Welcome to live coverage of Stage 16 of the Tour de France!
Stage 16: Mourenx-Pau, 177 km
Well, it has hit the fan already in this final day in the Pyrenees. The stage started with rolling flats, a Cat 3 climb, and the climb of the Cat 1 Col de Marie-Blanque. Currently, the riders are working their way up the final major climb today which is the Above Category Col d'Aubisque. After that, there is a long, flat section with one Cat 4 climb to the finish.
There is currently a break of ten riders that includes Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), the man in 11th on GC only 12' 57" behind Armstrong. The break currently has 6' 25" on the peloton. There are some other men chasing in between the break and the peloton.
Here is the break: Xabier Zandio (Illes Balears), Evans, Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Chris Horner (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis), Anthony Geslin and Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Philippe Gilbert (FDJeux.com), Jorg Ludewig (Domina Vacanze) and Ludovic Turpin (AG2r-Prevoyance).
The fact that Evans is in this break may be its doom: his relatively high GC position will have people chasing hard before long in the peloton.
On the climb of the Cat 1 Col de Marie-Blanque, the peloton exploded as a bunch of riders counter-attacked. Most important among these counter-attackers was Ivan Basso (CSC), whose accelerations forced Armstrong to respond. On that climb, the Yellow Jersey group was whittled to Armstrong, Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Ullrich (T-Mobile), Basso and Julich (CSC), Mancebo (Illes Balears), Rasmussen (Rabobank), Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Landis and Pereiro (Phonak), Heras (Liberty Seguros) and Mazzoleni (Lampre). This elite GC group slowed down over the top of the climb, and there was a major regrouping on the descent.
1507 CEST - 78 km left. Evans has attacked the break! He is alone off the front, riding hard. Behind, there have been some major counter-attacks from the peloton again. Evans has 50" on the chasers in the break. 3' 10" behind Evans is a group of three with Pereiro, Serrano (Liberty Seguros), and Mazzoleni (Lampre). At 4' 30" is Vinokourov (T-Mobile), and at 5' 30" is Heras.
Now Ullrich has attacked the Yellow Jersey group! You know, people are really taking this whole "attack Armstrong while we can" thing seriously this year. Vinokourov passes Fred Rodgriguez (Davitamon-Lotto), who was a member of that original break who fell off the pace on the last climb.
So now the peloton has blown again into an elite Yellow Jersey group. This group is driven on by the new Mountain Monster of the Tour, George "Hills" Hincapie. He has Armstrong in tow, and they are pulling up to Sastre and Ullrich.
Okay, now another acceleration by Basso! Sastre is leading out Basso, followed by Armstrong, Ullrich, and Rasmussen. This acceleration has put Landis and Leipheimer in trouble! Leipheimer and Landis are steadily chasing, and look like they'll regain the wheel of this rapidly dwindling elite GC group.
Ye Gods, people, there are still 75 km left to ride! They are going after Armstrong like this is an uphill finish today.
Evans pushes on solo, hoping for a stage win and a move up the GC. Evans has about 25" on Flecha and Xandio, and behind the rest of that break is spread all over the mountain. It will be interesting to see who in this break regroups on the descent of this climb.
A group of women Australian cyclists were riding on a training ride yesterday in Germany, and were hit head-on by an out-of-control car coming the other direction. Amy Gillett was killed in this tragedy, and four others were seriously injured. Cadel Evans was apparently quite upset by this tragedy to the Australian Women's National Team, and said at the start line that he would attack today in their honor.
The Yellow Jersey group of nine riders is 5' 09" behind Evans. This group contains only Armstrong, Sastre and Basso, Ullrich, Mancebo, Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Landis, and Kashechkin (Credit Agricole). Hincapie is trying to regain the back of this group, which is being driven on by Sastre. Most of these men will want to bring Evans back.
Heras and Vinokourov are riding together at about 4' 30" behind Evans, and about 40" ahead of the Armstrong group.
Pereiro, Mazzoleni, and Serrano are at about 1' 30" behind Evans. Hincapie is back into the Yellow Jersey group. So the only men with allies in this Yellow Jersey group are Basso and Armstrong.
Evans is only 1 km from the top of the Col d'Aubisque.
Ullrich attacks again! They are about 3 km from the top of the climb. Well Armstrong is marked closely by Rasmussen, Basso, and Armstrong. This acceleration has brought them to the wheel of Ullrich's teammate Vinokourov.
