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Rasmussen Blows Away the Field in Stage Eight

Stage Eight
Le Grand-Bornand-Tignes
165 kilometers/122.7 miles
Stage: Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
Maillot Jaune: Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
Green: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)
Polka-dot: Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)

All week we have been hearing and reading and watching the favorites. Vinokourov. Leipheimer. Valverde. Evans. Will an American win? Will there be another Lance?

But this tour is different. There is no rider that everyone fears. Which means that someone not a favorite could win this one.

Though he rides for Rabobank, a team supporting Denis Menchov for the yellow jersey, that someone right now is Michael Rasmussen. He was invisible throughout the first week and at the beginning of this stage. Though he has been King of the Mountain the last two years, his name was hardly mentioned even as the first-week KOM pretenders-to-be, in this case led by Sylvain Chavanel, played with the early peaks and points.

After a bunch of false starts, a breakaway that included contender Michael Rogers and American George Hincapie finally got away from the peleton. The Ichabod Crane of the circuit took off at the base of the first of the three category-one climbs like the headless horseman was behind him. He kindly let another couple of wannabes hang with him until the final first-cat climb. From there it was all Rasmussen, the most natural climber riding in the Tour today, leading the way, seemingly oblivious to the drama unfolding in his wake.

The worst was watching the end of Michael Rogers’ tour. Coming down the Cormet de Roseland, the highly regarded Rogers, who at that moment was leading the tour, and David Arroyo were caught by the cameras just after hitting a road barrier designed to keep cars from running off a narrow curve. Rogers was on the pavement after obviously hitting at a high speed, and you couldn’t see Arroyo until he appeared climbing out of the woody area he fell into after going over his front handlebars.

Arroyo was more dazed than injured, and he got back on and tried to take down Rasmussen, who was having none of it. Rogers kept going for another couple of kilometers, with a TV camera zeroing in the scratches on his face and arms. But as he went farther, the camera closed in his right wrist, which he was visibly favoring.

Riders, and finally the peleton passed him. He quietly pulled over to the right side of the road, got his feet out of his pedals, lowered his head and just started crying as his mates shepherded him into the team car, his wrist and hopes for the 2007 Tour shattered.

The favorites staggered in behind Rasmussen, who holds the KOM lead as well as the yellow jersey and has 1:24 on his closest challenger, Iban Mayo, who raced better than I have ever seen him over the years. Also looking very strong today was AG2R’s Christophe Moreau, now in fourth place. Cadel Evans, Discovery’s Alberto Conador, Frank Shleck and Carlos Sastre are all lurking in the top ten.

Say what you will about Rasmussen’s weakness for time trialing and Leipheimer’s preference for the Pyrenees, but you have to give him some kind of chance. With a day off and an easier mountain stage on Tuesday, he’s in a good position. No team has been able to control the peleton, but with the Menchov-Rasmussen combo, Rabobank has plenty of incentive to try.

To be honest, Vinokourov and Leipheimer don’t seem to be doing much more than just barely keep up. Leipheimer and Menchov came in pretty strong at the end of this stage. Vino is still recovering and getting stronger. But without the pure-guts performance of Andreas Kloden today, who is giving up his own tour hopes to help a teammate he wouldn’t help two years ago, Vino might not be where he is, a distant 5:16 off the lead. For his efforts, Kloden fell to sixth, 3:39 in arrears.

Everything could change Tuesday, and the peleton and the press will certainly be more attentive to Rabobank. But more than a week into the race, we have a wide-open Tour de France. There are no favorites. Anyone could win.


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