As the Tour leaves the Alps, let's take a look at who's hot and who's not.
Michael Rasmussen is molten. The Chicken, as he is known, has almost a three-minute lead thanks mostly to some very aggressive riding on the stage to Tignes. It was so refreshing to see one of the favorites attack with three big climbs remaining. Such attacks can pay big, but if you blow up, your Tour can be over just like that. Rasmussen's days in yellow are well-deserved.
In the Armstrong/Ullrich years, the Chicken's time trialing skills would have spelled defeat as both Lance and Jan were incredibly strong against the watch and could literally destroy their competition. However, this year's field does not include an overall contender with a certified TT pedigree, so the Chicken is looking good in Vegas.
Alejandro Valverde is probably the biggest threat. In April, Ivan Basso told me that he was impressed with Valverde's improvement in his TT times, making him a bonafide contender. Don't count Levi out just yet. Save for Rasmussen, he is only one minute behind his rivals and if he can uncork some fast rides against the watch he could win. I am also pulling for
Cadel Evans. He attacking in the mountains says he is here to win. The Aussie is capable of riding a fast TT--witness his win in the 2006 Tour of Romandie.
One interesting aspect of this Tour is that there is so much parity that if one rider, like the Chicken, is able to put everything together and have the ride of his life, that might just be good enough to win in Paris. Personally, I just love seeing contenders like Rasmussen, Moreau and Evans attacking and doing so when failure could exact a huge price.
I would love to hear what everyone else is thinking!
ps - it is great to see Rasmussen doing so well. Last year after the Tour
he crashed heavily and broke his hip so badly that his career was in doubt.
When I caught up with him at the Tour of California in February, he had really
just started training for real and was nursing a horrible head cold. Clearly,
he was not enjoying his time on the bike. My guess is that has all changed!