Menchov assumes domestique role for Rabobank
By Brecht Decaluwé in Loudenvielle - Le Louron
In the first mountains stage after the relapse from GC-favourites Cadel Evans, Alexandre Vinokourov, Alejandro Valverde, ... it was clear that the battle for the yellow jersey is a battle between current leader Michael Rasmussen and young Alberto Contador. The Rabobank team defended their position very well on the climbs leading up towards the ultimate climb and there - on the Col de Peyresourde - the pair of slender climbers battled it out.
"Boogerd set the pace on the penultimate climb and when Menchov was done with his work on the last climb Boogerd took over again," Rabobank's directeur sportif Erik Breukink said. Former team leader Denis Menchov hasn't been going well in this Tour and he was ordered to be in the breakaway today to anticipate on a Discovery Channel coup.
"We knew that it could happen. We had Menchov up front so we certainly had someone if Discovery Channel attacked," Breukink explained to Cyclingnews. The Russian Rabobank rider had a chance on the stage win but he might have given a sign to the team to inform them he wasn't going too well. "No, we waited to see how he went for the stage but as soon as we needed him we asked him to drop back to Rasmussen. Boogerd came alone and we needed a bit of everything - like water bottles - and the Peyresourde was coming up," the former number three of the Tour de France 1990 said.
On the Peyresourde Popovych tried to launch an offensive but he couldn't worry the three-men Rabobank train. When Contador accelerated Rasmussen reacted immediately, and in the end only Contador's team-mate Levi Leipheimer lost time on Rasmussen. "They play the card of Contador now, he's their leader, that's clear now. They [Discovery Channel] are not confident with the current gap and I guess they want to get closer before the last time trial.
"For us it was good that Evans lost another minute; also Klöden and Leipheimer are further back now, so what that concerns it turns out to be a good day for us," Breukink analysed the result of the fifteenth stage. When asked if the interval acceleration tactic from the Spanish climbing goat was a good one, Breukink confirmed.
"I saw that Rasmussen had a hard time to come back but it was clear that Contador played all or nothing. Rasmussen knew he just had to be on Contador's wheel on the top of the climb otherwise it would be dangerous. Rasmussen didn't break but I guess that's the way to break someone although those accelerations suit Rasmussen as he is the same kind of rider as Contador. You can see that they're both not really confident about it," Breukink referred to the gap that needs to be defended/bridged in the last time trial.
"The result is a battle between two jersey's - white and yellow - which is nice to see. I think the Col de Aubisque [Wednesday] will deliver the same kind of tactics." The war between the two climbers will most probably be concluded with a battle on a less comfortably terrain for the protagonists, in a long flat time trial. The time trial is a discipline that should suit Contador a little more than the Dane but Breukink didn't completely agree with that.
"The gap isn't big and if Contador has a super day and Rasmussen isn't 100% then it's possible for Contador but if Rasmussen can ride again like his first time trial then it is defendable," Breukink expressed his hopes for glory in Paris. The team's other Erik, directeur sportif Erik Dekker also enjoyed the battle between the two climbers. "Clearly they went 100% for it. I just saw Rasmussen for ten seconds and, aw!" Dekker pulled a painful face to explain how the Dane explained how deep he had to dig to get back on Contador's wheel. "Even for me behind the steering wheel it hurt," Dekker laughed.
"It was on the limit, for both of them. Did you notice that Contador tried it again with 1.5km to go? So it's clear that every seconds counts for them," Dekker pointed out that Contador wants to reduce the gap with Rasmussen. Different from Sunday Rasmussen didn't attack early on in the stage, he only responded attacks from Contador. "For the yellow jersey it was a battle of only three kilometres but do realise that they also covered about 200km before that," Dekker said.
The problems for the Rabobank team around the unavailability from Rasmussen for doping tests keeps everybody busy in the team although Dekker said he tried to focus on the racing. "That works out well, for now. Erik [Breukink] and Theo De Rooij are more busy with that, but also Michael of course," Dekker said. When a Belgian journalist said that French and German teams wouldn't be bothered if 'chicken' Rasmussen would leave the race, Dekker reacted bored. "For a few years now the French teams have been living with the idea that the leader of the Tour de France should be dumped and I don't know if that's good or not," Dekker said.
"I noticed it myself when I was still riding, it was in Paris-Nice. An echelon was formed; it was tactically and technically perfect but then they [the French teams] started to talk about 'cyclisme a deux vitèsses', cycling at two speeds. In other words, there has to be a leader and a lantarne rouge, otherwise you can't race," Dekker concluded.