A sixth win for France as Lance Armstrong and Christophe Moreau go on one last attack
Pierrick Fédrigo (Bbox Bouyges Telecom) won the sixteenth stage of the Tour de France between Bagnères-de-Luchon and Pau as he outsprinted the rest of an nine-man breakaway. Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) was second, with Ruben Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne) in third at the end of the 199.5km stage across the Pyrénées.
The breakaway group included seven-time winner Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) and Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne), two of the oldest riders in the race, and finished 6’45” ahead of the peloton.
A long breakaway that formed in the early kilometres, on the climb of the Col de Peyresourde, finally built a stage winning lead on the Col du Tourmalet. After a lone attack from Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) the stage came down to a sprint, which Fédrigo comfortably won.
“I would have been very disappointed to finish this Tour without finding myself in a position to play to win,” said Fédrigo at the finish, “I was really afraid of not succeeding. The Tour passes so quickly and so far I hadn’t answered the challenge I’d set myself. Last night I even cracked a little and my nerves were a bit frayed, but perhaps that’s what I needed in order to regain confidence.
“This morning I went into the break with the objective of taking maximum points to protect the polka-dot jersey of Anthony Charteau,” he explained. “He had to stay very focused to make the break and stay ahead.
“Then I remembered the stage last year,” he continued, “the moments where I escaped with [Franco] Pellizotti on the Tourmalet and the Aspin. In the end, Armstrong told me that he would not cooperate with me because he knew I was the fastest group…”
An aggressive start sees Armstrong get away
With the stage beginning with the 1st category Col de Peyresourde, the attacks started immediately. A move from Matthew Lloyd (OmegaPharma-Lotto) and Eros Capecchi (Footon-Servetto) within the first few kilometres and were joined by Armstrong, Roman Kreuziger and Sylwester Szmyd (both Liquigas-Doimo), Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) Barredo, Steve Morabito (BMC Racing), Rui Costa (Caisse d’Epargne) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
With the peloton less than a minute behind the group a number of riders managed to bridge across, including last year’s 4th place Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), 2008 winner Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam), current 10th placed Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and mountains jersey wearer Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouyges Telecom).
Fifth placed Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OmegaPharma-Lotto) attacked from the peloton on the Peyresourde and crossed over the top 30 seconds behind the breakaway group. The peloton was not about to allow the Belgian to escape though and was less than 30 seconds behind him; on the descent he accepted that he was not going to catch the leaders and sat up to wait for the peloton.
An early casualty of the peloton’s high speed was Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo). The Italian had been suffering from illness in the past few days and after limiting his losses on the stage to Bagnères-de-Luchon yesterday, he was unable to take the pace today.
World champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) also found himself suffering and he too was dropped by the thinning peloton on the second climb, the 1st category Col d’Aspin.
The race settles down on the Tourmalet
The final break was settled at the start of the hors category Col du Tourmalet as an attack from Casar was countered by Armstrong. On the long climb 10 riders came together and rode together to the top. The group consisted of: Armstrong and Chris Horner (both RadioShack), Casar, Barredo and Jurgen Van de Walle (both Quick Step), Fédrigo, Christophe Moreau and Ruben Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Ignatas Konovalovas (Cervélo TestTeam).
Plaza, in 20th 14’47” behind race leader Alberto Contador (Astana), and Horner in 21st 15’37” behind, were the best placed on the overall classification; neither was likely to challenge the lead, but both were within striking distance of the top ten if a decent lead could be built.
Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) tried to get across to the group with the two, late intermediate sprints in mind, but the Norwegian champion was unable to catch them.
Contador’s Astana team was leading the peloton and, having decided that the composition of the group was acceptable, the turquoise and yellow team slackened the pace a little; the gap to the front group widened and more riders were able to rejoin the back of the peloton.
Moreau led the group over the Tourmalet, claiming the “Souvenir Jacques Goddet” prize and, with Charteau back in the peloton, moved closer to the lead in the polka-dot mountains jersey competition. Charteau escaped the peloton, to cross the summit 3’00” behind the leading group, but as he was only 11th over the line there were no more points available. The peloton crossed the summit 3’40” back.
