Pierrick Fedrigo of Bbox Bougues Telecom won Stage 16 of the Tour de France in Pau this afternoon on a day that will most be remembered for seven-times champion Lance Armstrong, riding the race he once dominated for the last time, rolling back the years to go on the attack as he sought his 23rd, and surely final, stage victory.
Carlos Barredo of Quick Step had got off the front of a nine-man breakaway to try and solo his way to the win, but was caught with a kilometre to go as his eight pursuers lined up for the sprint, Armstrong trying to come round the outside but running out of steam just metres from the line.
Fifteen years ago, Armstrong had crossed the finish line in Pau ahead of the Tour de France peloton and side by side with his Motorola team mates in tribute to their colleague Fabio Casartelli, who had died the previous day from head injuries received in a fall on the descent from the Col de Portet d’Aspin, on one of the most emotional days in the race’s 107-year history.
To this day, Armstrong remains in touch with Casartelli’s family, and with the Pyrenean city hosting the finish of Stage 15 of this year’s Tour, memories of that blackest of days must surely have been on the RadioShack rider’s mind today, but the victory he was chasing eluded him.
After his hopes of making an impact on the general classification on this year’s race had faded on Stage 8 to Morzine-Avoriaz, Armstrong had promised that he would pull out something special during the remaining fortnight of the race, and he did so almost the moment race director Christian Prudhomme dropped the flag in Bagnères de Luchon to signal the start of the 199.5km stage.
A 17-strong escape group quickly formed, including riders near the top of the general classification such as Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas and Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin Transitions, and with Omega Pharma Lottos’s Juegen Van den Broeck, fifth this morning, trying hard to get across, the main bunch kept the break in check and brought the escapees back near the foot of the Tourmalet, other than FDJ’s Sandy Casar, alone out in front.
Up to this point, the stage had been raced at a cracking pace, which with the Tourmalet and Aubisque still to be climbed and the Peyresourde and Col d’Aspin already negotiated, was sure to take its toll on some of the riders.
Not Armstrong, however. Almost immediately he had been caught, the Texan was on the attack again, and soon caught Casar. As the climb progressed, they were joined by Fedrigo, Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Farnese-Vini, RadioShack’s Chris Horner, the Caisse d’Epargne pairing of Christophe Moreau and Ruben Plaza, and the Quick Step duo of Barredo and Jurgen Van de Walle. By the time the escapees were heading up the last climb of the afternoon, the Col d’Aubisque, it was clear that the stage winner would come from this group.
The Queen Stage of this year’s Tour is the last place you’d expect the battle for the green jersey to continue, especially since the only two intermediate sprints on offer came after Category 1 or Hors Categorie climbs and the points on offer there were certain to be taken by members of the breakaway group.
That didn’t deter Thor Hushovd, however, from putting in a fantastic performance to stay with the group containing the main overall contenders with the single aim of getting as many points as possible at the finish in Pau, and the Cervélo TestTeam rider got his reward as he led the bunch home in tenth place.
As a result, Hushovd moves back to the top of the points classification ahead of Lampre-Farnese Vini’s Alessandro Petacchi, and following tomorrow’s rest day, he’ll line up for Thursday’s Stage 17 in the maillot vert instead of the Norwegian national champion’s jersey he was sporting today.
Meanwhile in the mountains classification, Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom, who picked up points on the first two climbs of the day, saw his lead narrow as Christophe Moreau of Caisse d’Epargne, like Armstrong riding his final Tour de France, got into the break and took maximum points on the Tourmalet and the Aubisque.
Moreau now lies 15 points behind Charteau, and the destiny of the polka dot jersey will be decided on Thursday with the 2010 Tour’s final four categorised climbs – the Category 4 Cote du Renoir, followed by the Category 1 Col de Marie-Blanque and Col du Souloir and finally, a summit finish on the Tourmalet, ridden in the opposite direction from today’s stage.
Given Alberto Contador’s perceived advantage in Saturday’s 52km time trial from Bordeaux to Pauillac, Thursday’s stage finish on the Pyrenees’ most famous climb, first negotiated 100 years ago, surely represents Team Saxo Banks rider Andy Schleck’s last hope of trying to wrest victory from the defending champion, who took the maillot jaune off him yesterday in controversial circumstances.
Today, was another day in which Schleck and Contador marked each other closely, the Astana rider maintaining his eight second advantage at the top of the general classification, but the expectation is that the Luxembourg rider will have to pull out something spectacular on the final climb of this year’s Tour.
Top 20 Tour de France 2010 Stage 16
1. FEDRIGO Pierrick BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 5h 31' 43" 2. CASAR Sandy FDJ + 00' 00" 3. PLAZA MOLINA Ruben CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 00' 00" 4. CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - FARNESE + 00' 00" 5. HORNER Christopher TEAM RADIOSHACK + 00' 00" 6. ARMSTRONG Lance TEAM RADIOSHACK + 00' 00" 7. VAN DE WALLE Jurgen QUICK STEP + 00' 00" 8. MOREAU Christophe CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 00' 00" 9. BARREDO Carlos QUICK STEP + 00' 28" 10. HUSHOVD Thor CERVELO TEST TEAM + 06' 45" 11. ROJAS Jose Joaquin CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 06' 45" 12. CAPECCHI Eros FOOTON-SERVETTO + 06' 45" 13. ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 06' 45" 14. CIOLEK Gerald TEAM MILRAM + 06' 45" 15. ELMIGER Martin AG2R LA MONDIALE + 06' 45" 16. KUCHYNSKI Aleksandr LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 06' 45" 17. VAUGRENARD Benoît FDJ + 06' 45" 18. MONFORT Maxime TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA + 06' 45"
19. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 06' 45"
20. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 06' 45"
Top 20 on General Classification after stage 20
1. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA 78h 29' 10" 2. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK + 00' 08" 3. SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 02' 00" 4. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 02' 13" 5. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 03' 39" 6. GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 05' 01" 7. LEIPHEIMER Levi TEAM RADIOSHACK + 05' 25" 8 RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin TEAM KATUSHA + 05' 45" 9. VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA + 07' 12" 10. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 07' 51" 11. KREUZIGER Roman LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 07' 58" 12. PLAZA MOLINA Ruben CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 08' 02" 13. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 08' 19" 14. HORNER Christopher TEAM RADIOSHACK + 08' 52" 15. SASTRE Carlos CERVELO TEST TEAM + 09' 02" 16. KLÖDEN Andréas TEAM RADIOSHACK + 11' 14" 17. LÖVKVIST Thomas SKY PRO CYCLING + 12' 09" 18. ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 12' 34"
19. DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 14' 07"
20. GADRET John AG2R LA MONDIALE + 14' 24"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.