Mikel Astarloza gave his Euskaltel-Euskadi squad a badly needed win the Tour de France by attacking solo to take the win in Bourg-Saint-Maurice on Tuesday.
The Spaniard had given the peloton early on in the stage along with a clutch of climbers, chancers and no hopers that were hoping the favourites would be watching each other.
And they did, although a hectic last 40km saw the break’s advantage tumble. It also saw Jens Voigt suffer a horrific crash on the descent of the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard when his bike was thrown from under him after he hit an uneven patch of road.
Voigt was taken to hospital and at the time or writing was said to have suffered a cranial trauma.
Ahead of Voigt’s crash Astarloza was forcing the pace on the descent as the group of four riders he was in was being chased all the way down the technical descent by another group of four. Astarloza was fast, but behind him Nicholas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Perrick Fedrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom) were even faster.
It’s hard to eat in to a lead when the rider’s you’re chasing are hitting 70kph and more, but the gap was slowly coming down as Roche desperately wanted a improve on his second place in Besançon. Astarloza had help from Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto) and King of the Mountains leader Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), although the Italian’s work was done after he gained yet more points in his bid to win the polka dot jersey.
Amael Moinard (Cofidis) was the one slowing the quartet down, but the four behind were always the ones with the momentum: and Astarloza knew it. Within seconds of the two groups forming, the Spaniard took off in a perfectly timed attack. When groups merge there is always a lull as the riders look around and form a new structure.
His gap was immediately a race winning one. With just two kilometres to cover on his own he never missed a beat to take the win. He was ninth overall in 2007 and has now moved up to 11th.
Behind him there was another race going on. Knowing there is little time to loosen Alberto Contador’s grip on the race the Schleck brothers tried their luck halfway up the final climb. Astana had done much of the work today so when Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank) got to the front and lined it out everyone knew what was coming.
Andy was the first Schleck to go, Contador was straight on to him. Frank Schleck was straight on to Contador setting up a one-two tactic. Behind him Vincenzo Nibali, Anreas Kloden and Bradley Wiggins were the only other three riders to make the move.
The six immediately rode clear and put a huge gap between themselves and Lance Armstrong, Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and anyone else with ambitions on the top ten.
Frank Schleck then attacked but these six riders were sticking together like glue, there was nothing between them. Wiggins became the man to gain the most. Before the stage start he was sitting just nine seconds behind seven-time winner Lance Armstrong and for several kilometres was riding himself in second place on GC. It was another amazing piece of riding from the Brit whose performances are showing no signs of tailing off.
But then Armstrong exploded to life. The cameras dropped back to show the American sprinting up to the Contador group, riding so fast it made you wonder why he hadn’t gone with them in the first place.
Then the leaders slowed. Frank Schleck started dropping off the pace and the urgency in that elite group evaporated as Andy Schleck knew there was no point in going on alone. By the time the group went over the summit their numbers had swelled and it was obvious there would be no change in the overall today.
Only Cadel Evans had missed out. The Australian finished 3-55 minutes down on Astarloza, 2-56 minutes down on the Contador group. His Tour is effectively over.
How it happened
The racing started from the gun today. The up down, up down route profile forced a group of 21 riders clear within just a few kilometres. No sooner had that group established itself than Pellizotti went clear, taking Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) with him. Martinez was gone within minutes, as was his chances of challenging Pellizotti for the polka dot jersey.
Behind the leading pair attacks were still pinging off the front of the peloton. A chase group formed, containing Astarloza as Astana looked after the pace, and their own interests. It briefly looked like Vladimir Karpets was the danger man, the big Russian started the day in 20th spot, just 5-56 minutes down on Contador.
The first group of escapees and the second group that had formed joined forces before the top of the Col du Grand Saint Bernard, although several riders from those groups were dropping back as the 24.4km climb took it’s toll.
Pellizotti and Karpets were caught just before they hit the Col du Petit Saint Bernard after they’d taken their foot off the gas, but it didn’t take long for the attacks to start and for that group of 18 to split once again. Laurent Lefevre (BBox Bouygues Telecom) was the first to attack as small groups formed and settled in to their pace for the 22.6km climb that took the riders back in to France.
Stage 16: Martigny – Bourg-Saint-Maurice, 159km
1. Mikel Astarloza (Spa) Euskaltel
2. Sandy Casar (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 6secs
3. Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
4. Nicolas Roche (Ire) Ag2r
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence-Lotto
6. Amael Moinard (Fra) Cofidis at same time
7. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas at 11 secs
8. Stephane Goubert (Fra) Ag2r
9. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel at 59secs
10. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
11. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
12. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
13. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream
14. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana
15. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne at same time
19. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 59secs
24. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 59secs
46. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 3-55
Overall classification after stage 16
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
2. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at 1-37
3. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-46
4. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 2-17
5. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 2-26
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 2-51
7. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Francaise des Jeux at 3-09
8. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 3-25
9. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 3-52
10. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 3-59
Bradley Wiggins leads the main contenders group containing Alberto Contador in yellow
Despite being put under pressure today from Andy Schleck, Contador again looked comfortably in control
Stage 16: Astarloza snatches Alps stage win as contenders wind up the pace
Stage 15: Contador wins in Verbier as Tour explodes into life
Stage 14: Ivanov wins as Nocentini clings onto yellow
Stage 13: Haussler braves rain for victory in Colmar
Stage 12: Sorensen wins in Vittel as Cavendish goes for green
Stage 11: Cavendish takes fourth win to equal Hoban’s record
Stage 10: Cavendish spoils Bastille Day party to take third stage win
Stage nine: Third French win as contenders content with ceasefire
stage eight: Sanchez wins from break as Tour favourites cancel each other out
Stage seven: Feillu wins at Arcalis, Nocentini takes yellow, Contador leap-frogs Lance
Stage six: Millar’s brave bid denied on Barcelona hill as Hushovd triumphs
Stage five: Voeckler survives chase to win his first Tour stage
Stage four: Astana on top but Armstrong misses yellow by hundredths of a second
Live Tour de France stage four TTT coverage
Stage three: Cavendish wins second stage as Armstrong distances Contador
Stage two: Cavendish takes first sprint
Stage one: Cancellara wins opening time trial
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