journalist James Raia covering the Tour de France today in the French Alps. Thanks very much.

Mr. RAIA: Thank you for having me on the show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.