Astarloza wins one for the Basques in Tour de France stage 16
July 21, 2009 —
Basque rider Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) delivered a dramatic stage victory in an action-packed 169.5km 16th stage at the Tour de France from Switzerland to France across two giant mountain passes.
On a stage that saw Saxo Bank try to shake up the overall standings, overnight leader Alberto Contador (Astana) was able to withstand the aggression to retain the yellow jersey.
Lance Armstrong (Astana) was momentarily gapped when the Schleck brothers attacked midway up the Petit-Saint-Bernard pass with 40km to go, but the seven-time Tour champ made a dramatic surge to bridge out to the leading six and eventually finished safely in the main pack to remain second overall.
“I know I cannot follow the accelerations of the young guys, but I found a group setting a good tempo and I just decided to go for it,” Armstrong said. “I felt like the old Lance Armstrong again. I am feeling good and tomorrow is going to be a hard stage. Anything could happen.”
Saxo Bank tried to lay down the gauntlet with a series of attacks to break up the GC and give the skinny Schleck brothers a chance to move closer to the podium.
In the end, the attacks amounted to nothing. Contador, Armstrong and third-place Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) were able to withstand the attacks and there were no major shakeups on the GC.
Instead, Saxo Bank burned a lot of matches for naught. And even more, veteran warrior Jens Voigt crashed out in a horrible high-speed spill coming down the Petit-Saint-Bernard pass with about 15km to go.
Official race doctor Gerard Porte said: "He lost consciousness for three to
four minutes. He has injuries mainly to his face and when he gets to hospital
in Grenoble he will be having a full scan."
Voigt was transported by ambulance to a hospital at the finishing town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice and then later by helicopter to Grenoble. Initial reports say his life is not in danger.
Voigt is the second Saxo Bank rider to crash out this week. Kurt-Asle Arvesen also crashed out in the 10th stage trying to avoid a spectactor.
While the Schleck attacks didn’t shake up the top 10, it all but ended Cadel Evans’ hopes of finishing on the podium.
Runner-up the past two editions of the Tour, the Aussie couldn’t hold pace with the attacks and couldn’t bridge across as Armstrong and defending champ Carlos Sastre managed later in the climb.
Evans limped across the line 3:55 down and slipped to 17th overall at 7:23 back.
“I’m out of it. I’m out of the race, for a place on the podium, at least,” Evans said. “I’m fine physically, but for professional reasons, I cannot comment on the problems I am having.”
Astarloza, meanwhile, attacked with 2km to go to drop three others that led an 18-man breakaway across the two biggest climbs of this year’s Tour.
Astarloza won six seconds clear of Sandy Casar (FDJeux) and Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox), with the Contador-Armstrong group trailing in 59 seconds back.
“I am a joke as a team leader. They work for me constantly and I never win, so this is for my teammates,” Astarloza said. “This is a big win for our team. We Basque love the climbs and we always want to win a stage in the mountains.”
The 96th Tour continues Wednesday with the decisive, five-climb stage across the heart of the French Alps from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Le Grand-Bornand. The 169.5km 17th stage tackles four first-category climbs, including the Col de la Colombière with 15km to go. It’s all downhill before a slight rise to the line.
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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