2011 Tour de France – Stage 16 Wrap-up

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Fotoreporter Sirotti

Today’s stage carried a lot of expectations and questions – would we finally see who the strongest GC contenders are? Would the Schlecks finally mount a meaningful attack? Would they decide who between them is the real leader? Would Alberto Contador falter or would he stage a coup? Could Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso once again demonstrate their strength and confidence? Is it up to Sammy Sanchez once again to take advantage of the negative racing, or is it up to Jelle Vanendert? Or, would it be the breakaway stage for a French winner? Despite the many opportunities afforded, the French have not won a single stage yet, and plenty of French teams and riders are more than willing to try again.

Here’s what we saw:

1. Lots of tired legs today, even after – or maybe because of – yesterday’s rest day. A large break was allowed to form early, and stayed out for the stage.

2. The race for white jersey for the Tour’s best young rider is starting to be defined. Sky gamely chased down a break containing FdJ’s Arnold Jeannesson in order to defend Rigoberto Uran’s hold on white.

3. Jeremy Roy’s at it again, after several brave tries already. Give this man a hearty chapeau!

4. Seeing Thor Hushovd ride so well and so aggressively while wearing the Rainbow Stripes brings tears to our eyes. Hushovd really serves his title righteously. Notably, he seems to have given up on Green aspirations and didn’t contest any of the intermediate sprints. Why bother contending if not to win, lest the leash be shortened for breakaways and potential stage wins? Numbers played to Garmin-Cervelo’s advantage once again, and to Hushovd and Ryder Hesjedal’s credit they played aggressively, and won. He’s indicated that he might be happier somewhere other than Garmin-Cervelo in 2012 – and he’s doing a hell of a job showing himself around.

5. The race for GC has seen significant re-shuffling. Contador’s confident attack – squeezing on the tight inside of a switchback – was a complete surprise on what many thought was a sleepy day for GC contenders. A bigger surprise was the slow reaction from many GC contenders. Tommy Voeckler responded first, along with Cadel Evans and Sammy Sanchez. Voeckler paid for this effort, as did both Andy and Frank Schleck, who had faltered. In response, Evans and Sanchez were more than happy to help twist the knife and push the pace towards the finale, knowing that the descent favors a smaller group than a larger one. Gonzalez de Galdeano had warned that an angry Contador is not a good adversary to have to contend with. Today we saw that indeed this is true.

6. Cadel Evans finally rides like a man who believes in himself. His late attack that gapped Spaniards Sammy Sanchez and Alberto Contador was unthinkable to many a year ago. It didn’t amount to more than the few seconds he earned, but it must have been a tremendous boost in confidence.

7. Will Team Leopard-Trek re-think or finally decide their strategy? Frank is sitting at 1:49, just seconds off Cadel Evans, while Andy is at 3:03. Is Frank the leader starting from today?

8. Early on in the stage, many riders were attempting to sneak their way into the day’s breakaway, most notably Jose Joaquin Rojas, second place in the Points Classification, and Nicolas Roche, 18th on GC but with eyes for a top-10 finish. Rojas would have liked the intermediate points, but he still managed to scoop up a few remaining points at the finish, sprinting against Philippe Gilbert.

9. Among the North Americans, Ryder Hesjedal was the man of the stage, playing a great teammate to Hushovd’s strengths and controlling the break. The North American GC hope Tom Danielson came home a minute behind the first batch of GC contenders to maintain his top ten GC standing. Overall, a great day for Garmin-Cervelo.

10. The splitting of the GC standings suggests that there are two distinct sets of contenders. In the first, we have Voeckler, Evans, and F. Schleck all within a small time spread. In the second, we have A. Schleck, S. Sanchez, Contador, Basso, and Cunego. Does this suggest that the latter group are playing to defend their top-ten standings, while the former group are fighting for podium placings or outright victory? If so, the dynamics of the Alpine stages will be decidedly different from what we have seen so far, when more than a small handful of riders still had sights on the top rungs of of the General Classification.

11. The GC shortlist may require the addition of Tommy Voeckler. Names such as Sammy Sanchez, Juan Antonio Flecha, Bjarne Riis, and even Lance Armstrong have mentioned him as a true contender, and their pick for the overall this year.  The perception of him as a non-GC threat allowed him to gain some time in Stage 9, and he’s done an admirable job holding his own against the other top contenders.  Can he manage to hang on in the Alps?  Will the 1’45” lead he holds now over Cadel Evans be enough for him in the Stage 20 TT in Grenoble be enough?  Voeckler gives himself a 0% chance of winning, a comment repeated in publications spanning multiple languages, but what is the chance that he will ride the TT in yellow?  Do you rate his chances higher?  Let us know in the comments below.

About Julius

Educated by Dutch and Belgian priests halfway around the world from the cobbled classics that he loves, Julius' aspiration is to someday earn Belgian citizenship.
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6 Responses to 2011 Tour de France – Stage 16 Wrap-up

  1. Steve in Duluth says:

    Maybe it's just me, but I can't think of an athlete more transformed both in public opinion and his own attitude than Cadel Evans has been by his World Championship win. I used to root heavily against him, and thought of him as a boring rider who was really good at finishing second. His year in the stripes last season was very impressive, though, with big wins (including the fabulous white roads victory) and a yellow jersey before injury removed him from contention. Now he has a stage win and a beautiful position; the only rider he needs to gain time on before the time trial is Tommy V. Yet that hasn't stopped him from attacking.

