Well, I predicted fireworks and they happened... just not like I thought they would. Again...
Rasmussen carried the yellow jersey up the Plateau de Beille almost faster than anybody else in the race and managed to actually add more time to his overall lead in the race. The day belonged to the amazing young talent on the Discovery team, Alberto Contador, who now sits in second overall, ahead of 3rd place Cadel Evans. Evans had a bad day that certainly could have been worse and is not out of this thing yet. The podium is still his to lose and he certainly has better TT skills than Rasmussen.
Contador and Rasmussen launched an impressive series of attacks out of a very elite lead group that contained the main favorites- save for Vinokourov, who blew to pieces on the lower slopes and eventually conceded more than 20 minutes and lost all hope of GC glory. The climbing duo ripped the field apart and rode away together to finish in a head to head battle. The two were seen talking/ arguing just before the finish- possibly because Contador was upset with Rasmussen for sitting in too much or for attacking him? Dunno... but it made for a good finish when Rasmussen tried to get Contador to lead and he wouldn't do it. AC then rode Razmuffin's bony butt to the finish and "sprinted" past him just before the line. A great win for the kid who is now poised to possibly win the race if Rasmussen falters. If not this year, he is likely to take the Tour one day- his talent is confirmed.
On the slopes below the two dueling bone bags, all the poop was hitting the fan. Mauricio Soler, who already won one stage for Barloworld, escaped from the shattered chase group to secure 3rd on the stage. 4th went to Leipheimer, who now sits in the same spot on GC. Kloden and Evans limped in 6th and 7th at a little under 2 minutes later... and then the straggling field began to limp in. Valverde lost another 3:45 today and Iban Mayo dropped a further 9:31. So much for those hopefuls. And Christophe Moreau? Yep, he lost another 34 minutes today. Podium? Not likely... at all... without 2/3 of the field suddenly getting thrown out of the race.
The GC picture should be much clearer now that we're in the Pyrenees, but even with El Pollo Loco in the lead and looking good, it is anything but clear. Can he actually hold the lead to Paris? Can Rabobank really defend the jersey that long? Will Disco, including Levi, be able to support Contador and try to put him in yellow by Paris? Will Evans mount a great comeback in the next few days and then take the lead in the final TT? Predictor-Lotto does not have the strength to defend the jersey, so Evans is mostly on his own to take the jersey using his own power. It's far from done folks...
Tomorrow is another dreadful day for guys who don't climb well or feel very good right now. 5 major climbs and the last two being the above category Port de Bales and then the category 1 Col de Peyresourde, just 12 km from the finish. It's downhill to the finish, but it isn't long enough to get away from a close chase or long enough to catch a break that has enough room. It'll be a furious finish... and interesting. I'd love to say that Vino will come back and win it... but he won't. Or even Mayo... but he won't. We're more likely to see Evans win or send his teammate Horner up the road to get the win and make the other teams chase. But... it's more likely to be another showdown between Contador and Rasmussen. Raz' needs as much time as he can get between now and the last TT and Contador wants to get even closer to the top step of the podium. So I think our winner will come from one of those two again. A battle Royale, if you will.
Ok Kittie... it's your turn to be wrong.