Two mountain stages down, four to go, not to mention two long time trials. In Tignes, Michael Rasmussen is in pole position and, I reckon, well in contention to win in Paris on July 29.
My only question is could there be a less appropriate recipient of the gourmet hamper which the good people of Val d’Isère have laid on for the man who’ll start Monday’s stage in yellow. If a size sub zero existed, the Dane would be its poster boy.
So Rasmussen first, the overnight leader Gerdemann second. The rest, well, they’re all still in there except Dodger Rogers, the T-Mobile leader, who fell on the descent off the Cormet de Roselend and had to pack not long later. What a nightmare day it was for T-Mobile. They lost Rogers, Mark Cavendish also abandoned, and Patrick Sinkewitz collided with a spectator as he rode back down from Tignes after the finish, probably breaking his nose. Sinkewitz may not start on Tuesday. The poor fan was apparently knocked unconscious.
Getting back to the race, I might be wildly, pathetically wrong, but I reckon twelve riders are still in the mix to win the Tour. Here there are, listed with their current GC standing and a bit of blurb from me about why they can still win and why they might not. Feel free to bombard this page with abuse if you disagree.
Contender 1: Michael Rasmussen
GC position: Leader
Chance-at-a-glance: Hang on, we’ve seen this film before. Twice, actually, in the Vosges in 2005 and at La Toussuire in 2006. The only difference this time was that Chicken Legs bypassed the polka-dots and went straight for yellow. OK, he can’t time trial for toffee, he’s suspect under pressure, but he could also be unstoppable in the Pyrenees. Good team, good chance.
Contender 2: Iban Mayo
GC position: 3rd at 2’39”
Chance-at-a-glance: I can’t see it, but then unpredictability is Mayo’s middle name. Looked back to his best on Sunday, but could wilt in the Pyrenees, especially if the expectancy level is cranked up back home in the Basque Country. Has anyone with long hair ever won the Tour?
Contender 3: Alejandro Valverde
GC position: 4th at 2’51”
Chance-at-a-glance: Climbed solidly today but Valverde’s problems start when the mountains get steeper, especially when they’re spread over consecutive days. Karpets and Pereiro are out of the picture now, so at least he’s now Caisse d’Epargne’s sole leader. Some might say it’d be a Piti if he won. He could, but I don’t think he will.
Contender 4: Cadel Evans
GC position: 6th at 2’53”
Chance-at-a-glance: Evans can win if he’s the only one of the contenders to avoid a “jour sans” – what he’d probably call a “pretty *&^$ day, mate”. That’s ten riders who have to hit major strife for Cadel to win. He doesn’t have the legs to attack and his team is lightweight. It doesn’t sound like a winning combo and it’s probably not.
Contender 5: Christophe Moreau
GC position: 7th at 3’06”
Chance-at-a-glance: The strongest man in the race but, on the evidence of Sunday’s stage, maybe not the brightest. Can climb and time trial and if he rides a bit more shrewdly he can eliminate one or two rivals on every major stage. Will hold through the rest of the Alps, might fade towards the end of the Pyrenees. It could just be enough for the podium.
Contender 6: Alberto Contador
GC position: 8th at 3’10”
Chance-at-a-glance: Behind Moreau and Rasmussen, perhaps the best climber in the race on the evidence of the stage to Tignes. Can finish in the top ten in both long time trials and has one of the best teams in the race. For most people he’d be a surprise winner. Not for me.
Contender 7: Frank Schleck
GC position: 9th at 3’14”
Chance-at-a-glance: I’m not sure if this should be public knowledge, but I backed Schleck at 40-1 before the Tour. He did well in the first two mountain stages without ever looking really threatening. He’ll fare better on the steeper climbs of the Pyrenees. Could conceivably win if CSC can pull off some kind of double whammy with Sastre.
Contender 8: Denis Menchov
GC position: 3’19”
Chance-at-a-glance: Same prognosis as Evans: can win only if the others falter. If he has an advantage over the Aussie it’s a stronger team. Problem is that Rasmussen may well carry more sway at Rabobank than the Russian.
Contender 9: Carlos Sastre
GC position: 11th at 3’35”
Chance-at-a-glance: Couldn’t react when Moreau opened fire today, choosing to stay with Vinokourov and Klöden to save energy before attacking them near the summit. He’ll need to be more proactive in the Pyrenees because his time trialling is overrated. Needs to conjure something with Schleck.
Contender 10: Andreas Klöden
GC position: 12th at 3’46
Chance-at-a-glance: Off the pace when Moreau split the peloton on the climb to Tignes, Klöden seemed to get stronger the longer he climbed. The question we’re asking tonight is should he have pressed on alone when Vinokourov was dropped just short of the summit. I think he should, and I also think that he’s a better Tour rider than the Kazakh. If he makes his Astana bosses and team-mates realise that, Klöden can win the Tour.
Contender 11: Levi Leipheimer
GC position: 13th at 3’53”
Chance-at-a-glance: After today’s ride, Leipheimer has some work to do to convince his Discovery Channel team that he’s still a more likely victory candidate than Contador. In Levi’s defence, he often struggles on the first big mountain stage of major tours and should be much stronger in the Pyrenees. Streaky against the clock, if he has a good day in one of the long time trials he can still hit the Tour jackpot. In the mountains, he needs to chip away at that four minute deficit from his old pal Rasmussen.
Contender 12: Alexandre Vinokourov
GC position: 22nd at 5’23”
Laugh if you want, but I think Vinokourov should be delighted with his first two stages in the Alps. He’s clearly hurting more than Klöden and isn’t such a natural climber. Five minutes is nigh impossible to overhaul when there are so many men between you and the jersey, but if anyone has the spirit to do precisely that, it’s Vinokourov. It’s a mark of how much the other contenders still fear Vino that if he tried to attack on Tuesday, the peloton would never allow it. He’s still one of my favourites.