Recent years have seen many Tours de France follow a predictable pattern: Big Mig hangs on in the mountains, then pulverises the opposition in the time trials; Lance wins the first mountain stage and the time trials but spends the rest of the race behind his Jim Jones style dedicated team; Ullrich finishes second; Virenque wins when it no longer matters. But after 2006's welcome return of perspective (too much perspective), 2007's race is continuing a welcome retreat from the formulaic.
This weekend was always going to shuffle the pack with Sunday's mountain top finish for the climbers and Saturday's contre-le-montre for the triallists. Albi's Gothic piles provided the inevitable picturesque backdrop as the riders covered 54km of Tarn's rolling rainy roads. There were a few casualties, but handling the road has always been part of a TdF contender's challenges. None of the GC men hit the road, although Alejandro Valverde could hardly have lost more time had he done so.
The big ride came from Alexander Vinokourov, who is talking up his chances, but his eyes are telling us that it's too late. Chapeau to Vino who showed a competitor's spirit. The other big winners were Cadel Evans (now 1.00 down in second), Alberto Contador (at 2.31) and Andreas Kloden (at 2.34).
But my ride of the day was the Maillot Jaune's. Rasmussen is a notoriously bad time-triallist, especially under pressure in poor conditions and he must have felt the weight of an orgy of drug stories these past few days as he stared at the tarmac from the start house. So it was a brave Chicken indeed who held on to the Jersey and it will take a big ride to wrest it from his shoulders tomorrow.
Bradley Wiggins showed himself to be a stage winner of the future with a very fine ride for fifth place on the day, backed-up with a superbly phlegmatic interview from the team van.
Aussie Evans is the new favourite at 11/4, Rasmussen you can have at 7/2, Vino a very skinny 4/1, Kloden and Contador a handy 5/1. With the race heading towards tens of thousands of Spaniards lining the roads of the Pyrenees, I like the look of the young, but very strong, Contador.