BAGNERES-DE-LUCHON, France – The Pyrenees on Tuesday lived up to their reputation for causing ups and downs at the Tour de France: A French rider climbed in the standings, an American went down, and an Australian rebounding from an ordeal of doping suspicions won Stage 16.
Riding in his 10th Tour, three-time world champion Michael Rogers of Australia won his first Tour stage in a downhill breakaway behind savvy racing and well-paced riding.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali was still descending from the day’s biggest climb, the Porte de Bales, as Rogers crossed and finished 8 1/2 minutes later. But the Italian looks even more likely to win the three-week race after keeping pace with contenders for the yellow jersey, and gaining time on two others.
One of the laggards was Tejay van Garderen. Unable to keep pace on the Port de Bales, the 25-year-old American finished more than 3 1/2 minutes after Nibali. Van Garderen only slipped a spot in the standings, to sixth, but the gap to the rider ahead of him grew.
The other laggard was France’s Romain Bardet. However, Thibaut Pinot kept pace with Nibali and replaced Bardet as France’s top podium hopeful: He rose to third.
For the second straight year, the race’s entree to the Pyrenees has dented Van Garderen’s podium ambitions.
“It’s definitely disappointing,” the American said. “I had high hopes for a podium … I just didn’t have the legs, I felt a bit empty.”
A year ago, the Montana native lost more than 10 minutes to the main contenders as they rode up to the Ax 3 Domaines ski station on Stage 8. The year before, in his Tour debut, he lost seconds in the title quest during two Pyrenean stages, but still finished fifth overall and took home the white jersey given to the race’s best young rider.
For Rogers, the 147-mile leg from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon was one of vindication and overdue Tour glory. He took a bow as he crossed the line.
“Every cyclist’s dream is to win a stage at the Tour de France,” said Rogers. “I can’t describe the joy I felt in the last 500 meters … I hope I don’t have to wait another 10 years to experience it again.”
Rogers came close not to riding in the Tour at all.
In a ruling in April, the International Cycling Union accepted that meat Rogers ate in China last year probably caused his positive doping test at the Japan Cup shortly afterward. He convinced the UCI that he had not intended to cheat, and said the episode was “a very difficult time” for his family.
After the UCI ruling, Rogers said Tuesday he returned with “a different outlook on life … Sometimes you need a lesson in life to see the silver lining in the cloud.”