First, let me point out that I wasn't exactly the only one predicting a swift and terrible fate for Michael Rasmussen today. But I've got the mike, and have been pretty vocal on this point, so here's my moment of fairness.
Michael Rasmussen rode a fine time trial today. In analyzing his past results, there was only one other instance where he was definitely trying to win, and screwed up: the infamous St. Etienne debacle. Well, he stayed on his bike all day today (conditions were rapidly improving even as he finished his ride), and rode with inspiration, and perhaps anger. The end result was an 11th place finish, leaving him a minute ahead of his nearest challenger on GC.
Michael Rasmussen also has never tested positive for any banned substance. While he's certainly left people scratching their heads, the fact is he may very well be clean. He may even have cheated a few years back when he sent for his blood-filled shoes, and may nonetheless be clean today. I suspect there are a lot of guys who have skeletons in their closet, but have gone clean, and the Chicken may be one of them. Or, perhaps he was clean all along.
Michael Rasmussen may very well deserve the yellow jersey, today and in the future. Oh, and Rabobank needs to teach Denis Menchov how to fit half a dozen bottles in his jersey.
Of course, the Chicken is far, far from the line. His history of climbing exploits doesn't include a lot of days when he went all out in a time trial the previous day. He's usually picked his spots and set off alone; resting in or behind the pack on other days. Now, he has to kick it out for three straight days with the best, under likely attack from Astana and others. And he probably has to expand his lead, at least over Evans and Klöden, given the fact that he's probably going to give back more time in the last time trial. Can he do it? I think the answer has come back: yes. Will he? I still wouldn't put a farthing on it. As for the rest...
Cadel Evans and Andreas Klöden are the big winners today. Evans can probably outclimb Klöden, and has 90 seconds in hand. Klödi is the better time trialist, by a small margin today and perhaps slightly larger margin on the final, flat ITT. Add in Klöden's soon-to-be-all-out-attacking team, and picking between these two for Paris is almost a dead heat.
'Tis but a scratch!
Doing themselves a lot of favors today were the Discovery boys. Levi Leipheimer again rode smartly if not spectacularly, while Alberto Contador outshone his captain by a handful of seconds. They now form a Klöden sandwich, sitting 3rd and 5th overall, well in contention. How they play the one-two punch remains to be seen, and presents Johan Bruyneel with perhaps his most exciting challenge as a DS. Yaro-pop was better than either of them, and though he remains out of meaningful GC contention, he's a big factor and a KOM favorite. [FWIW, Contador is a mortal lock for the maillot blanc.]
I'm not dead yet
Carlos Sastre sits 4.45 back. All he needs to do is find about 7 minutes in the Pyrenees and he's home free. Andrey Kashechkin vaulted himself back into the overall picture with his fourth place ride. If he can make up 3.45 or so on Evans, and pass him in the time trial, he too can win... provided Vino and Klödi both crash out first, so the team can set him free. Speaking of Vino, at just over 5' back (4' on Evans), he can count on a dazzling array of attacks from all directions, which might somehow allow him to get within shouting distance of the lead, and enable him to seize it next Saturday. His biggest problem is his knee, which showed it can turn over a big gear on the flats and slight inclines, but has yet to prove itself on an h.c. road. Mikel Astarloza is only 5.07 behind, and may go unnoticed for a while, at least until a million Basque fans show up tomorrow screaming his name.
Bring out your dead!
Valverde... what on Earth? At least Iban Mayo has a history of uninspired time trialing. Denis Menchov has proven to be, well, soft. Zubeldia, Kirchen, Gerdemann... there just isn't room for them at the top right now.
Should be a fun few days.