Tour de France 2012, stage 16 preview: Monster mountains on the horizon

After a much-needed rest day, the 99th Tour de France resumes with the first of two monster days in the Pyrenees on Wednesday, July with a 112.4-mile journey from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon.

The remaining 156 riders from the starting field of 198 on Jun 30 in Liege will encounter featuring four legendary Pyrénéan climbs: Aubisque, Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin and Peyresourde.

Bangeres-Luchon, France, the stage 16 finish

The climbing will begin after only 25 miles with the Col d’Aubisque (16.4 km at 7.1 percent). Following a nearly 20 mile descent, the stage hits the base of the Col du Tourmalet and 12 miles later, the Souvenir Jacques Goddet — the highpoint of this year’s Tour at 6,938 feet.

More Mountains Loom

Following another descent, the route immediately climbs the Col d’Aspin (12.4 km at 4.8 percent), followed by the 19.5 km Peyresourde, which averages 6.7 percent and ends 181.5 kilometers into the stage.

The race last finished in Pau in 2010, when Pierrick Fédrigo, the winner of stage 15, caught and passed Lance Armstrong for the win. That route traveled today’s stage in reverse, covering the Peyresourde, Col d’Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque from Bagnères-de-Luchon.

Luchon’s Tour history dates to 1910. It hosted the start and finish of the first two high mountain stages of the Tour de France, with two victories for Octave Lapize, the overall winner.

Tour de France History

Two years ago, 100 years after that historic stage, a similar route saw Frenchman Thomas Voeckler win in Bagnères-de-Luchon wearing the French champion’s jersey.

This year’s test will likely include the group of overall contenders, including Bradley Wiggins, who’s held the race lead since stage seven, his teammate Chris Froome (2:05) and third-place Vincenzo Nibali (2:23).

Defending race titlist Cadel Evans is currently fourth overall (3:19) with BMC teammate Tejay van Garderen remaining the top American, seventh overall and trailing by 6:57.

What will also be interesting in stage 16 (and 17) is the progress of Tyler Farrar. The winner of stages in all grand tours is currently the lanterne rouge, with a 3 1/2-minute cushion over the next-to-last rider. But will Farrar be able to get over the mountains?

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