Vino now sets the pace for Ullrich. This group has regrouped a bit, but Mancebo is in trouble... he's been dropped, as has Sastre and Hincapie.
Now Lance comes to the front to set the pace. He's making some kind of point... he doesn't have to do this.
1527 CEST - 72 km left. At the front of the race, Evans now crests the climb. He has a long way to go to the finish alone.
Second over the climb is Pereiro, who is now alone. Pereiro is about 45" behind Evans. About 5" behind him is Mazzoleni and Xandio. Serrano is about 1' behind Evans.
Pereiro is still smarting from losing the last stage to Hincapie in the final few hundred meters. He's very strong again today. The fragments of the break still come over the top...
Behind, Vinokourov attacks, and Armstrong doesn't care... Vino is way down on GC. Armstrong still sets the pace in that group.
Now Rasmussen comes through... he'll be trying to lead the group over the top of the mountain for the points. Crazy people are running alongside the riders. Now Klöden is about to regain the Armstrong group... great recovery by him. Horner is about to get picked up by the Armstrong group. Over the top it was Rasmussen and then Horner and then Armstrong on the front of that small, elite group.
Hincapie, Sastre, Kashechkin, and Klöden are about 30" behind the Armstrong group. Popovych (Discovery Channel) is about 45" behind the Armstrong group. These men will bomb the descent so they can get back up to their GC men and lend a hand. Except for Kashechkin, that is... he's up there on his own.
1536 CEST - 66 km left. Evans has about 1' on Pereiro on the descent. The race is still fluid, with men strung out all over the place, but this descent will lead to some regrouping and a bit more order. Armstrong and Leiphemer are cruising along at the front of their group chatting. They are sitting up a bit, waiting for reinforcements. Evans is on the brief and uncategorized climb of the Col du Soulor, which will give way soon to more descending.
Popovych now back up to Armstrong. Little groups of men keep coming over the top of the Col d'Aubisque. At the front of the race, Evans is still on this climb of the Col du Soulor, which looks like it should have some sort of categorization. Hushovd (Credit Agricole) comes over the top of the previous climb some 12' behind Evans. O'Grady (Cofidis) is only about 2' behind the Armstrong group, and he can bomb on the descent...
If O'Grady can regain the Armstrong group, he'll have a serious shot at taking the Green Jersey from the shoulders of Hushovd today.
1541 CEST - 61 km left. Rubiera, Hincapie, and Popovych are now at the front of the Armstrong group, leading it up that little shunt on the Col du Soulor.
Evans now descending again, mercifully. The descent is a long one, and then he hits a valley that goes up to the Cat 4 climb of the Cote de Pardies-Pietat (2.6 km at 5.2%). That crests only 19 km from the finish. Pereiro is now a mere 15" behind Evans... he's closing. Could Pereiro get his stage win today?
The Armstrong group has become quite large now. It can actually be called a peloton again. Up front, Pereiro has blown by Evans on the descent... Evans is struggling to catch up. Xandio and Mazzoleni look like they are up to Evans and Pereiro now. Mazzoleni is in 14th on GC at 17' 56".
These are some hard, curvy roads... very narrow, sketchy pavement in sections, no shoulder... typical roads in the Pyrenees, actually.
Klöden is leading the peloton on the descent. He's followed by the Discovery train that now includes Azevedo, Hincapie, Popovych, and Rubiera.
1551 CEST - 55 km left. Pereiro has quite a gap on Mazzoleni and Evans. They'll have to chase to catch him. In the peloton, Klöden has a bit of a gap... is this an attack? Or just him going a bit off the front? So the gap of Pereiro over the peloton is about 5' 30".
Pereiro has a flat! Now he's chasing with Xandio, trying to catch up to Mazzoleni and Evans.
1554 CEST - 49 km left. So now it's Evans, Mazzoleni, Pereiro, and Xandio working together near the bottom of the descent. At 5' 45" is the peloton that includes Armstrong and the other GC leaders. Hincapie comes up and chats to Klöden about something at the front of the peloton.
The peloton is just freewheeling. They don't seem to care about the break right now. Interesting. Evans is only 12' 57" back on GC, so they won't want to give the four men in the break too much of a lead at this point.
So behind the lead group of four, Serrano is chasing at 1' 05", Ludewig is at 1' 35". In the peloton, Horner has a puncture!
