Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 16

FLASH UPDATE (3:25 pm PT):
Rasmussen pulled from Tour, fired from Team

Details at bottom of post...

Orthez to Gourette (Aubisque) 218.5 km

Toughest stage of Le Tour. Stage 16. GNB Sports. Attack!

Eleven percent. Eleven, eleven point five percent at the steepest all spelled out. The map truly is not the territory. The cameras of the Tour shave at least 3-4 percentage points off each climb. Watching television one simply can not grasp how steep a climb is of 11.5%. A hiking staff would make an enormous difference walking even a few feet. In the United States it is illegal to construct a national hiking trail this steep. The Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail -- by law none of these top ten percent.

Michael Rasmussen, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Levi Leipheimer, all the key leaders except Sastre are in the main group of twelve to fifteen. Sastre is in the breakaway currently 1:20 ahead heading to the last major climb of this years' Tour, the hors categorie climb up the Col d’Aubisque. The breakaway will be captured soon. The Tour comes down to this...

Eighteen brutal kilometers of climbing to a stage victory. Whomever has the fastest GC time at the end of this stage will probably win the Tour assuming they hold on in the stage 19 individual time trial. Unless he cracks this climb is Rasmussen's to lose to Contador. Contador must attack early and often. Contador needs 2:43 to pull even with Rasmussen; Rasmussen has two teammates with him to protect him and rides strongly. The chase, bah. It has only 43 seconds and will be caught.

It's about time Department: The Devil (Didi Senft) was on the last climb about one km from the top. If you don't know what this means, never mind... *smiles*

It has begun... Discovery Channel's three riders mass for an attack. Rabobank's three prepare to defend. As soon as it gets just a bit steeper Michael Rasmussen will be isolated and must protect his Yellow Jersey. The chase still has a minute, trying to stave off the inevitable.

OUCH! Watching riders crack hurts. One moment they're racing, sprinting up the mountain, the next a spectator must push them momentarily less the rider fall over. In the jargon, "they're riding backwards." No kidding. Like they hit a freaking wall.

Team Discovery sets the pace up the mountain. Popovych gives everything. Only six riders left, everyone else has been ridden off their wheels except one rider from Discovery, Popovych, Contador, Evans, Rasmussen & Leipheimer. The rider from Discovery goes. Now Popovych is done and Leipheimer takes over setting the pace. Four are left (in order) climbing: Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Contador and Evans. These are the four GC Tour leaders. They've dropped everyone else. They climb the mountain together.

Leipheimer sets up Contador who will attack soon, who must attack. AND CONTADOR ATTACKS! Rasmussen responds. Contador accelerates brutally and Rasmussen with 2:23 of GC time to respond takes a moment, then catches up. The only person Rasmussen must catch is Contador yet he also responds to attacks from Levi; he defends Yellow with ease. No one will break him today.

Seven kilometers to go. Contador goes again. Levi's cracked. Only three riders left. Contador, Rasmussen and Cadel Evans, and Rasmussen hits Contador who counterattacks in response. Six kilometers to go and the Yellow Jersey dictates the pace up the mountain.

Levi Leipheimer climbs back up to Cadel Evans. Michael Rasmussen answers every attack Alberto Contador throws at him. Attack, respond. Attack, respond. Levi leaves Cadel Evans behind, riding himself up to the two leaders. Two on one: Contador & Leipheimer on Rasmussen with Evans stuck ten to fifteen seconds back and falling further behind. Even though Contador has Leipheimer there to help him, he's no longer attacking. Rasmussen is too strong. Rasmussen clearly is in control. No one can touch him today. In his untouchability, reminds me of some dude who use to ride the Tour...

Leipheimer is amazing pulling Rasmussen and Contador up the mountain. This is the best Leipheimer has ever done in any Tour. He dreams of a podium finish in Paris and we hope he gets it. Rasmussen has it nailed. Short of a disaster Rasmussen wins in Paris. Two kilometers to go, absolutely no pressure at all on the Yellow Jersey. Contador simply has no legs left. What a beautiful afternoon this is in France. Doping, no doping; we love the Tour, riders and cycling.

One kilometer to go, Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Contador as they go under the 1 km red kite. RASMUSSEN CRACKS CONTADOR AND RASMUSSEN RACES UP TOWARDS THE LINE, RASMUSSEN RACES TO THE LINE ALONE.

