Blonde ambitions: Rasmussen flying high as Voigt takes yellow

Ullrich crash not serious

Mountains leader Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) rode the race of his life today, attacking the peloton after four kilometres and holding off the entire peloton to earn his first Tour de France stage victory. Earlier on in the week, the 31 year-old said to Cyclingnews he was 'suffering like a dog', but as the saying goes, every dog has his day, and today the top-dog was him!

"The attack was mainly to gain points for the mountain competition," said Rasmussen about his motives. "Obviously, I had really good legs and carried onto the end. There's still a long way to Paris and yes, I have the polka-dot jersey, but it only counts on the Champs Elysées."

Behind him, a six-man counter-attack which happened on the second Cat. 3 climb of the Col des Feignes proved decisive, as Jens Voigt (CSC) and Christophe Moreau (Credit Agricole) ended up in Mulhouse three minutes behind Rasmussen, but more significantly, three minutes ahead of the peloton to give Voigt the new maillot jaune - the second change of shoulders in nine days after Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel) took it off David Zabriskie following last Tuesday's team time trial. 34 year-old Frenchman Moreau also moved himself right up the GC ladder, leapfrogging from 17th to second overall.

Said a delighted Voigt: "This morning in the team bus Bjarne allowed me to attack today, and I was really pleased with that decision because I asked every morning: 'Can I go?' and Bjarne said: 'No', and then again: 'Can I go?' - Bjarne: 'No'... and again. That went on for a week. And today finally, he set me free to do what I wanted to do and that worked out perfect!"

Asked why the peloton let him and five others ride away, Voigt said, "I tried to break away yesterday and the team [speaking about Discovery - ed.] that wanted - or should have - chased me noticed that it cost them a lot of energy. And today they knew that it would again cost the whole team if they went [after] me, so they probably told themselves, 'What the heck - if he really wants that jersey then let him get it'. You just gotta be hard-headed enough. I've said it before: you have to keep on trying your luck until it gets on your side."

Right behind Moreau and Voigt was the freckly-faced figure of Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), who sent his troops to the front in the final stages of the race and paid them back handsomely by taking the sprint for fourth place.

"Yeah, today was a good operation," admitted O'Grady to Cyclingnews. "I hadn't actually planned on staying with them on the Category 1 [Ballon d'Alsace]; we kind of planned just to swing off and wait for the next few days, but I had good position at the bottom and felt good, so I decided to try and hang in there and the boys did a great job in the end - the boys rode fantastic."

Armstrong may have lost the maillot jaune, but there was nowhere near the sense of panic compared to the previous day. When the six-man break escaped, Discovery Channel team manager Johan Bruyneel marshalled his troops to the front of the peloton, who simply rode solid tempo for the rest of the day. As a result, the defending champion is now third overall, 2'18 behind Voigt.

"We didn't chase CSC down or anybody; we just tried to establish a situation," said Bruyneel. "I think we did what we had to do, and it's hard to be the favourite; it's hard to be the favourite team, and it definitely takes energy out of you."

" wasn't a priority, but it's always a special jersey to have," said Armstrong about his change back to a full team kit for the next stage. "But we have to take into view and into consideration the entire race. Now begins a very difficult 10 days."

The six-time winner was then asked if the loss of race leadership bodes well for his team, in that they can now focus on conserving energy instead of defending yellow, but Armstrong wasn't even sure himself. "Normally, yeah, but we'll have to see how hard they [CSC] feel like working for this [maillot jaune]. Voigt is not their guy for the high mountains; he's certainly one of the strongest guys, but not a true climber, so we can't control them, thinking they're going to do a lot of work."

However, when here was still plenty of talk about yesterday's stage to Gérardmer, and whether Discovery's lapse of concentration was a sign of a crack in the paintwork. "We're trying to find different reasons, but I don't know; maybe we spent too much energy riding in the front or riding for position in the first week, or over-confident, I don't know," said Bruyneel.

"I don't think there's any need to panic, start to shout or be really angry. I know all of the guys wanted to be there - nobody was behind on purpose - and they were very disappointed."

Will it be Lance's toughest race yet? "It's always been hard. It could be," Bruyneel said.

It wasn't a great day for T-Mobile today, after team captain Jan Ullrich crashed on the descent of the very first climb on his way to Mulhouse. "I was in a pretty sharp twist of the road, doing about 60 km/h, when I caught a gust of wind which brought me to the right hand side," Ullrich related post-stage. "So I went off into this ditch and somersaulted three or four times. I have a couple of bruises but I'm fine." Team director Lothar Heinrich is also "95 percent" sure that Ullrich has suffered no broken bones, but will nevertheless take the 33 year-old to hospital for x-rays.

Ullrich was brought back by his teammates after the crash, and it appears that the Lance Armstrong group also slowed to for him to be able to come back. The two rivals then courteously exchanged some words on the finish line. "We said we'll see each other after tomorrow, and I told him to enjoy the rest day, which he also wished to me," Ullrich said.

