2014 Tour de France- Stage 16; back to work you skinny bums!
The day after the second, and final, rest day was a complete kick in the chamois for the peloton. For some it was good, for others… not so much.
Mick Rogers (STinkoff) claimed his first ever Tour stage win, after 10 attempts, and after winning two stages at the Giro in May. AND after returning to competition after a dropped doping suspension after testing positive for Spanish Beef®, I mean Clenbuterol. Ironically, the same “drug” that lead to STinkoff team leader Alberto Contador’s doping suspension in the past. Don’t get me wrong, by all accounts Rogers is a good guy, but like watching Valverde (who served a doping suspension in the past) sitting in second on GC (or Christian Vande Velde commentating on the race for NBCsn), it’s a complicated set of emotions.
Shades of grey aside, the stage was brilliantly ridden by Rogers, complete with mini duel with Thomas Voeckler in the closing kilometers of the stage- and the now famous finger wag that Rogers gave Voeckler during their heated conversation on the final descent. Rogers, along with Voeckler, had gotten into a large and powerful break early-ish in the stage that was allowed a huge gap over the GC field. With none of the riders in the break any kind of a threat to the top podium places, the race for the win was essentially decided.
Behind the battle for the stage win, the race for the podium was heating up and riders were getting battered by the accelerations of Movistar. Looking to solidify Valverde’s 2nd place position, Movistar blew things apart on the final climb of the HC Port de Bales. Most notably, Tejay van Garderen had his almost expected “bad day” and was shelled out the back of the elite GC pack. His teammates fell back to protect their leader and help him limit the losses, but the damage was being done- first by Movistar and then by FDJ. Tejay conceded 12:08 to the stage winner, and slipped to 6th on GC (9:25).
TvG was not the only GC rider to suffer though, as Romain Bardet was shelled in the end by Thibaut Pinot, who turned the tables on his adversary and railed the final descent as if his ass was on fire (or smelly cheese was on sale for half off). Bardet fought hard to limit his losses, but fell out of third to 5th (behind his teammate and internal rival Jean Christophe Peraud) and dropped out of the white jersey as well. Richie Porte, SKY’s “plan B” continued his meteoric descent out of the GC picture as well, after yet another not-so-good day. Porte dropped more than 16 minutes on the stage and is now 17th at 24:08 behind Nibali.
Nibali maintains a lead of 4:37 over Valverde, with Movistar looking ready to attack Nibali again and again. The problem for Movistar is that Nibali continues to ride as if he’s casually riding in an ex-doper’s weekend gran fondo. Even when he is finally isolated, Nibs just keeps pedaling along and watching his rivals slap each other silly. It really is becoming like a cat toying with a near-dead lizard before tossing the carcass into the grass (or into its owner’s shoe). The GC picture (below Nibali) is still unsettled with climbing stages still to come. Sure, Nibali could crash or get a late night alien abduction and anal probe, but it’s looking less and less likely each day. Behind Valverde, the battle for the final podium spot is still full throttle, especially with the one and only TT coming on Saturday. Pinot now sits in 3rd, but Peraud, Bardet, and van Garderen are not going to roll over and quietly allow a podium spot to vanish.
Tomorrow is yet another stage for the climbers, and is sure to see more GC fireworks. I expect that Nibali and Astana will be on high alert again, and I also suspect that the other GC riders will attack each other rather than attacking Nibali. He’s proven unflappable so far, and it looks like the others have resigned themselves to hoping for that alien abduction/ anal probe thing to happen. Hopefully Tejay can get his legs back underneath him and his head back on straight. The battle brewing among the French GC contenders is turning into an entertaining little soap opera. Pinot vs Bardet vs Peraud. Inter-team, inter-host nation rivalry. It’s the stuff of dreams. Especially if you dream of smoky sidewalk cafes and mimes. It’s gonna hurt out there, with three Cat 1 climbs before the finish on the HC climb up Pla d’Adet. Le yeah!