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Tour de France 2012: Stage 16


Hello and welcome to today's coverage from the Tour de France, an epic stage from the scenic city of Pau to Luchon. Four brutal climbs including the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde line the 197km course for what could be the most exciting stage in this year's race.

We'll be bringing you live coverage throughout the stage - which starts in about 20 minutes - but this morning,  as with previous rest days in Pau, the morning after has been been dominated by doping headlines.

There's a huge media scrum outside the Shack bus, as you would expect,  but the CN are are also trying to talk to Saxo Bank's Bjarne Riis, who managed Schleck until the start of 2011 and of course stood by him during the rider's Fuentes saga.

Away from doping, this morning's start village is a lovely location, tucked on the outskirts of the city of Pau, it's situated in a park. We had a stage start here last year, and CN's Jean Francois Quenet was honoured by Prudhomme for his long serving career as a journalist. Quenet also served as the press officer for Mercury as well.

In the battle for yellow Wiggins leads from Froome with a gaggle of riders eagerly waiting for a slip up from Sky, sitting just behind.

1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 68:33:21
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:19
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:04:48
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:06:15
7 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:06:57
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:07:30
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:31
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:08:51

Back to Schleck for a minute and here's what he has to say:

Believe Schleck or not? We'll have to wait for the B sample to come back but his credibility since Fuentes payments leaves it hard to take what he says at face value - for some anyway. Let me know what you think about the situation via

Lets look to today's stage now: There’s no summit finish but the organisers believe this is likely to make the action more intense as riders won’t be tempted to sit back and wait for the final climb before racing. The fact that the Aubisque and the Tourmalet – the ‘roof’ of this year’s race – come first won’t suit the climbers. Some of them may not appreciate the final descent of the Peyresourde either as it’s very speedy and suits daredevils. It won’t be an easy day for whoever is defending the yellow jersey.

Does Cadel Evans have the legs for another attack?  He has to try something if he's even going to finish on the podium this year. At La Toussure he attacked before the final climb and then cracked in the closing kilometres. He was even distanced by his teammate Van Garderen.

As for Nibali, he's been consistent throughout the Tour, having produced a very respectable prologue, better-than-most time trial and a spirited attack in the mountains. He'll try and unsettle Sky throughout today's stage and the final descent should suit him.

And the riders are off,  Wiggins and his Sky team surely about to face their sternest test in this year's race as it's now or never for a number of GC hopefuls.

You can find a video and breakdown of today's stage preview right here,  with the insightful Chris Boardman taking you through main points.

We had the exact stage (almost) in 1998. The climbs taken in the exact same order. The 1998 Tour, what tragedy of a race, with Rodolfo Massi winning the stage from Pau to Luchon. Pantani was second. Stuart O'Grady raced that day and he's taking part today.

Massi was of course kicked of that year's  Tour after doping products were found in his room.

195km remaining from 197km

Riblon is the next rider to attack, dragging two riders with him, one of them is Roy.

The peloton haven't let this one go though and it's all back together.

Two Katusha riders in the latest group trying their luck off the front but the peloton still feelin frisky enough to chase it down. This could be the pattern for the next hour of racing.

188km remaining from 197km

Further attacks from the bunch but nothing has stuck yet. So many teams haven't won a single stage yet so the racing is fast and furious.

In other news, Soler has announced his retirement from the sport. We wish him all the luck in the world with his new life as an ex-pro.

Dave Zabriskie is the next rider to nip off the front. The Garmin rider has been in two breaks already this Tour. He's been brought back by the bunch though in this instance.

Sandy Casar has gone clear. The canny Frenchman is the perfect ally for a stage break in these conditions but who will join him?

Casar has been brought back but another batch of riders have countered, with the peloton fragmenting all over the road.

Around 20 to 30 riders have a gap but they're not looking too organised. It looks like Jens Voigt is in there.

174km remaining from 197km

Race radio crackles through saying 37, 38 riders in the break with Europecar chasing. Kessiakoff isn't there, I don't think.

Vino and Hincapie are both in the break. The Astana rider on the front and Kessiakoff is there. The break have 1 minute and it looks like the bunch has sat up.

