Rui Costa attacked on the final Cat Two climb of Stage 16 of the 100th Tour de France and stayed away for 18 kilometers, crossing the finish line 42 seconds ahead of his pursuers.
The Movistar rider was part of a 26-rider breakaway which opened a gap of over twelve minutes on the peloton, which was saving its legs for tomorrow’s mountainous time trial. Two riders, Sojasun’s Jean-Marc Marino and Ag2R’s Blel Kadri, attacked on the flat 34.5 km from the end, but were caught at the base of the final climb, 21 km from the finish.
First Lotto’s Adam Hansen caught and passed the two leaders; then Rui Costa, Daniel Navarro (Cofidis,) and Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) caught Hansen. Navarro and Costa pressed on, and 17.6 km from the finish Costa attacked and got a gap, which he stretched to 38 second in five K of climbing.
Four riders—Andreas Klöden (RadioShack Leopard,) Arnold Jeannesson (Francais des Jeux,) Christophe Riblon (AG2R,) and Jêrome Coppel (Cofidis) chased hard but Costa, equally adept at climbing and time-trialing, was too far ahead and too fast.
For Costa, this was his second big stage win of the season; In June he won the Tour de Suisse for the second year running with a victory in the final stage time trial.
Action in the GC Contenders’ Group
Most of the riders contesting the General Classification decided to take the day as a second rest day, knowing that a very difficult individual time trial and several very hard days in the Alps were to follow.
The exception was third-placed Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) decided to try to gain a few seconds on race leader Chris Froome of Sky. Contador attacked halfway up the climb, creating a small peloton of GC riders: Quintana and Valverde of Movistar, Contador and Kreuziger of Saxo-Tinkoff, Froome and Porte of Sky, Belkin’s Bauke Mollema, and Katusha’s Joachim Rodriguez. Left behind wre Mollema’s team mate Laurent ten Dam and 2011 winner Cadel Evans of BMC.
Contador attacked this group repeatedly on the climb; his team mate Roman Kreuziger also took a turn. In every case Ritchie Porte was able to pull him back, until the final attack when Chris Froome himself had to chase down the Saxo rider as Porte was exhausted.
Contador tried hard to put Froome under pressure, and it was exciting to see the two-time Tour winner riding in his old, aggressive style, but Contador couldn’t get an edge.
Contador tried a few more times on the very technical descent to the finish line, and nearly ruined his own chances—the Saxo rider went off the road, falling just hard enough to scrape his arm but doing no real damage. Froome, hot on his wheel, also went off avoiding the falling Contador, but managed to stay upright.
Ritchie Porte led this pair back to the GC peloton, which had courteously slowed a little to wait for the yellow jersey. Once the riders were all together, Alejandro Valverde pushed the pace even higher, eager to gain time for team mate Nairo Quintana.
Valverde’s efforts paid off as Quintana advanced to fifth in GC. Joachim Rodriguez also passed Astana’s Jacob Fuglsang to take seventh overall, and Garmin’s Daniel martin advanced one place to tenth, replacing Omega’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
Mountainous Time Trial
The hardest days of the 100th Tour de France start with Stage 17, a 32-km individual time trial with two Category Two climbs in it. This stage perfectly suits race leader Chris Froome. It is also perfect for movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who can climb as well as anyone on the Tour. Alberto Contador should do well here, but his time-trialing of late has been disappointing.
No great shakeups in GC are expected, unless a rider has a mechanical or a really bad day. Froome should add a few more seconds to his four-minute lead over the rest.
Following the time trail are three murderous days in the mountains, all three with summit finishes. The Tour is reaching its climax; the race would seem to be Froome’s to lose, but one bad day—even one bad climb—could hand the race up to his competitors.