The previous edition of this feature shows how much things have changed, and how unexpectedly. I'll include previous rankings to help demonstrate.
1. Michael Rasmussen ↑ (pvs: 10)
It's not quite a Pereiro moment, but Stage 8 ranks as a pretty huge stumble on the part of the collective Tour braintrust. But hey, if outsiders like me were scoffing at the notion of the Chicken competing for the overall, surely there was nothing wrong with the other teams spotting him some six minutes at one point, and over three minutes at the end on the nearest serious contender. After all, Rasmussen was just after that useless polka dot jersey.
A week later, and only Alberto Contador has seen his deficit to the Chicken go down, not up. Sure, he gave back time in Albi, but Rasmussen was much more stingy than anticipated, and has been following the fastest wheels (Contador's) ever since. Time is running out on either a miracle ride from the competition, or some horrible doping scandal, both of which still threaten his grip on the maillot jaune.
2. Alberto Contador ↑ (pvs: 12)
At 2.33 down, the onus is heavily on Contador to win stage 16 and the time bonus that comes with it. That alone would chop as much as 20 seconds off his deficit, and bring his chances in the time trial within the realm of the possible. Just. Whoever has the most juice left that day will be the big winner; at this point I don't think specialties are a huge indicator. 90% of the field will be too tired to do anything. Contador is a near lock for the podium, as he just gets better and better. On his ride today, futile as it was, he pounded away ferociously at the Chicken, including that incredible sequence where Contador just stood on the pedals for some 30 seconds, slashing up the hillside, and looking at Rasmussen for signs of distress. None came, but hey, it's not over yet.
3. Cadel Evans ↓ (pvs: 2)
At 4' down, it's hard to see how the time trial saves him. Evans' climbing is his achilles, and if things got worse today, imagine what will come of them here. Even if Cadel can hang on to the Chicken/Accountant pairing, 4' is still maybe too much. Today was crippling for him. Update [2007-7-23 18:42:8 by chris]: Great, now he's blaming his team. Nonsense... While Rasmussen had an escort, he had to chase down his own breaks. So I don't know why Evans thinks he was at some sort of strategic disadvantage. He isn't a good enough climber. Period.
4. Andreas Klöden ↑ (pvs: 13)
By default here, and on the assumption that he can leap over Leipheimer in the final ITT. Klödi is back from the dead, but only to the chasing group, where nobody is doing anything besides limiting their losses. He's got to find 1.35 before he can think about that last step of the podium... not impossible.
5. Levi Leipheimer ↔ (pvs: 5)
Another part of the cluster gathering around the bottom podium step. Levi sits 1.25 behind a superior time trialist and 8" ahead of another, which means he needs to make up time Wednesday. Leipheimer is 33, has no discernable chance to win the Tour after this year, and his podium prospects will be heading south quickly. So it's now or never. Even if Contador is up the road again, Leipheimer has to attack Wednesday, for himself and his whole career, to seize his last chance at a podium. The only way he can't do this (besides physical limitations) is if Contador is riding into yellow and Rasmussen is on Levi's wheel, looking for help. Any other scenario, and Levi has to go. With so little racing left, Contador can ride without Leipheimer's help now.
6. Andrey Kashechkin ↑ (pvs: 7)
Superior time trialling could propel Kashechkin into the top 5. If another Kazakh steals Levi's fifth at the end of another Tour, he might declare war. More likely he'll just rent Borat. War is so, you know, aggro.
7. Carlos Sastre ↓ (pvs: 4)
Either Sastre has climbed on the limit, or this has been a rather pointless Tour. Either way, Bjarne is in the market for his next Grand Tour winner.
8. Kim Kirchen ↑ (pvs: UNR)
Kirchen has earned himself some respect this season (classics too), but has little to show for it. He rode decently at Albi, and IIRC he has the power to ride the flatter Cognac roads too, so maybe he will present T-Mobile with some intriguing possibilities next year.
9. Haimar Zubeldia ↑ (pvs: 15)
Mediocre time trialist, so he's poised to go backwards, except there aren't many guys behind him who can promise anything better.
10. Yaroslav Popovych ↑ (pvs: UNR)
Dunno if there'll be anything left in his legs in Cognac, but he's been fantastic, aggressive, and fun to watch.
Dropped: Alejandro Valverde (pvs: 1), Denis Menchov (pvs: 3), Fränk Schleck (pvs: 6), Alexandre Vinokourov (pvs: 8), Christophe Moreau (pvs: 9), Iban Mayo (pvs: 11), Lin♥s Gerdemann (pvs: 14).