Stage 9 of The Tour de France was the last of the alpine stages, and you can bet there are some riders tonight who will be happy to put those mountains behind them. Today’s stage was a mere 99 miles in length, but was marked with a Category 1 climb (the Col du Telegraphe) and two “Beyond Category” climbs that punished the riders and have nearly put an end to Alexandre Vinokourov’s dreams of winning the race.
The winner of today’s stage was Juan Mauricio Soler of Columbia. At 24 years of age, he is riding in his first Tour and claimed the solo victory today. Michael Rasmussen stayed in Yellow with a solid ride of his own, and as the pre-Tour favorites begin to fall away, the rider from Denmark is looking like a serious threat to claim the title himself. Ahead lies the Pyrenees, where he’s sure to do well as the two time defending “King of the Mountain”, but he’ll have to over come poor performances in time trials, which have cost him in the past.
Vinokourov was one of those pre-race favorites, but he finished three and a half minutes back from the leaders today, and is now more than eight minutes behind the Yellow Jersey. Other Tour favorites include Alejandro Valverde, Cadel Evans, and Levi Leipmheimer, each of which is about three minutes back, but still with in striking distance. Valverde may be the strongest over all rider right now, and will likely make his move to the Pyrenees, which will offer a very different challenge than the Alps. And for the record, my pre-race pick Oscar Pereiro is now 6 minutes 36 seconds down to Rasmussen. His hopes are fading fast as well after giving up nearly four minutes today.
Tomorrow’s stage gives way back to the sprinters. It runs 143 miles from Tallard to Marseille and should likely be a fast day for those who didn’t burn all their energy in the Alps.