At the end of yesterday's rest day came the unexpected news
that team rider Fränk Schleck had returned an adverse
analytical finding from a urine test taken on
Saturday. Although not required to, Schleck
immediately withdrew from competition, leaving the team
with only six riders. But the remaining six vowed to
continued fighting for the Team classification, with Jens
Voigt able to take sixth place on the stage behind winner
Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar).
Voigt: "I thought a lot about Frank today. I hope
things get cleared up and there is an explanation for what
has happened. To be honest, he's my friend so I'm not
as objective as maybe I should be, but he has my
support. He's my friend."
On the hardest day of climbing, Voigt made the original
break of 38 riders along with teammate Yaroslav
Popovych. As the slopes went up, Voigt held on,
maintaining his own pace to stay well ahead of the yellow
jersey group of Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and help beef up the
standings for the Team GC.
Voigt: "For about ten days now we have had the goal
of taking the Team GC all the way to Paris. It's a
beautiful thing to achieve because everyone on the team
that makes it to Paris can stand on the podium with the
Champs-Élysées in the background. It's a beautiful
shot and it's something we achieve together as a team - the
riders, the mechanics, the soigneurs, the directors.
All of us. It's an important goal. So after
having a stressful rest day and a stressful morning, we had
to ask ourselves if we just wanted to give up or just keep
fighting. I'm not the type that gives up. We've
worked for so long, for two weeks now.
"For me personally this stage is a bit of my nemesis.
I crashed coming off the Col du Aubisque two times in 1998
so I hate that descent. But today I made it through
safely. And I had a tire blow out one time on the
descent of the Peyresourde and had a bad crash there,
finishing with a broken rib, so I wanted to overcome and
take charge of my own destiny today."
It was a full day of climbing in the 16th stage of the 2012
Tour de France for the 155 riders that began the first big
day in the Pyrenees, riding in warm temperatures that saw
the thermometer hover around 32ºC/90ºF. After
yesterday's rest day, the stage began in Pau and traversed
four climbs before arriving in Bagnères-de-Luchon after
196km/122mi of riding, much of it uphill. The early
climbs proved to be the battle for the polka dot jersey of
the best climber with Voeckler dedicated to sweeping up
points and taking the KOM jersey from Fredrik Kessiakoff of
Only Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) seriously
challenged Wiggins today, attacking at least two times on
the final climbs in an attempt to break the leader.
While Wiggins remained solid, former winner Cadel Evans
cracked and lost five minutes to slip away into seventh
place on the overall, more than 8-minutes behind the yellow
jersey. The shift in the top ten caused Haimar
Zubeldia to move into fifth on GC.
Chris Horner had an eventful day but was still able to
finish with Zubeldia's group and keeps his high position of
13th. Horner: "I had switched out my bike and
made it back to the group on the first climb. The guy
in front of me sat up on the uphill and his bike started
drifting back to me. He went right and I went
left. That's when I hit the edge of one of those
concrete curbs and went down 12 feet and had to crawl back
up. There was a lot of debris there to land on before
I came to a tree that stopped me. Better the tree
than continuing on down the slope. So I was able to
crawl out on my hands and knees with some help.
Dusted myself off, got a new bike and ready to go
again. Thank God it was on the uphill, not the
downhill. I didn't have the legs to go with Nibali
today. I was just in survival mode. It was the hardest day
so far; a day of pain."
More pain comes their way tomorrow as the peloton wrap up a
final day in the mountains. Stage 17 is 143.5km/89mi
from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes in the last uphill
finish of the 99th Tour de France.
Beyond the Finish Line: The Col du Tourmalet
was first included in the Tour in 1910 with rider Octave
Lapize the first to cross the summit after walking up much
of the dirt road ascent. Lapize won the stage and the
overall and referred to the Tour organizers as "assassins"
after completing the Tourmalet.