By Hedwig Kröner in Montpellier
The French love him: Raymond Poulidor, the arch rival of five times Tour de France winner Jacques Anquetil back in the 60's, has become a heroic figure ever since his days as a professional bike rider. Also referred to as 'Poupou' or 'the eternal runner-up', the now 69 year-old has never worn the maillot jaune, but was always considered one of the favourites for the overall win at the Tour de France during his time, as he finished three times in second place amongst other top ten results.
Poulidor is still part of the Tour, and Cyclingnews got hold of him in the Village Départ of stage 13 in Miramas - but he decidedly negated any analogy between himself and Jan Ullrich, who has been Lance Armstrong's personal runner-up in recent years. "No, there are not a lot of similarities," he said. "Ullrich won the Tour once, whereas I never did. And then, Ullrich isn't a true professional, he doesn't do his job right: in winter, he puts on weight; he rarely races, only trains... and you can see the result: he hasn't got the legs to beat Armstrong. In the mountains, he's really suffering!"
On another note, the legendary Frenchman also had words of praise, but not for Ullrich. "Rasmussen, you watch out for Rasmussen," he said, raising his eyebrows. "He's only 38 seconds away from the jersey, and what's 38 seconds in high mountains...only 300 meters!"
Another famous former bike rider and expert in polka-dot matters agreed. Richard Virenque, now working for French television at the Tour, believes in his successor. "I predicted that he would be the most suited rider to try and go for the mountains jersey. And now he's even second in general classification as we head into the Pyrenees, so he can take the yellow. It's possible," he told Cyclingnews on the start line in Miramas between two interviews he was doing himself in front of the camera.
The man who scored seven polka-dot jerseys at the Tour was impressed with Rasmussen's performance in the Alps, and thinks that there is surely more to come as the race hits the second mountain range. "The Pyrenees, with their steeper and shorter climbs suit him very well," he continued. "Especially the second stage [Lézat-sur-Lèze - Saint-Lary Soulan on Sunday - ed.] where he might be able to get the jersey for one or two days. Don't know if he could take it to Paris, but he's definitely amazing!"