With a perfectly timed attack in the final mile, T-Mobile's Giuseppe Guerini surprised a group of three riders to take Stage 19, the last long day of riding before the Tour de France rolls into Paris Sunday.
Giuseppe Guerini winning in Le Puy-en-Velay
The Italian had been part of a quartet that included Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas Bianchi), and Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux) who led the day from the 19-mile mark, and broke away in the streets of Le Puy en Velay after 95 miles of hilly racing.
Behind them, Lampre-Caffita's Salvatore Commesso was desperately trying to push a chase group up to the leaders. He attacked more than half-a-dozen times, each time quickly being reeled back into the group that dwindled from nine riders to five in the final miles.
At the same spot Guerini launched his successful bid for the line, Commesso surged again. This time it worked. No one chased the hard-working Italian as he sprinted alone into fifth place.
Lance Armstrong finished 56th, taking the same time as the rest of the swollen peloton, 4:31 behind the leaders. He keeps his comfortable 2:46 lead over Team CSC's Ivan Basso going into tomorrow's individual time trialthe penultimate stage before Paris.
Without a single stage win this year, Armstrong said he has no plans to try to prove anything.
"I haven't won a race this year. You forget those things. It's important but it's not everything. If I get second and preserve the lead and maybe take some time from Ivan [Basso]," that will be fine, Armstrong told the Outdoor Life Network (OLN).
The overall standings remain unchanged with the exception of Pereiro, who bumped Christophe Moreau and is now in tenth place overall.
Pereiro, riding most of the day with Guerini's group, led the peloton by almost nine minutes at one point. When it began to look like he might leapfrog Illes Balears' top rider, Francisco Mancebo, into fifth place, the team pushed the peloton faster. They helped slash the leaders' advantage in half, protecting Mancebo's place as well as the four riders behind him.
The race for the green jersey is tightening with two days of sprinting to go. Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd is in the lead with 175 points, chased by Stuart O'Grady of Cofidis (160) and Robbie McEwen of Davitamon-Lotto (154), scrabbling for every point they can get.
McEwen beat his two rivals to the line, gaining an extra point on Hushovd and two on O'Grady.
By winning both intermediate sprints and finishing fourth for the day, Pereiro took home 32 points, rising into fourth place in the points standings with 118.