Tour de France news round-up: stage 16

Schleck forgives, Hushovd regains, Voigt crashes, LeMond, Evans, Rogers

Schleck forgives Contador, but battle 'not over'

Yellow jersey challenger Andy Schleck said he has already forgiven arch rival Alberto Contador for attacking him while he suffered a mechanical problem on the 15th stage of the Tour de France.

But the Luxembourger said it will be business as usual when the pair resume hostilities on the last day of climbing during Thursday's stage 17 to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet.

"We spoke with each other today about what happened," said Schleck, who finished Tuesday's 16th stage still eight seconds behind the Spaniard after an anticipated duel failed to materialise.

"Sometimes in a race things like that happen but now we have settled things with each other. We're still good friends, and we can't ruin our friendship because of what happened yesterday (Monday)."

He added: "But eight seconds is nothing at all. It's the last week of the Tour and I'm sure that we'll be battling a lot on the (Col du) Tourmalet. The Tour is not over."

Often in cycling the sport's etiquette calls for respective leaders to wait for each other in the event of mechanical incidents or crashes, although that unwritten rule is often forgotten in the heat of battle.

Even Schleck's team admitted after Monday's stage that the Spaniard had done nothing wrong.

"We can't criticise anyone," said Australian Bradley McGee, Schleck's sporting director at Saxo Bank. "It was just bad luck."

Yet for the second day in a row, Contador was met with whistles by some of the crowd at the finish line, and that despite the fact Contador felt so bad about the reaction from Schleck that he felt compelled to post a quasi-apology on Youtube.

"I made the video because I wanted to, not because I was obliged to," said the Spaniard. "I wasn't comfortable about what happened. We have a good relationship and I didn't want to risk our friendship because of that. Today we talked things over."

Contador and Schleck were part of a 40-strong peloton Tuesday which, after 17 days of particularly hard riding over tough terrain in hot weather, decided to call a halt to hostilities.

An early breakaway which included Lance Armstrong escaped early and Pierrick Fedrigo eventually went on to grab the stage win to hand the hosts an impressive sixth win of the race.

Their battle, however, is likely to go full throttle on the 174km ride from Pau to the summit of Col du Tourmalet, which also rides over the Col de Marie Blanque and the Col du Soulor.

"It's a really hard stage," added Contador. "And I'm sure there are going to be time gaps."

Thursday will be Schleck's last chance to take time off Contador in the mountains, the next big yellow jersey rendez-vous taking place in the 52km time trial on Saturday's 19th and penultimate stage.

Hushovd regains green jersey from Petacchi

Thor Hushovd, back in green

Norwegian Thor Hushovd thanked his Cervelo teammates for helping pace him over some tough Pyrenean climbs Tuesday on his way to regaining possession of the coveted Tour de France green jersey.

Cervelo rider Hushovd started the 199.5km 16th stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Pau, the third of four days in the Pyrenees, with a two-point deficit to Italian rival Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre.

And despite failing in several attempts to join a nine-man breakaway that went on to finish nearly seven minutes ahead of the main peloton, Hushovd hung on to contend the sprint points still remaining at the finish.

Hushovd, a two-time green jersey winner, was the first of a 49-man group to cross over the line 6:45 behind stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo of France, thus picking up six points for his 10th place.

Petacchi, who has won two stages this year, struggled from the start of the stage which began almost immediately with the 11km climb to the summit of the Col de Peyresourde. In the end the Lampre rider was left battling to stay within the time limits with the sprinters and other non-climbers among an 84-strong 'grupetto' which finished 34 minutes in arrears.

Petacchi's day was made even more uncomfortable with the news that he is currently being investigated in Italy for alleged doping practices.

Hushovd now has a four-point lead on the Italian, but he still believes their points classification duel will go all the way to the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday.

"It was an important day," said Hushovd. "I knew it was a good chance to try to get some more points and the team did a great job helping me get over the climbs.

"With the breakaway up the road, we knew there were some points waiting at the finish line. It's important to take as many as you can whenever you have the opportunity."

Britain's Mark Cavendish, the winner of three stages, is third overall on 162 points and still mathematically in contention. However, Hushovd said he will pay more attention to Petacchi.

He added: "Petacchi is my most dangerous rival but I'm feeling better as the Tour goes on. I think I have a good chance to win another stage. I would love to win on the Champs-Elysees.

"The green jersey always comes down to who is the strongest rider over three weeks."

Voigt defiant after another horror crash

Jens Voigt

Saxo Bank's Jens Voigt shrugged off the pain of more crash injuries on the Tour de France 16th stage on Tuesday, in a bid to help team-mate Andy Schleck win the race's yellow jersey.

Voigt, one of the Danish team's most powerful riders, was hurtling down the descent of the Col de Peyresourde, the first of four mountain passes, when he suffered a puncture and crashed at top speed.

The German managed to avoid a repeat of the horrific injuries he suffered during last year's race when he landed on his face and head at top speed, also on a descent.

After waving away the help of race assistants in the broom wagon, Voigt battled on to finish the stage with the 'grupetto' -- the group of sprinters and non-climbers who club together in a bid to beat the time cut-off.

