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Many Winners, Several Losers in Stage 13


Stage 13
Albi-Albi
54 kilometers/33.6 miles
Stage: Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 1:06:34
Maillot Jaune: Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
Green: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
Polka-dot: Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)

This stage has been advertised as the first of the tour that might give us some indication of who is serious about winding up next Sunday with the maillot jaune. It more than lived up to its billing, as winners and losers played out a drama along a 33.6-mile, often rainy and wet race against the clock.

Among the winners:

Alexandre Vinokourov, nearly written off after taking sixty stitches in both knees and an elbow after an early crash. Vino, who gave a quick primer during Friday’s flat stage by leading Astana on an attack that split the field, just blew past most of those close to him, taking back boggling amounts of time from some of the front-runners.

Today, Vino was 1:14 ahead of Cadel Evans, his nearest challenger. He beat Yaroslav Popovych , Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer by more than two minutes each. He was more than four minutes faster than Carlos Sastre, six minutes ahead of Eban Mayo. He moved from 20th to 9th position in the general classification and gained three minutes on the leader, Michael Rasmussen. And though he was flying most of the way, he picked his way carefully down a winding section that put several riders on the ground, including teammate Andreas Kloden, showing a restraint and intelligence that Vino hasn’t been known for.

Except for a fall on a hairpin turn, from which he seemed to recover quickly, Kloden might have wound up even higher than the fourth spot he currently holds, just 2:34 behind Rasmussen.

Leader Rasmussen had a splendid day. Leaving as the final rider, the day after being thrown off the Danish National team and accused of drug use by a Boulder amateur, and already written off by many who remembered his poor showing in previous time trials, Rasmussen passed Alejandro Valverde three minutes ahead of him, and retained his yellow jersey. He lost time, but not nearly as much as expected.

Cadel Evans was a winner today, too, moving up to second place after a strong, steady showing. He is in the best position to win in his career, and we’ll be watching him as we hit the mountain stages.

Discovery’s Alberto Contador, a threat in the Alpine stages last weekend, had a fast day and is now in third place in the general classification. And Yaroslav Popovych, riding in the unenviable position just ahead of Vinokourov, finds himself in 15th place after a fast ride that was only overshadowed by Vino. Levi Leipheimer again rode a conservative race and is now in fifth, 3:37 behind the leader. Leipheimer needs to attack in the Pyrenees, which he has said he will do last week, in order to have any chance of winning. Popovych and Contador and George Hincapie will need to be there for him. Leipheimer will have to show us something he has not even hinted at so far this year and that I have never seen him do in five tours – dominate the competition — to make the podium.

The biggest losers included Valverde, who dropped to the 11th spot by finished more than six minutes behind Vino and, humiliatingly, more than half that behind Rasmussen. Christophe Moreau was blown completely out, now in 23rd place, ten minutes behind the leader and a long 13 minutes behind in the race. Carlos Sastre and Eban Mayo’s hopes were trampled upon. Barring a miracle, they are out.

Summing up, Rasmussen has to be considered to be a serious candidate for the final podium, especially with three mountain stages coming in the next four days.

But he will have to race as well as he ever has, because now that he’s in the yellow jersey, other riders and teams will strive to stay with him if he tries one of his patented breakaways straight up a mountain. Does he still have it after a hard time trial? Vinokourov is definitely back in the race, and team Astana, especially with Kloden and workhorse Andrey Kashechkin, who had a great time trial, is looking to be the strongest team at this point in the race, which could spring Vinokourov on another daring time-grab.

The dark horse is Evans, who is quietly running a strong, even race after almost two weeks in the saddle.

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