MORZINE, France One day after his disastrous performance in the Alps, American Floyd Landis (Phonak) catapulted himself to within seconds of the Tour de France race lead Thursday with an equally dramatic stage win on the same famous mountain range.
Landis lost his race lead, finished more than ten minutes behind the stage winner, and fell to 11th after the 16th stage. But he pedaled alone for the final 50 miles of the 17th stage en route to nearly a six-minute win over a stunned field.
"I took a long shot," said Landis, who completed 124.5-mile (200.5-kilometer) stage from St. Jean-de-Maurienne in five hours, 23 minutes, and 36 seconds. "After two difficult days in the Alps, when people try to chase, it usually doesn't work so well. I think they were either tired or not very organized."
Landis' dominating solo journey, which included the race's final beyond-category climb to the Col du Joux-Plane, six miles from the finish, moved the ninth-place 2005 Tour de France finisher into third place overall in this year's 93rd edition.
Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) of Spain, who regained the lead Wednesday, finished seventh in the 17th stage, 7:08 behind Landis. Pereiro now holds a 12-second race lead over Carlos Sastre (CSC), also of Spain, who placed second in the stage.
Landis, who claimed the first Tour de France stage win of his career, is third overall, trailing by 30 seconds.
"I didn't quite expect it," said Landis, who punched the air defiantly as he crossed the finish line. "But the field looked a little disorganized, I attacked early and it happened."
Three stages of the race remain, with only Saturday's 35.4-mile individual time trial likely to substantially alter the standings.
"I hope what happens is that I will win the race," said Landis, who has twice lead the race. "The only decisive stage left is the time trial and I'm confident in my time trial abilities and we'll have to wait and see."
Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) of Santa Rosa, California, who rode strongly only to fade at the end of the 15th and 16th stages, faltered more drastically Thursday.
Leipheimer finished 38th in the field, 21:23 behind, and dropped to 18th overall, trailing by 22:01.
The final of three straight stages in the Alps again shattered the field. The back of the pack finished more than 52 minutes behind the winner and another three riders abandoned the race.
The remaining 143 riders will pedal 197 kilometers (122.3 miles) from Morzine to Macon in Friday's 18th stage.
For more on Floyd Landis, read Daniel Coyle's July profile of the rider "The New American in Paris," then read Coyle's follow-up interview "From the Hip: Q&A with Floyd Landis" about his recently announced hip condition, how he's been dealing with the pain, and what's down the road at the Tour.