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By John Wilcockson
With the second rest day behind them, the 158 riders still racing the 92nd Tour de France face Tuesday’s third Pyrenean stage with diverse ambitions: Michael Rasmussen is hoping he can keep his third place on GC all the way to Paris. Cadel Evans is still seeking a place in the top 10. And Americans Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis and Chris Horner would all dearly love to win a stage. Then there are this Tour’s “failed” climbers, Can men like Santiago Botero, Roberto Heras and Iban Mayo find redemption on this last day in the high mountains?
Stage 16 is not an easy one. It features four categorized climbs, including two of the regions toughest climbs, the Cat. 1 Marie-Blanque and hors-cat Col d’Aubisque, which come in quick succession in the middle part of the day. The final 3.3km pitch of the Marie-Blanque tilts up at more than 11 percent, the steepest grade in the 2005 Tour, while the 16.5km Aubisque is long and steep enough to catch out all but the strongest legs
There won’t be a lucky winner of this stage, despite there being 50km of undulating roads to negotiate after the day’s final descent before the finish in Pau. This “gateway to the Pyrénées” has hosted 53 stage finishes since first being included on the Tour route in 1930. The last couple of times a stage has finished here after scaling the Aubisque were in 1999 (when Spaniard David Etxebarria out-sprinted a small breakaway group) and 1993 (when Italian Claudio Chiappucci saved his until-then-failed Tour with a similar stage win).
Expect another small group to contest Tuesday’s stage. Among those hoping to “do an Etxebarria or Chiappucci” are Jörg Jaksche of Liberty Seguros, Michael Boogerd of Rabobank, and Botero of Phonak. It would also be great to see some aggressive riding from the likes of Davitamon-Lotto’s Evans, Phonak’s Landis or Gerolsteiner’s Leipheimer.
With all the many possibilities, stage 16 certainly won’t be a dull stage on what is expected to be a warm, sunny afternoon.