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Tour still wide open after two days in the Alps

Rasmussen produces one of his trademark solo performances to win Sunday's stage and take the overall leader's yellow jersey.
Reuters | By HT Correspondent, Tignes, France
UPDATED ON JUL 16, 2007 04:39 PM IST

The days when seven-times winner Lance Armstrong was sewing up the Tour de France in the prologue or the first mountain stage are over. Picking this year's winner is anyone's guess after eight stages, including two in the Alps.

Dane Michael Rasmussen produced one of his trademark solo performances to win Sunday's stage and take the overall leader's yellow jersey.

However, the Rabobank rider is not among the top contenders for overall victory as his time trial abilities are limited and have not been tested since he finished the prologue in 166th place in London.

Two stages against the clock are still on the programme. The first one will be over 54 km in Albi before three gruelling stages in the Pyrenees, the second over 55.5 km from Cognac to Angouleme the day before the race ends in Paris.

In Sunday's final climb to Tignes, the favourites missed an opportunity to finish off the top Astana riders after Andreas Kloeden and Alexander Vinokourov sustained injuries during the fifth stage.

Team leader Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, with 15 stitches in each knee, was in agony on the ascent to the French ski resort but was pulled over the last three km by Kloeden to limit the damage.

Hip Pains

The German has been suffering from a fissure in his coccyx and hip pains.

French champion Christophe Moreau was the only one to shake the peloton with eight successive attacks but the AG2R rider was not helped by the other pretenders, including Australian Cadel Evans and Luxemburg's Frank Schleck.

Only Spaniard Alejandro Valverde was seen taking his turn in front of the attacking group.

As a result, fourth-placed Valverde only has a 2:32 advantage over Vinokourov, who is 22nd overall.

"I don't understand why nobody except Valverde worked in the attacking group. With Kloeden and Vinokourov left behind, we had common interests as we were not in a position to win the stage," said Moreau.

Vinokourov and Kloeden, who were ruled out of contention by Astana manager Marc Biver after their crashes, are now back in the race.

"It's not over yet," Vinokourov said. "The Tour is not lost. If I had lost five minutes today (Sunday), it would have been over."

Tuesday's ninth stage from Val d'Isere to Briancon, with two out-of-category climbs on the menu, should provide more information on the favourites' condition.

But only if they dare to test each other.

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