Lance Armstrong, riding in his final Tour de France, was part of a nine-man breakaway in Tuesday's Stage 16, a 118-mile ride through the Pyrenees that featured four brutal climbs, including two first-categories and another two that were "beyond categorization" (highlighted perhaps by the Tour's first visit to the Col du Tourmalet).
The tough day culminated in a sprint finish in Pau, with Armstrong digging for the win in the final few hundred meters, but he just did not have enough left in the tank as French cyclist Pierrick Fedrigo (team Bbox Bouygues) took the stage victory.
Armstrong finished in sixth place. It was France's sixth stage win in this year's Tour.
The race's tribute to the original stage through the Pyrenees 100 years ago took them over four major climbs today, but none within 60km of the finish, so the main contenders rode comfortably in a large group containing all but the vertically challenged. Unsurprisingly, Green Jersey leader Alessandro Petacchi was among those riding in the Autobus, while Thor Hushovd was not, winning the sprint for tenth place and six valuable points. He'll start Thursday all decked out in green.
Armstrong attacked from the beginning of the stage and for most of the day looked like the man who won seven consecutive Tours. But in the end, the 38-year old, vying to become the second-oldest stage winner ever, just had nothing left.
Overall, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, a day after the Spaniard took the yellow jersey, crossed together in the peloton, setting up for what should be an epic Stage 17 on Thursday (after Wednesday's rest day).
General Classification After Stage 16:
1. Alberto Contador, Astana
2. Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank(+ 00:08)
3. Sammy Sanchez, Euskaltel-Euskadi (+ 02:00)
4. Denis Menchov, Rabobank (+ 02:13)
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto (+ 03:39)
7. Levi Leipheimer, Radioshack (+ 05:25)
25. Lance Armstrong, Radioshack (+ 33:46)
Wednesday is a rest day in the 2010 Tour de France, giving the riders a chance to recharge and plan their strategy for Thursday's Stage 17 -- the Queen stage (the most difficult stage) -- and its four climbs. It begins with a small four-category ascent up the Cote de Renoir and then heads into a pair of category-one climbs -- the Col de Marie-Blanque and the Col du Soulor -- before a second attack up the the Col du Tourmalet, a no category climb that ends with a summit finish.
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