Here comes the Tour de France winner presumptive all alone racing to the line. This is the man with all the added pressure of years of scandals breaking over his head. He rides as if buoyed up the mountain by the scrutiny, stamping out his personal mark on the Tour, increasing his lead in the GC all the way to the finish where a 20 second time bonus awaits him and with each stroke he gains time on everyone who dares question him. Contador rides backwards and Levi drops back a touch to help guide his teammate in, the young 24-year old rider needing the old man Leipheimer to drag him up towards the mountaintop finish as Michael "the Chicken" Rasmussen, holder of the maillot jaune, holds both arms high in the air in triumph over the whole goddamn world at the highest point of the Tour here on top the Col d’Aubisque as he takes his second stage win this Tour, crossing the line, winning stage 16 a full 26 seconds ahead of Leipheimer in second, 35 seconds ahead of Contador in third.

American Levi Leipheimer needs only 56 seconds to move up over Cadel Evans from GC 4 to GC 3 and place on the podium in Paris. Those seconds may well be his on Saturday in the individual time trial of stage 19 where third place is very much up for grabs.

Congratulations to Solar Hernandez now wearing his very own King of the Mountains' Jersey. Previously Hernandez was in second with Rasmussen first in KOM points but as one can not wear two jerseys at once, Hernandez wore KOM as Rasmussen wore Yellow. After today however, KOM belongs to Solar on his own merit. Well done Solar!

Today was one hell of a stage finally settling the top spots of the Tour. Tomorrows' stage is mostly flat. A break might well succeed. See you then. GNB Sports, thanks for everything.

Levi directly after the stage (on TV): An extremely hard stage, maybe the hardest stage I've ever seen.

Riders remaining: Starting Stage 16 there were 151 riders left of 189 who started the Tour. We don't know if anyone abandoned during the stage.

Doping: Another positive test leaked to French press; French/German riders stage sit-down at start of Stage 16; VeloNews Live just reported UCI saying Cristian Moreni was the rider who tested positive after Stage 11. The positive result was a skewed testosterone/epitestosterone ratio.

Stage 17 LIVE in the U.S. on Versus: Thursday, July 26, 8:30 - 11:30 AM ET/5:30 - 8:30 AM PT.

Today's video highlights -- Great Tour coverage at VeloNews

A Feast on Wheels: Behind the scenes Tour coverage by correspondent Bonnie DeSimone of ESPN, Boston Globe and the Oregonian.

Cyclelicious -- What's Your Source of News for Le Tour?

TDF Stage 16 Results -- Top 5:
For the second time this year, a rider in the yellow jersey has won a stage. The top five of stage 16 from Orthez to the Col d'Aubisque is:
1. Michael Rasmussen (DEN) RAB - 218.5km in 6h23'21"
2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) DSC at 26"
3. Alberto Contador (ESP) DSC at 35"
4. Cadel Evans (AUS) PRL at 43"
5. Mauricio Soler (COL) BAR at 1'25"

TDF: Standings after Stage 16

1 058
RASMUSSEN, Michael DEN RAB 76:15:15.000 00:00:00.000
2 112 CONTADOR, Alberto ESP DSC 76:18:25.000 00:03:10.000
3 041 EVANS, Cadel AUS PRL 76:20:18.000 00:05:03.000
4 111 LEIPHEIMER, Levi USA DSC 76:21:14.000 00:05:59.000
5 031 SASTRE, Carlos ESP CSC 76:24:27.000 00:09:12.000
6 071 ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP EUS 76:24:54.000 00:09:39.000
7 018 VALVERDE, Alejandro ESP GCE 76:28:43.000 00:13:28.000
8 027 KIRCHEN, Kim LUX TMO 76:30:01.000 00:14:46.000
9 118 POPOVYCH, Yaroslav UKR DSC 76:31:15.000 00:16:00.000
10 219 SOLER HERNANDEZ, Juan Mauricio COL BAR 76:31:56.000 00:16:41.000

Updates (3:15 pm PT):

Team Cofidis leaves Tour

Swiss Paper drops Tour coverage; only covers Doping

FLASH UPDATE (3:25 pm PT):

Rasmussen pulled from Tour, fired from Team

Michael Rasmussen, Yellow Jersey holder and winner of today's Stage 16, has been pulled out of the Tour de France by Rabobank, his own team, and then fired from Rabobank for lying about his location during June. Rasmussen has said he was in Mexico when he reportedly was in Italy. Rasmussen is said to have been fired for violating Team rules.

With Rasmussen's departure, Alberto Contador of Discovery, age 24, is now the leader of the Tour de France. Australian Cadel Evans is in second, and American Levi Leipheimer also of Discovery is now in third.