The Tour de France holds the event’s final rest day today. While conventional wisdom might say riders would prefer not to have the day off, the rest is likely to be welcomed considering the looming Stage 17, which could bring even more dramatics to an already exciting Tour.
Stage 17 finishes with a grueling climb up the face of iconic Tour climb, Tourmalet, which since 1980 has been ranked hors catégorie, essentially off-the-charts difficult. It also marks the last real chance Tour fans will have for a challenger to take a run at leader Alberto Contador for the title.
Following Stage 17 is a flat stage, followed by an important time trial on Saturday. Sunday’s final stage to Paris is typically a ceremonial parade for the yellow jersey rider.
Despite controversial circumstances, defending Tour Champion Alberto Contador is exactly where he needs to be to win the Tour. Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck sits eight seconds behind the Spaniard, but has vowed to mount wave after wave of attacks in the mountains during the upcoming Stage 17, even if it means jeopardizing his podium chances.
Schleck suffered a tough break on Monday when a fluky chain malfunction cost the Saxo Bank rider precious seconds and ultimately the yellow jersey to Contador, who continues to hear jeers for continuing ahead of Schleck during his mechanical issue. Cycling tradition has long had a sort of gentleman’s code of waiting for the yellow jersey rider should he encounter a delay unrelated to his abilities.
Seven-time Tour de France Champion Lance Armstrong, in 25th place, 33 minutes back, has had the most disappointing Tour of his career, complete with crashes and overall bad luck. The Texan did muster up a strong performance in yesterday’s Stage 16, riding strongly with the finishing group, but was ultimately shut out when Pierrick Fedrigo won. Look for a prideful Armstrong to give a strong performance tomorrow as he has to be wanting a strong performance to cap a legendary career.
While Stage 17′s journey from Pau to Col du Tourmalet marks the beginning of the end for the legendary cycling race, it also means the Tour is done venturing through some of Europe’s best ski areas. From the Alps to the Pyrenees, Tour and ski fans alike have been treated to some amazing Alpine views and scenery that almost make us forget its summer. Stage 17 will be no different, as the stage finish Col du Tourmalet is not only famed for its cycling history, but for its substantial ski legacy.
Skiing keeps the Tourmalet busy in the winter when the pass is closed. Annie Famose, who was a member of the dominant French Alpine Ski Team in the 1960′s, is the most famous skier from nearby Bareges, where a piste is named after her. More recently, downhill ski specialist Adrien Theaux, who took part in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, keeps the ski flame alive in the Pyrenees even though the Tarbes-born skier now lives Val Thorens. Additionally, snowboard star Mathieu Crepel, (pictured left) also developed his skills in his sport on the slopes of the Tourmalet. Part of the mountain’s magical legacy is that some climb it in the summer, while others prefer to go down it in the winter.