Voeckler is in the move too, so it looks like he'll go head to head with Kessiakoff for the KOM while Rolland concentrates on the top ten.

Back in the bunch and the pace has eased off, with Cadel Evans and Gilbert sharing a joke. They'll be glad to have  two men up the road at this stage.

162km remaining from 197km


Shack PR on UCI suggesting Shack send him home:

Pineau is chasing the break but he's going to struggle making it up to them.

Sorenson also in the break today so the KOM jersey is up for grabs and could be won today. 25 points for the first rider on the HC climbs.

The break are on the lower slopes of the Aubisque but it looks like we've had a crash.

Horner has gone over the side of the road, he's scrambling up the banking and trying to get back on the road. He's okay and back on his new bike chasing. Reminds me of Bruyneel doing a similar thing in the 1996 Tour.

Horner is back with the race doctor receiving treatment as the Saxo riders lead the break on the gently slopes of the lower part of the climb.

Steven Cummings and George Hincapie (both BMC Racing Team), Yaroslav Popovych and Jens Voigt (both RadioShack-Nissan), Thomas Voeckler and Yukiya Arashiro (both Europcar), Jorge Azanza, Egoi Martinez and Gorka Izaguirre (all Euskaltel), Danilo Hondo, Marco Marzano and Simone Stortoni (all Lampre-ISD), Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) Maxime Bouet and Sebastien Minard (both AG2R La Mondiale), Rein Taaramae and Samuel Dumoulin (both Cofidis), Brice Feillu, Guillaume Levarlet and Jean Marc Marino (all Saur-Sojasun), Johnny Hoogerland and Rafael Valls Ferri (both Vacansoleil-DCM), Gianpaolo Caruso, Yury Trofimov and Eduard Vorganov (all Katusha), Sandy Casar, Pierrick Fedrigo and Matthiew Ladagnous (all FDJ-Big Mat), Steven Kruiswijk and Laurens Ten Dam (both Rabobank), Rui Costa, Vladimir Karpets, and Vasili Kiryienka (all Movistar), Sergio Paulinho and Chris Anker Sorensen (both Saxo Bank-Tinkof Bank), Fredrik Kessiakoff and Alexandre Vinokourov (both Astana) and Matthieu Sprick (Argos-Shimano).

153km remaining from 197km

The break hasn't been given too much freedom at the moment, the gap around 3:50.

Pineau has been brought back by the bunch. Lefevere wont be happy that none of his riders have made the break of the day. GreenEdge, Liquigas, Sky, and Lotto have all missed or chosen to miss the boat.

Perhaps Liquigas will ride as they did in the Giro, driving the bunch over the climbs, and setting a pace for their leader to attack. It didnt work at the Giro but Nibali looks in better form than Basso did in May.

Off topic but if you're wondering what the riders got up to on their rest day, here's a gallery.

Voeckler already looks like he's ridden 200km, his jersey open, pouring water over himself. We  love a bit of theatrics but really, it's a hot stage, and the riders are suffering already. Today is going to be a day of suffering for everyone out there, from the guy who wins to the guy who finishes dead last.

151km remaining from 197km

149km remaining from 197km

As Kessiakoff takes his turn on the front of the break and then swings off to allow Voeckler and then Voigt to come through. Casar looks ragged, and not surprising after the work he's done in the Tour so far but he also moves to the front.

Eisel, leadout man, sprinter, and Classics rider, is still setting the pace for  Sky on front of the bunch. He must be turning himself inside out to keep this pace going, especially as the break hasn't gained time.

A number of riders are starting to drift off the back of the peloton, already feeling the strain of the climb.

145km remaining from 197km

Dan Martin takes his turn on the front of the break. The Garmin rider has been ill for a few days but now Europcar turn up the pace as we near the summit. Kessiakoff glues himself to Voeckler's wheel.

25 points to Voeckler on the top,  with 20 to Kessiakoff. Game on in the KOM.

Lower down the climb and Sky continue to work on the front.

