LAST OF THE MOUNTAINS. The stage provided a mountain climber's greatest challenge: a category 3, two category 1, and two "beyond categorization" climbs. Perfect for one final showdown among the contenders in the Pyrenees before the Tour de France heads into its final flat stages, the individual time trial, and the parade into Paris.
THEY SPENT THEMSELVES. And it looks like every contender threw himself onto these mountains. Each team worked hard for its leaders. Each rider drove himself heroically. On the last few kilometers of the Col de Aubisque the last of the contenders spent themselves. "It was the hardest day of the Tour de France I've ever ridden," said an exhausted Levi Leipheimer (in center of photo). It sure looked that way.
1, 4, 2, 3, 5. Result? Michael Rasmussen pedaled across the finish line first, followed by Discovery Channel teammates Levi Leipheimer (23 seconds later) and Alberto Contador, then Cadel Evans, then Carlos Sastre--who are placed 1, 4, 2, 3, and 5 respectively. Though they tried, none of these could break Rasmussen on the climb. He survived.
CHICKEN STILL IN YELLOW. The Chicken looks like the best climber, albeit a man with a cloud of suspicion of doping hanging heavy over him, a man who the Tour de France director said yesterday "should never been allowed to enter the race" because of his suspicious pre-race behavior regarding doping (reported only after the race was well underway), a man who has been dropped from his Danish national team, a man who was booed at the start, finish, and all along the way of Stage 16 (photo), and a man who may well wear the Yellow Jersey into Paris on Sunday.
CLEAN TEAMS PROTEST. Before the start of Stage 16, some French and German teams staged a protest (photo). These teams are coming together to form a coalition of teams for clean racing. They vow to make accountability comprehensive, transparent and a priority for the sake of restoring integrity to the sport. Ironically, at the conclusion of the stage, a member of the Cofidis team was ousted from the Tour for testing positive for exogenous testosterone in a random test administered at the end of Stage 11. Christian Moreni is gone...so is the entire Cofidis squad. Such is the nature of the cycling game right now. By the way, show me ANY other professional sport that is doing that!
WHAT'S AHEAD. Barring very strange happenings (and some very strange things have happened in this edition of the Tour de France), the next two stages are predictable. Both are long, flat rides northward in the direction of Paris. All the contenders will hide in the peloton and conserve energy for the last individual time trial on Saturday. Breakaways and sprinters will rule on Thursday and Friday. It will be a day of glory for a few. But the final showdown will occur on Saturday. Will Cadel Evans or Levi Leipheimer or Alberto Contador be able to dislodge the Chicken from his grasp on the Yellow Jersey?