VINO INSPIRED. He's back. He's down. He's back. He's...Alexandre Vinokourov. Has the Tour de France ever seen more inspiration and heartbreak than the saga of this pre-tour favorite? Vino charged up the Col de Peyresourde, the final climb of Stage 15, with the same kind of passion--possession?--that he demonstrated in the individual time trial on Saturday to claim the stage victory. Because of a crash and poor finish on Sunday's first stage in the Pyrenees, the Kazakh is out of contention for a podium finish. But, my, what a spirited display of heart!
CONTADOR & RASMUSSEN. The severest stage to date did not much rattle the contenders. Alberto Contador tried hard to shake Michael Rasmussen during the final kilometers of the stage, but the Yellow Jersey Dane doggedly followed the outstanding young Spaniard all the way to the line. Both put time between themselves and the other contenders, who finished in a group about a minute later--Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer, Andreas Kloden, etc.
HINCAPIE. Again, American George Hincapie rode well, finishing third on the stage. Has there ever been a better contributor to Tour champions and contenders?
DISCOVERY. Again, the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team rode well, with Contador, Hincapie, and Leipheimer among the stage's top finishers. Hopefully, Disco's goals for the Tour will be reached: (1) Alberto Contador as the best young rider, the White Jersey--he's been wearing it for days; (2) a stage win--achieved by Contador a few days ago; and (3) a podium finish--a top-three finish is possible for both Contador and Levi Leipheimer. Not bad for a "rebuilding" team that is also looking desperately for a new sponsor, eh?
WATCH FOR WEDNESDAY FIREWORKS. Tomorrow's a well-deserved rest day. It's needed to recover from two herculean stages and to prepare for the next monster mountain stage. Rasmussen may be wearing the Yellow Jersey, but I don't think he's got the race in hand. Still, the opportunities for Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer, and Andreas Kloden to reduce his lead before Saturday's race-defining individual time trial are now very few. Watch for fireworks on Wednesday.