Tour Watch - Stage 16

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Tour Watch Stage 16

Stage 16 Tuesday, July 21 2009: Martigny - Bourg-Saint-Maurice 159 km | Results

Favourites Tested by Alps: Wiggins Stays Strong

Whilst very little was decided for the overall today on a stage won by Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel - Euskadi), the final climb of the day certainly showed who the strongest riders are in the mountains in this years Tour de France and suffice to say, three time Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) toughed it out to give the likes of Alberto Contador and Andy Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) plenty to think about.

After a few weeks of transition stages with very little for the overall contenders to get their teeth into, today and the stages to come are providing a fantastic finale to this years Tour de France. The stage today on July 21st, the 16th of the race, saw the riders race from Martigny in Switzerland to Boug St Maurice in France via Italy. Along the way, the riders faced two huge mountains, the Hors Categorie Col du Grand St Bernard followed by the Category 1 Col du Petit Saint Bernard.

With the finish lying at the bottom of the final climb, the question at the start was whether the race would see any fireworks from the big favourites and the answer to that was an emphatic yes. Before that however, the supporting players in this major sporting drama took centre stage and very quickly a large group of riders went up the road as the team of the race leader, Astana did their best to control things by remaining calm as riders attacked up the road all around them.

The leading group of nearly 20 riders soon established itself at the front of the race and although more groups tried to get across to it, the main action came from the King of the Mountains leader Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas). It was the rider in the polka dot jersey who showed his intention of scoring as high as be could in the mountains competition by getting away with the Katusha rider Karpets.

At this point, there were still 140 kilometres ahead of them but the two soon opened up a good lead and on the top of the first climb with snow covered peaks all around, as expected, Pellizotti took maximum mountains points. The chase group was now very much slimmed down as riders were dropped and caught by the peloton but nevertheless, many of the original break, now joined by Nicholas Roche continued to close in on Pellizotti and Karpets.

With 60 kilometres to go, the chasers and the leaders came together while the gap to the peloton continued to go out to five minutes or so. The peloton, lead by Astana with Garmin in a long line behind them, were however doing a good job of keeping the gap down to a manageable size and after a regrouping of the peloton on the descent of the first mountain, Astana again took up the making of the pace on the final climb.

Onto the final climb of the stage and the break were not going to wait until the top to start making their moves and the fireworks were lit very early on by the Bbox team who had three riders in the lead group. No matter how they tried though, they couldn’t split the group and the attacks continued for a long time in the break as the strong riders such as Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence Lotto), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel - Euskadi) did their best to get clear of the rest.

While the break had their own battles to fight, the more interesting one was back with the leaders when Andy Schleck, who had punctured not that long before and was helped back to the leaders by Stuart O’Grady, attacked and set the stage on fire.

The rider in the white jersey went ahead on the left and Contador was straight on it as was Andy’s brother Frank, Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Bradley Wiggins. Prior to the attack by Andy Schleck, the move by one of the race favourites had been set up by the Saxo Bank team who rode themselves into oblivion to reduce the numbers of the yellow jersey group which they did to great effect.

After the move by Andy, it was his brother Frank who went and their injection of pace worked a treat as many of the favourites were left struggling in their wake including Armstrong, Sastre, Evans and others. Wiggins meanwhile looked fine – hurting yes, but not on his knees as so many of his rivals were and as Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) came back to the yellow jersey group and immediately started to drive hard on the front as Armstrong was making his move to come back to the leaders, Frank Schleck suddenly went backwards.

No doubt the people in Garmin including Wiggins were taking notes of just who was able to stay the pace and who wasn’t and whilst the yellow jersey group slowed and many of the dropped riders regained their place in the group – Evans not one of them – that small section of the race certainly showed who the race favourites were and the performance by Wiggins was certainly one to give him confidence for the coming days in the Alps.

By the time the race had reached the top of the final mountain, the battle at the front was down to being between two groups of four whilst behind, the peloton was mopping up rider after rider from the break.

With only a handful of seconds between the two leading groups, the stage had a fitting climax to what had been at times, an enthralling battle for the stage, and for the overall. As the riders in the two groups began the technical descent, only 15 or so seconds separated them and it became a high speed downhill team pursuit around the hairpins of the Col du Petit Saint Bernard.

In the lead were Jurgen Van den Broeck, Franco Pellizotti, Amael Moinard and Mikel Astarloza whilst in the chase group behind, stage winner Fierrick Fedrigo, Sandy Casar, Stéphane Goubert and  Nicolas Roche were chasing them for all they were worth. While Garmin rider David Zabrinski quickly lead the yellow jersey group down the mountain, a rider at the back of the string, Jens Voigt crashed at high speed and was taken to hospital with injuries to his head and shoulders and was out of the race.  

As the chasers looked down the mountain as they approached a hairpin, almost within touching distance were the leaders exiting the hairpin bends. It was that close and seeing the danger,  Astarloza had already tried an attack from the leading four but when that was closed down, he continued to work but more often than not, was pictured at the back waiting for his chance again.

A few kilometers later that chance got ever closer as first Amael Moinard attacked and when he was closed down, Astarloza went again and this was the move that was to bring him the stage. As the rider in orange in a typical tuck position of a rider on the rivet drove the pedals around as fast and hard as he could with 3k to go, his former companions were caught by the chasers.

Victory was in Astarloza’s grip and he never let go if it, coming in seconds ahead of the chasers lead home by Sandy Casar  in a tight sprint finish with Pierrick Fedrigo. Nicolas Roche was fourth whilst Pellizotti came in at the back of the lead group, job done on increasing his lead in the King of the Mountains competition. Christophe Moreau then lead the yellow jersey group in including Wiggins, Contador, Armstrong et al but Evans lost three minutes on the yellow jersey contenders to fall right back on the overall.

With a stage many are calling the queen of the mountain stages coming on Wednesday, July 22, the scene is set for another battle between the overall contenders before the time trial where Bradley will be in his element as his quest to finish as high up the classification continues.

Today, like on the other mountain stages, was proof if needed, that his mixing it with the very best on the sides of the mountains in the Tour de France is something us spectators are going to have to get used to. And Bradley too because with each stage in the high mountains showing that he really is one of the best, his performances should give him the confidence to start exerting his authority on the others just as he has on his rivals on the track for so many years.

Post Race Reaction: Bradley Wiggins

“I felt fine and it was one of the easier alpine stages. Tomorrow’s another day and I don’t want to get too carried away with it. (It was easier) in terms of the pattern of the race. Astana controlled it pretty well all day and then Andy attacked on the final climb but other than that it wasn’t too much. Tomorrow is a bit more of a brothel.”

“The Schlecks are lively but there is only one of them who I have to follow more than the other. When Andy puts it down, there are only three or four of us who can follow. Frank got dropped today.”

On leap frogging Lance Armstrong, he says “there is plenty of time for that. We’re just trying to avoid getting too panicky, too carried with things. When you feel good it’s easy to do silly things so I need to stay in control really.”

1.  Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi  4:14:20       
2 . Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux     0:00:06      
3 . Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom            
4 . Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale            
5 . Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence - Lotto            
6 . Amaël Moinard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne            
7 . Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas     0:00:11      
8 . Stéphane Goubert (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale            
9 . Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel     0:00:59      
10. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana      

1.  Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana  67:33:15  
2.  Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana  0:01:37  
3.  Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream  0:01:46  
4.  Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana  0:02:17  
5.  Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank  0:02:26  
6.  Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas  0:02:51  
7.  Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux  0:03:09  
8.  Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank  0:03:25  
9.  Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team  0:03:52  
10.  Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream  0:03:59

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