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Tour de France Cycling News for July 22, 2007

Edited by Sue George

Rasmussen stuns field to hold on

Chicken shows he's no turkey in Albi TT

By Shane Stokes, with additional reporting by Gregor Brown

Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
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If one image summed up Michael Rasmussen's superb time trial ride on stage 13 of the Tour de France, it was the moment when he thundered past his three-minute man Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) in the closing minutes of the test.

Prior to the 54 kilometre TT most were expecting the Danish competitor to be the one to crack. This was, after all, the same rider who had a disastrous ride in the penultimate day St. Etienne test in 2005. He punctured once, crashed twice and changed bikes three times as he had what was then a near-total meltdown, losing 7'47" to stage winner Lance Armstrong and dropping from third to seventh overall.

When Rasmussen told the media this week that he had done no work to improve his time trials, it appeared to further confirm that his yellow jersey was as good as toast.

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Things turned out rather differently. The Rabobank rider was completely inspired by the maillot jaune, losing 2'40" by the second time check, 35.6 km from the start, but then only conceding 15 more seconds over the final 18.4 kilometres. He finished an impressive eleventh on the stage, 2'55" behind a dominant Vino, but in conceding just 1'41" to Evans he remained a minute clear in the general classification.

"Obviously the yellow jersey is a big motivating factor," a smiling Rasmussen said after the podium presentation. "Starting last today was a huge motivation. I went out and did the entire TT this morning with Eric Breukink behind me in the car and Erik Dekker beside me on the bike.

"They were then guiding me through the day and telling me how to get all the way to the finish line without blowing myself up. I also had more favourable conditions to ride in then many of my competitors. The roads had were drying up significantly at the end of the day compared to earlier on."

Valverde had started the stage second overall, 2'35" back, and given his label as The Next Big Thing plus the time trial improvements he has made in the past two years, few would have bet against him actually losing time to Rasmussen. But that is what happened, the Spaniard conceding three minutes and 13 seconds and suffering the humiliation of being caught by a rider he expected to beat.

Rasmussen was asked if he was surprised to hold on, given that he had described himself as a non-time trialist prior to the TT. "Well, I did start with 2'40" advantage today," he said. "Obviously, Valverde had a very bad day. The two nearest rivals were then Mayo and Evans, I was watching them. I am surprised to have kept the jersey with that much of an advantage [to Evans] but obviously, I was hoping to defend it today."

The Dane was under considerable pressure on Friday due to the news that he has been ruled out of world championship and Olympic participation by the Danish federation after missing some out-of-competition doping tests. He refused to talk about this, saying that he would only answer questions relating to the race.

However he did give an answer when asked if he was affected by the controversy. "I decided to put the last two days behind me and try to stay focused on the race, which is why I am here," he stated. "For the moment, I don't know what the classifications looks like. Evans is a minute behind me... him, Contador and the two Astana riders are the most dangerous. But we have to go through many kilometres of climbing in the Pyrenean stages and everything can be turned upside down many times."

Rasmussen now faces three days of mountains, normally his happy hunting ground. He'll endeavour to increase his lead between now and Wednesday evening, encouraged by the knowledge that if he can do so, his newfound TT ability will improve his chances of actually winning the race.

Phoenix from the ashes: Return of the 'Vino'

By Brecht Decaluwé in Albi

Alexander Vinokourov (Astana)
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After an afternoon that was spoiled with rain showers, the skies opened up when the GC-favourites unleashed their forces near the beautiful city of Albi. Pre-Tour favourite Alexandre Vinokourov was one of the first to head out, and despite the fact that he still was riding on partly wet, roads he confirmed that the Astana move of stage 11 was the first sign of the Kazakh resurrection. The labourer from Petropavl plotted his way through the hilly and turning roads near Albi and at the finish he shattered the time of Bradley Wiggins, blowing the Britain's hope for an unexpected stage win.

