Rui Costa of the Movistar team was the man who emerged from the large breakaway group, attacking alone on the last climb of the Col de Manse and dropping like a stone into Gap to finish with the solo victory as the only man in the photograph. A fantastic ride by the 26-year old from Portugal giving the Movistar team their first victory of the Tour.
If you were to open your text book of cycling stage racing to page five under the heading ‘Transition Stage’ and note the description, that is exactly what you got here in stage sixteen. Indeed, one click of the link at the bottom of the page (if you’re reading the digital edition, that is) and you’d be taken to this stages video highlights, such was the expectancy of it.
The break went clear early, a huge group of riders, plenty of whom are made for these kind of stages, and they built a large enough lead to ensure they wouldn’t be caught but not large enough that they wouldn’t be chased either and fought it out for the win. It was Costa who made the winning move and try as the chasing quartet may, they couldn’t bridge across to them. With the number of Frenchmen in the attacking group this surely served as their best chance yet to win a stage in this 100th edition of the Tour, yet they couldn’t find a way to get it done and the French had to settle with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place positions, 42 seconds behind Rui Costa.
Time is running out for the French to get a stage win and if they don’t it would be the first time they went without since the 1999 Tour. A national crisis is brewing.
Rui Costa’s victory made it the 8th different nationality to take a stage win here in the 2013 Tour (Germany 5, Great Britain 4, Belgium 1, Australia 1, Slovakia 1, Ireland 1, Italy 1, Portugal 1), and but for his waiting for team leader Alejandro Valverde on stage 13 in which he lost 8 minutes, 45 seconds to the Yellow Jersey, he would be up to 14th overall rather than the 20th place he now currently sits. Of course, had he not waited on stage 13 he might not have been allowed away on today’s stage to win by as much as he did.
Another big winner on the GC was Daniel Navarro. He was the best placed rider in the break and took back 9’42” on Froome when he crossed the line 18th, 1’26” behind Costa. That bumps him up from 20th to 14th overall, 13’54” down.
The only point in which the stage deviated from the script of transition stage was when the peloton hit that final climb. Alberto Contador decided to stretch his legs and try a flurry of attacks, of which Froome matched them all. What it did do was break the race to pieces and only six others could remain with the Spaniard and the Yellow jersey.
Contador said on the rest day that he didn’t care about finishing 2nd or 12th and that he would aggressively throw everything he had at the race over the final week. If this was a prelude to what we can expect from him, then the Alps could be very exciting. Not so much because he looks like he will shake off Froome, but because he’s at least going to try. That will win him a lot of fans.
One area Froome may be exploited is on the descents of these Alpine mountains. On the way down off the Col de Manse, Contador set a searing pace and at times was forcing Froome to chase hard to bridge the gap he would create on the hairpins. Unfortunately Contador overcooked one corner and it brought both himself and Froome to a standstill and the pair, along with Richie Porte, were forced to chase back to the group in front. They managed it and everyone finished the with same time (Laurens Ten Dam being the loser on the day dropping 1 minute to Froome and falling from 5th to 6th overall), but it highlighted just what might be up for grabs if someone risks it on a descent.
One wet day in the Alps could change everything and all reports suggest the descent off of Alpe d’Huez is chaotic. Froome should have a big buffer to play with come then and might not feel the need to take the same kinds of risks, but who knows, right now he seems intent on marking every move by a top ten rider. If Contador lives up to his promise of aggression we will either see him fail spectacularly, or blow this race wide open once more as his team did back on stage 13. So far though, Froome looks strong but the best is yet to come either way.
Stage 16 results
1. Costa in 3h 52’45”
2. Riblon +42″
3. Jeannesson s.t.
4. Coppel s.t.
5. Klöden s.t.
6. Dumoulin +1’00”
General classification after stage 16
1. Froome in 65h 15’36”
2. Mollema +4’14”
3. Contador +4’25”
4. Kreuziger +4’28”
5. Quintana +5’47”
6. Ten Dam +5’54”