|Rui Costa and all his names going over the line on stage 16 - Photo Credit: Laurent Rebours|
Rui Alberto Faria da Costa has a lot of names. I wonder how long it took him to learn how to write them when he was a kid. I had a hard enough time learning to spell two names, but five? Ok, I guess the "da" isn't really a name, but you still have to spell it...but I digress. Rui Costa as he is more commonly and efficiently known put together a great ride today and slipped away on the days last climb to claim his first stage of this years tour. The Portugese grimpeur has been overshadowed by his teammates Quintana and Valverde this month...but he showed today that Movistar is more than a two man show.
A strong climber and consecutive winner of 2 Tours de Suisse, Costa played his hand perfectly today working his way into the 26 man breakaway which grew its lead to over 12 minutes at one point. When the road started up the Col de Manse he attacked and separated from the others. His move was measured but effective and as he rode over the summit he had 48 seconds on the chasers and over 11 minutes on the field. Once on the descent he put his time trialing skills to the test (he is the national time trial champion of Portugal) and maintained the lead and down the hill and all the way to Gap.
Meanwhile, back in the GC group the sparks were flying. Contador may have conceded that Froome was stronger in this years tour, but he will not go down without a fight. It was vintage Contador as they raced up the category 2 Col de Manse and he attacked over and over again in an attempt to put Froome under pressure. Froome did not panic, and why would he with his strongman Porte still there to protect him? Porte again put in a brilliant ride in support of his team leader and managed to cover every attack the the Spaniard threw at them. At one point he even had to slow up a bit so Froome could grab back on to his wheel and then he led him back up to Contador.
With just over 5 km to go, Porte finally cracked and Froome was left alone with a select group of GC podium contenders. As he had in every other stage, the leader of the race neutralized every attack thrown at him by the movistar boys and then the chase was on down the other side. Contador remained on the rivet and flew like Paolo Savoldelli in attempt to break away from Froome and the others. His exuberance got the best of him however, as he lost his wheel and slid out on a right hand bend. His crash force Froome off the side and into the grass where he had to unclip to maintain his balance. It was an eerily similar situation to the famous crash of Joseba Beloki as he tried to break from Lance Armstrong in the 2003 tour. The results were not nearly as bad for Contador as they were for Beloki (who broke his hip in the crash) and he was able to get back into the group and continue to fight as they rode past the spot where Beloki lay in agony on that fateful day a decade ago. Contador and Froome worked together and bridged up to the rejuvenated Richie Porte who again pulled his leader back to the other 6 riders...another MVP performance by the Australian.
The attacks came fast and hard for the rest of the race but Froome had no problems covering all of them and the group finished together over 10 minutes back of Costa. There was some finger wagging (or rather thumb upping) and discussion between Contador and Quintana, who did not attack after Contador's crash. The Spaniard did not believe it however and ruffled a few feathers with his animated response to the reaction from the other riders in their select group. He took big chances today on the descent and props to him for doing so, but to expect every one else to wait when you make a mistake is pushing it a bit...more than a few riders let him know it.
The big loser of the day was young Laurens Ten Dam who missed the cut on the Col de Manse and dropped out of the top 5 in the overall standings. Quintana took his place and Purito moved up to 7th on the eve of the final individual time trial. With three challenging mountain stages remaining from Thursday to Saturday, tomorrow's stage will be crucial to those who aren't as strong on the climbs to try and stretch whatever leads they may have on the 30 km ITT. With a thousand meters of climbing on the stage, there will also be a chance for the non time trial specialists to keep their losses at a minimum before the final big stages in the Alps.