In the shadow of St-Cecilia's cathedral in Albi la Rouge, as the city is often referred to, 'Vino' the Turquoise granted the media a few words on his time trial. "I'm happy with my performance, this is my revenge for Briançon," 'Vino' referred to the stage where he lost three minutes on his main GC-rivals. "I want to thank everybody who supported me to make it through the Alps. Now that I found my legs again, I want to attack in the Pyrénées; we have a couple of days left to do something," Vinokourov predicted firework for the upcoming stages.

When asked if the patron had returned to the peloton Vinokourov agreed. "Many people had already written me off already." Then the sober Kazakh general got back on his machine and rode to the team bus, guided by his faithful team-mates.

About an hour later, a dismayed Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) was the last to cross the finish line; the Spanish rider was the favourite to take over the yellow jersey from Michael Rasmussen in the time trial but he found out that his TT-abilities are still not good enough to battle for the yellow jersey in Paris. On the other hand, there was Rasmussen, floating on his yellow cloud. The Dane rode the time trial of his life, keeping a minute of his overall lead against Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto)

At the post-race press conference a proud Vinokourov pointed out that he's not defeated yet. "'Vino' is back," the Kazakh rider said in his typical Russian-French mumbling. "I was very motivated for this time trial," he said.

The Astana leader then launched some pep talk. "Today the Tour really starts for me, it is not over yet," Vinokourov claimed. "I lost a lot of time in the Alps but the Tour is only over in Paris."

To read the complete feature, click here.

Evans calls time trial "very good"

By John Trevorrow and Brecht Decaluwé in Albi

Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto)
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"It was good, it was very good," said Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto) about his stage 13 time trial. "It went according to plan, it was a good course for me. I knew when I first started out when I was getting times from my team-mate Leif Hoste, and I was faster than him in the first 10km, well that was a good sign, and I just kept going from there."

Evans remarked on the trecherous conditions that dashed GC hopes of star time trials like Fabian Cancellera (CSC). "Every corner I went into, I went at half the speed I wanted to and every corner I came out, I thought I was just about to lose it. It was really, really slippery on a couple of corners, and I understand a couple of people crashed. Every corner I went into ... I was very, very conservative."

Evans said he had expected to gain some time and never presumed he had Vino beaten so early in the Tour. "I was happy to make time up on [Andreas] Kloden. I was a little surprised at Vino's ride, but not for one moment had I written him off for this tour. I was also a bit surprised by [Michael] Rasmussen (Rabobank). He had a really good ride."

Still biding his time on any attempt to take over the yellow jersey, Evans said, "I just wanted to do a good time trial today, and for me to be second on this course, and at this time of the tour … well I was first of the GC riders. That to me is a good sign. The best is yet to come I think."

Looking ahead to the coming days in the mountains, Evans said, "The Alps weren't easy but the Pyrenees are really - well let's just say there's going to be some real good racing over the next three days." He admits the mountains will suit him, but said it "depends on how your going, how your recovering in the third week. Everything changes now... . The way things are with Astana and Discovery both having two riders in the classification, well that's going to make things a bit tricky, but we will do what we can and keep going."

"Everyone is so close. It's only a bit over a minute back to Contador, and those steep Pyrenees climbs suit him. I know he is going to be good. They have an advantage having two riders on GC, as does Astana. It's just so close, I don't know. I was a bit surprised at how Contador went, but then he had a real good prologue and for a Spanish guy to do that means that he has done a lot of work and, I guess, [Johan] Bruyneel has quietly been working with him."

"I understand everyone's following [the Tour back home] and I am just proud and honoured to be able to fly the flag over here." Perhaps the most telling statement from Evans came when he predicted, "Just keep watching, the best is yet to come. There is still a long way to go."

Predictor pleased with Evans' ride

Evan's Predictor team was delighted with his performance in Stage 13's time trial. The team had earlier admitted that they haven't got the team to defend a yellow jersey, so they now sit in an ideal position with Evans in second, only one minute behind leader Rasmussen.

"Evans did a strong time trial. Only in the final kilometres, he suffered a bit," said directeur sportif Hendrik Redant on Evans' second place in the first time trial of the 2007 Tour de France. "The most important thing was that he survived the downhill parts as we feared that he could crash. There were a couple of dangerous corners there.

Redant continued by saying he wasn't surprised by the performance of his Australian leader. "Evans showed great form and after his performance in the time trial in the Tour de Romandie. I knew he could do well today." In fact, he claimed he predicted the strong performance from Evans. When asked about the unexpected strong performance from Michael Rasmussen, the Belgian complimented the Rabobank rider.

"He did very well. He must have worked hard on his TT skills," Redant said. He warned that the Danish rider is a serious contender for the overall win. "We'll see in the Pyrenees, but with a time trial like this in his legs, we have to watch out for him. With the uphill finishes that are coming up, we have to make sure we don't lose time on him. If that goes well, we should be able to take a minute on Rasmussen but we have to make sure the gap isn't bigger." Redant expressed his hope that Evans would grab the yellow jersey in a time trial on the penultimate stage.

The spontaneous Belgian also had words of praise for Vinokourov. "He showed character, as we all know, that he suffered a lot. Winning the time trial with this advantage and knowing the conditions that he rode through - it was still raining - there's no doubt that he pulled of a great performance."

Cancellara's crashes out of contention

By Brecht Decaluwé in Albi

World Champion Fabian Cancellara
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Fabian Cancellara went into the red zone during his time trial in Albi. The Swiss time trialing machine realized he would have to take risks to beat the top time of British Olympic pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins, who rode an excellent race on a dryer course earlier in the day.

Cancellara made an impression as he passed green jersey Tom Boonen. "After 8km, he already shot passed me. He was going forward pretty well," Boonen smiled. "I did think it was a risky in these rainy conditions. It was extremely slippery, and eventually he did go down. I was sliding away as well on a couple of occasions, and I went through the corners like an old lady," Boonen said on Sporza.

At the first intermediate point, Cancellara was already 29" down on Wiggins. About halfway, Cancellara had made a few errors on the fast corners and downhill roads towards the village of Ambialet. He was lucky to stay on his bike and even slipped a couple of times when hitting the corners at high speeds. However, luck ran out after a short tunnel at about 25km into the race. There was a sharp left turn where the time trial world champion went down.

The former yellow jersey wearer had to recover for a few seconds but after receiving minor treatment, Cancellara continued pushing on. At the second intermediate section (km 35.6), the Swiss was 2'06" down on Wiggins and from then on, he didn't push any further. At the finish line, Cancellara clocked a 107th best time, a disappointment for the Swiss, who seems to be out of contention of the overall classification.

"To be honest he probably wouldn't have won anyway, because Vinokourov was simply too fast. But Fabian had to take some risks to win, because it began to rain just before he had to start. But such is life," said CSC director sportif Kim Andersen according to the team's website, team-csc.com.

"I'm satisfied with the times from both Jens Voigt, Fränk Schleck and Carlos Sastre. Jens worked hard to maintain our position in the Team's Competition after Fabian's crash, while the two others were trying to do well in the general classification. We didn't take any chances and as far as I know, Fabian was the only Team CSC rider to crash today," said Andersen. CSC's top rider, Sastre, now sits seventh in the GC, 4:45 back.

Contador continues with consistency

By Gregor Brown in Albi

Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel)
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The weather in Southern France tends to shift about and Alberto Contador knows this more than anyone else does. The Spaniard went out Saturday morning with teammate Levi Leipheimer in the Discovery Channel team car to preview the 54 kilometres that make up the 94th Tour de France's first time trial in Albi, the city famous for its red bricks. By 17:30 in the afternoon the sun was breaking through on Avenue Albert Thomas where he finished his day after one hour, eight minutes and 52 seconds, enough to move into third overall.

The duo returned from its early morning sortie as rain started to pound down on the first riders starting their time trial run. "The course is for time trial specialists," the 24 year-old Spaniard noted in studious tone to Cyclingnews. "I think the last riders [will have] a lot of rain, the time trial will be very dangerous and it will be very important not to have a crash.

