This was a stage for an aggressor, a climber and a descending specialist; that‚Äôs just what Mikel Astarloza is. He has finished in the top 10 of the Tour de France before but in Bourg-Saint-Maurice he earned a stage victory in sensational style. He was part of an escape group that formed between the two major climbs of the second day of racing in the Alps. While the Euskaltel captain was the main benefactor of an interesting days, the runner-up from the last two editions of the Tour, Cadel Evans, was the main casualty in terms of racing for general classification: the Australian finished 46th in the stage, 3‚Äô55‚ÄĚ behind the Spanish winner. Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong continued to lead Astana‚Äôs parade in the 96th edition and they hold down first and second place overall.
The Progress Report
From Switzerland to Italy and then back to France: the 16th stage of the 2009 Tour de France ‚Äď starting in Matigny and concluding in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, via the Val d‚ÄôAoste ‚Äď was a 159km journey that began at 1.03pm. There were 162 riders at the sign on. The itinerary included two high passes: the ‚Äėhors category‚Äô col du Grand-Saint-Bernard (riding to 2,473m at the 40.5km mark) and the col du Petit-Saint-Bernard (2,188m high at the 128km mark). The intermediate sprints were in Sarre (78.5km) and Pre-Saint-Didier (106km).
Establishing An Escape On First Climb
Bouet (AGR) attacked 200m into the stage. He was joined by Roulston (CTT) and then another 19 riders bridged the gap. By the 10km mark, the 21 escapees ‚ÄďRoulston, Gomez Marchante and Haussler (CTT), Van Den Broeck (SIL), Ten Dam (RAB), Martinez and Verdugo (EUS), Pellizotti and Kuschynski (LIQ), Moncoutie (COF), Fedrigo and Rolland (BBO), Gutierrez (GCE), Karpets (KAT), Bouet (AGR), Velits (MRM), Geschke (SKS), Cancellara (SAX) and Maaskant (GRM) ‚Äď had a lead of 1‚Äô30‚ÄĚ. Astana led the peloton to the first climb two minutes behind the escapees. After 2km of climbing Pellizotti attacked the front group and was joined by Karpets (the best placed on GC of the escape, 20th overall at 5‚Äô56‚ÄĚ) and Martinez.
Martinez didn‚Äôt last long in the lead and was caught by 15 others. Haussler, Roulston and Geschke dropped out of the escape early on the climb. With 10km to climb, the peloton was 3‚Äô15‚ÄĚ behind the King of the Mountains and Karpets.
There were other attacks including a group of 15 but they could not escape the Astana-led peloton for long. At the top, Pellizotti won 20 points (and 5,000 euros for the ‚ÄėSouvenir Henri Desgrange, for first over the highest pass of the 2009 race) and Karpets was still with the Italian. They were 1‚Äô15‚ÄĚ ahead of a group of 24 that included: Fedrigo, Casar, Anton, Voigt, Astarloza, Velits, Ten Dam and Goubert. The yellow jersey‚Äôs peloton was at the summit 2‚Äô05‚ÄĚ behind.
Evans Loses Time On Final Climb
On the descent, Karpets and Pellizotti pushed their advantage up to 2‚Äô00‚ÄĚ on the 16 chasers and 5‚Äô10‚ÄĚ on the peloton (at 78.5km). The two leaders were caught by the 16 with 60km to go in the stage. The peloton was 4‚Äô10‚ÄĚ behind. At the base of the peloton was 4‚Äô20‚ÄĚ. Lefevre was the first to attack the lead group but Van Den Broeck was the most aggressive of the lead groupo. The Belgian surged regularly and thinned the lead group with 10km to go but all but Verdugo remained up front. Saxo Bank put two riders on the front of the yellow jersey‚Äôs group with 18km to climb.
With 6km to climb, Van Den Broeck surged and only Pellizotti responded. By then the yellow jersey‚Äôs peloton was down to 31. Andy Schleck mounted an attack (with about 7km to climb) that only Contador, Wiggins, Nibali, Kloden and Frank Schleck could follow. This split the yellow jersey‚Äôs group and the biggest casualties were Evans and Sastre. Armstrong was dropped momentarily but then he surged forward until he was back with the yellow jersey about 2km from the summit.
At the top, the yellow jersey‚Äôs group was 2‚Äô15‚ÄĚ behind the stage leaders. Evans and Sastre crested the second climb, 4‚Äô00‚ÄĚ behind. By then the yellow jersey‚Äôs group was about 16 riders strong. Voigt crashed heavily early on the descent.
Astarloza Takes His First Victory
On the descent, four worked together at the front: Pellizotti, Astarloza, Van Den Broeck had a lead of 15‚ÄĚ on Roche, Goubert, Casar and Fedrigo. Moinard was the first to attack the lead group with 2,800m to go. He was reeled in by the three others but then Astarloza launched a sensational surge down the left side of the road and was never seen again. He claimed his first victory in the Tour de France, six second ahead of Sandy Casar who picked up his sixth second place in a stage of the race.
