Stage 16: the first of two huge days in the Pyrenees, featuring the legendary “Circle of Death”: four massive mountains, the HC classified Col d’Aubisque and iconic Col du Tourmalet, followed by the 1st category Col d’Aspin and Cold de Peyresourde, finishing off with a long fairly straight descent into Bagneres-de-Luchon. The day was all set for a long range attack from the main contenders for the polka dot “king of the mountains” jersey, along with the chancers and those looking to improve their overall position in the race. With a rest day on Tuesday and the Col d’Aubisque coming just 40km into the stage, the break would want to be established early, and so it proved, with a massive 38 riders representing all but one team being allowed to get free. Sky again controlled the pace around the favourites, placing riders on the front of the bunch and covering attacking moves. The challengers for the overall race title, Nibali and Evans, needed to try and do something today, and they were much in evidence early on but without any impact. In the leading group, the pace was pushed on by riders including Voeckler (Europcar), Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) and current KOM jersey holder Kessiakoff (Astana). Despite the steady tempo set on the first climb, the break had broken down over this first climb. They reformed, but on the Col du Tourmalet the proper climbers upped the pace and the break exploded. Martin, Kessiakoff and Ten Dam (Rabobank) were the first to go away, and were soon joined by Voeckler, Hincapie (BMC), Feillu (Saur Saujason) and Sorensen. As the road headed up, riders were shelled, until over the top it was Voeckler and Feillu together, with Martin a minute back. Voekler took the KOM points, and pushed on, sensing a chance of both a stage victory and the KOM jersey. Voeckler and Feillu worked together over the Col du Aspin, with Voeckler taking top points, and must have been heartened to hear that his main rival Kessiakoff had blown – he eventually limped in 45th place, 14 minutes down. 6.5km from the summit of the final climb, and Voeckler pushed the pace, dropping Feillu. That was the last anyone would see of him, as he crested the summit solo, taking maximum points again, and on to the straight forward descent to win the stage, take the KOM jersey and send French fans into ecstasy.
Amongst the main contenders, on the Peyresourde, Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) moved to the front and set a high pace, shelling riders including Evans – his slender GC hopes ended as struggled over the climb, losing almost 5 minutes on his podium rivals and dropping to 7th on GC. By the time Basso pulled over, Nibali was ready to attack, and stepped on the gas, dropping Wiggins and his only remaining supporter, 2nd placed Froome. Froome dug in, pulling Wiggins back up to Nibali, who seeing them coming dug again, but Wiggins had the measure of him, coming around Froome to bridge back. Over the top of the final climb and the top 3 riders on GC were all together, nobody able to break Sky’s domination of this race.
Today is the final day in the mountains, 143kms, a 1st category mountain top finish at Peyragudes, with the 1st cat Col de Mente and the HC rated Port de Bales to soften them up. The weather conditions are pretty bad, with low lying cloud, and today will see the conclusion of the KOM – as I write, Voeckler has already taken points off Kessiakoff over the Col de Mente, the favourites are all together. If Wiggins can stay with his main rivals today, the jersey is as good as won, with only the final Time Trial (for which he’ll be the favourite) standing in his way
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