Today, they rest.
It’s most likely welcome despite conventional wisdom, which says the riders prefer not to have a day off. This has been an action-packed, fall-ridden, brutal Tour de France thus far, with plenty of thrills sure to come in the remaining competitive stages.
Tomorrow’s stage ends with a wicked climb up the western face of Tourmalet, then a flat stage, followed by a crucial time trial on Saturday. The final stage, on Sunday, is by tradition a ceremonial parade for the yellow jersey wearer, and a last chance for sprinters.
Leader Alberto Contador (Astana) is right where he needs to be to win the Tour. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) sits eight seconds back, and has vowed to attack in the mountains Thursday. A fluky slipped chain on a critical ascent on Monday lost Schleck precious time—and the yellow—to Contador, who will no doubt continue to hear criticism for forging ahead, ditching Schleck. This goes against the tradition of waiting for the yellow jersey wearer should he befall a delay unrelated to his personal performance.
Contador has a ruthless competitive streak, yet his Youtube video with an apology acknowledges regret, even if it’s simply a public relations move. Stage 17 tomorrow will show if Contador’s actions have provoked the lanky Schleck enough to power him to a big win. He has showed he can keep pace with Contador in climbs, and no one is more motivated.
In third and fourth place respectively, Samuel Sanchez and Denis Menchov will most likely vie for the final podium spot. Roughly two minutes behind, both have performed well this month, and Menchov has gotten better in the later stages.
Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) leads the green points jersey, as he has for 10 stages thus far. Alessandro Petacchi has proven to be in great form this year, and trails closely in second. In third sits Mark Cavendish.
Despite his three sprint wins this Tour, Cavendish has had a roller coaster of a race, sobbing uncontrollably after finally winning a stage, and finding himself without his leadout man Mark Renshaw, who was ejected from the race for head-butting Garmin’s Julian Dean in a sprint. Sadly, Cavendish’s rival Tyler Farrar was forced out with crash injuries, including a fractured wrist.
The polka dot climber’s jersey sits with France’s Anthony Charteau (Bbox). Impressively, five of the top six contenders for this category are French. Christophe Moreau, in second, led yesterday’s final kilometer chase down of breakaway rider Carlos Barredo. As Lance Armstrong (Radio Shack) pointed out in a post-stage interview, he wasn’t the oldest in the breakaway group, at 38, a year younger than Moreau.
Armstrong, in 25th, 33 minutes back, has had the most wretched Tour of his career, rife with falls and bad luck. Yet, he salvaged some dignity in yesterday’s stage, riding strongly in the chase group, and gamely sprinting toward the finish, which Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox) ultimately won. While it’s odd to see Armstrong struggle and suffer like the rest of ‘em, it will ease his predicted retirement after this season.
Other Americans include Radio Shack’s Levi Leipheimer, in seventh overall, and Chris Horner, in 14th. George Hincapie is in 58th, and Dave Zabriskie in 118th.