Ready for the mountains? It's all 'Bull'
NICE, France -- There were many surprises in Saturday's individual time trial, but many can't be surprised by "The Bull."
That's our nickname for Alexandre Vinokourov, who, stitches and all, blew through Stage 13 and put himself back into the hunt. And if I was the rest of the peloton, I would be shaking in my boots right now.
As I mentioned a few days ago, Vino has dedicated his entire season to one objective: winning the Tour de France. And no other cyclist in France is going to doubt his passion, his character or his will to win. That's why we call him "The Bull." And when a bull gets backed up into a corner, you know what happens.
It was great to see Vino succeed on Saturday. I know what he went through after crashing earlier in the Tour. He was in tears a few days ago. He has been riding with stitches in his knees. But he has fought through the early mishap. Now, after such a strong stage, he's healthy and he has his morale back.
Michael Rasmussen also turned in one of the most memorable Tour time trials in recent memory. He finished in the top 10 and kept the yellow jersey and past Alejandro Valverde on the course in the process. Amazing. Rasmussen is so strong in the mountains (he won the King of the Mountains category the past two years), but I am more of a Vino fan at this point.
Now, we head into the Pyrenees and the hardest stages of the Tour. Saturday's time trial will take a lot out of all the cyclists, so it will be interesting to see how their bodies recover Sunday.
The time trial really put Astana and Discovery in the driver's seat. They have multiple overall contenders, which means multiple cards to play in the mountains. If Vinokourov (Astana) and Levi Leipheimer (Discovery) emerge as respective team leaders, they have the teammates to back them up. Rasmussen's Rabobank squad can't boast the same depth.
Vino has Andrey Kashechkin and Andreas Kloeden; Leipheimer has Yaroslav Popovych and Alberto Contador. All six cyclists finished within the top 10 of Saturday's time trial. Keep a close eye on which team, or cyclist, attacks first on Sunday. It could decide the race.
Levi is sick of finishing seventh, eighth, 10th in the Tour. He wants to at least finish on the podium, if not win it all. He's going to have to work for it by first going out there Sunday and telling the world that he is Discovery's team leader. I'd like to see him attack Sunday. If he can attack and take the lead (he's currently fifth overall), Levi has the ability to defend well in the mountains.
It should be great fun to watch. At least, we're talking about actual bike racing for once, nothing else. And, for the first time in a while, the race is truly up for grabs in the last week.
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing a diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won the Paris-Nice race in 2005.
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