Today’s 16th stage of the Tour de France was a good one, and was literally competitive right down to the finish line, but it really was just a warm-up for what should be a big day on Thursday, following tomorrow’s rest day.
The stage today ran from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Pau, covering 199.5 km (124 miles) in the process. The climbers had plenty of opportunity to stretch their legs on this one, with two Category 1 climbs to get things started, followed by two tough beyond category climbs in the middle, including the dreaded Tourmalet, which will play a bigger role in two days time. Following the second of those BC climbs, it was a fast and furious race to the end, with a break away group that included Lance Armstrong, battling for the stage victory.
Spaniard Carlos Barredo led the way for much of the later portions of the race, and for a time it seemed like he would survive for a solo stage win. But he was caught by a group of riders with less than 1 km to go, and was clearly heartbroken when Chris Horner, Christophe Moreau, Armstrong, and others swept passed him. Pierrick Fedrigo took the stage win at the line, holding off Sandy Casar and Ruben Plaza by fractions of a second. Armstrong ended up finishing in sixth place, while Barredo finished in ninth. Interestingly enough, Thor Hushovd claimed 10th place, which is very impressive for a sprinter on this stage, and clawed his way back into the Green Jersey.
Despite his promises of seeking “revenge” today, Andy Schleck didn’t attack Alberto Contador, and this stage wasn’t a good option to do so regardless. Instead, the Yellow Jersey group hung together and there was no movement in that area. Presumably, they’ll take tomorrow’s rest day to regroup and prepare for Thursday, when it is imperative that Schleck gain chunks of time on the Tour leader. If Schleck isn’t in Yellow Thursday night, he has no hope of catching Contador on the time trial.
With Contador still in Yellow and Thor back in Green, that leaves just the other two Jerseys to report on. Anthony Charteau keeps the Polka Dot Jersey and currently has a solid lead in that department. He’ll be challenged on Thursday as well, but is climbing strong right now. The White Jersey belong to Andy Schleck as the best young rider of the Tour, and he seems to have it well wrapped up, regardless of what happens on the way into Paris.
As I mentioned, tomorrow brings the second, and final, rest day of this year’s Tour, with a big day looming on Thursday. That will be a 174 km (108 mile) run that begins in Pau and ends with a punishing climb up the Col du Tourmalet, one of the roughest and most legendary climbs in the Tour’s history. It is likely that it will all be decided right there on those slopes. If you’re going to call in sick to work to watch one stage of the Tour, make it that one.
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