By Brecht Decaluwé in Montgailhard
Going into Sunday's mountainous stage 14, two teams shared mutual interests and were well set up to lead the peloton through the Pyrenees. The two Dutch-speaking teams Rabobank and Predictor both wanted to defend the yellow jersey; Rabobank held the maillot jaune while Predictor was not far behind with Evans one minute down on the Danish captain of the Rabobank team. Evans proved that he can take at least one minute back on Rasmussen in a long time trial which made him, at least before Sunday's stage, perhaps the top candidate to wear the maillot jaune in Paris, considering that that there's a time trial scheduled for the penultimate stage of the Tour de France 2007.
Before the start of the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees, the two directeur sportifs gave their view on a possible low-countries-coalition. Erik Dekker, whose Rabobank team was leading, said things would have to change for his Dutch team. "It's obvious that we're not in the most ideal position," said Dekker. The former quadruple Tour de France stage winner explained to Cyclingnews that the team built up a lot of confidence in Rasmussen after his strong time trial in Albi.
"Riding a time trial like that proves how strong he is," said Dekker of Rasmussen's strong stage 13 time trial. "I'm not surprised that he stood tall but it's obvious that his time trial was of exceptional class." Dekker explained that Rasmussen was confused about the reference times he had asked for Alejandro Valverde. "Up until now, he still thinks that he received the split times from Boogerd from Breukink but when he spotted Valverde with 10km to go, he received an enormous boost." Approaching the big mountains, Dekker predicted that Predictor would lend them a hand and work hard at the front of the race.
Marc Sergeant, a manager for the Predictor team, confirmed that the Belgian team would support Rabobank in the day's stage. "I don't know who the other guys are, but for sure there will be a few of our guys," Sergeant said he wouldn't force the complete team to work. "We have the same interests as we both want to reach the mountains together. We don't want groups to get away where dangerous guys are featuring, like Moreau," Sergeant explained why the two teams would work together.
The Belgian manager was quietly hoping for the biggest prize of all in Paris, but he'd said earlier that the team was not strong enough to defend a yellow jersey at the moment had Evans managed to collect it after Stage 13. "If we would've drawn out a pattern before the Tour showing us where we would like to be before we hit the Pyrenees, well than it would be just like it is now," Sergeant said before Sunday's stage. One minute behind the less talented time-trialist Rasmussen and 1'31" before the number three seems to be perfect.
"After yesterday I think both Rasmussen and Evans received an enormous boost," Sergeant said. When asked to give away his three names for the podium in Paris in random order Sergeant picked Evans, Rasmussen and Klöden. "Depending on the order I will be happy, very happy and super happy," Sergeant laughed and then focused on getting the team car ready for the first mountains stage.
He may not be too far off in his prediction. Even after Sunday's stage 14 GC shake-up in the mountains, his three picks remain in first, third, and fifth, all within 4'38" of leader Rasmussen. However, he may need to re-evaluate, taking into consideration two strong Discovery riders, best young rider Alberto Contador, now sitting in second at 2'23" and Levi Leipheimer, in fourth at 4'29".
As the Tour crawls its way to the ultimate time trial, Rabobank and Predictor are likely to work more as rivals. Rasmussen will be trying to gain time on Evans and other key GC riders, such as the two Discovery racers. "Let us first start the last week and try to gain time. For sure now it [Rasmussen's advantage in GC] is not good enough but it's better than what we expected 24 hours ago," Dekker smiled. Rasmussen's advantage over second place is even greater after today.