Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) is under huge pressure after the scandal of his missed doping tests and weak excuses but he defiantly showed it is not affecting his racing by winning the final mountain stage of this year?s Tour to the summit of the Col d?Aubisque while wearing the yellow jersey.
After confidently responding to four attacks by main rival Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel), Rasmussen jumped away a kilometre from the finish of the long climb, powered clear and won alone, 26 seconds ahead of Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel), and 35 seconds ahead of Contador. He now leads Contador by 3-10, which should be enough for him to defend the yellow jersey in Saturday?s time trial and so seal overall victory in the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday.
Cadel Evans (Predictor) struggled to hold the pace on the climb, finishing 43 seconds behind and so slipped to 5-03 behind Rasmussen. Leipheimer is fourth overall at 5-59.
Rasmussen lost the climber?s polka-dot jersey to Juan Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) after the Colombian picked up points early on by getting in the break of the day but was happy to focus on the overall success.
?I?m one step closer but the Tour is won in Paris. Today I only won the stage. I don?t need to tell anybody what happened two years ago in the time trial and so nothing is over until Sunday,? Rasmussen said.
?The overall classification is obviously more important than winning stages but winning in the yellow jersey is pretty difficult and so it?s a big win.?
The last mountain stage of this troubled Tour de France inspired some great racing. On the early climbsa select group of mountain specialists managed to build up a comfortable gap on the leaders and then Carlos Sastre (CSC), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval), king of the mountains Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel) and Jose Vicente Garcia (Caisse d’Epargne) stayed clear over the first category Col de Marie Blanque, 40km from the finish.
Sastre then attacked Mayo and Soler, dropping the Barloworld climber with 13km to go of the Col d?Aubisque, but even Sastre’s acceleration couldn’t keep the chasing group containing Rasmussen and Contador at bay and it was all over for him shortly after the 10km-to-go marker.
Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Contador and Evans then took over the battle for the stage win. A series of attacks by the two Discovery Channel kept Evans yo-yoing from the back of the lead group until Rasmussen jumped away with a kilometre to extend his overall lead to three minutes and virtually seal overall victory in the Tour de France.
The start of the stage in Orthez was marked by a protest by the French and German teams, who refused to leave the line from the gun in reaction to Alexandre Vinokourov’s positive test result. Sadly, during the stage it was announced by French paper L’Equipe that Cofidis rider Christian Moreni had tested positive for testosterone after stage 11.
Britain’s Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) put in a stellar ride to finish 25th on the stage, 7-50 behind Rasmussen. Wegelius is now Britian’s highest placed rider overall, in 48th spot. Welshman Geraint Thomas (Barloworld) – the youngest rider in the race – survived the Pyrenees intact, and now looks likely to complete the entire route at his first attempt. The other two Brits, Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) and David Millar (Saunier Duval), finished with Thomas in the final group of riders.
Tomorrow, the riders head north from Pau on a lumpy 188.5km stage to Castelsarrasin. Click here to find out more about stage 17
TOUR DE FRANCE 2007: STAGE 16 RESULTS
1 Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) 218.5km in 6-23-21
2 Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) at 26 secs
3 Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) at 35 secs
4 Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) at 43 secs
5 Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) at 1-25
6 Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) at 1-52
7 Juan Cobo (Saunier Duval) at 1-54
8 Carlos Sastre (CSC) at 2-12
9 Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne) at 2-27
10 Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) at 2-27
25 Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) at 7-50
135 Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) at 41-49
137 Geraint Thomas (Barloworld)
138 David Millar (Saunier Duval) all at same time
OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 16
1 Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) in 76-15-15
2 Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) at 3-10
3 Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) at 5-03
4 Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) at 5-59
5 Carlos Sastre (CSC) at 9-12
6 Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) at 9-39
7 Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) at 13-28
8 Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) at 14-46
9 Yaroslav Popvych (Discovery Channel) at 16-00
10 Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) at 16-41
48 Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) at 1-44-15
76 David Millar (Saunier Duval) at 2-34-44
131 Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) at 3-24-29
148 Geraint Thomas (Barloworld) at 3-42-07