The pack during yesterday’s 16th stage. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
WILL THE ‘KING of the Alps’ also dominate the Pyrenees, or will the man from Down Under go over the top in a last ditch move to save his Tour de France dream?
Those are among the questions riders will have to ponder during the Tour’s second rest day Tuesday, ahead of two consecutive brutal days in the Pyrenees mountains later in the week.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland, who has been dubbed “king of the Alps” in the French press after following a win atop l’Alpe d’Huez in 2011 with a win at the La Toussuire ski resort last week, must continue his efforts in the Pyrenees if he wants to catch Swede Frederik Kessiakoff in the battle for the polka-dot climbers jersey that designates the Tour’s King of the Mountains.
Australian Cadel Evans, meanwhile, must find a slope somewhere on the four first-category and three beyond-category climbs which riders tackle tomorrow and Thursday that is steep enough to launch an attack on rival Bradley Wiggins and begin gaining back his 3:19 deficit to the Briton in the yellow jersey hunt.
Evans, Rolland and the 154 other riders left in the 99th Tour de France will have plenty of time to ponder the upcoming one-two punch that is the 16th and 17th stages of the Tour — the Pyrenees mountains are visible on the horizon from Pau, the medieval city where the race pauses for its last rest day. Team Sky, the squad aiming to make Wiggins Britain’s first Tour de France champion, will spend its day off in Pau recuperating from over two weeks of nearly non-stop racing, the team’s manager said.
“A little bit of a lie-in, a couple miles out on the bike to keep the momentum going, a bite to eat, massage, media, a meal, sleep. That’s pretty much it really,” Dave Brailsford said.
Rest and recuperation will be the order of the day for other teams, as well, in a Tour that has become somewhat of a war of attrition. Crashes and illnesses have already caused more than 20 percent of the original 198 starters in Liege, Belgium, to abandon the competition.
Among the Pyrenean peaks that will haunt riders’ dreams on their day off are a chain of mountains so difficult they have been known as “the circle of death” since riders first scaled them in the Tour of 1910.
“Generally the Pyrenees are a bit harder than the Alps,” said US rider Tejay van Garderen, currently holding the white jersey for best rider 25 and under. “The roads are a bit rougher, they’re just a bit more taxing,” van Garderen said.
The four legendary Pyrenean passes riders will climb tomorrow include Peyresourde, Aubisque, Aspin and Tourmalet — a nearly 7,000 foot peak that is the highest point on this year’s Tour. The climbing doesn’t let up on Thursday, when riders face the first-category Col de Mente and the beyond-category Port de Bales, before scaling Peyragudes for the final summit finish of this year’s Tour.
Pierrick Fedrigo of France won Monday’s 15th stage by leading a two-man final breakaway, and Bradley Wiggins kept the overall lead as he stayed with his rivals in the main pack far behind. The 99-mile route from Samatan to Pau had a mostly flat layout, but teams with strong sprinters didn’t try to chase down the breakaway riders as fatigue kicked in following a fast start.
Fedrigo, of the FDJ-BigMat team, earned his fourth Tour stage victory by leaving a group of six riders with about 4 miles left, with only Garmin-Sharp member Christian Vande Velde of the United States able to stay close.
The 32-year-old Wiggins, the Team Sky leader, finished 11 minutes, 50 seconds behind Fedrigo in the main pack.
Overall, Wiggins leads second-place teammate Christopher Froome by 2:05. Vincenzo Nibali of Italy is third, 2:23 behind, and defending champion Evans remains fourth.