â†µStage 16? Aren't we in the mountains now? Oh, firmly, meaning the sprinters dominating the early stages are at best holding onto dear life, or like four stage winner Mark Cavendish, just dropping out altogether and prepping for other races. (In Cavendish's case, it's the Olympics.) Today's ride contained 11,000 feet of climbing and constituted the first real lung-busting mountain stage, meaning balanced riders leaned on their teams' climbers to strike early, chase down breakaways, and keep the field honest. â†µâ†µ
â†µAnyone crack under the strain? Of course. Denis Menchov and Christian Vandevelde both lost valuable time on the stage, struggling to keep pace for most of the day's two climbs. It could have been worse: current leader Frank Schleck admitted post-race that he couldn't muster the energy to attack the field, and thus only maintains a slim lead on Cadel Evans for the yellow jersey. â†µâ†µ
â†µCrashes? Oh, yes. Not caught on camera, but any time you have steep descents down mountain roads, you get crashes. Christian Vandevelde's laggardly finish came after a nasty crash on the descent on the Bonnette road, the highest passable road in Europe. Being a cyclist and not possessing any nerves to feel pain, he finished the stage, of course. â†µâ†µ
â†µSo...more pain tomorrow? Pain is an inexact word for what will happen tomorrow. The 130.5 stage finishes with the Alpe d'Huez: 8.14 miles, 8.1% grade, 21 hairpin turns, and all at a pace that's broken the finest riders of their respective generations. If you watch only one stage of the Tour, watch tomorrow's to see athletes at the screaming limit of own capabilities. â†µâ†µ
â†µIt was also the site of one of modern cycling's most dramatic moments: "the look" that destroyed Jan Ullrich in the 2001 Tour de France. â†µâ†µ
â†µEnjoy Stage 17. You might as well, because the riders won't.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.