Stages 7 and 8 of this years Tour de France marked the first mountain stages of the race, and as is typcial when the Tour reaches the mountains, things tend to take a turn for the dramatic.
Take yesterdays stage, which saw young German Linus Gerdemann wrest the Yellow Jersey off of Fabian Cancellara, who had worn the iconic symbol of the Tour leader since the prologue last Saturday. Most cycling experts predicted that Cancellara would fade quickly once the Tour reached the mountains, and fade he did, losing nearly 23 minutes to Gerdemann. Most of the contenders for this year’s crown chose to hang back and let Gerdemann run away from the peloton, eventually claiming a solo stage win.
However, Gerdemann’s stay in Yellow was a short one, as Michael Rasmussen of Denmark showed why he is the reigning King of the Mountain today. Sunday’s stage was far more challenging than yesterday’s introduction to the Alps. The 103 mile stage, which ran from Le Grand-Bornand to Tignes, was marked with long, challenging climbs, including an 11 mile climb to cap the day. Rasmussen was part of an early break away, but as the day went on the riders around him cracked, and one by one they fell off his pace. The former World Champion mountain biker has displayed his climbing abilities in the past and today he put on another show, claiming the stage win that not only put him in the Yellow Jersey, but strongly in control of the Polka Dot Jersey as well.
At the end of the day, Rasmussen was in first, 43 seconds ahead of Gerdemann, with Iban Mayo of Spain in third. With one more Alpine stage to go, and the grueling climbs of the Pyrenees ahead, Rasmussen has a chance to be a contender. However, he is not a great time trialist, and there are over 100km of time trials yet to come as well. Gerdemann has made his mark on the tour, and is the main contender for the White Jersey given to the outstanding young rider, but at the age of 24, he is not expected to be able to maintain the pace of the tour contenders. Mayo, on the other hand, has to be being feeling pretty good. As one of the favorites to this year’s race, he’s in perfect position at the moment. But there are still three weeks to go, and the dreaded Pyrenees ahead.
Tomorrow is the first rest of the Tour. The riders will get a much needed break before continuing on Tuesday. What was a race for the sprinters heading into the weekend, has now given way to the climbers and the real contenders. Things just got interesting.