Monday, 19 July 2010

Stage 16 Preview: A tribute to Mercx

Known as the Queen of the Pyrenees, the stage starts in Bagnères-de-Luchon. Many future Tour winners have triumphed here including: Octave Lapize, Firmin Lambot, Ottavio Bottecchia, Nicolas Frantz, Antonin Magne, Sylvère Maes, Jean Robic, Hugo Koblet, Federico Bahamontes, Eddy Merckx and Luis Ocana. For the last 25 years this spa resort has often hosted stage starts. Since 1986 the town has been visited 6 times, 5 of which when the town played host. The seventh Luchon-Pau stage since the War, the town hosts the Tour for the centenary celebration of the regions relationship with Le Tour. This “classic” has been conquered by some truly magnificent Tour champions: Jean Robic, Federico Bahamontes and Bernard Hinault.

Pau loves the Tour and the Tour loves Pau. The city of Henri IV has gracefully hosted 62 stages of the race, surpassed only by Paris and Bordeaux. The list of prize winners in Pau is a magnificient Who’s Who of the Tour. From Alfredo Binda in 1930, to Robic, Coppi, Bahamontes, Gimondi, Hinault, Kelly, Delgado, Chiappucci and Pereiro: all have triumphed here. Only heavyweights can hope to win in the Béarn capital, even if sprinters sometimes find a way through to the front.

Commentators and journalists have criticised tomorrow's stage for its long descent into Pau. While the ascent will be challenging, the descent is long enough for any wounded warriors to hunt down their rival marksmen and regroup for more bloodless battling in the psychological warfare that will be played out as they carve their way across the perilous Pyrenees into Pau.

The riders will first be challenged by the Peyresourde, whose summit hits at around 11km from the start, before tackling Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque; the route is a relentless slog with each mountain seemingly blending into the next. With the Aubisque pass 60 kilometres from the finishing line, but followed by 30 kilometres of descent before getting to grips with the valley bottom, any breakaway is sure to be caught. The route is the same as that taken in 1969 when Eddy Merckx was victorious in Mourenx after a 180-kilometre breakaway, and this stage has been designed as a tribute to the beloved Belgium rider.

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