It's all about ~8> today... hey, why not? The entire planet is anticipating that the yellow jersey will go up in flames on stage 13 of the Tour. This is about as big a development as you'll get in Cycling.
CW is that the ~8> can't time trial. This isn't exactly a baseless slander campaign; consider the Chicken's body of work against the clock:
- Rasmussen lost 1.16 to Fabian Cancellara over a mere 8km in the prologue. This translates into about a 15 minute loss on tomorrow's 54km course. Remember, he currently has 2.35 in hand over Valverde.
- In last year's Rennes ITT, he lost 6.29 on a course not entirely dissimilar to tomorrow's route around Albi.
- In the final ITT around Montceau-les-mines, a disinterested Chicken dropped 8.51 to Honchar over another undulating course.
- One doubts that ~8> went all out in the last ITT of 2006, given that he was safely in dots and removed from the overall competition. So to see how he fares with a placing on the line, let's go back to 2005. On the opening 17km event, he finished 174th, 3.14 behind stage winner Dave Zabriskie.
- Then there's the infamous St. Etienne affair. On a course that's quite similar to tomorrow's, he had an unforgettable day, tipping over, wrecking bikes, etc., to the tune of 7.47 lost over 55km. You kind of have to throw out this result, except this was a rare occasion when he was competing for overall placings on a similar course.
In Rasmussen's favor are a few things: The profile isn't as flat as maybe I had thought. The course has maybe 1500 feet of climbing on it, though the grades range from "imperceptible" (VN) to 3.4%.
Stage 19, the other major time trial obstacle for ~8> and co, is a much worse profile for the pure climbers... but even that might not be completely deadly. It's a point-to-point course that runs west to east. I just checked and right now there's a 22km/hour wind from the west/NW... that's a sweet tailwind. It won't save the skinny climbers from losing time, but a strong tailwind would cut those losses down substantially. We'll see.
Conclusion: Expect the Chicken's losses in both time trials to be in the range of 4.00 or so, each time. Expect Fabian Cancellara to crush the field tomorrow, and though I've been resisting the idea, Cadel Evans should be well in the mix. Levi Leipheimer has a pretty huge opportunity here as well, and of course Andreas Kloden's form is the biggest wildcard. Should be a great, dramatic morning of racing.