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Stage 16 Preview: The Showdown Must Go On

Five climbs, 218 km, two countries, and probably only one or two survivors. Anyone feel like talking about Cycling? First, the statistics:

  • Port de Larrau: 14.7km @ 8.1% (hors catégorie)
  • Alto Laza: 3.5km @ 6.8% (3rd Cat)
  • Col de la Pierre-Saint-Martin: 14.2km @ 5.2% (1st Cat)
  • Col de Marie-Blanque: 9.3km @ 7.4% (1st Cat)
  • Col d'Aubisque: 16.7km @ 7% (hors catégorie)

From the route we can see about 65km of slow-moving terror, then the Port de Larrau and Col de Pete St. Martin to tire out the legs (the Alto Laza is a relative speed bump). With a long descent following, I doubt anything will happen in this stretch besides forming the lead and autobus groups, plus the usual breakaway. But all bets are off once they hit the Marie-Blanque: the subsequent descent is not long enough to nullify all attacks, and the flat section before the Col d'Aubisque could be a place to apply more pressure. And if riders play it safe over the Marie-Blanque, well, it's all-out war on the Aubisque, one way or another.

There are only a few storylines left in this race, at least the on-road portion:

  • How much does Contador have left in those legs? With Astana out, Contador is the only rider openly spoiling for a fight with the Chicken.
  • Evans and Sastre would love to join in, if they can, and Leipheimer is anxious to throw Plan B into action, as his dream of a podium draws nearer and nearer. If Contador and Rasmussen resume their heavyweight fight off the front, expect Levi to attack an isolated and tiring Evans at some point. He has to.
  • Does the Chicken have either the legs or the team support to hold on for another day or two? He'll need both to maintain or extend his lead into safe territory before the last time trial. Three more Chrono-men (Vino, Klodi, Kash) are gone, but if things held, Evans and Contador were the only real threats anyway. Today's scandal might indirectly hurt Rabobank's morale, if there's internal suspicion about the Chicken. From the looks of yesterday's events, it won't take much to break the maillot jaune, rest day or no.
  • Finally, can Soler get away and snag the KOM lead? Rasmussen has to race for yellow, so his only hope for KOM points would be by winning the stage. If he does, that win could earn him both jerseys. And if he doesn't, and Soler goes off early, Rasmussen could surrender both jerseys tomorrow. At this point, one would think the Chicken isn't stupid enough to care about the KOM title. Second place in Paris is worth 200,000€, nine times more ca$h than winner of the spotty jersey(25,000€). Even fifth place on GC is worth 50,000€. So the spots are there for Soler -- or Popovych -- to take.