Bernie Kohl's hip-hopping Tour

'I really don't think I look like Jay Z'

Right, no Jay-Z jokes. That's what I was telling myself as I approached Bernhard Kohl in Lannemezan this morning before Stage 11 of the Tour de France.

The Austrian's physical resemblance to multi-platinum selling rap impresario and recent star of the Glastonbury Festival is now well documented (at least it is by me), and it's about time we either got a life, changed the record or at least remixed it.

Anyway, we interviewed Kohl earlier in the year and were left with the impression that he didn't appreciate our schoolboy humour. "I have to tell you one thing. I really don't think that I look anything like Jay-Z,"  he'd said, poker-faced, when we'd run out of questions.

We didn't argue then and we weren't about to start now. What really intrigued us was Kohl's outstanding performance in the Tour so far, and particularly on Monday. Fourth behind Piepoli, Cobo and Schleck at Hautacam, fourth on general classification at 46 seconds from Cadel Evans, Kohl has hauled himself right into contention with ten days of the Grande Boucle remaining.

"The impact in Austria's been very big. My guestbook on my website had over 300 new entries after the Hautacam stage," Kohl told us this morning. "In Austria, if a guy rides well, there's a lot of interest, but if he doesn't, there's practically none."

"Last year was my first Tour, and it was just a learning experience," he continued, reflecting on his 31st place overall finish in 2007. "I'd done well in the Dauphiné Libéré in 2006, but the Tour is a different thing altogether. I haven't changed anything in terms of my build-up: I've done the Dauphiné before the Tour for the last three years, and it seems to work for me...I'm trying to keep my feet on the ground. I just want to finish in the top ten or thereabouts in Paris. A top ten finish would be perfect."

Kohl's Gerolsteiner team manager, Hans Michael Holczer, agrees with his rider. Holczer told me this morning that Kohl's consistency and recovery over three weeks bode well for the next week's Alpine swing, which Kohl had described earlier as "harder than the Pyrenees this year". Holczer also said that Kohl was squeezing the most out of his considerable talent for perhaps the first time since joining Gerolsteiner at the start of last year.

"We're very happy with Bernie," Holczer said. "I knew that he was in pretty good shape, and I could tell he was confident. In the first week, he was always in the right place, never needed to panic. For example, every time CSC have attacked, he's been right at the front, and has never needed to waste energy chasing. He's very lucid, very determined. We always thought he'd go well in the mountains, but if you calculate that he lost 23 seconds because of Schumacher's crash at Super Besse, you realize that he could be even better placed now..."

For what it's worth, I reckon Kohl can just about hang on and achieve that goal of a top ten finish. Saunier Duval directeur sportif Matxin Fernandez rightly argued yesterday that this is the most climber-friendly Tour for a decade or two, and that can only play in the Austrian's favour. "By the time we get to the final time trial, the general classification should be dominated by climbers, and it might be pretty much set in stone," Matxin said.

As a certain East Coast rapper might say, it's a "Hard Knock Life on the Tour", but apparently nothing that Bernhard Kohl can't handle.

(Don't roll your eyes. I at least waited until the end)

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