If there was any justice in the world, either Amets Txurruka or Perrick Fedrigo would have been first across the finish line in Castres on Friday.
The two attacked with about 85 miles to go in the 111-mile 12th stage of the Tour de France, built up a 5-minute lead and held it until over the final climb, only to be swept up only about a half-mile from the finish.
A textbook leadout by the QuickStep team and a hard sprint by Belgian Tom Boonen, above, won him his second stage victory of this year Tour over Erik Zabel (Milram) and Robbie Hunter (Barloworld). Txurruka (Euskaltel) and Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) finished with the peloton.
Meanwhile, Denmark's Michael Rasmussen held onto the yellow jersey by a 2:35 margin for another day. It could be the last, as Stage 13 is a 33.5-mile individual time trial loop around Albi and Rasmussen is notoriously weak in the ITT.
CyclingNews handicapped this year's leaders by comparing (when possible) how they did in last year's time trials.
Andreas Kloden (Astana), who currently sits in 7th place, had the best accumulated time in last year's ITTs compared to other favorites this year. He finished 12 minutes and 56 seconds faster than Rasmussen, who currently sits 3 minutes 50 seconds ahead of Kloden.
Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) sits in 4th place, 2 minutes 41 behind Rasmussen. Last year, he finished the time trials 9 minutes 50 ahead of Rasmussen.
I'm seeing a trend. Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre also finished well enough last year to make up their current time differences over Rasmussen. Even 13th place Oscar Pereiro could make up his current deficit on Rasmussen, and Christophe Moreau (14th) comes within 1 second of beating the Dane. The US's Levi Leipheimer would gain 3 minutes 13 seconds, only about 40 shy of his margin right now.
Alejandro Valverde, in 2nd place at 2:35 behind, beat Rasmussen by 33 seconds in this year's prologue. Extended over a 54K time trial, that's a 3-minute, 45-second margin.
Of course that was then, and this is now. Rasmussen is wearing the yellow jersey, which is said to impart stronger performances by those who wear it.
And Rasmussen is a killer in the mountains. Who's to say that the margins he loses in the time trials he won't make up back in the Pyrenees?
When you look at the recent Tour de France winners, though, namely Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis, you see cyclists who are strong in the mountains and excel in the time trials. Unless he's spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel, Rasmussen doesn't have those characteristics. I think the chicken is going to get plucked.
The Top 10 is ditto from Thursday:
1. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
2. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) — 2:35
3. Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) — 2:39
4. Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) — 2:41
5. Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) — 3:08
6. Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) — 3:39
7. Andreas Klöden (Astana) — 3:50
8. Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) — 3:53
9. Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) — 5:06
10. Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) — 5:20