NOTHING LEFT IN VINO'S TANK. Well, that didn't go as planned for Alexandre Vinokourov. I guess he spent himself in the Individual Time Trial yesterday. As valiant as his effort has been, his game plan seems to have been exploded by the pace set by Discovery Channel in this first day in the Pyrenees. In addition, he took another spill during the stage.
DISCOVERY CHANNEL IN CHARGE. Can you say "Team?" How about Discovery Channel? Wow! They set a tepid pace the blew up the peloton. In a charge reminiscent of the Armstrong years, George Hincapie sacrificed himself on the mountain for the sake of his team members. They launched skyward on the Plateau-de-Beille, drawing the race contenders into a duke-it-out free-for-all. When the dust cleared, Alberto Contador (in photo) was sitting on top of the heap with a stage win over Michael Rasmussen, and Levi Leipheimer had leap-frogged into fourth place overall. Yaroslav Popovych wasn't far behind. Contador is now in second place overall and he's on his way to a top-three finish if he doesn't have a bad day.
KLODEN HANGING IN. Astana, which shined on Saturday, took major hits on Sunday. Now in 5th place, Andreas Kloden is still in the hunt, but his climbing companions didn't or couldn't help him much and he lost time to Rasmussen.
AUSTRALIAN HOPES ALIVE. Australian Cadel Evans arrived at the top of the Plateau-de-Beille 1'12" after Leipheimer and dropped into third place overall behind Contador. Evans, whom I think will win the Tour, is now 3'04" behind Rasmussen. If Evans can close some of that gap in the next two mountain stages, he'll be poised to beat Rasmussen in the Individual Time Trial on Saturday.
DO THEY HAVE ANYTHING LEFT? Do any of these guys have anything left in their legs? Today seemed like they left it all on the mountain. They've got to be spent. And yet the toughest stage is tomorrow -- two Category 2, two Category 1 and one Beyond Category (toughest) climbs. And then another monster mountain day after Tuesday's rest day.
EVANS AND LEIPHEIMER. I'm pulling for Evans and Leipheimer tomorrow. Given the corroborated evidence implicating Rasmussen in doping, I no longer consider him legitimate, even if he miraculously hangs in for a win (in this case "miracle" would be spelled "c-h-e-a-t-i-n-g"). Evans wants the Yellow Jersey in Paris very much. Leipheimer is intensely committed to a podium finish, too. These two riders, in their own unique ways, have the tenacity and steadiness to reach their goals.