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David L. Stanley
2015 Tour de France: July 20
Stage 16 reviewed and assessed

Back to Commentary index page | 2015 Tour de France

David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo,, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.

David L Stanley

David L Stanley

Bill & Carol McGann's book The Story of the Tour de France, 2021: The Little Cannibal Dominates is available in both Kindle eBook & audiobook versions. For your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

STAGE 16, 20 JUL Monday: Bourg-Peage to Gap - 124 MI/201 km
In which we head into the Alps; Once more, into the breach…

When the Tour circles France in a counter-clockwise direction, Gap is a traditional gateway to the haut-Alps. That’s good for the GC guys. That means hard work for the rouleurs who will get dropped on the climbs, and are expected to chase back on the descents to help their captains, only to get dropped on the next climb. It’s a near-death experience for the sprinters who struggle to get their fast-twitch fibers over the climbs fast enough to make the time cut. (On each stage, all riders are expected to finish within 12% of the leaders, or face elimination from the race.)

Today’s stage profile looks like the growth chart of a hot stock’s IPO. Up. The day starts at 157 meters above sea level. By kilometer 189, the riders will have reached the peak of the 1,268 meters high Col de Manse. From there, it’s a testing descent into Gap, where I’m certain several breakaway groups will fight out the places. Tuesday is a rest day. Wednesday starts four days in the high Alps which promise fireworks at every climb. I suspect the main GC contenders will be content to let the attacking riders take their gap.

Stage 16 profile

Stage 16 profile

Let’s cut to the chase.

31 MI/50 km to go: In the break: A group of 23 has been clear for some time. There are many high quality riders in the group, but the best placed is 34:00 behind the race leaders. A climb lies ahead, plus a very tactical descent. We’ll continue to see small groups attack out of the group.

In the field: The main field is 15 minutes behind. Rolling, rolling, rolling…

25 MI/40 km to go: In the break: Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) is off the front. He has started, and finished, every Grand Tour since the Vuelta of 2011. That, ladies and gentlemen, is one tough Aussie. Marco Haller (Katusha) is with him. Hansen is 2 hours and 40 minutes behind the GC leaders.

In the field: The status is quo, but it is a status quo that is 16:40 behind the break.

20 MI/32 km to go: In the break: The Austro-Aussie pair has 40 seconds. Hansen separated a shoulder in a nasty rain-soaked Stage 2 crash between Utrecht and Zelande. Haller was injured in the horrific Week I crash that knocked out Fabian Cancellara.

In the field: la dee dah. 18:00 behind the break.

15 MI/ 24 km to go: In the break: Haller/Hansen have 1:05. The Col de Manse looms. Neither man a great climber, they’ll need all that and more.

In the field: Yawn. 19:00. Team SKY rolls along at 25 mph. They’re waiting for the explosion on the Col de Manse.

12 MI/ 20 km to go: It’s 98F/37C in Gap. The road has gotten so sticky that the organizers have been spraying the corners of the descent into Gap with water to keep the tarmac cool.

Sticky roads + hot tires = crash. That’s how Joseba Beloki crashed and broke his hip in 2003. In this clip, you can see Beloki’s tire grab a sticky spot on the road surface. He was never the same racer.

In the break: They’re on the climb. Within minutes, the twosome’s gap is down to 20 second. MTN-Qhubeka has three men in the break. With a twenty minute gap, and three men present, MTN could take over the team GC. (Note-they moved into 2nd place.)

In the field:  1/3 of an hour in arrears.

11 MI/18 km to go: In the break: A group of 4 including Christoph Riblon (AG2R), Sagan, and Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) are away. They chase Spain’s Ruben Plaza (Lampre), a fine climber. Haller and Hansen are back in the main breakaway. Sagan’s descending skills are superb. He could win today on the way down the hill.

The field is 21:00 back. Can you hear the main group phoning it in?

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10 MI/16 km to go: The group of four is absorbed by 6 men, led by Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) from behind. Plaza has 55 seconds.

7.5 MI/12 km to go: In the break: Plaza has a fine palmares, with 1 Vuelta stage, but never a TdF stage. Plaza leads over the top with 1:02 in hand. It might just be enough.

In the field: The field is finally on the base of the climb.

Ruben Plaza

Ruben Plaza on his way

6.2 MI/10 km to go: In the break: Everyone is on the way down.

In the field: Tinkoff leads for Contador.

5 MI/8 km to go: In the break: Plaza locks ‘em up and skids around the corner. So does Sagan, same corner, as he chases hard. If he had wings, he could skip a few corners. The gap is down to 40 seconds. Sagan looks like he’s racing MotoGP. A Colombian neo-Tour rider, Jarlinson Pantano (IAM), is trying to stay with Sagan.
Brave. Or dim. It’s too soon to tell.

