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July 19, 2006

Stage 16 on the road

Today's the hardest day of the 2006 Tour. Right off the line, the riders start up the climb to the Col du Galibier, a nearly 27 mile climb to the highest point of the Tour.

Next will be the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, a 22.7 kilometer (14 mile) hors categorie climb, the Col du Mollard, a 2nd-Category climb of less than 6 kilometers (about 3.5 miles), and another uphill finish to La Toussuire, a 1st-Category climb 18.7 kilometers (11 miles) long.

Rubiera, Marchante in the chaseMichael Rasmussen, Sandy Casar, and Tadej Valjavec lead the way early. Discovery Channel has put Popovych and Rubiera in a 14-man group, also featuring T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz, Saunier Duval's Gilberto Simoni and José Gomez Marchante chasing between Floyd Landis and the rest of the peloton and Rasmussen's trio.

Sebastian Joly, the Tour's lanterne rouge or last-placed rider, has abandoned, as has Milram's Maxim Iglinski, who crashed yesterday.

The peloton is keeping a healthy pace, and current King of the Mountains David de la Fuente is dropped, along with green jersey Robbie McEwen and Phonak's Victor Hugo Peña.

Casar, Rasmussen, Valjavec's helmetRasmussen, Valjavec, and Casar are less than 1 kilometer from the $7,000 bonus, the Souvenir Henri Desgrange, for leading the Tour over its highest point.

Rasmussen takes the prize, and the 20 climber's points, ahead of Casar and Valjavec.

Back in the main field, Levi Leipheimer sits at the front, alongside Rabobank's Michael Boogerd, and Pietro Caucchioli has attacked off the front.

The 16-man chase group is over the top 3:02 behind Rasmussen. The main field comes through about 1:30 behind that.

Davitamon-Lotto's Christopher Brandt and Phonak's Martin Perdiguero haave crashed on the descent. They're back up and riding.

The Landis group is 5:52 behind Rasmussen, and 1:38 behind Popovych.

Bennati is out of TourSylvain Chavanel of Cofidis has crashed into a barricade at the rear of the field. Lampre's Daniele Bennati has also fallen, and he's abandoned the Tour, but Chavanel is back on his bike.

Both lead groups are gaining on the peloton, approaching the feed zone, with Rasmussen's group 6:20 ahead of the main field, and Popovych 4 minutes behind Rasmussen.

Landis in yellowAfter the feed zone, the peloton has dropped to lunch tempo, and Phonak and Gerolsteiner are riding together with 70 meters on the field. They want to keep the pace up, and the field just wants to have lunch. Popovych is likely to gain crucial time here. Gerolsteiner wants to chase because Popovych sits just behind Levi Leipheimer in the overnight standings.

The field is working again, and gaining quickly on Popovych as they start up the Col de la Croix-de-Fer.

Sandy Casar is dropped by Rasmussen and Valjavec. If Rasmussen leads over the Crox-de-Fer, he'll take the King of the Mountains jersey.

Rubiera and Calzati attempt an attack from the chase group, but quickly are recaptured.

David Kopp of Gerolsteiner and Steven de Jongh of QuickStep have abandoned. David Moncoutié is off the back, as is Garzelli.

Popovych is recaptured and goes right to the back of the field. There are 8 survivors of the chase, and now Valjavec has lost contact with Rasmussen, about 7 minutes ahead of the Landis group.

Simoni is recaptured.

CSC has launched a team attack. They've come to the front and are riding hard with 3 riders. Leipheimer, Landis, Klöden have matched the pace. Popovych is dropped, as is Juan Mañuel Garate. CSC's Vande Velde drives the pace, ahead of Sastre and Schleck.

T-Mobile's Sinkewitz is dropped, Mercado is dropped, Egoi Martinez, George Hincapie and Chechu Rubiera are all dropped for Discovery.

Rasmussen soldiers on, 6:45 ahead. Astarloza is caught; that's the last survivor of the early chase group. T-Mobile has everyone but Sinkewitz and Honchar in the lead group. Axel Merckx, the last Landis teammate is at the back of the lead group, just behind Christian Vande Velde.

Levi Leipheimer has launched off the front of the select group. Merckx and Vande Velde have recaptured. In the lead group are:

Discovery's Azevedo, CSC's Sastre, Schleck, and Vandevelde, T-Mobile's Klöden, Guerini, Kessler, Mazzoleni, Rogers, AG2R's Moreau, Calzati, Dessel, Goubert, Gerolsteiner's Fothen, Rabobank's Menchov and Boogerd, Davitamon-Lotto's Evans and Horner, Phonak's Landis and Merckx, Lampre's Cunego, Caisse d'Epargne's Arroyo, Karpets, Pereiro, and Zandio, Credit Agricole's Caucchioli, and Euskaltel's Camano and Zubeldia

Leipheimer is more than a minute ahead of the leader's group quickly. Landis is slipping back through the select group, riding only about 8 riders from the back. Calzati leads Boogerd and Kessler at the front of that group.

Rasmussen is now 7:47 ahead of the Landis group, with Leipheimer 1:30 ahead.

Moncoutie has climbed back to the leaders and attacks off the front. Leipheimer catches Casar from the original Rasmussen trio.

Merckx is at the very back of the yellow jersey group.

Rasmussen takes max points on Croix-de-Fer, and the lead in the King of the Mountains competition. Valjavec is 4:55 back, with Leipheimer and Casar at 5:31, Moncoutie at 7:51, and the yellow jersey group at 8:24.

It's only a brief descent before the 2nd-Category Col du Mollard.

On the descent, Pereiro has gone off the front of the yellow jersey group. Fothen is falling off the back; T-Mobile has one rider up the road with Pereiro and his teammate.

Leipheimer drops Casar on the Col du Mollard, just before catching Tadej Valjavec, who grabs his wheel. Only Rasmussen is ahead of Leipheimer. In the yellow jersey group, Moncoutié is dropped, Calzati falls off, Vande Velde is gone. Landis sits near the rear of the group, with Caisse d'Epargne, T-Mobile, and CSC at the front.

Dr. Rasmussen's climbing class continues up front; he's got 5:08 on Leipheimer and 6:56 on the Landis group. He's first over the Col du Mollard.

Rasmussen overcooks one of the first turns on a descent the commentators call extremely dangerous. His rear wheel slides and he gets back on his line. Leipheimer and Valjavec crest the Mollard. Merckx is leading Landis up toward the front of the yellow jesey group, and he's now sitting 6th, after being at the back of the group for the last 20 kilometers. Casar goes over the Mollard 6:59 behind Rasmussen, and the field is at 7:22. I'm switching to a new post for the descent and the final ascent of La Toussuire.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 19, 2006 | Permalink