Arashiro was the perfect teammate on the climbing setting the pace for Voeckler and then peeling off for the Frenchman to take maximum points. It will be interesting to see if the team can play the same tactic on the next climb, if Arashiro has anything in the tank on the top of the Tourmalet.

Is that an attack from Gilbert? He's moved clear of the bunch but just collects some bidons for his teammates.

The peloton crest the top of the climb and Sky continue their pace setting tactic on the descent of the climb.

The Euskaltel pair in the break move themselves to the front, Dan Martin in close proximity. Once off the descent they'll ride for roughly 18km in the valley before starting the Tourmalet.

The gap has gone out to 4:24, that's the biggest margin we've had so far today.

131km remaining from 197km

Eisel back on the front as the peloton tackle a section of false flat before the descent continues.

128km remaining from 197km

A few splits on the descent in the break but nothing to worry about, it should all come back together in the valley before the Tourmalet.

There has been another crash. A Katusha rider, Gusev, is on his feet but holding his right shoulder. That's not a good sign.

Cavendish is still in the Sky train, helping Eisel set the pace on the front.

110km remaining from 197km

The break passes through the feedzone. It's the quiet before the storm as we wait for the Tourmalet. Will we see any serious attacks on that climb?

Stage winner in Foix, Luis Leon Sanchez, is at the back of the bunch and calls for a team car.

103km remaining from 197km

Hincapie drops back to his BMC car and picks up an ice bag to cool himself down. Exciting stuff!

Hondo and Fedrigo share a few words in the break as Dan Martin drops back to talk to Jonathan Vaughters in the Garmin-Sharp car.

98km remaining from 197km

When we raced over the same route in 1998 the stage was covered in fog and mist.

The break passes through Luz-Saint-Sauveur, so they're at the foot of the Tourmalet, last climbed (twice) in the 2010 Tour de France.

Eisel has peeled off and Knees takes over for Sky.

Hondo has attacked the break. Incredible.

The German has 24 seconds on the main break , with the bunch at 5:46.

A few of the weaker riders are being dropped from the break: Ladagnous and Marino.

And Cavendish has been dropped by the peloton.

91km remaining from 197km

Shock, horror Hondo has been caught and passed, with Daniel Martin turning the screw and leading a small counter attack.

Vino and Kessiakoff are near the front but Voeckler has been caught at the back and he needs to move forward, and Daniel Martin goes again. This time with a much harder attack and only Ten Dam and Kessiakoff can go with him.

The gradient kicks up and Ten Dam takes a turn on the front of the leading trio.

Smart move from Kessiakoff following Martin. He'll just sit on but Voeckler is organising a small counter attack and leading a group back to three up front.

Hincapie on Voeckler's wheel with Feillu and Sorensen also there.

Martin moves to the front just as Voeckler group latch on.

Sagan, meanwhile falls to the back of the bunch.

88km remaining from 197km

87km remaining from 197km

Knees continues to set the pace, Edvald Boasson Hagen is on his wheel.  Surely the Norwegian can't lead the yellow jersey group over the top of the Tourmalet?

And Kern has attacked. Will Rolland try a move soon?

As up the road Feillu attacks and takes Voeckler and Martin with him. Ten Dam is chasing.

Martin pushes the pace, we've still got over 7km of the Tourmalet to come. Kessiakoff has to react, and he does, leading a chase.

Dan Martin sees the Swede and Voeckler start to play games and lifts the pace again.

As Scarponi is dropped from the peloton.

Peraud is also dropped.

And Kessiakoff has to sit up, Voeckler, Feillu and Martin have dropped him.

Dan Martin still on the front, increasing the pressure on his former teammate as Boasson Hagen takes over the pace duties for Sky.

When Rolland won his stage earlier in the race so much of the ground work was due to Kern, as Ten Dam leads a group that's about to catch Kessiakoff.

Martin, Voeckler, Feillu. Then Hincapie, Sorensen, Kessiakoff and ten Dam.

And now Martin has been dropped. So aggressive  on the early slopes, Voeckler and Feillu have dropped the Irish climber.

81km remaining from 197km

8 minutes for the leading duo over the Sky led bunch.

