.- Tour de France competitors entered the 16th stage today, winding through the Italian and Swiss Alps and bringing cyclists near the village where Pope Benedict is vacationing. Aware of the athletes’ presence, he sent them a message challenging them to let sports form their character, especially in the realm of “moral and educational values.”
After a rest day on Monday, the world's greatest cyclists began a grueling mountain stage on Tuesday. The 16th stage of the tour, it stretches from Martigny to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France, a distance of almost 100 miles.
The Tour will pass by the Italian Alpine town of Introd, which is near the Pope's vacation spot in Les Combes. Although the papal vacation doesn't usually make headlines, last Thursday evening Pope Benedict slipped and fractured his right wrist, an injury that required minor surgery to correct.
Today however, the message from the chalet was of an entirely different tenor.
The Vatican's press director, Fr. Federico Lombardi, announced that on the “occasion of the passage of the Tour de France in the Valle d'Aosta, the Holy Father … addresses his cordial greetings to all the athletes and to the organizers of the race, at the same time extending his thoughts to all sports men and women currently involved in various activities and competitions.”
Benedict XVI, Lombardi said, hopes that “involvement in sport may contribute to the integral development of the person, and that it may never be separated from respect for moral and educational values."
Currently, Spaniard Alberto Contador is in the lead, with American teammate Lance Armstrong in second place, one minute and 37 seconds behind.
The Tour will finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday.