By Anthony Tan in Mourenx
Cyclingnews also caught up with the next best-placed American on GC, Levi Leipheimer, who is currently sitting in sixth overall, 7'35 behind his countryman Lance Armstrong. The 31 year-old Gerolsteiner rider looked well-rested at the start in Mourenx this morning, and said yesterday was a much-needed rest day in Pau after two of the most difficult mountain stages in this year's Tour.
"I feel a lot better than yesterday. I was pretty tired after the stage the other day [Stage 15]; getting to the hotel took three hours, it was a long day, so I needed a rest," he said.
Leipheimer said each of the back-to-back mountain stages last weekend were simply a race of survival, but he survived each one well, finishing fifth on Stage 14 and thirteenth the following day to Pla d'Adet. However, he said he will approach this final week of the Tour somewhat differently, knowing how important the penultimate stage in Saint-Etienne will be.
"Well, the final part of the Tour is all about the time trial; it's a hard one, and there's going to be some big gaps," he said.
"I mean, I have to pay attention the next few days, but I don't expect to gain so much on Mancebo unless he has a bad day, or Rasmussen or whoever, but we're just going to have to try and stay with the guys around us. I'll be saving everything for the time trial."
Leipheimer believed today's hors categorie climb of the Col d'Aubisque won't be decisive for the riders aiming high on GC due to its distance from the finish, but the stage from Albi to Mende with the mountain-top finish atop the Cote de la Croix-Neuve two days from now could be more telling. However, as he said earlier, he'll be saving all his bikkies for the final TT, where he hopes for a top-five finish in Paris.
"One minute from fifth is a lot, but I think it's possible," he said.