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12 Stages Down, Tour Has No Clear Leader

Stages 10-12

Real life got in the way of the tour the last couple of days. We only saw a part of Stage 10, a very flat stage from Tallard to Marseille after three days in the Alps. Kudos to CSC vet Cedric Vasseur for the win on the tour’s second longest stage.

Stage 11 was another basically flat day from Marseille to Montpelier in the south along the coast. Astana, taking strategic advantage of strong cross winds that came up suddenly about 100k from the finish, put down the hammer to split the field and caught one of the favorites and France’s hopes for the yellow jersey, napping.

Christophe Moreau had crashed earlier and sustained some superficial injuries. He said he was changing shoes when Astana took off, but there’s not doubt his inattention cost him. In the process, we got a close-up glimpse of how difficult it is for someone to get back in the peleton after an acceleration. Moreau lost his high standing in the general classification; he is now more than six minutes behind leader Michael Rasmussen.

Attacks were expected from somebody on the leaderboard to attack during the second-category climb. A camera view from in front of the peleton at a couple of places explained why that never materialized: a serious head wind kicked up that was swaying the trees like a serious chinook coming off the Flatirons into south Boulder, forcing the riders to concentrate on just getting up the gradient.

For all the Astana effort, which included a fleeting Vinokourov mini-attack about 7 k from the finish line, the only casualty was the humiliated Moreau. Robbie Hunter, riding for the renegade team Barloworld, snatched the sprint away from Tom Boonen, who retained the green jersey. His first-ever stage victory was particularly sweet for Hunter, riding in his last tour.

Boonen, who was visibly upset Thursday on the podium, got his revenge today, winning in a great sprint that shaped up after the peleton caught the two riders who had been ahead all day at the 1k marker. I’m a sucker for the breakaway, like Phil Leggitt, who is always pulling for breakaway riders. Paul Sherwen, Versus’s other announcer, is always more practical and chiding Leggitt for his enthusiasm. It is a fact that the peleton will catch breakaways almost every time, which makes those that get away such sweet victories to watch. But it didn’t happen today for Euskatel’s Amets Tzurruka and Bosque’s Pierrick Fedrigo.

Biggest news outside the race was that the Danish Cycling Federation has suspended Michael Rasmussen because of an irregularity in a diary of movements he keeps so riders can be spot tested for drugs. My reaction is the same as Liggett’s on his Versus blog: “Although he has never given a positive test, his Federation has taken a very hard step on a man who is his country’s greatest athlete. There are no winners here.” Liggett, who calls Rasmussen, “an annoyed man,” thinks that might spur the Dane to a stronger-than-expected time trial Saturday, a long individual race-against-time. The betting money is that leader Michael Rasmussen will lose the yellow jersey and perhaps more because of his time-trialing record, which has been abysmal.

Will Rasmussen ride more confidently and quickly against-the-clock with the yellow jersey on his back? Will one of the other favorites finally become bold during the Pyrenees climbs? Or will some unknown name vault his way up the leaderboard with a storied ride into history? We shall soon see.


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