It’s been an interesting weekend in The Tour with an individual time trial yesterday and the first stage of the Pyrenees today. Many of the riders have said all along that the race didn’t properly get underway until now, and it looks like that may have been a prophetic statement.
The real story of the weekend begins with the rise and fall of Alexandre Vinokourov . One of the pre-race favorites, Vinokourov was expected to be on the podium in Paris. But a crash early in the race requiring multiple stitches in his legs, and severe bruising all over his body. He raced in obvious pain on some days, and couldn’t hand with the race leader Michael Rasmussen in the Alps. But his hopes were renewed on Saturday when he raced an amazing time trial to put himself into striking distance of the Yellow Jersey. Heading into today, Vinokourov was 5 minutes, 10 seconds behind, giving him a ray of light.
But what a difference a day can make. Today, the Pyrenees loomed, and when the Tour moves into the Pyrenees, the pain begins. Today’s stage was 122 miles in length, up two beyond category climbs, the last running nearly 10 miles up to the finish line. Vinokourov hung with the pack but in the end he cracked, dropping off the back of the leaders, and giving up nearly twenty-nine minutes to Rasmussen.
Meanwhile, at the front of the race, it was a duel of the climbers, with Rasmussen still in Yellow and battling off the other contenders right to the end, where he was nipped by Alberto Contador of Spain for the stage win. The move put Contador into second place in the overall standings and just 2 minutes 28 second behind the leader.
We have two more grueling days in the Pyrenees to come, one tomorrow, followed by a rest day on Tuesday, and the final mountain stage on Wednesday. As challenging as today’s stage was, the two mountain stages ahead are even more so, and now with Contador hanging with Rasmussen in the mountain, it looks like we should have quite a duel between the climbers over the next few days.
For Rasmussen’s part he can’t afford to lose any time to his rivals in the mountain. As someone who struggles in time trials, if the gap is too small, he can easily be caught by the other riders next Saturday when the final individual time trial is held. The Danish rider held his own in the time trial yesterday, but the jury is out on whether or not he can repeat that performance.
As we head into the final week of the Tour, it appears that the top contenders are down to Rasmussen, Contador, Cadel Evans of Australia, with Levi Leipheimer of the U.S. and Andreas Kloden of Germany with outside shots. It should be a great race to watch, especially in the two remaining mountain stages.
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