Tour de France organisers ASO designed the 2007 route with the aim that the race would be decided in the final week.
Three super-hard days in the Pyrenees, bookended by two long time trials, would ensure that the race wouldn?t be over until the last rider crossed the line in the final time trial. Tactically, it?s a route that would normally favour conservative riding for the first two weeks of the race.
But sometimes conservative tactics rely on everybody else riding conservatively as well. Michael Rasmussen?s rivals may yet rue the three minutes plus they willingly gave him at Tignes.
Coming out of the rest day, Rasmussen?s lead is as slim as his own emaciated frame. But the time he gained at Tignes is in the bank. If he performs like he did on Sunday for the rest of the race, his rivals are going to have a hard time getting him out of the yellow jersey.
Two things are certain. Rasmussen is going to lose time in the time trials. And as the best climber in the race, he can gain time in the four remaining mountain stages.
Today?s stage, to Briançon, doesn?t favour Rasmussen. He could feasibly gain 90 seconds to two minutes on the Galibier, especially if his rivals (Christophe Moreau apart) ride as blandly as they did at Tignes. But the final 40 kilometres take the Tour down the Galibier, then down the shallow gradient of the Col du Lautaret ? Rasmussen simply doesn?t have the strength to hold a margin on that kind of terrain. His only hope lies in the Galibier breaking up the chase group, leaving him with four or five companions to race to Briançon.
Rasmussen will really come into his own at the stages which finish at Plateau de Beille, and the Col d?Aubisque. On both these summits, he can realistically envisage gaining a minute to 90 seconds on the next best climbers. And the stage to Loudenvielle will also give him a chance at gaining time.
Rasmussen can probably hope, fatigue permitting, to gain two to three minutes on the other climbers in the Pyrenees, and more importantly, four to six minutes on the best time triallists. Added to the three minutes he gained at Tignes, and suddenly the Dane looks like a winner.
Against him are the two time trial stages. Forget the 2005 disaster when he lost seven minutes to Lance Armstrong in the final time trial of the race ? lightning doesn?t strike twice in the same place.
Rasmussen can expect to lose three to for minutes to the winner in each time trial, or around seven minutes. This is about the same amount of time he can expect to gain in the mountain stages.
Can Michael Rasmussen win the Tour? Yes. Will he win the Tour? If he rides as aggressively as he did in the Alps, he?s got our backing.