By Shane Stokes, with additional reporting by Gregor Brown
Another day, another jersey. Compared to the previous day’s first Pyrenean stage, Michael Rasmussen had a tougher time from Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) on stage 15, but by the finish in Loudenvielle-Le Louron the Rabobank rider had maintained his advantage over his rival and bolstered his lead over all the other GC contenders.
Rasmussen sprinted home glued tight to Contador’s wheel, the Spaniard and the Dane placing tenth and eleventh respectively, 5’31" behind Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana).
Cadel Evans (Predictor – Lotto), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel – Euskadi), Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team), Andreas Klöden, Andrey Kashechkin (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Carlos Sastre (Team CSC), who were all seen as dangermen in the general classification, came home a further 56 seconds back.
Rasmussen was happy with how the day went, even if Contador hurt him along the way. "He has an incredible acceleration and a couple of times I was almost dropped," he said in a television interview after the race.
He echoed this in the post race press conference. "It was so hard, obviously. He had a bit of advantage behind the motor bikes. He used them. But he has the best acceleration on the climbs. I was under pressure but luckily I managed to get back each time."
The Spaniard appeared stronger on the stage than he had seemed 24 hours earlier. However Rasmussen has just one more day left in the mountains, stage 16 on Wednesday, and has a rest day before then. He knows what he has to do. "I think if I can stay with Contador [on the final mountain stage] then I have a good chance. If I have the yellow jersey and a couple of minutes advantage at the start of the time trial, then that should be enough to win the Tour."
Rasmussen has been in the spotlight in the past couple of days due to the fact that he has missed out of competition doping tests and has two warnings each from the UCI and from the Danish National Anti Doping Agency. He was asked after the race for his reaction to a reported quote by UCI President Pat McQuaid, who said that this situation would make him uncomfortable if Rasmussen won the Tour.
"Oh well, that is new to me," he said, when hearing about that. "I have all the intentions to try to win the race. Every since I left the hospital bed last October, after crashing and breaking my left femur, I’ve been aiming for that."
He dismissed the media focus on his missed tests, saying that the yellow jersey is always under examination. "It is normal that the press shoot at number one. I know what Lance Armstrong was under fire for seven years in a row and he managed to continue to win. I guess that is normal reaction from everyone."