Tour de France 2009 stage 16: Astarloza wins over the St Bernards
Top five in GC finish together, Evans well off the pace
Martigny - Bourg Saint Maurice 159km
Mikel Astarloza took the spoils on today's mountainous stage, nipping away from a leading group of eight to cross the line alone - and didn't he look pleased. There was plenty of action among the GC contenders as the Schleck brothers tried everything to shake off Contador, Armstrong and Wiggins but at the death all the main protagonists finished together a minute down and there's no change in the top five.
Astana were dominant at the front of the pack but early on they were riding tempo and giving pretty much anyone a free pass to jump off the front - with obvious exceptions, of course. First to go was a 21-strong group including Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and stage 13 winner Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo Test Team). Polka dot wearer Pellizotti attacked with Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) and Martinez, his closest rival, soon faded as the lead over the peloton stretched to three minutes on the 40km climb to the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, the 2009 race's highest point at 2473m.
Pellizotti and Karpets went over the top first, and with Martinez not picking up any KoM points for the climb it gave the Italian a big advantage. He was keen to extend it though: in the knowledge that the Category 1 Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard carried double points as the last climb of the day, the two leaders took a few risks on the descent to lead the pack by nearly five minutes across the valley. Many of the riders dropped on the hors-categorie first climb came back into the main pack as Astana continued to boss the GC contenders.
Pellizotti and Karpets were eventually picked up by a 16-strong chasing group containing most of the original escapees: Gomez Marchante and Gustov (Cervélo), Voigt (Saxo Bank), Ten Dam (Rabobank), Verdugo, Anton and Astarloza (Euskaltel), Casar (FDJeux), Pasamontes (Caisse d'Epargne), Moinard (Cofidis), Trofimov and Fedrigo (Bouygues), Vogondy (Agritubel), Velits (Milram), Goubert and Roche (AG2R). The front group were busy sorting themselves out for the final climb as Astana and Garmin Slipstream looked untroubled at the front of the main field, shielding their big men from doing too much work.
As the leaders headed up onto the serpentine bottom section of the last climb the leaders had a four minute advantage: the general consensus was that wouldn't be enough to stay out as the peloton started to up the pace on the hill. There was plenty of chopping and changing in the front group with Laurent Lefevre having a go off the front and Fedrigo marking Pellizotti. Saxo Bank, who had stated on the record that they'd be having a pop today, sent Chris Anke Sorensen and Nicki Sorensen to the front to wind it up a bit. The extra speed wasn't having a major impact on the gap to the leaders but it was thinning out the main field: David Millar and former white jersey Tony Martin were among the casuaties as once again the yellow jersey group was reduced to a select twenty or so.
At the front Pellizotti and Van den Broeck were busy trying to fend off Mikel Astarloza but the big news was further back: Andy Schleck's much anticipated attack finally came and split the group of leaders. Contador, Wiggins, Kloden, Nibali, and brother Frank were the men with the pace to stay with him; Armstrong, Sastre and Evans among the big names left behind. Armstrong wasn't content with second fiddle though and jumped off the front in pursuit, with Vande Velde for company. They couldn't hold onto the big Texan though and his extraordinary effort was rewarded as he rejoined the yellow jersey and the other three men in the top five. Armstrong's reappearance took the wind out of the sails of the brothers Schleck, and the pace slackened a bit to allow the GC group to reform. Evans was the big loser on the slopes, losing two minutes. Satsre just managed to get back in contention as the pace slowed over the Col.
Pellizotti was first over the summit to take maximum KoM points for the day, and he was followed by Astarloza, Van den Broeck and Arnaël Moinard. Two minutes behind the yellow jersey started the 30km downhill to the finish but it looked like the man to take the stage would be one of the leading four, or one of the four men between them and the leaders: Roche, Goubert, Casar and Fedrigo. Jens Voigt hit the deck at pace on the descent as the GC group pushed on to the finish: with all the heads of state in the group it was looking very much like a ceasefire until tomorrow's monster stage across five big climbs. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin Slipstream) spent a long time spearheading the yellow jersey group to ensure that no-one that was dropped on the climb could get back on – particularly Evans.
With 2km to go Mikel Astarloza jumped off the front as the leading group worried about the chasing four just seconds back, and his burst of pace was enough to take the win by nine seconds from the seven other escapees. The yellow jersey group came in a minute back, and Contador had enough left in his legs to have a go at the sprint finish, although Christophe Moreau pipped him to ninth place. Cadel Evans finished in a group nearly four minutes off the pace, effectively ending his race.