TdF stage 16: Costa makes the Gap while Contador plays mind games

Stage 16: Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, 168km

On a day when Movistarlet Rui Costa took his second career Tour stage, Chris Froome found out that he hadn’t done enough on Ventoux to make Alberto Contador think resistance is futile.

TdF 2013 stage 16 profile

A band of 25 riders broke away early on in the stage to seek their fortune, including such stage-hunters as rainbow jersey Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale), with Sky controlling the peloton behind. Except for a brief delay for the peloton at a level crossing, the stage was without incident until they reached the Col de Manse, the last climb of the day. Costa took the ascent as an opportunity to surge ahead and he never looked back, crossing the finish line in Gap 42 seconds ahead of Christophe Riblon (Ag2r). The French had a brilliant day with second, third (Arnold Jeannesson, FDJ), fourth (Jerome Coppel, Cofidis) and Argonaut Tom Dumoulin in sixth, with only Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Leopard) separating them in fifth. (Yes. You heard right. Andreas Kloden.)

But all that was overshadowed by the mind games going on behind them in the yellow jersey group. Halfway up the Col de Manse, Contador attacked, having not read the Sky script telling everyone to be happy with the spot they have and cease all hostilities this week. Richie Porte ensured that Froome was never far from Contador’s wheel. But Contador attacked again – and again! – causing Porte to drop back, leaving Froome to mark him. Cresting the Col together, it was the descent that nearly took them both out of contention.

With Contador descending at a frenzied pace, trying to shake off the maillot jaune into Gap, Froome followed in hot pursuit. Contador lost his balance on a sharp right turn, not crashing full-on but he did kiss the tarmac hard with his knee. Right behind him, Froome’s split-second reaction ensured he did nothing more than put his foot down on the ground. Yet this got Froome’s dander up and for the rest of the ride into Gap – by this time joined with Porte – was a tense one, with Contador refusing to do a turn on the front.

Video highlights

VeloVoices rider of the day

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Rui Costa savours the sweet taste of victory (Image: ASO)

For a well-executed attack and the courage of his own convictions, Rui Costa is my rider of the day. The fact that he could break so decisively from such strong breakmates makes one wonder where he might be in the standings if he hadn’t sacrificed his chances to help Alejandro Valverde on stage 13, losing over 10 minutes.

Opinion & analysis

In the post-stage interview, Chris Froome said this about the day’s events.

In my opinion it was a bit dangerous from Alberto to ride like that, it’s not good. They [Contador and teammate Roman Kreuziger] attack uphill and they attack downhill. It’s always difficult.

This quote begs two questions. In a bike race, are riders not allowed to attack both uphill and downhill, don’t they decide what their strategy is? But, more importantly for Froome, Contador might have been riding dangerously, but with the four-plus minute cushion of time Froome has on him, and the fact that it was the descent from the last climb, Bertie was never going to make a lot of time if Froome had let him go. So why did Froome put his own chances of winning in Paris in jeopardy by following Contador down the descent and marking him so closely? Was it inexperience or was he trying to prove something?

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Froome stuck to Contador’s wheel, maybe a bit too closely? (Image: ASO/B Bade)

This tells me that either Froome is still concerned that Contador might just pull something audacious out the bag and take his top step on the podium away or that he wants to prove in every stage, in every attack, that he’s the better man. Either way, with Froome’s actions and his reactions after the stage finished, it looks like Contador has gotten inside his head, which works to Bertie’s advantage, if only to keep Froome slightly nervous for the last week of this Tour. But this has also shown a chink in the Mantis’ armour – he just broadcasted to the world that he doesn’t like being attacked on a descent. They say that the Tour is won on the Alpe – maybe we’ll see the descent from the Alpe coming into play on Thursday.

Stage 16 result

1. Rui Costa (Movistar) 3:52:45

2. Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondaile) +0:42

3. Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ) same time

4. Jerome Coppel (Cofidis) s/t

5. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack-Leopard) s/t

General classification

1. Chris Froome (Sky) 65:15:36

2. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +4:14

3. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +4:25

4. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +4:28

5. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +5:47

6. Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) +5:54

7. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +7:11

8. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +7:22

9. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +8:47

10. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +9:28

Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

Polka dot jersey: Chris Froome (Sky).

White jersey: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

Team classification: RadioShack-Leopard.

Link: Official website

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