At last we had some racing from the GC contenders. Way up ahead we had Edvald Boasson Hagen as the meat in a Garmin sandwich (a few years ago we could have called it a Chipotle burrito). We might talk about that later, because it was the events five minutes back that interested me.
Stage 16 was a 151k uphill drag from Saint-Paul-Trois Châteaux to the top of the Cat.2 climb of the Col de Manse, followed by a wet, technical 10km descent into the finish in Gap.This is the descent that featured in Lance Armstrong’s famous off-road excursion in 2003.
On that final climb and descent we had the first real racing of this years tour. Alberto Contador had come out of the rest day feeling, well, rested and ready to race. He put in three real attacks. Not up the pace for five seconds and look round to make sure your brother is still there attacks, but put the hammer down for a minute then see who you have got rid of, keep the pace high to make sure the guys you’ve dropped don’t get back on, then go again to try to get rid of the rest, type attacks. By the time Contador had done this three times only Cadel Evans and Samuel Sánchez were still with him. Then over the top of the climb Evans, knowing that he is a better descender than Contador attacked him to try to put some more time into everyone. This is bike racing.
Thomas Voeckler still has the Maillot Jaune although his lead over Cadel Evans is now down to 1:45. Andy Schleck, lost over a minute, and did much whining about the descent. He is not a very good descender but there is more to bike racing than riding up mountains.
Thor Hushovd, is a good descender and he can still sprint when required, even if he can’t match Cavendish and Farrar any longer. His kick for the line, ably assisted by Ryder Hesjedal was good enough to beat Boasson Hagen and he registered his third (including the Team Time Trial) stage win of the Tour. So with his week in the Maillot Jaune and his stage wins I think that he is reasonably satisfied with his tour so far.
The profile of tomorrows stage from Gap to Pinerolo looks much like today’s, so can we hope for some more racing. Contador seems up for it; Evans matched everything that Contador threw at him today, and the attacked on the descent; Thomas Voeckler will continue to fight to keep the Jersey. The only question marks are the Schlecks, who on today’s showing are not quite there either physically or more importantly mentally.