Thor Hushovd of Garmin Cervelo has won his second stage of this year's Tour de France, the Norwegian taking a rainswept Stage 16 from compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky. Another Garmin-Cervelo man, Ryder Hesjedal, was third. Behind, defending champion Alberto Contador attacked on the day's final climb to get time back on some of his GC rivals, only Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez able to go with him. Thomas Voeckler of Europcar retains the race leader's yellow jersey but loses time to that trio. Andy Schleck is possibly the day's biggest loser, dropped by the group containing the remaining GC contenders on a difficult descent into Gap.
Approaching the line, Hushovd was sitting on Boasson Hagen's wheel, Hesjedal, working on behalf of his team mate, waiting until the last moment until opening the sprint, with the world champion subsequently coming through to beat the Team Sky rider to the line.
The trio that contested the finale were the last survivors of a ten-man breakaway that had managed to get clear of the peloton with just over 100 kilometres raced, with earlier attacks quickly brought back by the main bunch.
Once that group had got away, however, they quickly established a big advantage over the peloton, leading by more than 6 minutes as they rode down into Gap ahead of the Category 2 climb of the Col de la Manse and subsequent 9.5 kilometre descent back into the ancient town, capital of the Hautes Alpes department.
With heavy rain falling, Mikhail Igantiev launched an attack off the front of the escape group as the ascent of the Col de la Manse began, but the Katusha rider was caught by Hesjedal before they reached the summit.
Behind, Boasson Hagen and Hushovd were chasing hard and they caught the Canadian on the descent, which passed through La Rochette where Josep Beloki came to grief in 2003, with eventual winner Lance Armstrong famously resorting to a bit of cross country to avoid the prostrate ONCE-Eroski rider and rejoin the race.
This afternoon’s real drama was confined to the road, however. With three big days in the Alps to come, expectations were that today would see the GC contenders content to mark each other, but defending champion Alberto Contador had other ideas, attacking on the Col de la Manse.
His initial move was quickly brought back as Leopard Trek’s Fabian Cancellara towed Andy and Frank Schleck across, as well as Evans. They were quickly rejoined by Voeckler and Sanchez and, shortly afterwards, the rest of the group.
Again, Contador went on the attack, and this time it was a decisive one, only Evans and Sanchez proving capable of going with him, with Voeckler looking to be in a lot of trouble behind as the group was blown apart as a result of the Saxo Bank-SunGard rider’s move.
The maillot jaune recovered to get into a group comprising others that had been put into difficulty, including the Schleck brothers and Liquigas Cannondale’s Ivan Basso, but there was no chance of bringing Contador and his companions back.
Up the road, Evans was attacking on the descent, crossing the line 3 seconds ahead of Contador and Sanchez, the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider working with his compatriot to limit their losses inside the closing kilometre.
That trio came home 4 minutes 23 seconds behind stage winner Hushovd, the chasing group recovering well to cross the line 18 seconds after them, but missing Andy Schleck who took a further 48 seconds to arrive.
Voeckler retains a 1 minute 45 second lead over Evans, with Frank Schleck a further 4 seconds behind. There’s now a big gap to Andy Schleck in fourth place, 3 minutes 3 seconds off the lead, and Sanchez and Contador, respectively 23 and 39 seconds behind him, now have the Leopard-Trek rider firmly in their sights.
As so often throughout this year’s race, the stage was punctuated by heavy bursts of rain, and with continuing poor weather forecast this week, there is a very real prospect that Thursday’s Stage 18, which is due to feature the highest summit finish the race has ever seen, will have to be shortened.
If the stage goes ahead as planned and finishes at 2,645 metres above sea level after the 22.8 kilometre climb of the Galibier, we’re likely to see attacks come from those who through physiology, conditioning or both are best suited to climbing at altitude; if it’s shortened, however, that could deny those riders an opportunity they had been banking on to gain time on Voeckler and their other rivals.
Ahead of that, tomorrow’s 179 kilometre Stage 17 sees the race cross into Italy, with a long 46 kilometre descent from Sestriere followed by the Category 2 Cote de Pramartino, crested just 8 kilometres from the finish in Pinerolo.
Tour de France Stage 16 Result 1 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 3h 31' 38" 2 HAGEN Edvald Boasson SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 00" 3 HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - CERVELO + 00' 02" 4 MARTIN Tony HTC - HIGHROAD + 00' 38" 5 IGNATYEV Mikhail KATUSHA + 00' 52" 6 PEREZ LEZAUN Alan EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 01' 25" 7 ROY Jérémy FDJ + 01' 25" 8 MARCATO Marco VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 01' 55" 9 DEVENYNS Dries QUICK STEP + 01' 55" 10 GRIVKO Andriy ASTANA + 01' 58" 11 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 04' 23" 12 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 04' 26" 13 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 04' 26" 14 ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR + 04' 44" 15 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 04' 44" 16 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS + 04' 44" 17 VELITS Peter HTC - HIGHROAD + 04' 44" 18 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR + 04' 44" 19 RUIJGH Rob VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 04' 44" 20 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING + 04' 44" Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 16 1 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR 69h 00' 56" 2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 01' 45" 3 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 01' 49" 4 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 03' 03" 5 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 03' 26" 6 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 03' 42" 7 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 03' 49" 8 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 04' 01" 9 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO + 06' 04" 10 URAN Rigoberto SKY PROCYCLING + 07' 55"
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.