Despite losing the polka dot jersey to stage winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) with just one more mountain stage left to go, Astana's Frederik Kessiakoff had no hesitation in recognising that everyone present had witnessed something very special at stage 16 of the 2012 Tour.
On a memorable afternoon in the Pyrenees, Voeckler conquered four climbs shrouded in Tour de France folklore, the rest of the peloton and stiflingly hot temperatures to storm to victory. Amazingly he also picked up all of the top climbing points on offer to take the lead of the mountains classification ahead of tomorrow's final high mountains stage from Bagneres-De-Luchon to Peyragudes.
"I'm really disappointed to have lost the jersey but if you look at the way Voeckler took it from me, I could do nothing," Kessiakoff told Cyclingnews at the finish.
"He had a superb race and it seemed like he must have taken every point that it was possible to take today. It didn't matter whether I was feeling good or not – the way he did it, it was just ‘chapeau'."
As this Tour has progressed the battles for yellow, green and white have looked increasingly like one horse races, with Bradley Wiggins (overall), Peter Sagan (points) and Tejay Van Garderen (best young rider) seemingly tightening their grip on each one over the last week of racing. With ink already dry on some coronation pieces for those classifications – prematurely, it must be said, given the history of this great race - it is the tussle for the polka dot jersey as king of the mountains that is still keeping everyone guessing.
Today was the fifth time in the last ten stages that the jersey has changed hands, and, despite his heroics, Voeckler still only leads his Swedish rival by the narrow margin of 107 points to 103. With a maximum of 52 points on offer tomorrow, the standings are still wide open. The third-placed rider in the standings, Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), isn't mathematically out of things either on 77 points.
The general consensus amongst the riders was that today was the toughest day they'd faced. Kessiakoff said he was going back to his hotel to try to recover and ready himself for one final uphill push in the mountains of the Pyrenees tomorrow. Whether it would be enough to overtake Voeckler and snatch back the jersey, he said, would depend on that recovery and also on how much the Frenchman's superhuman efforts today have taken out of him.
"My objective today was those first two HC climbs," Kessiakoff said. "I thought that maybe by the last two category ones that the peloton would catch us but in the end there was quite a big gap. Thomas could keep on riding and keep picking up those points and that's what helped him overleap me in the end.
"Hopefully he spent a lot of energy today and hopefully I can recover and feel even better tomorrow. You never know. Anything can happen but I think everybody spent a lot of energy out there. We all had to pass those mountains so we'll see. I hope that I can recover well and then maybe attack and do something tomorrow."
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