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Welcome back to the Critérium du Dauphiné! Today's stage 2 leads the peloton across the Monts du Vivarais, west of Valence. The stage moves southwards to finish in Bourg-Saint-Andéol after 177 kilometres and four categorised climbs:
Km 11 - Côte de Saint-Jeure-d'Ay - 2.1 km at 5.8 % - Cat. 4
Km 54 - Col des Nonières - 4.7 km at 4 % - Cat. 3
Km 102 - Col du Moulin-à-Vent - 10.5 km at 4 % - Cat. 2
Km 124 - Col du Benas - 10.6 km at 4.8 % - Cat. 2
If a breakaway can be kept close, the sprinters' teams could take advantage of the flat finale to reel them back in and prepare a bunch finish. They shouldn't count on Astana, though, as Alberto Contador has already said that he won't be looking to keep the race lead at any cost.
If a strong escape group forms early in the stage, it has a good chance of staying clear.
The stage got underway in Annonay at 11.55 this morning. Paul Martens (Rabobank), Dennis Van Winden (Rabobank), Mauro Finetto (Liquigas) and Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) unfortunately did no sign up at the start, so there are 171 riders left in the bunch. Zubeldia broke his wrist and will probably not be able to race the Tour de France, which is a major blow for the American team and its leader, Lance Armstrong. More injury updates can be found here.
As the peloton came down the first of today's four climbs, a four-rider breakaway went clear: Bram Tankink (Rabobank), Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R-La Mondiale), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) quickly built up a good gap that peaked at 8'10" at km 35.
The bunch, which has clearly given these riders the go, is now 7'20" adrift of the escape group.
Unfortunately, it has started raining on the riders. At the finish in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, it is still dry, but the sky is overcast.
The break has passed the Col des Nonières, the second climb of the day. Bonnafond took the maximum points in front of Tankink, Isasi and Delaplace.
The Col des Nonières will also be raced during this year's Tour de France, in stage 12 from Bourg-de-Péage to Mende.
Best-placed rider in this breakaway is Isasi, only 34 seconds behind Contador on GC. If the break stays clear, the Euskaltel rider will be the new maillot jaune (until tomorrow's time trial, that is...).
At the intermediate sprint in Cheylard, Delaplace took the points in front of Augé and Tankink.
Bonnafond, the AG2R rider in the break, knows the area well. As a Junior rider, he held a licence with the FC Cheylard... no wonder he was motivated to attack today.
Earlier today, when the breakaway wasn't established yet, Cyril Gautier (Bbox) took two KOM points at the summit of the very first climb. Gautier thus leads the mountains classification at the moment.
As expected, Astana doesn't intervene at the front of the bunch. Neither Isasi nor anyone else of the leading riders really represent an overall threat to the Spaniard. With tomorrow's time trial in Provence coming up, the GC standings will be re-shiuffled anyway.
So, who's got ambitions to catch the breakaway? Mirlam, Saxo Bank and Bouygues Telecom are the main teams pulling the peloton right now.
We have a new time gap: 6'10". Since the start of the stage, the riders's average speed has been 40.4 km/h.
Another rider has given up: Marco Marzano (Lampre) just got off his bike in the feed zone.
Apparently, the chasers' work is paying off: they have reduced the leaders' advantage to 5'15" at km 91.
The front group is climbing up the third ascent of the day now, the Col du Moulin-à-Vent (10.5 km at 4 percent - Cat. 2). The area is quite challenging for the riders, as the Ardèche region is very hilly - if indeed the bunch manages to catch the break, it will be due to a lot of hard work.
Tankink is the first rider to cross the summit of the Col, followed by Bonnafond.
In the bunch, Gautier and Jérôme from Bouygues have accelerated to take the remainder of KOM points at the top of the climb...
The results at the summit:
1. Tankink (Rabobank), 10 pts
2. Bonnafond (AG2R), 9 pts
3. Isasi (Euskaltel), 8 pts
4. Delaplace (Saur), 7 pts
5. Augé (Cofidis), 6 pts
6. Gautier (Bouygues), 5 pts
In Privas (km 109.5), after a fast descent, the intermediate sprint was won by Augé in front of Tankink and Isasi. The Col du Benas is next, 10.6 km at 4.8 percent. This is the last climb today until the finish.
After the descent from this Cat. 2 climb, there are about 35 more or less flat kilometres yet to cover until Bourg-Saint-Andéol. If the leaders can hold their current advantage of 5'35", they still have a chance of the stage win in the Rhone valley.
This last ascent will decide who will wear the mountains classification jersey during the next two days. Gautier has 15 points at the moment, but he's back in the bunch. Tankink and Bonnafond have each scored 13 points in today's breakaway. There are up to ten points for grabs at the summit of the Col...
4'39" is the current gap as they climb up the narrow road. Saxo Bank and Mirlam are still at the front of the peloton.
Fortunately, it has stopped raining and the roads are dry now. It's still cloudy though... Isasi now leads the front group - if they can hold off the bunch for more than 34 seconds, he is the new race leader.
