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Rest Day Notes: Leipheimer frustrated at time penalty; Rasmussen says 'trust me'; CSC's guiding mantra
By Andrew Hood
VeloNews European correspondent
This report filed July 16, 2007

Buried deep in Sunday's UCI commissaires' report was a penalty against Levi Leipheimer for illegal mechanical assistance and bidon pulls.

Leipheimer hopes the 10-second penalty won't make a difference in Paris.

photo: Andrew Hood

The top American contender was fined 50 CHF and penalized 5 points and 10 seconds for the bidon pull and fined an additional 50 CHF for illegal mechanical assistance.

Leipheimer couldn't care less about the money or the points, but those 10 seconds could be vital in the battle for the overall crown when every second counts.

"My chain came off on the descent off the Roselend and got wrapped in the derailleur and I couldn't pedal for the last 5km of the descent," Leipheimer told a handful of journalists on Monday's rest day. "The car was too far behind for it to come up. When I got to the bottom, I switched to the spare bike, but I even had to change that."

Leipheimer took a sling-shot off a bidon pass just as riders typically do when chasing back on through the team cars, something that the UCI seems to be cracking down on this year.

Leipheimer hopes the time penalty doesn't become a factor later in the race.

"It could make a difference, but if I hadn't gotten back, it would have made a bigger difference," he said.

Rasmussen promises cycling world can ‘trust me'
It wasn't exactly the kind of rest day questioning Michael Rasmussen would have expected a day after riding into the yellow jersey for the first time of his career.

The Tour de France leader patiently defended himself Monday against tough questioning from journalists who queried him about rumors he was one of the UCI's infamous "Men in Black."

"It's strange that the UCI says I am training in neutral colors. The only ‘Men in Black' I know of are Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones," Rasmussen said in a rest day press conference. "It's true I sometimes train in neutral colors to respect my privacy. When I ride in my Rabobank jersey, people follow me home, they hang out of cars, stop me and ask for autographs. I don't like that. That why I sometimes train in neutral colors."

UCI anti-doping coordinator Anne Gripper raised doubts about several riders she dubbed as "Men in Black" who she insinuated raced in non-team jerseys ahead of the Tour to allegedly try to avoid detecting from pre-race doping controls.

Rasmussen roared into the yellow jersey in a dramatic display Sunday that have many wondering if the climbing specialist can hang on to win the Tour.

But journalists seemed more interested in asking him about rumors of training practices, particularly his penchant to go to far-away Mexico for high-altitude training camps. Rasmussen's wife is Mexican, but some suggest riders go to Mexico because the Latin American nation would seem a safe haven for dubious training practices.

"I've been using high-altitude training methods since we went to Colorado in 1994 with the Danish national mountain bike team," the former world mountain bike champion said. "After that experience, I've always believed in high-altitude training."

Rasmussen didn't flinch when one Danish journalist asked him point blank if fans should trust him following the damaging revelations from 1996 Tour champ Bjarne Riis.

"Yes, you can believe me," Rasmussen answered. "Unfortunately, this is what we have to deal with now in cycling. Fans can believe me."

Controversy aside, Rasmussen said he enters the second half of the Tour with ambitions of racing for victory.

"Lance Armstrong once said to win the Tour you need one good mountain stage and two good time trials. I have to win with a few more good climbs," he said. "I believe I have enough of an advantage on the others to keep the jersey after the time trial at Albi. I'm not a time trialist, but with all due respect, there are no Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich in the race."

Finally, Rasmussen admitted that he is getting some added juice.

"This yellow jersey feels like doping to me," he said. "It motivates me more than anything. I will fight to keep it."

CSC sticking with double options
Team CSC is sticking to its plan of playing two options with Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck as the Tour enters the decisive final half.

Vande Velde and Zabriskie meet the press

photo: Andrew Hood

Schleck is poised in ninth place overall while ever-steady Spanish climber Sastre is quietly hovering in 11th. Both believe the best is yet to come.

"I think we'll stick to our plan, because so far it's working pretty well," said Schleck in a press conference Monday. "I'm here working for Carlos and I will give 100 percent, but like last year, when I am working for Carlos, that usually means good things for me in the GC. I'm sure we'll be stronger in the Pyrénées."

Schleck, racing in his second Tour, was able to follow aggression in Sunday's climbing stage to Tignes and finished with the Moreau group. Sastre patiently stayed with the Vinokourov group and attacked late in the stage to gain back some time on the favorites.

Sastre - fourth overall last year - said he's expecting to hit his peak form next week for the Pyrenees. The Spanish climber won a stage at Aix-3 Domaines in the 2003 Tour.

"I typically don't respond well in the first mountain stages because the transition from flat stages to big climbs takes longer for me," Sastre said. "The team is working for me, but Frank has his options as well. It's another card to play for the team. The Pyrénées will be very hard."

No charity... just sage advice

photo: Andrew Hood

Americans Christian Vande Velde and Dave Zabriskie are part of that effort. Both have sacrificed their own chances to help their respective team captains.

CSC joins wristband-wagon
Team CSC has joined the wristband bandwagon this year, but it sports an interesting slogan that isn't raising money for a charity or some do-good organization.

Instead, the letters across the black plastic wristband underscore the team's philosophy in this year's Tour: "Harden the Fuck Up."

"Stuart (O'Grady) brought them for the team in London and asked everyone to wear them," said Team CSC rider Frank Schleck. "If it's tough, we look at the wristband and we do what it says. When it gets hard, you harden up. So far it's worked pretty good."

All apt to roll on
It was an early morning for some riders as the UCI "vampires" struck Monday with routine blood screenings. Some 51 riders from CSC, QuickStep, Euskaltel, Bouygues, Saunier Duval and Barloworld underwent screenings between 8 to 9:15 a.m. None of the riders were deemed unfit. So far through the first 10 days of the Tour, no riders have tested for high hematocrit.

Prize money
The Tour de France is already dishing out some prize money. Through the first 10 days of the Tour, some 304,550 euros in prize money has been handed out to teams. Leading the heap is Quick Step-Innergetic, which has brought in some 37,030 euros so far through the Tour. Rabobank is second with 30,900 euros, T-Mobile third with 26,040 euros. Discovery Channel's haul is 9,880 euros while Ag2r brings up the rear of the money charts with 3340 euros so far.

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