By Anthony Tan in Montargis
After falling ill midway through the Giro d'Italia, Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) has had a less than ideal start to 2005, and the opportunistic man they call 'Chicken' is approaching this year's Tour de France with a little more caution than usual.
In the years past leading up to La Grand Boucle, the 31 year-old Dane showed good form in races such as the Volta a Catalunya and Criterium du Dauphiné Libéré, where he won the mountains classification in 2003 and 2004 respectively as well as the sixth stage of the Dauphiné last year. But this year, things haven't gone Chicken's way.
"I've been suffering like a dog," Rasmussen said to Cyclingnews with a smile when asked how his first four days of the Tour has gone so far. "It's been hard; it's the first time I've raced since I pulled out of the Giro. Obviously, I'm lacking a bit of race fitness, but it's coming back pretty fast."
Although no specialist against the clock, the 31 year-old's lack of race form was evident in the opening time trial, which saw him finish in 174th position, 3'14 behind Dave Zabriskie. Yesterday, his Rabobank team lost another three minutes to Discovery Channel, leaving him well down the classement general, 115th on GC.
"As you could see yesterday, time trialling is certainly not my speciality, and my turns at the front were not the strongest; I was hurting all day, to say the least. I'm glad it's another year before I do the next team time trial!" he chuckled.
Speaking of someone who does like time trialling, does Rasmussen think the race is over for all bar Lance Armstrong after what happened? "Yeah... I think that after the spanking that Lance gave everybody in the first stage, I really can't find any opponents in the peloton."
Referring to his own ambitions for a stage win, Chicken certainly hasn't given up hope, and is quietly optimistic about his chances. After recovering from his illness, Rasmussen spent the past six weeks training as hard and as much as he could, and as he said earlier, his fitness is coming back fast. "I'm not afraid to admit that I train hard!" he said in a raised tone, referring to those riders who like to engage in a bit of 'secret training' on the side.
"This year, there is a lot more opportunity for riders like me; there's like 10 mountain stages or semi-mountain stages, so it's hard to pinpoint any particular one."