It will be a hard finale for the break after all of these rolling hills spent in front of the race. All will depend on their freshness in the last 40 kilometres - if Saxo Bank and Milram get some help in the chase, especially from Lampre (for Grega Bole) or Liquigas (for Daniele Bennati), we could still see a bunch sprint finish... it will be tight!
The break works evenly together against the threat from behind. There are quite grey clouds up ahead, as well as a little bit of a head wind, which doesn't make it any easier...
Tankink opens the sprint as they approch the KOM. He gets 10 points, followed by Bonnafond, 9 points. The Dutchman will be honoured with the polkadot jersey on the podium this afternoon!
Team Sky has now started to chase, too. The gap is down to 3'55", and the roads are wet because of a light drizzle.
The road remains very narrow in the descent, too, as the riders grind their teeth in search of speed. The tarmac doesn't look very smooth, either.
The descent is quite long as it slowly transforms into a downhill flat. You have to constantly push hard even though there are quite a lot of twists. They are powering through a forest now - ah, the sun comes out again!
Our five front men are able to stabilise their lead at the moment, it is still at 3'40". Saxo Bank and Milram riders are pulling hard though and seem determined. 38 kilometres to go.
The countryside around this region is lush and green, with rolling hills, quiet fields and the occasional village. This is the flat finale to the finish in the Rhone valley.
Bonnafond in the break also seems determined, though. The whole group is.
The peloton is breaking up... some 30 riders are trying to bridge back. They'll manage.
A Sky rider is still leading the bunch out as several riders are still a bit off the back. The next few kiloemtres will decide if this breakaway stays clear or not. 3'30" is the current gap with 30 kms to go.
Bonnafond is in aero position with his elbows on the handlebars. The bunch could still catch them as sometimes it can be quite quick in the last 15 kilometres - but the gap has remained about the same for the last 20 minutes.
Saxo Bank, Sky and Milram are doing their best to control it. Maybe they don't want to reel them in too soon, either.
Fortunately the weather is stable and the roads are dry. It's humid at 23°C as the sun heats up the countryside as they race through some vineyards.
Susan here now, taking over from Hedwig.
It looks like the time is showing up wrong on this live report, sorry about that.
We are going to go out on a limb and predict the field won't catch the break group. Just over 20 km and more than three minutes? Well, anything is possible....
Now that we have said that, of course, the gap has dropped to under three minutes. Going to be a close one today.
Quick Step and Liquigas are now showing up at the head of the chase. Gap is now 2:31.
Quick Step is riding for sprinter Andre Stauff. Cervelo and Saxo Bank are at the front now, too.
The gap is dropping every second, but still -- more than two minutes. The peloton may have just waited a tiny bit too long....
And now the gap has gone under the two minute mark.
It doesn't really get much closer than this -- we are on the edge of our seats. Will the break make it to the end? Will they run out of steam too soon?
Fortunately the weather is co-operating (for a change!). We have sunshine and it is warm enough that a number of riders have opened their jerseys.
The gap is now 1:28.
With about 4km to go, we have some major bumps in the road -- ok very small climbs. Will they make a difference?
Now we see a Francaise des Jeux rider at the head of the peloton.
The gap is now at one minuted, with 8 plus KM to go.
56 seconds now. Everything is still possible...
Footon takes its turn at chasing.
The cars between the two groups have now been taken out. The leaders are still hanging in there with 45 seconds.
The usual rule of thumb is one minute for 10 kms. We now have 6km with 43 seconds.....
Liquigas leads ghe chse, with Astana right behind. Contador and his yellow jersey are right up there.
Milram takes its turn chasing.
Five km to go and 41 seconds.....
Who will attack out of the lead group? And when? On the other hand, who might win the sprint of this group?
Tankink and Auge are the most experienced, but Deleplace's younger legs might be fresher.
With 4 km to go, the gap is 20 seconds, and Delplace tries to go. The others don't let him.
The peloton is close enough now (12 seconds) that the escapees are starting to look back nervously.
Looks like the dream is about over. Only eight seconds now.
Ten seconds now, Isasi and Bonnafond try to get away.
That was it, everyone together.
Nearly perfect timing from the peloton, catching them at the one km mark. Cervelo at the head of the field, really turning ont he speed. Sky right behind them.
Sky opens the sprint, many riders together, but it is JJ Haedo of Saxo Bank who takes a close decision.
Haedo came up from way back on the left side, passing everyone else as if they were standing still.
That is the third win this season for Haedo.
Second place today goes to German champion Martin Reimer of Cervelo, with yesterday's stage winner Grega Bole of Lampre third in the sprint.
Here are our stage results:
1 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank
2 Martin Reimer (Ger) Cervelo Test Team
3 Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre-Farnese Vini
4 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française Des Jeux
5 Roger Kluge (Ger) Team Milram
6 Andreas Stauff (Ger) Quick Step
7 Jeremie Galland (Fra) Saur - Sojasun
8 Jean Eudes Demaret (Fra) Cofidis, le Credit en Ligne
9 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team
10 Michel Kreder (Ned) Garmin - Transitions
There are no changes in the overall classification today.
That's it for today! Join us again tomorrow for the individual time trial. Thanks for reading along.