At the 120km point, as the breakaway group made its way up the hors category Col d’Aubisque, it led the peloton by 6’35”.
Attacks on the Aubisque but the group stays together
Armstrong was the first to launch an attack, taking Barredo and Plaza with him. Cunego and Fédrigo quickly managed to get back on terms with the seven-time winner; then Barredo counterattacked with Fédrigo but the others caught them to make five in the lead once more.
With 5km to the top Horner, Van De Walle and Cunego caught up with the five leaders; Casar’s and Konovalovas’ races looked to be over as they were now 1’30” and 2’00” behind respectively.
The peloton was now 9’10” behind and, with just the long descent and flat run in to Pau, it looked certain that the stage winner would come from this group.
Moreau attacked to take the points over the climb, doubled as it was the final climb of the day, to move within 15 points of Charteau. Casar crossed the Aubisque 1’35” behind the rest of the group and Konovalovas was at 3’40”.
The peloton was now 9’50” behind, moving Horner up to a virtual eighth place overall; he was now threatening the seventh place of his RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer.
Casar had looked lost but with fearless descending he managed to rejoin the others with just under 50km to go.
Barredo attacks and almost makes it
As the group of nine passed through the village of Laruns with just over 44km to go Barredo attacked. The rest of the grop looked at one another and the Spanish rider quickly built a lead of 20 seconds.
Meanwhile, the peloton was beginning to accelerate under the impetus of the OmegaPharma-Lotto, Garmin-Transitions and Rabobank teams. As well as that of Leipheimer, Horner and Plaza were also threatening the positions of Van Den Broeck, Hesjedal and Robert Gesink.
With 40km to go Barredo led the rest of the breakaway group by 45 seconds; Barredo’s teammate Van De Walle was, rightfully doing nothing to contribute to the chase and several of the others dropped back to watch him from time to time.
With two riders from both RadioShack ad Caisse d’Epargne in the chase, and the others working well together, they had reduced Barredo’s lead to 26 seconds as he passed under the 20km to go banner. With 15km to go it had been reduced to 13 seconds, but the chasers were almost seeming to hold back so as not to catch him too soon.
Van De Walle inserted himself into the line and began disrupting the chase, and the gap went back up to 20 seconds with 10km to go; with 5km to go it had gone back up to 28 seconds. Had the route to the finish been flat Barredo may have made it, but on the short rise with around 3km to go the group began to reel him in once more. Barredo had been alone at the front of the race for more than 40km by now and he was visibly tiring.
With 2km to go the Spaniard still held 10 seconds, but with Moreau leading the chase on behalf of Plaza Barredo was caught as he passed under the flame rouge that signified the final kilometre.
Fédrigo the fastest and Thor gets his green back
Moreau lead into the finish with Plaza on his wheel and the rest of the riders strung out behind him. Armstrong tried to launch his sprint from near the back, but was unable to make any impression and sat up. As soon as Fédrigo was up to speed though, there was no way that anyone would beat him and the 2005 French champion took the third stage victory of his career.
Thor Hushovd led home the peloton 6’45” later, and by winning the sprint for 10th place he took back the green jersey from Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini), who was in the “autobus” of sprinters’ a long way behind.
The overall contenders all finished safely in the peloton and there were no changes to the classification, with Alberto Contador (Astana) still leading Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) by that slim 8 second margin.
Result stage 16 1. Pierrick Fédrigo (Fra) Bbox Bouyges Telecom
2. Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux
3. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
4. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
5. Chris Horner (USA) Team RadioShack
6. Lance Armstrong (USA) Team RadioShack
7. Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick Step
8. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d’Epargne
9. Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step @ 28”
10. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo TestTeam @ 6’45”
Standings after stage 16 1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Team Astana
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank @ 8s
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 2’00”
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank @ 2’13”
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) OmegaPharma-Lotto @ 3’39”