Pellizotti increased his lead in the climbing classification and was voted the most aggressive rider in the stage. Contador finished 10th in the stage, 59‚ÄĚ behind the winner and he will wear the yellow jersey in stage 17.
The King of the Mountains after 15 stages was on the attack again. Franco Pellizotti gained maximum points over the two Saint-Bernard climbs ‚Äď the big one at the start of the stage and the ‚Äėpetit‚Äô one near the end. He also found himself in a stage winning positition but he‚Äôs not concerned about losing to Astarloza in Bourg-Saint-Maurice.
‚ÄúFrom the moment the others rejoined us, we worked together to the finish. And in the end Astarloza won. Van Den Broeck was very strong. I had expended a lot of energy early on. He demonstrated two days ago that he‚Äôs in excellent shape and he deserves something from this Tour.
‚ÄúI‚Äôll only be certain that I‚Äôve won the polka-dot jersey when I get to Paris. I knew that today was the easiest stage for me to get into the break with a climb at the start. We attacked, it cost me a lot of energy but I‚Äôve now got a big haul of points.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt lose the stage because I spent energy chasing the climbing points. With two kilometers to go, Astarloza darted away at the right moment and he is clearly in excellent shape too‚Ä¶ he‚Äôs also looking at the GC. He‚Äôs very strong and he didn‚Äôt come down in the last shower of rain. Riders like that know how to seize the right moment.‚ÄĚ
The Saxo Bank team set a rapid tempo on the final ascent of stage 16 but the rider in the white jersey admits that there was little that could be done to change the general classification. Andy Schleck‚Äôs concerns at the finish were less about the result and more about the conditionof a comrade who crashed‚Ä¶
‚ÄúContador is strong but we lost in other ways today because Jens Voigt has crashed and is in hospital now. For the rest of the Tour, we‚Äôll see what happens tomorrow. At the end of the day not a lot has been achieved. I‚Äôm not happy with how the stage went, I can say that much. We tried and I‚Äôm sorry but I‚Äôm a bit tense right now because I‚Äôm worried about Jens‚Ä¶ I just hope that he‚Äôs okay. I don‚Äôt really care too much about anything else right now.
‚ÄúI only knew about Jens Voigt when I came into the finish. I was told he had been in a big crash.
‚ÄúThe team was good today but we knew that there was nothing that we could do today.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs been six years since the Euskaltel-Euskadi team won a stage of the Tour but Mikel Astarloza has been its leader since joining the squad in 2007. He finished ninth overall in 2007 and in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, he surged ahead of three escape rivals with an attack two and a half kilometers from the finish to take a fine victory.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm super happy right now. I had the strength to finally win a stage of the Tour de France. I‚Äôve only got a small resume of results and there‚Äôs not a lot of victories on it but this goes right to the top of the list. I‚Äôm not finished with yet because I still feel like I‚Äôve got a bit of strength in my legs and, of course, we all benefited from the rest day yesterday. But I‚Äôm always prepared to see what I can do.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs never easy to attack a small group of riders, especially after such a rapid descent and against others who were also very strong. I had a look around to see how the others responded to Moinard‚Äôs attack and I seized the chance and went as hard as I could. I was in a good position for the win and this is a day that I‚Äôll remember for a long time.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt want to risk it and have our group come into the finish for a sprint because that‚Äôs not my strength so I wanted to give it all a few kilometers before the line.‚ÄĚ
There have been many riders who have suffered set backs in the race for general classification honors but there is no doubt about who the happiest man in Bourg-Saint-Maurice is after stage 16. The winner of the day put almost a minute into the yellow jersey on the day he claimed his first victory in the Tour de France. The top 10 is:
1. Mikel Astarloza (ESP) EUS - 159km in 4h14’20" (37.509km/h)
2. Sandy Casar (FRA) FDJ at 6"
3. Pierrick Fedrigo (FRA) BBO at 6"
4. Nicolas Roche (IRL) ALM at 6"
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (BEL) SIL at 6"
6. Amael Moinard (FRA) COF at 6"
7. Franco Pellizotti (ITA) LIQ at 11"
8. Stephane Goubert (FRA) ALM at 11"
9. Christophe Moreau (FRA) AGR at 59"
10. Alberto Contador (ESP) AST at 59"
This is the sixth time that Casar has finished second in a stage of the Tour de France.
Astarloza has earned his first stage win in the Tour de France. Bravo to the Euskaltel rider who held off the chasers to win by about eight seconds.
Astarloza is going to win the stage. The chasers have caught Pellizotti, Van Den Broeck and Moinard.
Astarloza has opened up a good gap on his rivals. He has finished in the top 10 of the Tour de France but never won a stage before. He’s inside the final kilometer and looking strong!