Today was the final truly mountainous stage in the Pyrenees starting at Orthez, with its attractive old bridge, (pictured) a strategic valley bottom town on the
pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella in Northern Spain. The Tour crossed into the Spanish province of Navarre for about 50 kilometres at Port de Larrau, returning to France at the Col de la Pierre-Saint-Martin. We saw aerial views of the Chapelle Notre Dame de Bonne Secours and they went through the town of Arette. (I also found this interesting painting: Arette by the artist Paul Ambille) After passing through Gourette the race finished on the top of the Col d’Aubisque. The camera views from the helicopter made it feel on top of the world with the valley far below and the commentator remarked on the crowds of people who had come up to the mountain top to see the race – just as the camera focussed on a flock of sheep being herded by two Pyrenean mountain dogs.
This stage started with the news that the Alexander Vinokourov had been found to have had a blood transfusion and that he and his Astana team had withdrawn from the race (cycling news report). Although originally one of the favourites to win the Tour, Vinokourov was no longer in contention for the yellow jersey due to his accident in the first week but he was improving daily, was yesterday’s stage winner and looked set to challenge for more wins. This incident has cast a black cloud over the race as we have already had the withdrawal of Patrik Sinkewitz (T-Mobile) due to a failed drugs test. The controversy over Michael Rasmusson continued to rumble on with a him being booed at the start and finish of this stage, which he won being challenged hard in the final kilometres by Levi Leipheimer (Discovery), Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto) and Alberto Contador (Discovery), who is Rasmusson’s closest rival for the yellow jersey. Later we learned that Cristian Moreni (Cofidis) had tested positive (cycling news report) and had been arrested, followed by the withdrawal of the entire Cofidis Team. Sadly this means that it is the end of the tour for Britain’s Bradley Wiggins who has seen some very good placings this year. Finally came the news that that Rasmusson had been sacked by his Rabobank Team (cycling news report), stating that he had been dishonest over his whereabouts in May/June which should have been notified so he could be randomly drug tested. Rasmusson admitted that he was in Mexico when he was reported to be in Italy. There will be no yellow jersey wearer for Stage 17 but, barring mishap, it should be on Contador’s shoulders for Stage 18.
POLKA DOT (climber) – Juan Mauricio Soler (Barloworld)
GREEN (points) – Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic)
WHITE (under 25) – Alberto Contador (Discovery)
COMBATIVE – Carlos Sastre – (CSC)
LEADING TEAM – Discovery Channel Team