The remains of that original break is at 2' 30". That group now includes Flecha, Vasseur, Geslin, Pineau, Gilbert, and Turpin. Now Serrano and Ludewig are together, and their gap is up to 1' 52" behind the lead group of four. That means they are going backwards.
1604 CEST - 42 km left. The gap to the peloton is now 6' 38". Not surprisingly, Savoldelli came back on the descent and is now at the front with the Discovery train.
Evans accelerates into the final intermediate sprint, but Pereiro comes around him to take it and Evans is 2nd. Evans might be a bit annoyed about that. (Maybe as annoyed as Pereiro still is...)
Looks like Horner is back up to the peloton. T-Mobile and Gerolsteiner are now leading the chase in the peloton to protect the GC positions of Ullrich (4th) and Leipheimer (6th). A Rabobank rider is there to protect Rasmussen (3rd) as well.
1612 CEST - 35 km left. The peloton is now strung out at 6' 52" behind. The peloton goes through the intermediate sprint.
Great move by Evans today to get into this break. The Serrano/Ludewig duo is chasing at 1' 43", and at 2' 30" is that group of six riders with Flecha and Vasseur.
Earlier in the stage, on the first climb of the day, Kashechkin had a bad experience with an over-enthusiastic fan. The fan was cheering and waving one of those annoying blow-up noisemaker balloon things, and the fan's hand caught Kashechkin in the nose. He got a bloody nose and actually turned around and rode backwards to see the race doctor. That's illegal, so it will be interesting to see if
he gets fined today for riding backwards.
There is more regrouping in the peloton. At the front, the four men are working well together. At 2' 10", that six-man chase group with Flecha and Vasseur has caught Ludewig and Serrano. In the peloton, which is at 6' 12", the pace is still being set by several teams with men in the top ten.
23 km left. Well the hammer is down in the peloton... the gap is down to 5' 35" under the impetus of T-Mobile, Rabobank, Credit Agricole, and Gerolsteiner. Not sure why Credit Agricole is working... I haven't seen Hushovd in this group. They must be protecting Moreau. Moreau is in 9th on GC.
The leaders are 21 km from the finish: Xandio, Evans, Pereiro, and Mazzoleni. Their gap is down to an even 5'.
The four leaders are now slogging up the Cat 4 Cote de Pardies Pietat. It is short, but relatively steep for a Cat 4. Evans is making the pace in the break. Will Pereiro attack here? Mazzoleni now comes up to make the pace with Pereiro on his wheel. Pereiro wears the red number today, indicative of the most aggressive rider of the previous stage. A win by Mazzoleni would move him further up GC, but it would also save what has been a rather dismal Tour for the team.
Gilbert has jumped from that chasing group of six men on the descent of the Cat 4.. he's trying to bridge up, but he currently 1' 30" back trying to chase down a group of four by himself. The peloton goes over the top of the last climb. The gap is down to 4' 28" for the break.
15 km left. Evans, Xandio, Pereiro, and Mazzoleni still grind away up an uphill little bit of road, trying to drive home their advantage. Evans has actually opened a little gap, but Mazzoleni closes it down. Gilbert has been joined by Pineau in his chase of the four men.
1644 CEST - 13 km left. The profile looks pretty much like it's a false flat downhill until the finish now for the four men in the break. Right at the end there is a bit of an uphill which will likely see these four men in the break attacking each other. The peloton is at 4' 25".
This break looks like it will stay away. The chase of Pineau and Gilbert is still 1' 47" back. They won't catch the four men off the front.
Gilbert and Pineau now get caught by the rest of that original break, which is still 1' 50" behind the four leaders.
If Evans can hold a 4' advantage, he can climb up into 7th on GC ahead of Landis. Evans would like to win the stage, of course, but getting the time on GC will be a nice compensation regardless of what happens.
1650 CEST - 8 km left. The chase of eight men with Flecha, Vasseur, Gilbert, and Pineau is rolling along, but they know they won't catch the leaders now as the gap is almost up to 2'. The peloton is at 4' 19". Phonak can't come to front to help set the pace and protect Landis because his teammate Pereiro is up the road.
6.5 km left. The gap is 1' 55" for Evans, Mazzoleni, Pereiro, and Xandio. They are working well together. In the peloton, the White Jersey of Popovych is riding in front of Armstrong in his Yellow Jersey. The pace is still being set by several teams.
