Tour de France: Stage 16 review

Stage 16: Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon, 197km

Today was a tale of two tussles. The first was a battle of old-style pugilism as Europcar’s talisman and France’s chou chou, Thomas Voeckler, soloed to his second stage victory in Bagneres-de-Luchon – setting of his 2010 stage win – to take the Tour’s queen stage. The former French champion escaped from compatriot Brice Feillu (Saur-Sojasun), in the final 5km of the Col du Peyresourde, and managed to resist the late attempt of Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), who finished runner-up 1:40 down. Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – older brother of Giro stage winner Jon – beat Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) in the sprint for third after the Kazakh slipped from his left pedal on the run-in to the line.

Voeckler, Feillu, Sorensen, Izagirre and Vinokourov had been part of a 38-man breakaway which, having escaped in the opening 20km of the stage, led over the Col d’Aubisque before being distanced by the French duo on the iconic Col du Tourmalet. Voeckler took maximum points on all of the climbs to overtake Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) and secure the polka dot jersey – the cherries on the white icing – by four points. Voeckler was also adjudged the day’s most combative rider.

Our second fight involved the GC heavyweights, if you can refer to guys weighing under 75kg as such. Would anyone be put to the sword on the ‘Circle of Death’?  [What is this, WWF? – Ed.] Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) tried, attacking not once, not twice, but three times. The only riders able to stay with these attacks were race leader Bradley Wiggins and his wing man Chris Froome (Sky). However, Nibali did achieve his objective of putting further distance into his rivals. Specifically, defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) lost almost five minutes on the yellow jersey group on the Cols d’Aspin and Peyresourde.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Vincenzo Nibali said he would try to consolidate or improve on his overall third position. He’s a man of his word and one would expect nothing less from a Sicilian, particularly one nicknamed the ‘Shark of Messina’. Whenever an opportunity has arisen – and let’s be honest there haven’t been many of those – he’s sought to exploit it. Sandwiched between two better time-triallers, he needed to put blue sky between himself and his nearest rivals. He’s done that today and may well try again tomorrow. Sky have the measure of him though, so he’s probably going to have to settle for third.

Here’s what he had to say before the stage start:

My ambitions today are exactly the same as they were at the start. However I am realistic and even though I’ll try I need a monumental feat to win the yellow jersey. I’ll be looking at who’s in front of me and behind me over the next couple of days. My advantage over Evans isn’t that reassuring, and I think it will come down to how much is left in the tank rather than ability in the time trial. I’m calm, I feel good and I’m motivated to do well: all the conditions are right to wrap up this Tour with a great result.

And this is his team’s response to today’s efforts:


I know it was hot today but please, please dress with decorum on the side of the roads. I’ll be drafting a letter later today pleading for Pat McQuaid and the UCI to issue a ban on mankinis. It’s really not the sort of spectacle we want to see bobbing along on the side of the road.

Tactical analysis

Pretty much as we thought, the only jersey to change hands today was the King of the Mountains. For a man who three weeks ago was contemplating missing this year’s Tour with a knee injury, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) has had a Lazarus-like resurrection and set his sights firmly on a place on the podium in Paris, sporting the red polka dot jersey. It’ll be interesting to see how spotty he goes tomorrow and whether he can sustain the challenge where mega-mountain points are also on offer with five more climbs and a mountain-top finish. His closest challengers will be equally tired from today’s exertions but equally determined. They are the recently unseated Fredrik Kessiakoff (103 points) and third-placed Chris Anker Sorensen (77).

As a consequence of Cadel Evans dropping to seventh place on general classification, three riders move up a place: Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) climbs to fourth, Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan) is fifth and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) is sixth.

None of the other jerseys were under threat and remain on the shoulders of Peter Sagan (points), Tejay Van Garderen (young rider) and overall leader Bradley Wiggins (race leader).

There may be a flurry of further attacks tomorrow and a big breakaway by teams desperate to salvage something from this Tour, but I’m not expecting any big changes. The stage will merely resolve the remaining jerseys, nothing more.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website

My fantasy, my nightmare

The unzipped jersey of Panache

I smiled as I clicked the final submit button on my fantasy team, confident that my picks were solid and that I would continue my winning ways. After all, I had been in the top 20 of Giro fantasy and had dominated last’s year’s @Velobeats Tour de France league, placing second overall! I was also pleased to have the ‘unzipped’ jersey icon that I designed represent my band of select warriors (and thank you all who are using it as your icon on Velogames). This was my team dressed in custom pixels. Panache was in the winning break! Or so I thought.