"I'm doing 70 kilometres an hour on the first descent when my front tyre explodes," explained Voigt. "Before I hit the asphalt I actually manage to think that this is going to hurt. Both knees, elbows, hands, shoulders and the entire left side of my body were severely hurt.

"My ribs are hurting but hey, broken ribs are overrated anyway. Fortunately, I didn't land on my face this time and I'm still alive. I was offered a ride on the truck that picks up abandoned riders but I'm not going to quit another Tour de France.

"Now, there's a rest day and Paris is not that far away."

Schleck is eight seconds off the pace of race leader and defending champion Alberto Contador, and the Luxembourger will be glad of Voigt's assistance pacing him early on the climbs when the race resumes with stage 17 on Thursday.

More Tour woe for Evans and Rogers

The Tour de France top ten, never mind the podium, may be a dream too far for former two-time runner-up Cadel Evans after another disappointing day for Australians in the race on Tuesday.

Evans has been racing with a fractured elbow since he crashed at the end of the first week, and the pain, compounded by fast and unforgiving racing on tough terrain, is really taking its toll.

On the third of four days in the Pyrenees the BMC team leader was left struggling early on as wave after wave of attack came on the 11km climb to the Col de Peyresourde just after the start.

Despite his efforts to limit the damage, Evans went on to complete the 199.5km stage over a total of four mountain passes nearly 24 minutes down on stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo, who finished seven minutes ahead of the yellow jersey peloton.

Australia's reigning world champion came into the Tour hoping to build on a solid Tour of Italy, and dreaming of going better than his runner-up places in 2007 and 2008.

But with only one real day of climbing left, on Thursday's 17th stage, and a penultimate stage time-trial on Saturday, Evans is way off the pace of leader Spaniard Alberto Contador in 24th overall at 33min 13sec adrift.

It was another sore day in the saddle, and not made any easier by the fact that stage wins, as well as all the places in the tight top ten, are being contested in furious fashion.

"We've had a real hard couple of days here," said Evans. "I think we had a one day like this last year with an uphill start, but the third week of the Tour when it's uphill like this and after the days we had, and also the racing we've had in the last few stages, has put a lot of people in a lot of difficulty.

"Of course I would have loved to have done something today. I haven't got the legs."

Asked whether his sore elbow was the main concern, Evans said his whole body is now paying for his efforts to compensate.

"That's what's starting to trouble me," he said. "It's one thing to have a sore arm, but then when you've got a sore back and a sore this and a sore whatever else and you can only pull on one side... that's all part of it."

Before leaving, Evans added: "Right, next year."

Fellow Australian Michael Rogers, of HTC-Columbia, is in a similar position, although the Canberran does not have the same kind of expectation as Evans, having never finished on the podium.

Rogers was left trailing in the early stages and eventually finished with Evans' group 23:42 down on Fedrigo, thus dropping to 29th place.

Fedrigo meanwhile held off the threat of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong to hand the hosts their sixth success, and third stage win in as many days.

Armstrong, who finished sixth, did not rule out trying for a 26th and final stage win on Thursday, but he was quick to applaud Fedrigo.

"I'm not the best guy in the race but I have the spirit of a fighter," said Armstrong, who will turn 39 on September 18. "Fedrigo was one of the fastest guys out there today and he was just too fast at the finish. Chapeau (hats off)."

After Wednesday's rest day the yellow jersey battle will move up a gear on the climb to the summit of the Tourmalet on Thursday.

LeMond eager to testify in doping probe - report

Three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond has reiterated his belief that a US doping investigation will find "overwhelming" evidence against seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong.

In an interview with The Denver Post published on Tuesday, LeMond said he was pleased to receive a subpoena to appear in federal court in Los Angeles on July 30 to testify in an investigation of possible fraud and doping charges against Armstrong and his associates.

"The evidence will come from the investigation," LeMond told the newspaper, "and I believe it will be overwhelming."

LeMond told the French newspaper Journal Du Dimanche much the same at the weekend, saying he believed the probe was "the beginning of the end" for Armstrong.

Armstrong is racing his final Tour campaign amid damaging accusations by former team-mate Floyd Landis that their former team, US Postal, was involved in systematic doping.

A federal investigation has been launched in the wake of Landis' accusations and is reportedly being led by Jeff Novitzky, the same federal agent whose probe into the BALCO doping scandal brought about the downfall of athletics star Marion Jones.

Armstrong has vigorously denied allegations of doping.

While LeMond told the Post that he could not discuss what he'll testify about, he said he was looking forward to playing a role in the investigation.

"I'm hoping it gets as far as it can," LeMond said.

LeMond, who won the Tour in 1986, 1989 and 1990, told the Post he believes doping has dropped off in cycling, pointing to the Tour now underway in which defending champion Alberto Contador holds a narrow lead over Andy Schleck.

"The RPMs (revolutions per minute) are lower," LeMond said. "There's more suffering. The racing is more tactical."

© AFP 2010

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