3.5 km left. The peloton has chased the break back to 3' 22". This will contain Evans a bit. Evans is really driving this break, trying to keep the gap up.
2 km left. Evans is working alone at the front of this break. Nobody else is pulling through. They are saving it for the finish, leaving Evans to ride for his GC position.
Final kilometer. Evans is out of the saddle, leading this out to the finish. He doesn't care about winning the stage, clearly.
Pereiro and Mazzoleni go around him. It looks like Pereiro! He does it!
Pereiro gets his stage win after he was beaten by Hincapie at the line just two days ago. That was nice!
Gilbert has jumped from the next group, trying to take fifth. Now here comes the others... Gilbert barely holds on for 5th.
The peloton is coming in now... they are about 3' behind Evans. The peloton crosses the line 3' 26" behind, and it's "le Mullet" Brochard (Bouygues Telecom) winning the meaningless pack sprint for some lower position.
So here's the stage results:
1. Pereiro (Phonak)
2. Xandio (Illes Balears) @ st
3. Mazzoleni (Lampre) @ st
4. Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) @ st
5. Gilbert (FDJeux.com) @ 2' 25"
6. Geslin (Bouygues Telecom) @ 2' 25"
7. Ludewig (Domina Vacanze) @ 2' 25"
8. Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) @ 2' 25"
9. Turpin (AG2r-Prevoyance) @ 2' 25"
10. Vasseur (Cofidis) @ 2' 25"
Well, Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi) actually won the meaningless sprint for 13th in the peloton, beating out Brochard @ 3' 24" back. All the big GC men not in the break came across in that group at 3' 24".
So provisionally, Evans moves up into 7th on GC at 9' 29", just 4" ahead of Landis. However, Evans was tailed off in that sprint and might be given a separate time a few seconds behind the others in that break once the judges look at the tape. That could put him behind Landis. It will be close.
Mazzoleni moves up into 12th in the provisional GC standings, not a bad move up for the Italian.
Pereiro is all smiles, punching the air on the podium. He's much happier than he was two days ago, that's for sure!
Rasmussen takes the Polka Dot Jersey again, and he looks like a lock in the competition now. Nobody can catch him, really.
1. Armstrong (Discovery Channel)
2. Basso (CSC) @ 2' 46"
3. Rasmussen (Rabobank) @ 3' 09"
4. Ullrich (T-Mobile) @ 5' 58"
5. Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 6' 31"
6. Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) @ 7' 35"
7. Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 9' 29"
8. Landis (Phonak) @ 9' 33"
9. Vinokourov (T-Mobile) @ 9' 38"
10. Moreau (Credit Agricole) @ 11' 47"
11. Klöden (T-Mobile) @ 12' 01"
12. Mazzoleni (Lampre-Caffita) @ 14' 24"
13. Popovych (Discovery Channel) @ 14' 27"
14. Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) @ 15' 26"
15. Pereiro (Phonak) @ 15' 40".
So Pereiro has also moved up on GC with this ride, and he is a mean time trialist... he could climb up to as high as 12th or 13th in that final ITT.
Seventy-eight Yellow Jerseys for Armstrong. Not bad for a guy who got fired by Cofidis on his apparent deathbed a few years back.
Tomorrow is a painful slog through the center of southern France, which is known for its endless up-and-down undulations. So it's not a flat stage, though the profile is flatter than we've had in a few days. there are two Cat 4 climbs and two Cat 3 climbs, including one that comes just 7 km from the finish. There are dozens of uncategorized climbs on the stage too, those little stingers that add up after awhile. And they will be on their bikes for awhile: the stage is 239.5 km between Pau and Revel. Tomorrow could actually see lots of guys getting eliminated from the race as the fatigue adds up in this final week.
Thursday will be no picnic either: it has a Cat 4 climb, two Cat 3 climbs, and two Cat 2 climbs, including the final climb up to Mende. So that finish up the Cat 2 climb could have some major GC implications with so many riders clumped together in the top 15. The biggest showdown, of course, will be this Saturday with the 55.5 km time trial. That still seems a long ways away for the riders.
If Ullrich can hold this gap steady through these upcoming hilly stages this week, he should climb up onto the GC podium on Saturday in that final time trial. He's currently 4th, 2' 49" behind 3rd-place Rasmussen. Ullrich can easily take that time from Rasmussen.
This concludes our live coverage for today. Thanks for joining us, and please be with us tomorrow as the final week of the Tour continues.