Vinokourov Wins Stage 13; Rasmussen Keeps Yellow Jersey
Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) is back. Today, the Kazakh dominated the Stage 13 time trial in Albi, leading at every checkpoint en route to victory in 1:06:35. Cadel Evans (Predictor) finished second at 1:14, and Andreas Kloden (Astana) finished third at 1:39. Surprisingly, Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), who is known as a bad time trialist, rode well enough to keep the yellow jersey.
Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) established the early standard with a 1:08:48. Rain began to fall and make the roads treacherous. World time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC) had hoped to win his third stage of this year's Tour, but the Swiss crashed on a downhill at 25 km. He finished 107th at 8:45.
Other riders fell victim to the slick roads. Vladimir Gusev and Yaroslav Popovych (both from Discovery Channel), and Andreas Kloden and Andrei Kashechkin (both from Astana) hit the deck. The fast early times were ridden before the rain started falling.
When Vinokourov started, the rain had stopped. One of the two knee bandages that the Astana man received after his Stage 5 crash was gone, and in recent days, he has shown signs of recovery. Today, the Kazakh was 0:10 faster than Wiggins at the first checkpoint, 0:52 faster at the second, and 1:19 faster at the third.
Cadel Evans (Predictor) was considered a potential inheritor of the yellow jersey, and rode well. Vinokourov, however, was unstoppable, and someone other than Vinokourov would keep the Australian out of yellow.
Rasmussen was the last starter. He was expected to lose time, but the yellow jersey inspired the Dane. He overtook Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), who began the day in second overall, and lost only 2:42 to Vinokourov and 1:28 to Evans. He will begin Stage 14, the first Pyrenean stage, in yellow, a scenario that no one could have foreseen.
A number of riders disappointed today. Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) was among them. He was expected to ride a good time trial, but the French champion was 2:55 slower than Vinokourov at the first checkpoint and went into free fall, finishing 125th at 9:26. Valverde was considered to be a prime candidate for the yellow jersey when Rasmussen lost it, but Rasmussen overtook the Spaniard, who finished 47th at 6:08. Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval), no time trialist in the best of times, finished 46th at 6:04.
Aside from Rasmussen, one rider exceeded expectations. He was Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel), who currently leads the best young rider competition. Contador has quietly become a major threat. finishing Stage 13 seventh at 2:18 and rising to third overall at 2:31. Given that Discovery Channel's prerace captain, Levi Leipheimer, is fifth overall at 3:37, a role reversal could occur.
In the overall, Rasmussen leads Evans by 1:00 and Contador by 2:31. Stage 14 will be a standing shaker. The 197-km ride from Mazamet, Laurent Jalabert's hometown, to Plateau de Beille will begin feature two hors categorie ascents, the Port de Pailheres (146.5 km) and the finishing climb to Plateau de Beille. Look for all of the GC hopefuls to come out fighting. In particular, look for the Spanish riders such as Carlos Sastre (CSC), Valverde, Contador, and Mayo to assert themselves. Who will win? Will the yellow jersey change backs? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!