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Matteo Tosatto came to the Tour with one brief - to set world champion Tom Boonen up for stage wins. The Italian rider and the rest of Quick Step's lead-out men did what they could, but for a variety of reasons Quick Step went into the today's 18th stage without a victory to their credit and without the rainbow-banded presence of Boonen, who has seemed their one and only chance of breaking their duck.
But the team that didn't seem to have a plan B to cope with the failures of both Boonen and new signing Jos Rujano gained a measure of redemption when Tosatto used the sprinting skills he usually devotes to Boonen's lead-out to take the stage from Morzine to Macon.
Part of a 15-rider break that went clear of a fast-moving and very active bunch after 53km, Tosatto was quick to respond with former Quick Step team-mate Cristian Moreni (Cofidis) after Gerolsteiner's Ronny Scholz attacked the group with 17km remaining. Scholz's effort came soon after a break by his team leader, Levi Leipheimer and Euskaltel's I¤aki Isasi had been snuffed out.
The two Italians chased Scholz for a couple of kilometres before getting on terms. The German must have known that he stood little chance against Tosatto's finishing kick, and it was no surprise to see him make a final effort to get clear of his two companions three kilometres from the finish in an attempt to give his team their first stage win of the race.
But Moreni and Tosatto weren't to be denied, and it was the latter who burst away with 200 metres left to claim a much-needed stage win that might help quieten his and his team's critics in the Belgian press.
For the first time this week, there was no notable change in the overall standings, where Oscar Pereiro still leads Carlos Sastre by 12 seconds and Floyd Landis by 30 going into tomorrow's crucial 57km time trial. Landis is the outstanding favourite, but the way this race has gone it wouldn't be a surprise to see the three of them still battling each other for time bonuses on the Champs Elyses on Sunday.
Stage 18, Morzine-Macon
1 Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic 197km in 4.16.15 (46.13kph)
2 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis
3 Ronny Scholz (Ger) Gerolsteiner 0.02
4 Manuel Quinziato (Ita) Liquigas 0.47
5 Sbastien Hinault (Fra) Crdit Agricole 1.03
6 Jrme Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
7 Sylvain Calzati (Fra) Ag2r
8 Benot Vaugrenard (Fra) Franaise des Jeux
9 I¤aki Isasi (Spa) Euskaltel
10 Egoi Martinez (Spa) Discovery Channel
1 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears 84.33.04
2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 0.12
3 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 0.30
4 Andreas Klden (Ger) T-Mobile 2.32
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 3.11
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 4.17
7 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Ag2r 4.27
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2r 5.48
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel 8.19
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 12.16
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