NICE, France -- The remaining Tour riders were likely riding Monday with one thought: if we get through this, we get a rest day.
It was their second straight day in the Pyrenees, with one more to come Wednesday.
On paper, this was one of those stages that could have upended the overall standings at the Tour de France. But thanks to an early attack by 25 riders, the main contenders were content to just mark each other.
Back to racing ...
• I mentioned before that it is very difficult to be consistent in a race like the Tour de France. And while Alexandre Vinokourov has been up and down all Tour long, I still have to give a shout out to the Astana rider.
He decided not to drop out after a terrible crash during the race's first week and came back to ride an amazing individual time trail, catapulting him to ninth overall. Then, on Sunday, he gave up. For the first time in my career, I saw Vino give up. He looked at one of the TV cameras and waved as if to say "that's it." I wanted to call him Sunday and give him some encouragement, but I figured he had a lot on his mind!
But then, we saw the real Vino on Monday. Despite constant pain in his knees from the crash, he powered back and won Stage 15. You saw the emotion on his face as he crossed the finish line. He wanted this. He showed his true character. I was happy for him and I know the guys in the peloton were happy, as well.
• Another weird feeling for me as I am about to race in my second July event that's not the Tour de France. I am off to the Sachsen Tour, a five-day race in Germany. After our Team CSC training camp in Luxembourg, everyone's morale is high and we're motivated and fit. I am really looking forward to getting my race legs back and test myself, especially in the time trial. It's just a low-pressure race that will help me feel like a bike racer again.
I was hoping to see Levi Leipheimer attack at some point today, but he and other riders like Carlos Sastre and Cadel Evans are like turbo diesel engines -- they can't make massive accelerations unless the timing is perfect and they're 100 percent. (A rider like Alberto Contador is the opposite.)
Leipheimer will wear you down over the long haul and then power you away at the end, but it's all gradual and consistent. Attacking is not in his mentality. You'll notice we've barely seen him on TV this week as he quietly rides among the group of contenders. I thought this "silence" was because he wanted to save his energy for one decisive day during the Tour. Well, I believe that day has to come Wednesday, the last day in the Pyrenees.
With Andreas Kloeden riding on Leipheimer's tail in the overall standings (Kloeden is fifth overall; Levi, fourth), Levi has to gain time on him and others in the mountains before the race's last time trial. I think he has to find some other main contenders to team up with up there -- maybe Sastre. Levi should call him up and plan something.
It's interesting. I thought Leipheimer would have been the team leader in control and dictating the pace for his teammate Contador. But it's been the opposite. It's obvious that Contador is the strongest rider on the team and is riding a near-perfect race (it doesn't hurt that he's 24; Levi is 33). If Contador is still in second overall the next few days, you'll see the team dynamic change, where Leipheimer and Yaroslav Popovych will sacrifice themselves for Contador and the team.
Does that make for an awkward ride on the team bus? Not really. These situations are common in cycling and teams, for the most part, get along. You're with each other for a month straight at the Tour. Sometimes, egos get in the way, but it's up to management to control all of that. We are all professionals. There is also payback -- if Levi commits himself to help Contador win this time around (or at least podium), then Contador can help Levi in another race. That's part of being on a cycling team -- it has to be a reciprocal relationship.
Whoever it is, the main objective for any contender not wearing yellow is to find whatever weakness they can in overall leader Michael Rasmussen and his Rabobank team. Rasmussen's team has been strong for him so far, but it's up to Levi and his Discovery teammates to expose and attack any small sign of weakness. Discovery has the experience and the will to win -- they've won seven out of the last eight Tours.
Unlike Monday's Stage 15, Levi and the team will have to attack before the last climb. I think Contador and Discovery waited too long to attack Monday; they put pressure on Rasmussen and Rabobank during the last climb. You're not going to drop Rasmussen like that -- he's too light and strong in the mountains.
Case in point: Contador's six attacks on Rasmussen over the last 10 kilometers of the stage. Contador's moves, albeit a little late, were the sign of a true champion as he was continually looking for opportunities to steal more time from the rest of the field. But, Rasmussen wasn't having it; he told Contador with his riding that "you're not going to drop me today."
When you see cyclists do that exchange -- one attacking, the other staying on the wheel -- there is a bit of a collaboration there. They are both trying to separate themselves from the rest of the field. But they are also playing mind games with each other. It's so exciting to watch.
This Tour de France is still not locked up and anything can happen over the last week heading into Paris.
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing a diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won the Paris-Nice race in 2005.