With a rest day looming and the contenders looking to preserve some energy for Thursday’s showdown atop the Col du Tormalet; it set up the perfect scenario for a breakaway to escape the peloton and take victory in Pau. Tuesday’s stage 16 was by no means a day off for the field, featuring two Category 1 climbs and two monstrous Hors Category climbs before a 60 kilometer run in to the finish.
Admitting that he dog-eared this page in the race book before the Tour started; Lance Armstrong and his teammate Chris Horner escaped with seven other riders early in today’s stage. Armstrong attacked several times on the slopes of the Col du Soulor and split the group in two, but in the end, the breakaway came back together on the descent and stayed together on the climb up the Aubisque.
Quick Step’s Carlos Barredo attacked out of the breakaway group with 44 kilometers to go. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, he was swallowed up by Armstrong and his breakaway mates in the final two kilometers setting up a sprint for the win. Armstrong was in perfect position at the back of the group with wheels to follow on the run in to the finish but his younger opponents had a little more snap in their legs and Armstrong sat up to finish in sixth place.
Pierrick Fedrigo had the legs and took the sprint winning the stage in front of Sandy Casar, and Ruben Plaza. Fedrigo’s win makes back-to-back wins for the Bbox team and six overall stage wins for France this year.
Astana set the pace for the peloton doing the lion’s share of the work today defending race leader Alberto Contador’s yellow jersey. Cervelo took over on the run in to Pau since there were still points to be had in the sprinters competition. Milram’s Gerald Ciolek got the jump on Hushovd but Thor wasn’t to be denied and took the eight points regaining the lead over Petacchi in the point’s competition. There are two sprint stages remaining and it appears to be a two man battle between Hushovd and Petacchi now that Cavendish is nearly 30 points behind.
The yellow jersey stays on Contador’s back although he was booed again during today’s award ceremony. Clearly many fans were not happy with the Spaniard’s attack of rival Andy Schleck yesterday when he had a mechanical problem. This adds further drama to the Tour’s final mountain stage and summit finish on Thursday. Most experts think that Schleck needs to gain an advantage of 1:30 to 2:00 going into Saturday’s time trial.
One way or another the final few chapters of the 2010 Tour de France should be a classic.
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For more great Tour analysis, visit my good friend Tim Liew @ The Armchair Sportsfan.