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Rasmussen’s star climbs nearly as fast as he does

Former mountain biker Michael Rasmussen is continuing to light up the Tour de France summits with his determined defense of the polka-dot jersey he pulled on a few days ago. Rasmussen, who rides for the Dutch Rabobank team - which is based in one of the flattest countries in the world - only took up road racing a few years ago, having had his fill with mountain biking. His spectacular stage win on Sunday, when he went off on a 169km breakaway to win the stage, already fulfilled one of the ambitions of the 31-year-old from Copenhagen. And after two tough days in the Alps, which saw Lance

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By Agence France Presse

Former mountain biker Michael Rasmussen is continuing to light up the Tour de France summits with his determined defense of the polka-dot jersey he pulled on a few days ago.

Rasmussen, who rides for the Dutch Rabobank team – which is based in one of the flattest countries in the world – only took up road racing a few years ago, having had his fill with mountain biking. His spectacular stage win on Sunday, when he went off on a 169km breakaway to win the stage, already fulfilled one of the ambitions of the 31-year-old from Copenhagen.

And after two tough days in the Alps, which saw Lance Armstrong take control of the race on Tuesday and keep stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov on a short leash Wednesday, Rasmussen has a solid lead in the fight for the King of the Mountains title with 160 points, 71 points ahead of Frenchman Christophe Moreau (Crédit Agricole), who is third overall in the race’s general classification.

And in the race for an even more valuable jersey, the maillot jaune of overall leader, Rasmussen is second overall at only 38 seconds behind Armstrong, though the American is expected to blow the determined Dane out of contention in the final time trial next week.

So Rasmussen, already delighted with Sunday’s stage win, will be even happier if he manages to keep the prestigious polka-dot prize he says he did not set out to win.

“I didn’t come here with the aim of winning the jersey, but now I’ve got it I’m going to do everything I can to get the points,” said Rasmussen, whose ability to stick with the lead group in the past two days has been a surprise.

Even Armstrong admitted that he may have to watch the blond-haired Dane from now on, though his Rabobank team is not built to win the race.

“No more seven-minute breakaways for Michael Rasmussen. He’s a serious contender,” Armstrong said after Tuesday’s 10th stage.

Armstrong might have been exaggerating slightly – the Dane might be only 38 seconds behind, but his time-trialing abilities will certainly be tested in the penultimate 55.5km race against the clock.

Nevertheless, his progress as a climber has not gone unnoticed. Even two-time race winner Bernard Thevenet was gushing with praise.

“He’s just about secured the jersey and we’re not even in the Pyrenees yet,” said Thevenet, the race winner in 1975 and 1977. “But he’s made a lot of effort to stick at the front these past few days, so he deserves it.

“We knew he was making a lot of progress this past year, but he’s come into his own on this year’s Tour.”