Boasson Hagen drops back and picks up food from the team car as Hincapie has been dropped from the ten Dam group.

Still 3km to the summit of the climb, with Voeckler set to take maximum points at the top.

The Kessiakoff group is 1:16 behind the two stage leaders.

Knees is back on the front again for Sky, with Boasson Hagen on his wheel. Wiggins looks comfortable, Nibali too.

77km remaining from 197km

Jens Voigt struggles up to the back of the Kessiakoff group.

Voeckler raises the pace as we approach the top of the climb, as Vino and Hincapie also catch the ten Dam group.

And Voeckler takes the maximum points on offer.

Voeckler now on 87 points but Kessiakoff still leads on 103.

74km remaining from 197km

It's all downhill until the foot of the Aspin

Martin was third over the climb, Kessiakoff 4th.

Voeckler has dropped Feillu on the descent.

And Zabriskie and Leon Sanchez have both been dropped by the bunch.

66km remaining from 197km

And straight onto the Aspin.

58km remaining from 197km

Hincapie with his BMC jersey ripped to shreds is with the medical doctor.

10:14 for the two leaders. Voeckler the better descender so Feillu will have to  try and drop him on the final two climbs.

The Europcar rider pours a full litre of water over his head in a bid to cool down under the hot temperatures as Hincapie is being bandaged while still riding with the ten Dam group.

Voeckler is talking, I don't think it's to Feillu as he's looking in the wrong direction.

Feillu is riding smartly, allowing Voeckler to sit on the front and do all the work. Voeckler is best when his back is against the wall and he's riding aggressively. This tactic of a steady tempo suits the Saur rider.

Martin has meanwhile been caught by the Voigt group but riders are all over the road. We started with 38 riders in the break but it's down to just Voeckler and Feillu at the front.

51km remaining from 197km

Boasson Hagen is back on the front for Sky.

50km remaining in the stage. As Sorensen and Vino increase the pace in the second group, Dan Martin and Voigt try and respond.

If you wanted to know where Fedrigo was, he's about to be swallowed up by the peloton. And Hondo, we'll he's been dropped by the bunch.

Voigt has dropped Vino and the Shack rider is with Sorensen.

It looks like Martin has blown too.

Arashiro has been caught,  having done his work for Voeckler. He'll now sit on for as long as possible and try and help Rolland. Bravo Europcar who are at least going on the attack today.

Liquigas have moved to the front with 47km to go and Sky have been overtaken. We have a race.

And Liquigas are taking the race on. Boasson Hagen has been dropped and so have a handful of other riders. Liquigas are taking on Sky.

As Voekler takes the maximum amount of points at the top. Sorensen, Vino and Voigt the only riders left in the chase group.

Vino takes 3rd on the climb to protect Kessiakoff's position in the KOM.

More and more riders dropping from the yellow jersey group. Liquigas have two men on the front, then it's Wiggins and Rogers.

Nerz took a huge turn but he's blown and Coppell has also been dropped.

Up ahead and Voeckler leads Feillu on the descent.

The gap between the lead group and the Vino group is down to one minute. Voeckler, I think, has done enough to take the lead in the KOM.

Basso is setting the pace, Nibali on his wheel. And Cadel Evans is in trouble, big trouble.

41 km to go and Evans has been dropped on the climb.

Porte, Wiggins, Rogers, and Froome still there but Evans has been dropped, and Van Garderen is still with the lead group.

Evans in a group with Kloden, Levi, Monfort but he's losing time and all chance of a podium place.

38km remaining from 197km

Basso leads the group over the climb, looks back to see the damage he's done. Evans is back with a teammate and the Monfort/Kloden group and goes over about 30 seconds later.

36km remaining from 197km

33km remaining from 197km

Sky have taken up the front of the yellow jersey group again. Up ahead and Vino and Sorensen have broken clear.

Voigt makes it up the Sorensen and Vino.

30km remaining from 197km

Izagirre has made it to the Vino group as Kern is caught by the yellow jersey group....

Evans is 46 seconds behind the yellow group. Lotto are looking to at least move Van den Broeck into 4th on GC.

