The Spoke Word: Tour de France Stage 16 report

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Lance Armstrong gave his fans a show today. The American veteran was part of a high-powered break that got away from the peloton about two miles into today’s 124-mile climbing stage and, eventually reduced to just eight men, stayed away until the finish.

A stage win wasn’t in the cards for Armstrong, however, as Frenchman Pierrick Fedrigo won the final sprint. Armstrong finished in sixth place, with the same time as Fedrigo and nearly seven minutes ahead of the main peloton, which contained yellow-jersey wearer Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, who trails Contador by just eight seconds in the overall standings. (Full standings.)

Today’s ride through the Pyrenees was a monster. It took in four categorized climbs, including two Category 1 climbs and trips up the beyond-category slopes of the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. It was probably Armstrong’s last chance for a stage win in this year’s Tour, and though he comes away empty-handed, he can take comfort in the fact that he was able to spend the entire today’s stage at the sharp end of a very difficult day in the mountains.

Contador, of course, was riding in yellow after taking over at the top of the overall standings following his controversial attack in yesterday’s stage. The Spaniard attacked Schleck, his main rival in this Tour, just as the latter suffered a mechanical failure when his chain came off.

There is an unwritten rule in the Tour that says it is poor sportsmanship to attack a fellow contender when he has crashed or suffered mechanical issues, or is otherwise held up by anything other than his own physical abilities. The boos from the crowd as he pulled on the yellow jersey yesterday let Contador know what the fans thought of his move, though he later said he was unaware that Schleck’s chain had come off.

Regardless, the two seemed to have called a truce today and finished together in the main bunch. Following tomorrow’s second rest day, there will be only two more opportunities for either of them to take time out of each other or any of the other contenders—Thursday’s final climbing stage and Saturday’s 32-mile time trial on the Tour’s penultimate day.

It’s no secret that Contador is a vastly superior time-trialist to Schleck. So the latter’s only chance to win this Tour will be to launch the attack of his career on Thursday, when the route takes the riders up the monstrous Tourmalet for a second time. Only this time it will be with a summit finish, making it a day for pure climbers like Schleck, who, it should be noted, has shown that he is possibly better in the mountains this year than Contador. It should be an explosive day.

—John Bradley

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