Theoretically, five riders still have a chance of taking the polka-dot climbers' jersey away from Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), but it seems very unlikely that the Rabobank rider will let the dots slip out of his grasp during the last week of the Tour.
"Mathematically, it is almost impossible to take it away from me," he said in his diary on www.feltet.dk/michaelrasmussen. "At this point there is only one rider to watch [Oscar Pereiro Sio], and that I can probably handle by myself, otherwise I have a team to back me up. The others are almost 100 points after me, so it looks really good. Right now it is a matter of staying on the bike,"
In yesterday's 15th stage, Rasmussen lost time to Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich on the Col de Val-Louron-Azet, but managed to peg nearly all of his deficit to Ullrich back on the final climb of Pla d'Adet, at the same time conceding no more time to Armstrong and Basso.
"At this point I should perhaps be a little frustrated that the climb wasn't five kilometres longer, I would then have ridden Ullrich out of the classification. It was a really good day for me. I rode a controlled race over Val-Louron and on the descent I didn't take big risks, while several of the others started attacking to the right and to the left. It was a very dangerous descent. The asphalt was melting on almost all corners. I lost a little time there, but I rode really well today, if I should say it myself."
Rasmussen didn't have a major crisis at Val-Louron-Azet, but still he tried not to push him self by following when Ivan Basso made his first attack. "I knew that we were facing a hard climb at the end. It is perhaps the most dangerous climb of all during this year's Tour de France. That's why I knew that I shouldn't do everything to follow Armstrong, Basso and Ullrich at Val-Louron.
"They rode an impressive stage. Right from the start the ride was very aggressive, and both Moreau and Botero tried to get away. But relatively fast we managed to annul that attempt, and at the end they lost their spirit too. We then ended up having three riders in the break." Later he could use the help of his two team mates Erik Dekker and Karsten Kroon as they were finally caught. "Dekker had a bottle for me five km from Peyresourde when it was difficult for the cars to get though to us. It was very welcome. Karsten also rode a strong race."
Rasmussen dropped to third in the general classification behind Armstrong and Basso, but still believes he can hold off Ullrich in Paris. "I came for a mountains jersey and a stage win. If you would also try to ride for the overall, you could end up with nothing at all other than a seventh place. Right now I am in a position where I can have them all (mountain's jersey, stage win, and a spot at the podium). That's a real ‘Kinder Surprise - all three in one'," he laughed.
If he does succeed in finishing third in Paris, he would become only the second Dane to do so after Bjarne Riis, who won the Tour in 1996 and finished third in 1995. He has 2'49 in hand over Jan Ullrich, which will be hard to defend in a 55 km time trial [Ullrich won this time trial in 1997 by over 3'00 - ed]. "I would of course liked to have fifteen minutes," laughed Rasmussen. "But the situation is as it is, and I'll take it from there. Tuesday is totally impossible for an attack. From d'Ausbisque there is still 60 km to the finishing line, so that is out of the question. The only chance to get some time is Thursday on the stage to Mendé. And there we are talking perhaps half a minute or so.
"It takes three weeks to win the Tour, but it only takes one day to lose it. We saw that with Basso in the Giro. Nothing is settled until we reach the Champs Elysées."