For the first time in their 12-year history the Dutch Rabobank team find themselves defending the lead of the Tour de France.
The Dutch bank is one of the longest serving sponsors in professional cycling, but their squad has never been in this position before. Marc Wauters held the yellow jersey for them in 2001 but the team subsequently made little effort to defend it.
Michael Rasmussen’s small lead over Alejandro Valverde, Iban Mayo and Cadel Evans will now test the team as the race heads towards three crucial stages in the Pyrenees. Today the team were given the easy task of pegging a break that contained no danger men at ten minutes. The rest of the race is unlikely to be so simple.
If Rasmussen still holds the jersey after Saturday’s long time trial in Albi, Rabobank’s job will become much tougher. The Dane has looked the strongest climber in the race so far, but if he’s isolated in the mountains he will struggle to contain the challenge from his rivals.
Rasmussen now has seven team mates left. Michael Boogerd and initial team leader Dennis Menchov will be his strongest allies in the mountains, while, Bram de Groot, Juan Antonio Flecha, Grischa Niermann, Pieter Weening and a patched up Thomas Dekker will be the workers on the flat.
However, it’s Rasmussen’s leadership skills that are really going to be put to the test.
The Dane is famously reclusive, he prefers to train alone and even separates himself from his team during stage races, preferring to spend time on his mobile phone rather than bantering at the dinner table. Lance Armstrong’s seven straight Tour wins were a lesson in team leadership, but Rasmussen seems to have little or no such attributes.