But fantasy cycling, like actual cycling, is a seductive mistress that caresses you one moment and stabs you in the heart the next. It appears she has turned on me with blade in hand at this year’s Tour. A dark cave of suffering and misery has replaced my time in the Velogames limelight. I feel like certain big-budget super teams who look great on paper but have no results. Thus far I have had four riders abandon. With a week to go, I sit 116th out of 128 competitors. The lanterne rouge is within my grasp.

Here is my fantasy team, thoughts on each rider, and their current fantasy status. Warning: this is not pretty.

Cadel Evans

Panache had faith in the defending champion (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

I watched Cadel at the Dauphine and thought that he was on a perfect trajectory to peak for the Tour. He would limit his losses in the TTs to Bradley Wiggins and he would attack in the mountains to gain time. Upgrades to the BMC roster would fortify the Australian champion in the mountains as well.  Cadel, I thought, had learned the winning formula and showed that he could handle the pressure.

Meanwhile, Bradley would falter because he peaked too soon. The weight of the yellow jersey would be too much for him. Sky would be divided between Wiggo and Cav … blah, blah, blah…

Well, I was dead wrong. Brad is on fire and Sky have a focused TT/mountain machine that is grinding souls into oblivion and scoring massive points for others. Wiggins is handling the pressure like he’s on a group ride with a bunch of one-legged nuns. Cadel appears to be the second strongest rider … on his team (next to Tejay Van Garderen – blink and you’ll miss him as he rides past …). Riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen Van Den Broeck continue to finish in front of him. It also appears that luck has turned a blind eye on Cadel as illustrated by Puncture-gate!

Fantasy status: Only 778 points earned up to stage 14. He has earned me no stage win points. Cadel will be fighting just to make the podium, which may limit any possible bonus fantasy points.

Peter Sagan

Sagan has been the star of the TdF – and Panache’s Fantasy Team … (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

If you didn’t pick the Velvet Samurai™ then you haven’t been watching cycling this season. Multiple wins in California and Switzerland … He’s The Hulk, The Running Man (or Forrest Gump), and a descending demon, all rolled into one. As expected, he is dominating on all types of terrain and is in the clear lead for the green jersey. He has a bright future that could include an Olympic gold medal in a few weeks and/or the rainbow jersey – if not this season, surely in the next few years. You all know why I picked him, because you picked him too. Peter might be the only factor preventing me from becoming the lanterne rouge in the Velobeats league.

Fantasy status: a whopping 1,143 points earned up to stage 14. He has raked in stage win points, green jersey points and will give me bonus points for winning the green jersey.

Samuel Sanchez

Panache chose Samu over FroomeDog. #Unluck (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Last year Samu wore the polka dots on the final podium and this year he wanted to do even better. With Alberto Contador on the sidelines, I believed that Sanchez would be Spain’s shining carrot for the Tour. Surely he would take a stage win and be top ten on mountain-top finishes! He was to be the X factor of the GC contenders. I was torn between selecting Sanchez or Chris Froome. I chose the defending Olympic road race champion – who proceeded to crash during stage eight, fracturing his right hand and injuring his left shoulder, while FroomeDog has been in perfect form. In my head, I see a Holy Grail Knight shaking his head: “You have chosen poorly.”

Fantasy status: a measly 60 points earned until he was forced to abandon.

David Moncoutie

Other than some upstart named Rein Taaramae, David Moncoutie is the Cofidis team. Known for being aggressive in the mountains and always trying to get in the break, David seemed like a sure thing for a decent price. The 2012 Tour would also likely be his last, so naturally he would want to put on a show! This is France’s greatest sporting spectacle and Cofidis would need David to get camera time and go for stage wins to satisfy sponsors and justify their selection.

But none of this was to be. Alas, Moncoutie crashed on stage 12, suffering heavy contusions to his left side and forcing him, for the first time, to abandon a Grand Tour. Cofidis now find themselves with no star while they deal with the doping-related arrest of Remy Di Gregorio and a struggling Taaramae.