In the field: About 18:00 back, only the men that matter are in the group. Everyone else is dropped.

3.1 MI/5 km to go: The gap is 30 seconds. Sagan is a descending maniac. His bike is airborne during turn transitions, like a downhill ski racer.

2 MI/3.2 km to go: Plaza is hammering across the flats. Sagan chases at 36 mph, but Peto won’t have enough road left before the finish.

RED KITE TIME: Plaza has this. He’s not eased his tempo.

Ruben puts his thumb in his mouth. He sips the champagne! Bueno!

Ruben Plaza

Plaza wins the stage

Here comes Sagan at 30 sec @Petosagan taps his heart. He’s a certainty now for the green jersey, as he leads by 91 points, but he is desperately hungry for a stage win. Click on the link for his twitter comments.

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11 km to go: Let’s reset to the main field.

A very select group of ten, the men who matter, is away: Nibali attacks near the peak of the Col de Mense, holds his gap, and is first over the crest. The remainder of the field ride fast, but calmly up the climb.

Valverde attacks on the descent. Froome follows Sir Geraint, who leads the chase.

6.2 MI/10 km to go: The group is together, led by Valverde, and they are flying down the climb.

Warren Barguil cuts to the inside of the turn, he’s going waaaay too fast.


He pulls his foot to tripod the corner, he is completely out of control.

Holy crap, he T-bones Geraint Thomas right off the road.

Oh my God, Thomas hits a telephone pole. Barguil bounces off of Thomas. Barguil stays up. That crash is 100% on Barguil. Terrible crash.

Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas

That was just reckless. The jury should relegate Barguil, at least a fine. That wasn’t racing luck. That was stupid.

Thomas’s shoulder and head made first contact with the pole. He’ll need a chopper.

Tejay had a front-row seat.

Froome sits 2nd wheel and looks comfortable. He’s on Valverde. It happened behind him. He heard the crash, for sure, but might not realize how bad it was.

2.4 MI/4 km to go: Nibali is holding his own and into his road TT stance, forearms balanced over the bar tops, with 22 seconds. Good to see him going well.

No words on Geraint Thomas. Sir Geraint grabbed at the pole as he went by to save himself. Hope he hasn’t separated his shoulder.

The group is on the flat and Froome, wisely, is at the head of affairs.

1 km to go: Nibali is alone and he’ll motor on in. Nice statement by the Shark from Messina.

Somehow, Sir Geraint is on his bike and only 40 seconds behind Groupe Froome.

That’s astounding.

It also shows that maybe, just maybe, the Tour needs a stricter concussion protocol. There is no way a doctor could have done a neuro evaluation that quickly. I’m shocked that he’s not seriously damaged. He was going 40 mph on the descent, and probably 20 mph as he hit the telephone pole.

The finish order:

  1. Ruben Plaza (Lampre) 4:30:10
  2. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) @ 00:30
  3. Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) @ 00:36
  4. Simon Gerschke (Giant) @ 00:40
  5. Bob Jungels (Trek) s.t.

The GC:

  1. Mr. Chris (SKY) 64:47:16
  2. Nairo (Movistar) @ 3:10
  3. Tejay (BMC) @ 3:32
  4. Valverde (Movistar) @ 4:02
  5. Contador (Tinkoff) @ 4:23

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What Did We Learn Today?

1) “I headbutted the wooden pole thing” Dude, it was a telephone pole.
How tough is Sir Geraint? He crashed on stage 1 of the 2013 Tour de France, suffered a hairline fracture of his pelvis, needed help on every stage to mount and dismount his bike, yet Thomas made it to Paris in support of his captain, race winner Chris Froome.

2) Warren Barguil should be very nervous. This is the second bad crash he’s caused through his reckless riding in this Tour. The peloton has a lengthy memory. They look after their own.

3) Professional cycling needs a comprehensive concussion protocol. There is far too much at risk to allow riders and non-trained personnel to evaluate potential head injuries. It took a 5,000 man lawsuit against the NFL, which was settled for $675 million, for the League to realize that a player’s long term neurological health was important. I hope the UCI realizes this soon. But, as it is the UCI, they won’t. Click here for a current State of the TBI wrap-up from Cycling

Random Race Fact: On July 16th, 1989, Greg LeMond claimed the yellow jersey following a mountain time trial of 24 miles between Gap and Orcieres-Merlette. His winning time put him in yellow 40 seconds ahead of his rival, Laurent Fignon.

Join in the conversation. What should be done about head injuries? The UCI has no current protocol. Is it criminal? Or does it just show how little they value riders’ health?

Hit up the McGann Facebook page to make your case, and give McGann a LIKE.

On the Twitter, you can follow BikeRaceInfo here.

Stanley’s Twitter is here.  I tweet early, and often.

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