"It is better to go slower today to be cautious, and then tomorrow I will be back," Kid Contador continued before the stage.

He maintains the maillot blanc of best young rider with 4'28" over Gerdemann. Moreover, if it was "cautious" today then he has a good chance of changing his blanc for jaune after of Sunday's 197-kilometre romp over the hors catégorie climbs of Port de Pailhères and Plateau de Beille.

After the time trial stage east of Albi, in the Tarn department, Contador moved himself 2'31" back on race leader Rasmussen and 1'31" back on Evans. "Today is an important step up," he confirmed of his time trial ride. "I have done a good time trial. The gaps are more important than I expected but I am not happy with the third spot on GC, I want more.

"The mountain is my ally, but I am afraid of the last week. I don't know what I can do in the third of a Grand Tour." Contador, who returned to racing after successful sugary on a blood clot in his brain, has only once before finished a Grand Tour when he road the 2005 Tour with Liberty Seguros to finish 31st.

"I like the stage to stage to Plateau de Belle." The riders depart tomorrow along Rue Edmond Barbet at 11:40 for Plateau de Beille.

Stage 13 Post Race quotes

By Brecht Decaluwé and John Trevorrow in Albi

Astana general manager, Marc Biver

Happy after strong performances from his three GC contenders, Biver talked about the time trials of Rasmussen and 'Klödi': "He [Rasmussen] worked a lot in the winter. For us, it was all about trying to recover as much time as possible. Klöden and 'Vino' had about the same time at the first intermediate point but Andreas' crash changed things. It was strange he crashed there because we knew many riders had crashed there. So before the corner, we warned Andreas but he went down anyway." Biver was light-hearted about the incident afterward. "I think we must be happy."

Andrey Kashechkin (Astana)

Kashechkin crashed during his time trial, but still managed to deliver an exceptionally strong fourth place time at the finish line in Albi. The Kazakh lieutenant of Alexandre Vinokourov put his crash into perspective when he talked with the French national radio: "That's life, I just tried to go as fast as I could, and then such things can happen. I'm happy with my performance and I'm motivated [for the second part of the Tour]," Kashechkin said. Suggesting there are more strong performances from Astana to come and warning that bad luck could ruin the chances of any GC contender, Kashechkin said, "Everyday something can happen so we shouldn't be ahead of events."

Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto)

Laughing in response to a question about whether Michael Rasmussen had told a fib when he had said he hadn't been working on his time trialing. "Ah, I don't know about that."

Simon Gerrans (AG2r Prévoyance)

"I had three goals going into today's time trial. They were, in no particular order, make the time limit, stay upright, and [do] not Drown!! Happy to report all goals were achieved."

Chris Horner (Predictor Lotto) to reporters

Regarding today, Horner said, "The descent was very slippery today, and slowed us by at least one minute from the guys who got to ride it in the dry," but looking ahead, he said positively, "My legs are feeling strong for tomorrow and the Pyrenees."

Commentator Paul Sherwen

Commenting on Cadel Evan's ride today, Sherwen said, "[It was] phenomenal. That was an incredible ride. When you think about it, he knew what he had to do and we just had to think about whether he would get the yellow jersey. Actually, I suppose the ride of the day was really Rasmussen. We all expected him to lose three or four minutes today and then Cadel would have had the yellow jersey."

Commentator Phil Liggett

Cyclingnews reporter and Australian race promoter, John Trevorrow, once said to Phil Liggett while riding together in a car during the Tour of Tasmania going up the 16km Mt Wellington climb, "This boy could one day win the Tour de France". Evans was only 19 at the time.

"Yes I remember that," said Liggett, "and yes he can. This is the day that shows he can do it. He did the best ride and I believe now he can win the Tour. He knows now that he's up against Vino and he can keep Vino close in the time trial. He just needs to make sure he doesn't lose anytime in the Pyrenees."

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