Tour de France champion Alberto Contador relaunched his yellow jersey bid with an unexpected attack on the 16th stage of the race, won by Norwegian Thor Hushovd on Tuesday. Hushovd, of Garmin-Cervelo, out sprinted Norwegian compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen to take his second victory of the race after a rainy 162.5km ride over undulating terrain from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.
Frenchman Thomas Voeckler retained the race leader’s yellow jersey but the Europcar leader, like the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank, lost time to both Contador and Australian Cadel Evans in a thrilling finale. Former two-time runner-up Evans finished 4:23 behind Hushovd to move one place up to second overall at 1:45 behind Voeckler. Contador and fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez crossed the line three seconds later at 4:26, with Voeckler and Frank Schleck in a 14-man group which battled to finish 18-seconds later.
Andy Schleck, the runner-up in 2009 and 2010, struggled to follow wheels on the tricky 11km descent to the finish where he finished 5:32 adrift. In the process Andy Schleck lost 1:09 to Evans and 1:06 to Contador. Frank Schleck dropped to third at 1:49 with younger brother Andy at 3:03. Sanchez, another beneficiary of Contador’s move, is fifth overall at 3:26 with Contador sixth at 3:42. Voeckler admitted Contador’s move, on a stage that had been labelled a ‘transition’ before three consecutive days in the Alps, had stunned everybody.
“It really surprised me he (Contador) attacked like that,” said the Frenchman. “Everyone was expecting him to wait for the big mountain passes in the Alps but he went for it on the Col de Manse. “I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t follow, the other guys behind me were all grimacing too. The problem is, when Contador attacks it is usually pretty effective.”
Contador has been racing with a right knee injury, suffered in one of the several crashes which hampered his first week on the race and forced him to change position on the bike to compensate for the pain. But the Spaniard looked back to his attacking best when he seized the day on the 9km climb to the Col de Manse outside Gap, whose summit was 11 km from the finish. After the Schlecks managed to ride back on to his wheel, Contador began the first of three further accelerations which ultimately took Evans and Sanchez with him, leaving the rest behind. The trio crested the summit with a 20-second lead on the Schlecks and Voeckler’s group and pushed on during the rain-hit descent, with time trial specialist Evans pulling away on his own in the final kilometers.
Until late last year both Schlecks raced under the wing of Bjarne Riis, who is the owner and manager of Contador’s Saxo Bank team. Frank Schleck said could only take his hat off to his former boss’s use of inside information.
“We didn’t expect him (Contador) or any of the other big favourites to do that. Bjarne knows we don’t like bad weather and that the descent would be quite tricky for us,” said Frank. “Hats off to them. But it’s not a tragedy. We will stay focused on what we have to do and we’re looking forward to three days in the mountains.”
Riis said they would not stop attacking to close their deficit. “Alberto said he felt good and when he has good legs he has to try to close the gap,” said the Dane. “We said this morning we have to attack if possible.”
Tour de France Stage 16
1. Thor Hushovd (NOR/GRM) 3:31:38
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/SKY) @ s.t.
3. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/GRM) @ .02
4. Tony Martin (GER/HTC) @ .38
5. Mikhail Ignatiev (RUS/KAT) @ .52
6. Alan Perez Lezaun (ESP/EUS) @ 1:25.
7. Jeremy Roy (FRA/FDJ) @ s.t.
8. Marco Marcato (ITA/VAC)
9. Dries Devenyns (BEL/QST)
10. Andriy Grivko (UKR/AST) @ 1:58
General Classification After Stage 16
1. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) 69:00:56
2. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) @ 1:45
3. Frank Schleck (LUX/LEO) @ 1:49
4. Andy Schleck (LUX/LEO) @ 3:03
5. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/EUS) @ 3:26
6. Alberto Contador (ESP/SAX) @ 3:42
7. Ivan Basso (ITA/LIQ) @ 3:49
8. Damiano Cunego (ITA/LAM) @ 4:01
9. Tom Danielson (USA/GRM) @ 6:04
10. Rigoberto Uran (COL/SKY) @ 7:55