Tour De France 2012 TV Schedule: Top Riders to Watch Heading into Stage 16

Sam R. QuinnSenior Analyst IIIJuly 16, 2012

PAU, FRANCE - JULY 16:  Christian Knees of Germany and SKY Procycling rides at the front of the peloton during stage fifteen of the 2012 Tour de France from Samatan to Pau on July 16, 2012 in Pau, France.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

After a tack-marred Stage 14 and a somewhat dull Stage 15, the 2012 Tour de France is set to embark on Stage 16 on Wednesday, spanning from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon after Tuesday's day of rest.

Stage 16 is scheduled to air on Wednesday, July 18 at 6:30 a.m. EDT on NBC Sports Network.

The day of rest is certainly much-needed after the peloton encountered the Pyrenees mountains, and the riders will take a day off before embarking on two more grueling mountain climbs.

With just five stages left, the 197-kilometer Stage 16 will be one of the most important rides in deciding the winner of the 2012 Tour de France.

Here are three riders you should key in on.

Bradley Wiggins

Surely, some people are getting a bit tired of hearing about Bradley Wiggins. But, as the leader this late in the Tour, he's the focal point of most coverage.

He is still the bearer of the yellow jersey despite finishing 00:11:50 behind Stage 15 winner Pierrick Fedrigo. The upcoming mountain stages aren't Wiggins' specialty but, if he is able to hang around and not lose too much time, he'll be in prime position to win cycling's greatest race.

A time trial looms in Stage 19—one that is 53.5 kilometers from start to finish. The Briton won the first time trial of the competition, beating teammate Christopher Froome by 35 seconds for his first stage victory of the race.

There are plenty of people in the cycling community who are on the Wiggins bandwagon. One of which is Garmin-Sharp team manager Jonathan Vaughters, who knows Wiggins well.

"Brad's biggest rival in this race is Brad, in his own head, and as long as he stays calm and focused then he's going to win it. I've always felt that this Tour was going to be a runaway for Wiggins," Vaughters told

Vincenzo Nibali

Wiggins' teammate, Christopher Froome, is 00:02:05 behind him for the competition lead. Froome's mission in this year's race is to help Wiggins win, not to get himself a victory.

That means Italy's Vincenzo Nibali may be the only man who can catch Wiggins and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Nibali is currently in third place, 00:02:23 behind Wiggins for the overall lead. There aren't any other riders that are as close to the top two as Nibali is.

Stage 16 may be Nibali's last chance to make up ground on the Team Sky duo atop the standings. It's going to take a minor miracle for Nibali to make up over two minutes before the Tour is through, but we've seen crazier things happen.

Tejay van Garderen

The United States' Tejay Van Garderen has virtually no shot to win the Tour de France, as he sits in seventh place—00:06:57 behind Wiggins for the overall lead.

However, he's the current holder of the Tour's white jersey, an honor the is awarded to the competition's best rider under the age of 26. At 23 years old, he's been a bright spot for American cycling fans in a year when there really wasn't much to get excited about.

The United States cycling community is certainly in the midst of a changing of the guard, but it remains to be seen who will grab that throne after Lance Armstrong's departure.

That man could be van Garderen.