How it unfolded

180 riders started today in Gérardmer, and as yesterday, it was a Domina Vacanze rider, Andriy Grivko who attacked first. As the Ukrainian attacked, a crash took down Eisel (FDJ) plus two Liberty riders, Contador and Gonzalez de Galdeano, the latter abandoning with a huge bruise on his back, but fortunately nothing broken. Up ahead, Voigt (CSC) attacked and was quickly joined by mailliot à pois Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) on the first slopes of the Col de Grosse Pierre, a 3.1km climb with a 6.4% grade.

Rasmussen punched it and got clear to score more mountain points, with Voigt (CSC), Botero (Phonak), Cioni (Liquigas-Bianchi), Moreau (CA), Boogerd (Rabobank), Martinez (Euskaltel) just ahead of the peloton. Ullrich crashed on the Col de Grosse Pierre and came back with Sevilla, Kessler and Steinhauser, but with no serious consequences other than arm and leg road rash. Former Maillot Jaune Zabriskie abandoned due to stomach troubles after 10km, while Cioni counterattacked in pursuit of Rasmussen and bridged across easily to the Danish rider.

At the foot of the Cat. 3 Col des Feignes (9.0 km climb at 2.9 %), Ullrich and his three teammates came back to the peloton, which slowed to allow him to come back. Chicken Rasmussen and Cioni had flown the coop and the two former mountain bikers sped away up the Vosges Mountain slopes. Gilbert (FDJ), Moos (Phonak), Voigt (CSC), Caucchioli (CA), Quinziato (Saunier Duval) and some others were on the move, but the lead of the two escapees had ballooned to 2'40 after 20km, but Discovery Channel closed down the move. Another group got away, with Voigt (CSC), Moos (Phonak), Moreau (CA), Vicioso (Liberty), Zandio (Illes Balears), and Landaluze (Euskaltel), and that was able to get clear.

Up the road, Rasmussen took the KOM points on the easy 9km Col des Feignes and again on the Col de Bramont, with the Voigt chase group at 2'00 and the peloton now 4'00 behind the polka-dot Dane after 35km. After one hour, 41.5 km/h were ridden over the hilly terrain and Rasmussen and Cioni were at 2'20 on the six chasers, with the peloton 5'06 behind. On the 21.9km long but gentle ascent of the wooded Le Grand Ballon, the front duo was driving through the large crowds and at the summit, Rasmussen made Cioni hurt as he took the points, while Voigt's group was losing ground at 3'00 and the peloton was at 7'42. As is often the case when the Tour's first climbs appear, Kirsipuu abandoned.

After two hours of racing, the average speed was 39.6km/h, and when Cioni beat Rasmussen at the first intermediate sprint in Husseren, the Dane decided to dump the tall Liquigas man on the penultimate climb of Col de Bussang after 95km. As a mountain biker, Rasmussen was used to riding two hours all out and with 76km and the steep Ballon d'Alsace plus a long flat run-in, the Chicken fried Cioni and flew towards home in Mulhouse. By the summit of Col de Bussang, Rasmussen had 1'00 on Cioni, maillot jaune virtuel Voigt's chase group at 3'05 and the Discovery Channel led peloton cruising behind at 9'35.

On the ascent of the Ballon d'Alsace, Voigt and Moreau attacked the other four riders to try to get across to the flying Rabobanker, but even two big power riders like Voigt and Moreau couldn't pull back Rasmussen. Voigt punctured at 24km to go, but his former teammate Moreau waited for him and with 15km to go on the flat roads among the quaint villages and vineyards of Alsace, Rasmussen was pulling away from the others. Voigt and Moreau were 4'20 behind, with the peloton at 7'50.

Eventually the chasing duo pulled back some time from Rasmussen, who won the stage solo 3'04 ahead of Moreau and Voigt. Stuart O'Grady took the sprint for fourth at 6'04, while the CSC German took over the maillot jaune from Lance Armstrong. Voigt is 1'50 in front of runner-up Moreau, while the six time winner is at 2'18. Rasmussen has moved into 4th on GC after his stage win, while Vinokourov (T-Mobile), Julich, Basso (CSC), Ullrich (T-Mobile), Sastre (CSC) and Hincapie round out the top 10.

After 9 stages, the 2005 Tour De France is one of the fastest in history and Lance Armstrong explained post-stage on the way to his flight to Grenoble with the 174 other Tour riders, "One of the fastest we've ever done and it's not been exactly flat either so I expect a major crash (of fitness) from riders in the next 10 days. We just can't keep up this pace."

Stage 10 - Tuesday, July 12: Grenoble-Courchevel, 192.5km (Mountaintop stage finish)

After a rest day in the Alpine gateway city of Grenoble, Phase Two of the 2005 Tour opens as the granite barrier of the Alps looms. This straightforward stage goes northeast from Isere to into Savoie and hits the Cormet de Roselend at the halfway point, then plunges down to Moutiers, where the 22km ascent to the prestigious ski resort of Courchevel begins, where Marco Pantani won his last TDF stage five years ago.

Stage 10 rated climbs:

Cormet de Roselend (Cat. 1, km 118, 1968m, 20.1km climb at 6.1% grade)
Courchevel (Cat. 1, km 192, 2004m, 21.8km climb at 6.3% grade)

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