Let’s hope the riders rested well yesterday, because today sees them tackle the Tour’s longest stage of 23.7.5km – that’s six hours-plus in the saddle. The route looks like the planners played mountain category bingo: two cat 4s, the cat 2 Col de Portet d’Aspet and a cat 3, all come before the hors catégorie Port de Balès, and the final swoop down to finish at Bagnères-de-Luchon.
Tuesday 22nd July: Stage 16 – Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon, high mountains, 237.5km
With such a lumpy stage, this is a day made for a breakaway – and a French-flavoured one at that. Expect to see the colours of Cofidis, Europcar, and breakaway specialists Bretagne-Seche at the front. With no summit finish, we could see those riders interested in the polka dot jersey competition show an interest (even though the next two days carry more points), especially on the final climb if they have not already been drawn out. I certainly expect to see Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) to try something here and I’m hoping that Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) has found a new interest in the jersey competition, given that he is currently level with Purito on points in the mountains classification.
The final 11.7km climb of Port de Balès averages 7.7%, but has vicious steeper sections in the middle. The descent from the summit is fast and technical, and if a small group or a brave descender can pull out a 30-40 second advantage over the top, they can usually stay away until the finish. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) has won here on two occasions and could be a good bet for today. However, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) doesn’t seem to be able to stop himself attacking on this tour and the descent will suit him. Will the Shark take his third stage win, or will he defend his already strong position? Stay tuned, folks.
Link: Official website
Header image: Balcony in Bagneres-de-Luchon