    If the Schlecks have legs, though, don't count them out. The "Sastre strategy" is still available with Andy less than 2 minutes back of Cadel, and if he's chased down Frank can counter FTW.

    It was great last year with two guys who could win in the final week–this year there are four or five.

  2. Erik says:

    One thing I wanted to say about Voeckler – like The Inner Ring mentioned a short time ago, some in the pro peloton call Voeckler by the nickname "Hollywood." I think that Voeckler down-playing his chances for an overall win in Paris is just an extension of the behavior that earned him this nickname.

  3. cthulhu says:

    Seriously Julius, have you even watched the stage?
    "1. Lots of tired legs today, even after – or maybe because of – yesterday’s rest day. A large break was allowed to form early, and stayed out for the stage."
    It took nearly 100 km, which is more than half the stage, until a break got away and the riders covered those in roughly 2 hours. That statement couldn't be further from the truth…the stage was faster than the fastest estimate…

    "10. The splitting of the GC standings suggests that there are two distinct sets of contenders. In the first, we have Voeckler, Evans, and F. Schleck all within a small time spread. In the second, we have A. Schleck, S. Sanchez, Contador, Basso, and Cunego. Does this suggest that the latter group are playing to defend their top-ten standings, while the former group are fighting for podium placings or outright victory?"
    If you had seen the final climb you yourself would have seen that nothing is set in stone yet in the top ten. At the moment Evans is holding all the right cards for the overall victory, but he has to survive the really high mountains, that is he good on such terrain as today he has proven on many occasion, Flêche Wallone, the World Championships in Mendriso, but let's see how he will present himself on Thursday and Friday. But he is clearly the strongest TTist of all, that is his advantage. Voeckler, who although not surprisingly to me hold onto yellow in the Pyrenees is seriously in the defense now and although he possibly could hold yellow until Saturday, it is an uphill battle, he will struggle to make the podium. Andy looked again much better than Fränk on the climb, though lost on the descent contact with the group. Contador seems to look fresher with everyday passing, but maybe it's just the others looking more battered, anyway, he has a serious shot at the podium and the win is still within reach, if he can distance Evans. As for Sanchez, Basso and Cunego, I fear, they are either missing the last bit of form or the TT ability for the podium, but still I wouldn't count them out to animate the race. Especially Cunego and Sanchez I expect to go stage hunting in the mountains.

    I really like this blog, but this wrap up really looks like somebody just skimmed through the results and maybe a quick summary.

    • Whit says:

      First of all, thanks everyone for your feedback—it’s something we’ve all come to appreciate here at Pavé. It seems we did indeed have a bit of an “off” day.

      To me, what’s been most striking about the past two weeks has been the tactical ineptitude of the Schlecks. Burying their teammates early in stages, attacking 10km from the summit of HC climbs, and momentary lapses of judgment that lead to missed moves, touched wheels, and the occasional loss of seconds on finishes like the Mur de Bretagne. To me, it’s becoming clear that certainly Andy—and maybe Frank—do not have the <em>je ne sais quoi</em> one needs to win a major stage race.

      This Tour has not been decided by any means, but it appears that Cadel Evans is in the driver’s seat, Alberto Contador is the most feared rider in the race currently, and both Andy and Frank Schleck are on their heels.

      Even worse, by complaining about the final descent of tomorrow’s stage, Andy has announced (and proven with his ride today) that he’s a weak descender—a fact that men like Evans, Contador, and Samuel Sanchez will be certain to exploit over the coming three days. If I were Kim Anderson, I’d put all my eggs in Frank’s basket and give Andy a blank check with which to attack. If they’re lucky, they’ll catch Evans on a bad day (he’s always had at least one) and maybe put Contador in a more defensive situation.

      And once again it must be noted that Thomas Voeckler isn’t going anywhere. He was not able to follow today’s Evans-Contador-Sanchez move, but he was able to stay with the rest of the race’s major contenders.

      This race ain’t over by a long shot.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Joe says:

        Totally Agree. While the Schleck bros seem to possess endless amounts of "ability" when it comes to riding a bicycle, but they are certainly missing something when it comes to grand tours. I often find it frustrating to watch Andy and Frank race (maybe because I hold them in too high esteem).

        Voeckler, in my eye, is playing to the crowd with his "0%" comments. Obviously, his chances are above zero, how high… I'd put it at 40% (as of today). I think this race will be largely decided on stage 18. With 3 HC climbs, and finishing the day atop Galibier, (which is crazy long and over 8,600 ft of elevation), this is where we will separate the men from the boys. If Voeckler has even a single second advantage at this point, the race is his, they'll never shake him on Alpe d'huez, and never beat the Frenchy in the TT.

        Contador, the giant is awake, and I'd expect him to reclaim seconds every day, from here on out. He's still very much in this race, and don't see how he'd finish off the podium.

        Evans, all he has to do, and hang onto Alberto's wheel, together the two will bury the schlecks, and everyone else in their wake.

        Sanchez, wow… he's sneaky, couple seconds here, couple seconds they're and all of a sudden he's a contender again. (best placing = 3rd)

        Basso, stick a fork in this guy, he's done.

  4. barry says:

    if you think contador is on the "second tier" of contenders and is fighting to maintain a top ten or five or whatever finish, you are obviously not paying attention. his dig today on that inside corner was meant to make the schlecks lose sleep tonight. i think it probably worked.

    i know everyone has an off day now and then, and this post is on "off day" for what is usually a pretty dead on blog, in my opinion.

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