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TdF’09 St.16: Astarloza Rules The St. Bernards
Race Report: As the Alps settle in, the temperature in the Tour de France is going haywire. Today’s tough mountain stage softened up the legs for tomorrow’s legbreaker, and fireworks were again on tap. Mikel Astarloza took the day’s honors, but behind the big dogs went toe to toe. Read on!

Today’s profile looks like two shark teeth, the climbs of the Col du Grand St. Bernard (HC), and the Col du Petit St. Bernard. Big dog, little dog, good dog, bad dog. And the big dog got underway almost immediately and sure enough the peloton blew to bits initially as attack after attack went up the road. Some riders lasted, some reintroduced themselves to the main bunch, some never even pretended and rolled right out the back door.

Mikel Astarloza took the emphatic win in the Alps out of the break today. Euskaltel has desperately needed a big result - here it is.

Finally after much jostling we settled in with this large group of Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Vladimir Karpets (Katusha), Jose Angel Gomez Marchante (Cervelo Test Team), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence Lotto), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Laurens ten Dam (Rabobank), Gorka Verdugo, Mikel Astarloza, Igor Anton (Euskaltel Euskadi), Sandy Casar (Franзaise des Jeux), Pierrick Fedrigo, Laurent Lefeve (Bouygues Telecom), Peter Velits (Milram), Amael Moinard (Cofidis), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel), Yury Trofimov (Bbox), Nicolas Roche, Stephane Goubert (AG2R).

Once on the Petit St. Bernard, Saxo Bank played their cards putting two riders on the front to drive the pace. Astana sat queued up on the wheels, with still 3 riders looking after Alberto Contador and his yellow jersey. Sorenson and Gustav of Saxo Bank turned themselves inside out with about 10k to the summit to set up a Schleck attack and the group showed the effects of the effort up front – shrinking to maybe 20 men.

Saxo had shrunk Astana’s presence to just Armstrong, Kloeden, and Contador. They had also shrunk the break’s advantage to barely 3 minutes. But the break was ahead and continually attacking each other, trying to snap the elastic before the plunge homeward. Near the summit, Pellizotti made his bid for maximum points. Van den Broeck went with.

And finally Schleck went on the attack, immediately splitting the peloton. Wiggens made it on board. Kloeden made it. Frank Schleck made it. Evans and Armstrong cracked like eggs, initially, with Sastre nowhere to be seen. The elder Schleck went to the front to drive the tempo, which actually dropped Andy a bit but the younger recovered and tacked on. So, the battle was joined on the slopes of the little dog.

Andy went to the front again, just driving the pace and turning the screws - basically sprinting up the hill. But Contador was right on the wheel, seemingly unfazed, bobbing along as if he had springs in his shoes.

Behind, Armstrong attacked his group and began his quest to the front quintet containing Contador and Kloeden. Kim Kirchen smelled it and tacked on, then Vande Velde and Muran (Caisse), but none of the three could hang on.

Ahead, Voigt had fallen out of the break, dropping back to help the Saxo tempo making machine, making that group 6 people. Armstrong continued plowing ahead to the danger men, dropping the dangling Vande Velde and passing the dropped Frank Schleck. The heads of state paused briefly allowing some of the nearby riders to rejoin, but they also picked up the remnants of the breakaway. And the slowing also allowed a few dribs and drabs to creep across and balloon the group a little, including Dave Zabriskie.

The break was now only 4 riders and as they reached the summit, Pellizotti took the 50 maximum points to solidify his polka dot jersey lead. Another 4 from the original break lingered behind, between the lead and the Contador group.

Re-entering France, the lead group began the dangerous descent after a few sips. Most riders looked content to go fairly easily, but sadly Jens Voigt, perhaps a bit weak from his hard tempo making on the climb, crashed horrifically and slid about 10 meters on his side down the hill. Race radio had the German as being taken to hospital with head, face, and shoulder injuries. Certainly a blow for the race to lose a rider of his quality.

Jens Voigt took a frightening spill today.

Zabriskie drove the pace on the descent for the yellow jersey group, slowly gaining on the 4 leaders and 4 chasers. In fact he did veritably all the work, sitting on the front in time trial position and bombing down the hill.

The two groups of 4 got close so Moinard decided to take his chances and he attacked his lead quartet. It only served to disturb the rhythm so Astaloza saw his opportunity and hit the gas. Right as the other 4 joined the remaining 3, too. Mikel Astaloza dug so deep to make this move stick as behind the chase couldn’t organize and he took his first tour win in fine fashion.

The racing was aggressive all day, but, in the end, there was no change atop the standings.

The yellow jersey group rolled in shortly thereafter, with Contador taking 2nd in the group, keen not to allow any gaps to form in the sprint for the line. A great ride by the Spaniard today.

The big losers today were undoubtedly Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre, left behind on the climb and unable to regain contact. The best rides were that of Contador and Wiggins, preserving their spots against the Schleck brothers onslaught.

Tomorrow will be another cracker-and-a-half, going over 5 rated climbs, so be sure to check in with Pez to get all your Tour de France info. The bomb is set, the fuse is lit, and tomorrow, it’s going to go off!

Stage 16 Results
1 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel 4.14.20
2 Sandy Casar (Fra) Franзaise des Jeux 0.06
3 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom
4 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence - Lotto
6 Amaлl Moinard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne

General Classification After 16 Stages
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 67:33:15
2 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:01:37
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin 0:01:46
4 Andreas Klцden (Ger) Astana 0:02:17
5 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:26
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:02:51
7 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Franзaise des Jeux 0:03:09
8 Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:03:25
9 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo 0:03:52
10 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin 03:59


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