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Linus Gerdemann: The Once and (Perhaps) Future King

Stage Seven
Bourg en Bresse-La Grand-Bornand
197 kilometers/122.7 miles
Stage: Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile)
Maillot Jaune: Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile)
Green: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
Polka-dot: Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis)

Linus Gerdemann.

That’s right. Try it on for size. The leader of the Tour de France is Linus Gerdemann. A name to watch in the future and a name to praise today. Participating in his first Tour de France, Gerdemann, 24, rode a memorable race to victory on the first mountain stage.

The stage was fairly devoid of drama until riders reached the bottom of the first category-one climb of the tour, a ten-mile ascent of Col de La Colombiere that got progressively steeper the higher you went, reaching gradients of 7 and 8 for the top four kilometers, before plunging into a technically challenging and wild descent into the town of Le Grand Bornand.

As predicted, the favorites for the yellow jersey stayed close to each other in the peleton most of the way, and as riders started breaking down on the Colombiere, all the top riders easily made the top together, including Andreas Kloden and Alexandre Vinokourov, who showed no problems up that last climb or down to the finish. For the general classification candidates, today was not a day to win but rather a day to make sure you don’t lose, and the pretenders to the yellow jersey all won today.

But give Gerdemann plenty of credit here. After being part of a breakout of 15 riders from 13 teams, the baby-faced T-Mobile rider attacked at the bottom of Col de La Colombiere, at first with Dmitri Fofonov, David de la Fuente and Inigo Landaluze with him. The last two fell off and Fofonov kept up with Gerdemann until the steepest part began. Gerdemann rode along with Fofonov appearing to size up the Credit Agricole rider for half a minute, and then just accelerated to victory.

Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Landaluze, a more experienced rider, tried to keep contact in case Gerdemann flagged, but he wasn’t able to even get close. Gerdemann seemed to momentarily falter, just barely missing a motorcycle stopped at the side of the road less than a kilometer from the top. Landaluze was only thirty seconds behind when he crested the hill, but Gerdemann, taking advantage of the full road on the treacherous descent, raced away to beat Landaluze by forty seconds.

At least part of that downward slope he was in the apparently aerodynamically sound but scary-looking stance where he drops down onto the frame and seems to grab it with his crotch and leans into the handlebars. It’s a position that would seem to penalize the balls seriously for anything you might hit in the road. I don’t want to see anybody go down from that position. But Gerdemann knew he was riding for history, and he was taking all the chances.

It was a spectacular ride, and the first time a rider has beaten the peleton in this year’s race. He said later that the last two kilometers seemed to last hours, not the three minutes it actually took him. He was forty seconds ahead of Landaluze at the end.

Gerdemann finished with a tour lead of 1:24 over Landaluze, 2:45 over De La Fuente, four minutes over Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer and 5:16 from Vinokourov.

Gerdemann is thought to have little chance of winning the race. (We’ll watch tomorrow to see how today’s energized young legs hold up during the three category one climbs at the second half of Sunday’s stage.) But those legs were better than anybody’s else’s today, and it is sooo good to see someone whose name wasn’t on anybody’s lips until he started his charge at the bottom of the Col de La Colombiere to steal the maillot jaune (and the limelight) from the contenders. We will be keeping our eyes on this guy. With Cancellara’s week in yellow, this is the most promising and surprisingly turn of this tour.

Tom Boonen looked good staying with the pack and retained his green jersey. His 147 points are 13 ahead of Erik Zabel (Phil yesterday said that in sprints, Zabel “will fight like a scalded cat” for the victory.), with Robbie Hunter in third with 103 points.

Hopefully the cat-and-mouse game between the potential leaders sorts itself out a bit somewhere along those three climbs on Sunday, advertised as the most difficult stage of the race. Who will rise to the occasion. Coverage starts in Boulder at five a.m. It’s nap time.


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