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The Tour's big test looms for hopefuls

Cancellara (Team CSC) in his TT Worlds jersey

Cancellara (Team CSC) in his TT Worlds jersey (Image credit: AFP Photo)

- can 'Chicken' dismiss the ghost of past TTs?

By Paul Verkuylen

Today's individual time trial (stage 13) is set to become the first defining moment of the Tour de France so far. Apart from Michael Rasmussen's 165km chicken run on the first serious mountain stage to Tignes, the Alps were unable to separate the real favourites for this year's final yellow jersey on the Champs Élysées.

The twisty and tricky out and back time trial stage starting and finishing in the town of Albi should finally put some distance between the contenders and the pretenders this year. The first 20 kilometres are a gradual uphill drag, then the course is downhill and flat until the 34 kilometre point, where a four kilometre climb up the Category 4 Côte de la Bauzie' awaits. Then there is a difficult descent and return to Albi.

Favourite for the stage should be reigning world ITT champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC), who was seen sitting up in the last 10 kilometers of yesterday's stage, presumably in order to rest up for the race against the clock.

Cancellara has shown excellent form so far in this tour, winning the prologue convincingly by smashing the previous best time by 13 seconds on the 7.9km course, as well as his victory in Compiègne, where he took the sprinters' teams by surprise in the last kilometre to blast away and take the stage, while he almost took the stage into Montpellier as well, but seemed to time his sprint just a little to late.

Where the big Swiss rider could struggle is on the climb, but on the descent and flat parts of the parcours, he will most certainly be flying. A rider who is seemingly the exact opposite is the current maillot jaune, Rasmussen, a pure climber who claims to have done little work on his time trial skills, and if past performances are anything to go by, his ITT bike-handling skills were definitely in need of attention.

It's likely we could see the Dane lose something like four seconds a kilometre to the favourites, and with 54 kilometers to ride, GC contenders, Alejandro Valverde (2'35") and Cadel Evans (2'39"), will be in the hunt for the yellow jersey.

Another GC rider to watch will be Andreas Klöden (Astana), currently seventh overall, who has up until now been riding in support of his team leader Alexandre Vinokourov. While it was like Vino's chances crashed when he fell on the run into the finish of stage 5, he is continuing to make his presence felt and can't be discounted. However, Klöden has been steadily improving and he could prove his worth in the TT. We shouldn't discount Vino for the stage win either, as if his attack at the end of stage 11 is anything to go by, he may be recovering well and be looking to salvage his tour with a stage win.

Although the winner of today's time trial may not end up in yellow, strong rides by riders like Levi Leipheimer (Dsicovery Channel) and T-Mobile's Kim Kirchen we may well see new contenders come to the fore.

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