Procycling's daily Tour de France dispatch - stage 16

Quote of the day

Euskaltel-Euskadi manager Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano: "It's not that our riders crash or cause more crashes than those from other teams. We just have a very striking jersey that people notice..."

All smiles at Quick Step

What with Sylvain Chavanel's brace of stage wins and stint in yellow, the Quick Step riders and staff have rarely stopped smiling at this Tour de France. OK, granted, Carlos Barredo didn't look too happy with Caisse d'Epargne's Rui Costa after stage 6 - but he was the enraged, wheel-brandishing, Asturian exception. At all other times, Patrick Lefevere's boys couldn't have looked more delighted if the UCI allowed them to ride next year's Tour of Flanders with a motor in their bottom bracket.

The latest example of their boundless bonhomie: a fake communiqué, concocted with the help of Tour organizers ASO, and announcing that directeur sportif Davide Bramati had been fined 2000 euros for "présence excessive à la tête de la course" or "excessive presence at the head of the race". Nicknamed José Mourinho on account of his repeated tactical masterstrokes, Bramati is, alas, not a fluent French speaker, and fell for the prank hook, line and sinker. "He called [Tour competitions director] Jean-François Pescheux straight away to ask what it was all about and to protest!" cackled team press chief Alessandro Tegner this morning.

Bramati might have suspected another practical joke when he saw that Barredo was today's winner of the "Prix de la Combativité"...

Pescheux's popularity growing

Davide Bramati is apparently not the only one to have made a frantic call to Jean-François Pescheux in recent days. Having last week slammed Pescheux and the Tour for "playing with the riders' lives" with their dangerous courses in an Ekstra Bladet interview, Fränk Schleck apparently called the Grande Boucle route-planner to say sorry. On today's evidence, the Schlecks are as good at making apologies as they are at accepting them.

Dean's rude awakening

Many's the time (well, it's happened about twice) that we've been driving to the start of a stage of the Tour de France and spotted some wannabe dressed head-to-toe in team issue Garmin-Transitions kit, riding a team issue bike in the opposite direction, and thought: he bears an uncanny resemblance to Julian Dean.

Only to then realise is Julian Dean. Because the Kiwi is one of a very rare breed among pro cyclists: he warms up. Think about it - although athletes in every other sport limber up with stretching exercises, shuttle runs, the lotus position, cyclists - we're talking about road stages here; time trials are obviously different - tend to step casually out of the bus, swing their leg over the bike, and go.

Tuesday's sixteenth stage was different. Because they started with the climb of the Col de Peyresourde, many riders warmed up, some going for a ride, others opting for a turbo trainer.

Dean, of course, set out on his spin, but in the course of his spin he encountered a problem familiar to many cyclists riding the course of the Tour. On the lower slopes of the Peyresourde a gendarme - thinking he was punter rather than pro - told him to stop and walk. Dean refused - obviously.

At which point the officer got angry and aggressive, and shoved him off his bike. "He crashed hard," said the team's spokeswoman, "and broke both wheels."

The spokeswoman added that he doesn't warm up every day, just when it's a tough start. But we beg to differ. We've definitely seen him (or a look alike).

Procycling on a high

Because the Tour de France isn't hard enough for the tough-as-nails motley crew from Procycling, they decided to sleep at altitude the night before Tuesday's 16th stage which began in Bagnères-de-Luchon. After dinner in said town, our car wound its way up the sinuous slopes of the Col de Peyresoude where, shortly before the clock struck midnight, we found a hotel to sleep in halfway up the climb at roughly 1,100 metres' altitude. The UCI anti-doping commissaires decided against a sunrise knock on us harmless scribes, but if they did, we were all fairly certain to have fallen under the 50 percent haematocrit level. Everyone except Richard Moore, whose penchant for red wine would surely have adversely affected his blood cell count.

No more silent treatment

While we're on the subject of hotels, if Alberto Contador hadn't posted an apology to Andy Schleck on YouTube last night and they continued where they left off after Monday's 15th stage, the next three nights would have been mighty uncomfortable for both. Why? For the nights of July 20-22, both Astana and Saxo Bank are staying at the Novotel Pau Lescar - meaning at one stage or another, the once amiable-turned-ugly-turned-sort-of-matey-again pairing would have bumped into each other. But it's all good now (or something like that), meaning till at least the racing resumes Thursday, there'll be no uncomfortable silence between the two grimpeurs de luxe. Just don't expect to see them poolside together discussing cycling's unwritten rules of the road.

Horner best of the bunch?

The sight of Chris Horner (RadioShack) in Tuesday's break, alongside teammate Lance Armstrong, reminded us of a claim made by Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo TestTeam). In a meandering chat with Procycling last week, which covered everything from what the 36-year-old Tour debutant will do when he retires (become an osteopath) to where he will live (Melbourne), we asked him about the business of being a domestique.

Because Hunt is, these days, a domestique, and regarded as one of the best in the business. But who, we asked, is the very best? "Hmmm," said Hunt, giving the question serious consideration. "It's got to be Horner, hasn't it? Someone like that - someone who can climb and ride on the flat. Someone who can do everything, and there aren't many of them."

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