There was no question that those chasing Yellow Jersey Bradley Wiggins of Sky Procycling had to attack today. With some of the hardest climbs of the Pyrènèes on the parcours of Stage Sixteen, the climbers would have several opportunities to try to rid themselves of the allegedly lesser climber. 197km (123mi) after leaving Pau, we'd know the answer in Bagnères-de-Luchon.
First, an early breakaway numbering 38 attacked. With a quarter of the field represented, and nobody a race favorite, Sky let them go. The breakaway ate up all points at the intermediate sprint, meaning the top of the Green Jersey standings remained the same with Peter Sagan keeping his commanding lead. It also meant that the leader of the climbing competition would come from this group as the top three riders in that race were also represented.
Europcar's Thomas Voeckler was the first rider to cross the summit of all the climbs today, the last one with over a minute lead on Saxo Bank's Chris Anker Sorensen, and he dropped down the Peyresourde like a stone to take the stage victory and re-claim the Polk-Dot climber's jersey.
Behind, Sky controlled the race, hoping to make the day as boring as possible for their race leader. On the penultimate climb, the 12.4km of the Col D'Aspin, Ivan Basso went to the front for Vincenzo Nibali, trying to shed Sky's helpers. A few were dropped, but Wiggins still had protection.
Onto the final climb, the 9.5km Col de Peyresourde, Basso again went to the front, this time aided by teammates of fifth-placed Jurgen Van Den Broeck of Lotto. This shed the remainder of Sky, save second-placed Chris Froome. Then Nibali attacked and got a gap. Froome slowly churned to bring him back, but the effort dropped everyone but Wiggins. Nibali went again. Again the Sky duo brought him back. And, again, in sight of the summit, Nibali went. This time, it was Wiggins himself who had to lead the chase. The trio summited together and rode as a threesome into Luchon where Nibali took the sprint for eleventh place.
While he didn't make up any time on first- or second-place, Nibali's efforts, solidified his grasp on third, as former fourth-placed Cadel Evans struggled and dropped to seventh while Van Den Broeck moved up to fourth. "It was a really hard stage," explained Nibali after failing to shake his rivals. "Both for the climbs and the hot weather. I tried to attack with three accelerations to test Wiggins and Froome; then the descent was not suited for an attack, so I decided to save energy. Ivan Basso was great super-domestique, simply fantastic, as well as the rest of my teammates. Tomorrow’s stage it will be hard like today but every day that passes, it becomes more difficult attack Froome and Wiggins. It will be also the last opportunity to find a stage victory: the cherry on the cake of a great Tour."
One last chance. Tomorrow's stage, the seventeenth of twenty-one, will take the riders from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes. It's the last mountain stage and the final uphill finish of the race. At only 143.5km, it is short, but it tackles the first category Col de Menté after only 17km, and it finishes with to long climbs coming one after another. 11.7km Port de Balès is fairly hard at 7.7%, and to have it followed by a long descent going straight into the 10km Col de Peyresourde and short, steep blip into Peyragudes Nibali has an excellent opportunity to shake the Sky duo ahead of him and play his hand for Yellow.
Stage 16 Results—Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon 197km
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 5:35:02
2. Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff 0:01:40
3. Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:03:22
4. Alexandr Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team same time
5. Brice Feillu (Fra) Saur - Sojasun 0:03:58
Stage 16 Liquigas-Cannondale
11. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) 0:07:09
44. Ivan Basso (Ita) 0:14:07
48. Dominik Nerz (Ger) 0:15:17
73. Peter Sagan (Svk) 0:22:15
80. Daniel Oss (Ita) 0:27:33
88. Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) same time
90. Federico Canuti (Ita) same time
106. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) same time
124. Kristijan Koren (Slo) 0:33:04
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 74:15:32
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:46
5. Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:07:13
30. Ivan Basso (Ita) 0:52:11
36. Peter Sagan (Svk) 1:02:38
53. Dominik Nerz (Ger) 1:27:05
65. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) 1:36:42
94. Federico Canuti (Ita) 2:10:45
98. Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) 2:14:02
110. Kristijan Koren (Slo) 2:20:47
116. Daniel Oss (Ita) 2:26:48
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 356pts
2. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 254
3. Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge 203
4. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 130
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 127