Evans is 46 seconds behind the yellow group. Lotto are looking to at least move Van den Broeck into 4th on GC.

Just 50 seconds between the Voeckler and Vino groups. It's slowly coming down.

Cumming, Moinard are leading the Evans group. Lepheimer is there too, and Kloden.

Froome leading Wiggins in the lead group. Both riders looking comfortable at the moment.

Evans has made it back to the GC group. The pace seems to have eased and Sky move back to the front.

Pinot, Rolland they're both in the GC group, which is down to around 20 riders, as the two leaders start the final climb.

Feillu is still sitting on as Voeckler does most of the work.

Sorensen and Vino have broken clear of their two companions on lower slopes of the climb.

For all that work Liquigas did on the Aspin, Sky still have all their cards to play. Rogers and Porte are on the front.

22km remaining from 197km

And Voeckler lifts the pace slightly and Feillu has to respond.

And Feillu has cracked. Voeckler is alone and heading towards another stage win.

Voeckler looks back to see the huge gap that he has as Rogers gets out of the saddle and strings out the yellow jersey group as Nibali sits on Wiggins' wheel.

Basso and Nibali have words as the peloton start the climb.

As Sorensen drops Vino.

Voeckler has 5km to go until the summit of the climb.

The Saxo rider is closing in on Feillu.

There's still a minute between Voeckler and the next rider on the road though.

Lotto move to the front of the yellow jersey group.

While Sorensen goes by Feillu with ease.

Jelle Vanendert is setting the pace and Evans has been dropped again.

As Basso moves to the front, adjust his jersey and begins to set the pace.

18km remaining from 197km

And Porte tries to come to the front but Basso reacts and moves back up.

Evans is losing time, at least 30 seconds now. As Pinot and Roche are also in difficulty but hanging on.

Voeckler still out in front and on his own, heading for his second stage win in the race.

Evans has lost 1:30 already on the Wiggins group.

5km to the top and Brajkovic has been dropped. As even further back Evans weaves all over the road. He's 1:13 down on Wiggins.

Evans is still in fourth on GC but only by around 15 seconds.

And Rolland has drifted off the back of the yellow jersey group, with Basso still on the front. Wiggins still has at least one teammate with him.

And Nibali has attacked.

18 seconds on GC between Froome and Nibali and now Froome is chasing with Wiggins on his wheel. Everyone else? Dropped.

Froome sets pace for Wiggins and Nibali has less than 15 meters of a gap

The Shark looks back and can see Froome and Wiggins coming back to him. Nibali goes again, changing up the pace just before he's caught.

Froome doesn't panic and keeps his own pace and the gap comes down again.

As up the road Voeckler nears the summit.

Froome leads Nibali, Wiggins third.

And Voeckler goes over the top and he'll surely win the stage now. Sorensen is 1:24 down.

14km remaining from 197km

Nibali leads Froome and Wiggins.

As Horner, Valverde, Cobo, Van Garderen, Roche, and Van den Broeck lead the next group.

12km remaining from 197km

10km remaining from 197km

Froome still leads the Wiggins and Nibali tandem while Van den Broek leads the next group.

And Nibali attacks and this time it's Wiggins who leads the chase.

Wiggins catches the Italian.

They're nearly at the top now.

And Nibali leads the trio over the top.

Van den Broeck leads the next group on the road and they crest the top of the final climb. It looks as though Roche has been dropped.

5km remaining from 197km

Nibali leads Wiggins on the descent with Froome just behind.

1km remaining from 197km

Sorensen comes home in second and deserves a lot off credit for another strong ride in the mountains again.

Izagirre leads home Vino. As Froome, Wiggins, and Nibali, the three strongest riders in the race, share the pace on the descent to Luchon.

Voigt is home next.

Nibali leads home Wiggins and Froome.

The Italian tried, several time in fact, to crack Sky but it simply wasn't enough with Wiggins and Froome equal to all thrown at them.

The top ten for the stage today:

Here is the top three for GC. Evans has dropped o seventh place, at 8:05 behind Wiggins.

Thanks for reading along on this long stage. Join us again tomorrow!

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