Fantasy status: a dismal 20 points earned until Moncoutie was forced to abandon.

Marcel Kittel

This Argonaut was felled by a dodgy tummy … (image by Panache/ccarls1)

I’ve had my eye on Kittel since last year’s blazing performance at the Tour of Poland. We all know that this kid is fast. I selected him because he was young, healthy and had a team dedicated to getting him to the line first on the flatter sprint stages. Winning the sprints was his sole purpose and if he didn’t win, he would at least be in the top five and earn me some points.

I thought Marcel would have the stomach for victory in his Tour debut but he did not, quite literally. A stomach bug prevented Kittel from eating properly and as the Tour rolled on, he could not stay nourished. He abandoned after stage five.

Fantasy status: one point earned … that’s right.. only one freakin’ point until he was forced to abandon. All I have to say about that is … poop.

Tony Martin

Punctures, falls, abandonment for Tony Martin (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

I thought Tony Martin would be my ringer. He is the man who could have taken it to Fabian Cancellara in the prologue and put me in the lead on the first day of the Tour! But he could also be decent when the road goes up. Ha ha, I laughed, rubbing my hands together, take that other Velobeat players! Pride comes before a fall, however, and Lady Luck had different plans as she tightened her chastity belt and would not let Martin near her. Everything went wrong for Martin from the start. Before breaking his hand in the first stage, he punctured in the opening prologue, dashing his hope of claiming the yellow jersey [He was never going to beat Fabs, don’t kid yourself, Panache – Kitty.] One puncture is bad enough but then it happened again in the stage nine time trial! Discouraged and needing to mend to keep his Olympic TT hopes alive, Martin abandoned at the start of stage ten.

Fantasy status: a dismal 30 points earned until he was forced to abandon.

Johnny Hoogerland

Anybody seen Johnny? Panache hasn’t … (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

Before the beginning of the Tour, Johnny Hoogerland publicly stated that his goal was to get the win the King of the Mountains jersey. After witnessing his panache last year, I had to believe he was sincere. Surely the horrendous crash from last year would inspire him to greatness!

Has anyone seen Johnny Hoogerland? Anybody … (sound of crickets chirping, tumbleweed rolling down the street). Johnny, your lack of activity has thrown my fantasy team into a barbed wire fence! You know how bad that hurts! Help a brother out!

Fantasy status: zero points. Goose egg. Who would have guessed that Johnny Hoogerland would have no fantasy points? None??? The Mayans might have been correct … the world might end this year.

Marcus Burghardt

I didn’t expect much from Marcus because I know his role is to protect Cadel, carry bottles, and be a good domestique.  He was my last pick because I had four extra Euros to spend and that is how much he costs. I am shocked he has earned me more points than Marcel Kittel and Johnny Hoogerland combined (I can’t believe that) … So, Marcus, chapeau!

Fantasy Status: 23 points.

Jeremy Roy

Mr Roy came into the Tour in some of the best form of his life. This was evident in the French national TT and road races where he nearly won both. Last year he was awarded the most combative rider in the entire Tour! He was in every break trying to make something happen! This year, he helped set up Thibaut Pinot’s victory in stage eight by getting in the break and turning the screws. That is all we have seen of him. Who would have thought that Roy would be playing third wheel to Pinot and Federigo?

Jeremy, where are you?  Are you hiding out with Hoogerland?

Fantasy Status: 25 points.

One thing I have learned from this fantasy-turned-nightmare team is, if I can’t pick a winning team from all the cyclists in the peloton, what hell must a team’s management go through trying to build a winning team for the Tour? Unless, of course, you’re David Brailsford…

COMPETITION: Win a Tour de France poster

Bruce Doscher produces fantastic posters for every stage of the Tour de France and he’s generously agreed to give one VeloVoices reader the poster of their choice. Hand-signed front and back, the poster is printed on environmentally friendly, pH neutral, high-quality archival stock and carefully wrapped in tissue paper, put in a sturdy postal tube and sent to the winner via Air Mail.

To be in with a chance to win, just answer this question: which rider holds the record for days in yellow without winning a Tour? Answers on an email to Competition is open until 11.59pm BST, Monday 23rd July and the winner will be drawn from correct entries on Tuesday 24th July. Go to Bruce’s website to see more details on his posters! And look out for our interview with Bruce later this week!

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