The CHAINLETTER feat. Stephen Roche: Tour de France Stage 16
by Holly Blades
In this, an ongoing series throughout July, Cyclosport.org's Holly Blades and 1987 Tour de France winner Stephen Roche take a look at the previous stage of Le Tour, and what we can expect from the next one.
Stage 15: Limoux to Montpellier REVIEW
Nothing much happened! Cavendish won again and there was a group away off the front for a long time. Unfortunately it was a very good group but it just didn't get enough time, and Cavendish pulled off the sprint. The amazing thing is that everyday, since the very start, once the flag has dropped, there's been an attack. Everyday. The speed in the first hour or so has been around 47-49 kph average and that's very impressive.
I still feel a little disappointed though, it seems only Philippe Gilbert has understood that the only way of beating Cavendish is to make a mess of his train towards the end. I saw Gilbert, on the stage that the other guy from Omega Pharma Lotto won, actually sprint away from the HTC train with about 3 or 4km to go - I've been saying this for a long time. They're letting the HTC train destroy the front at 60kph, but it's not a matter of just jumping away from them. Anyone will tell you that when a train is doing 60kph, you can't just jump off and do 70kph - but what I say is, if the HTC train is doing 60kph and they're all on the limit, if someone else tries to jump to the left or right, and basically disorganises the train, they're going to have to get back together again and nearer to the finish.
Unfortunately, we saw Gilbert do this yesterday and HTC under pressure, and then for some unknown reason, Lampre came to the front, rather than leaving HTC to do the work. I have difficulty understanding some of the tactics. I think it's great to see Cavendish win and he is a great sprinter, but sometimes it does get handed to him on a plate. I don't want to devalue his win in anyway - I just think if anybody else wants to win, they have to change their tactics, not say "Cavendish is too strong, we can't beat him." They can't beat him because they don't tackle the problem properly. They're letting Cavendish and HTC dictate to them how things are going to go, rather than taking the bull by the horns, like Philippe Gilbert.
Cavendish should run away with the points jersey this year. I've said before that I probably disagree with the points system this year. For me, the points system has always meant the rider finishes in the best place everyday, but in this year's tour, there's far too many points available for the intermediate sprints - which all come before the climbs! So Cavendish takes all the points, whereas, if you went back to the old system, we had a better indication of the best all rounder and the best finishers on the Tour. This year, Cavendish will have gained many points in the intermediate sprints and not so many in the actual finishes. It would be an interesting calculation to do at the end of it all, that if it has still been going on finishes, if Cav would still have the green jersey.
This year he should be unbeatable. You have four of five guys in the breakaway, and then you have the big sprint. The spectators are getting a great deal! Before, you would have the intermediate sprints but the breakaway wouldn't even contend them because it didn't interest them, then the bunch wouldn't make the sprint because there were no more points left. Now, it's the first 15 over the line of the intermediate sprint who receive points. Every intermediate sprint is like a stage finish! You have the breakaway, but then the bunch will sprint for 4th, 5th or 6th place. People don't need to go to the finish line to see the sprints, they're getting them at the intermediate points. That's great, but I don't necessarily think it's a fair system to determine the actual best all rounder of the three weeks.
Stage 16: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap
After a much needed rest day, it's back to the grindstone as the Tour reaches the Alps. It's a steadily uphill 162km with only (!) the Category 2 climb of the Col de Manse occurring 11km and a white knuckle descent from the finish.
Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux appears to be more famous for it's 12th century cathedral than three castles, but Gap is firmly fixed on the Route Napoleon, the journey that Napoleon undertook on his return from Elba.
Once again we're on the road that saw Joseba Beloki suffer a broken femur and Lance Armstrong undertake a world famous piece of cyclocross.
Stage 16 sees the start of the Alps, but it's not a major stage. I'd put someone like Chavanel or Philippe Gilbert for the win because it drops down to the finish and the climb before is 500m. Basically, if you look at the graphics, it's going up all day but it's more of an appetiser before the big climbs of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I think the fact that it's a downhill finish, I can't see the big guys fighting for it, but there will be a little bit of action. Like I say, if it comes together, I can see Gilbert or Chavanel going for it. Chavanel might even try for an early break as he hasn't done much so far. We've seen him getting better and better since his crash, and there are very few stages left for him. I can't see him winning on the Galibier or Alpe d'Huez, he won't win the Time Trial, and he won't win on the Champs Elysee so there are very few places left for him to win. I'd put Chavanel in as one of my favourites for Stage 16.
The rest day will have been very important, two weeks into the race. Voeckler was saying that he wasn't going to ride much today, he was basically going to rest and maybe do a bit on the rollers, and save all his energy for the next few days. Even though initially, he said he wouldn't keep the jersey until the Pyrenees, he's not believing he could hold it through the Alps. You can be sure with him riding the way he's riding, you won't get rid of him that easily. They need to keep attacking him, but at the rate we're going, riding up the Champs Elysee next Sunday they won't be rid of him! Originally the favourites were saying they would attack in the Pyrenees, but then they thought the stages weren't difficult enough so they would attack in the Alps - very soon, they'll be in Paris and they won't be able to get Voeckler out of yellow.
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