Sunday, July 15, 2007

a winner for rabo

Joost Posthuma isn't in this year's Tour de France. As you know, he's still recovering from injuries suffered when a car crashed into him during a training ride last May. Others, including many favorites, are not in the Tour because they've been caught taking performance-enhancing drugs. Despite these many absences, this year's edition of Le Grand Boucle has been a good one. Joost's team, Rabobank, has placed riders in the top ten, but -- until today -- hasn't really shown its stuff. Thursday, I thought things were looking a bit bleak for the team when Oscar Freire, their sprinter, dropped out. Before that, in the early flat stages which usually end up in mass sprints, he'd done well: been second once and third twice, but he hadn't won a stage.

Today's big change was a win by Michael Rasmussen in the first of the difficult Alpine stages. He dominated the race from about the half-way point and is now both race leader and leader of the mountains points competition. The BBC web site has a good summary of his achievement. Though he's a climbing specialist and not known for time trial skills, and though it's frequently the time trial specialists who also do well in the mountains who win the Tour, the article says he thinks he might have a chance:
After Monday's rest day he has another day in the Alps to consolidate his lead and the first time trial - the format in which he generally struggles - is not until next Saturday.

Asked if he would aim to take the yellow jersey in Paris in a fortnight's time he said: "The way I'm riding, I would be stupid not to."

"I am a pure climber so I need to grab as much time as I can in the mountains.

"When I came close to the podium two years ago, it crossed my mind I could win the Tour in the future.

"This could be my year as the Pyrenees are extremely difficult but, again, I need to improve in the time trials."
It might be thought ironic that the Rabo site has an interview with him yesterday in which he's not nearly so confident of ultimate victory. In it, he says today's stage would be an important one, "But," he went on, "I do not think that tomorrow's winner will be the one standing on the number one podium spot in Paris. It will give an idea about how strong everyone is but it will not be a decisive stage. I do think it will only be decided in the Pyrenees. The Alps are only a foretaste for things to come."

Given what Rasmussen says on the Rabo site today, I think the BBC article is quoting somewhat selectively. Today's Rabo Tour commentary says the team will defend the Yellow Jersey but will see how things develop. Though unlikely, it's possible Rasumussen will come out on top. It's also possible that Denis Menchov will have a shot at it. From the Rabo Tour commmentary:
The director of the Rabo cycling teams Theo de Rooij was also overjoyed. "This has immediately made the Tour a big success, at least for now," is what he said somewhat cautiously still. "But, we have again won a wonderful mountain stage. Rasmussen experiences a day like this every year and he knows how to plan it too. But what happened behind him was also great: all classifications are open and Rasmussen profited well from it."

{Click image to enlarge. Captions: (1) "Shot at 2007-07-15 Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank/Ned) starts his breakaway from the group of riders during the eighth stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Le-Grand Bornand and Tignes, 15 July 2007. Ramussen won the stage and took the yellow jersey as overall leader." (2) "Denmark’s Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank/Ned) rides uphill during the eighth stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race between Le-Grand Bornand and Tignes." Credit: FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)}

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