July 22, 2014 9:43:41 pm
Michael Rogers of Australia led a breakaway to a downhill finish in winning the longest stage as the Tour de France entered the Pyrenees on Tuesday.
Vincenzo Nibali, about 8 1/2 minutes back, reined in his top challengers and retained the yellow jersey after Stage 16.
But the contest for the podium spots below him was shaken up: Thibault Pinot of France rose to third in the standings, bumping aside compatriot Romain Bardet, while Tejay van Garderen of the U.S. lost more than 3 1/2 minutes – and fell from fifth to sixth overall. Bardet, up to fifth, was nearly 3 minutes ahead of the American.
Rogers, a three-time world champion, took a bow as he crossed the line alone to collect his first career Tour stage win after the 237.5-kilometer (147-mile) leg from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon featuring an ascent up the super-tough Port de Bales.
Rogers came close not to riding on this Tour for Tinkoff-Saxo Bank team.
In a ruling announced in April, the International Cycling Union accepted that meat Rogers ate in China last year likely caused his positive doping test at the Japan Cup shortly afterward. Rogers, a crucial teammate of two-time Tour champion Alberto Contador, convinced the UCI he wasn’t intending to cheat, and said the episode was “a very difficult time” for his family.
Rogers raced last October in China, where clenbuterol is widely administered to livestock to build muscle and reduce fat. The UCI said it disqualified Rogers from the Japanese race but consulted the World Anti-Doping Agency before deciding “he should not be sanctioned any further.”
He won two stages in this year’s Giro d’Italia.
As the day began, a breakaway group of 21 riders jelled within the first two hours, and stuck together for much of the day, chiseling out a lead of more than 12 minutes.
But their unity began to disintegrate along the 12-kilometer Port de Bales climb, which was ranked hors categorie. In its steepest patch, the gradient reached 11 percent.
Before the stage, the Lampre-Merida team said world champion Rui Costa of Portugal would not start due to pneumonia. The Portuguese rider had been in 13th place, about 13 minutes behind Nibali.
The stage was just an appetizer for the Pyrenees: Uphill finishes await on Wednesday and Thursday.
Aside from a penultimate stage time trial, Stage 17 starting in Saint-Gaudens will be the shortest this year at 124.5 kilometers (77 miles). It features three hard Category 1 climbs, and an ascent to Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet ski station.
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