By Anthony Tan in Digne-les-Bains
"We have a little bit of a 'situation' now, because we are close in the general [classification]," said Rabobank directeur-sportif Frans Maassen to Cyclingnews the day of the opening Alpine stage in Grenoble.
Before the race began, the team's plan was to have Denis Menchov and Michael Rasmussen as the team's leaders, with Michael Boogerd and Pieter Weening also having a degree of freedom to go for stage wins. But so far, Rabobank have fared better than expected, with Weening winning the eighth stage to Gérardmer and Rasmussen in the form of his life, taking the following stage in Mulhouse and with it the mountains classification, which he now has a sizeable lead in.
Not only that, but the lanky Rasmussen is now lying second overall on the overall classification, six-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong the only name proceeding his, and by only 38 seconds. "The first goal for him was to win a stage and the second goal was to go for the mountains jersey, but now... well, we will see day by day," said Maassen, who sounded like the team never expected to be in this position. "Maybe we go a little bit to the left, maybe we go a little bit to the right; we will wait to see what happens and then we make a new decision how to go further in this Tour."
With Menchov falling out of contention in the mountains, the team's focus is firmly placed on Rasmussen's skinny shoulders, and only time will tell if the 31 year-old Dane can match it with the best come the Pyrenées. However, '91 Amstel Gold winner Maassen is quietly confident, and like most rivals' teams, is spurred on by a slight chink in the armour of Discovery Channel, who lost climber Manuel 'Triki' Beltran early on in today's stage to Digne-les-Bains. "We will see whether Lance and his team are in the best condition - I think he is - but still, it's a little bit twiggy," he said.