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The race returns to Belgium today for a 200-plus km jaunt through the Ardennes. Another tough stage with some famous climbs.
The race is in Belgium today, and the run in to Heers takes in some of the climbs of Fleche Wallone, including the fearsome Mur de Huy. Should be another fun day!
We have two riders in a break: Maro Aerts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil). They have more than four minutes on the field.
The weather is once again not what it could be. The sky is heavily overcast and there are some showers. It is notably cooler, though.
A number of riders were not at the start this morning, including Allan Davis and Valentin Iglinsky of Astana, Yuheni Hutarvic and Mikael Cherel of FdJ.
There was a crash only 13 km into the stage, and some riders were unable to continue: Steve Cozza (Garmin-Transitions), Valeriy Dmitriyev (Astana Cycling Team), Frank Hoj (Team Saxo Bank), and Johan van Summeren (Garmin-Transitions).
Rabobank is leading the chasing peloton, with HTC-Columbia right behind them.
RadioShack shows up near the front of things, too.
There are seven climbs today, including the Mur de Huy. All come in the last half of the stage.
The gap is holding steady at 4:40. The peloton doesn't look like it is in a hurry to catch these two leaders.
Jose Ivan Gutierrez of Caisse d'Epargne won this race in 2007 and 2008, but won't win it this year. He has abandoned.
Perhaps the peloton ought to take these two more seriously: Lagutin came into this stage in 22d place, only 2:12 down. That makes him our virtual leader now.
Aerts was 40th, at 7:56.
Good news -- the weather is not so bad after all. We even see some sunshine and blue skies!
The two leaders have now started up the day's third climb, the Peau d'Eau, 3700 metres and an average gradient of 3.5%.
Jack Bobridge of Garmin-Transitions won yesterday's stage, but right now he is at the other end of the peloton -- the far end, that is.
Rabobank and HTC-Columbia are still sharing the lead duties in the peloton.
Andre Greipel is a man of many talents. Not only is he the winningest sprinter in the peloton, he is also an ace at carrying water bottles. He has just stuffed his jersey full and is on his way back to his thirsty teammates.
A puncture for Michael Golas of Vacansoleil. A quick change and the Polish rider is on his way again.
The gap has dropped slightly, to 4.13, and the sun is coming out even more.
Bobridge is no longer at the end of the peloton. He has fallen off the back now.
The peloton goes through a series of speed bumps. Not much fun, and they really have to be careful.
An extremely sharp turn is too much for several riders who have to put a foot down. But at least Bobridge has managed to nearly catch up again.
Alexandr Pliuschin of Katusha attacks out of the peloton on a climb.
Bobridge is not the only one to catch back up. Robbie McEwen and a handful of others roll on up to the peloton.
Pliuschin is rolling along quite nicely. The gap is now down to 3:15.
Pliuschin now has about 40 seconds on the peloton. He is 2:50 behind the two leader, with the field at 3:33.
RadioShack is near the front again, and we see Andreas Klöden, who came into the stage in ninth place, not quite two minutes down. This is the kind of stage he ought to do well in.
Roy Curvers of Skil-Shimano punctures.
Lots of narrow roads today, both in towns and in the countryside. We see Bobridge at his now familiar position at the tail end of the field.
Our two leaders are climbing again, up the Cote de Ben-Ahin. The Mur de Huy is next.
Michael Van Stayen of Topsport Vlaanderen is the next to puncture.
The gap is comIng down more and more. It is now only 2:34, and we assume that Pliuschin is somewhere in between.
Now a Liquigas rider has punctured. Up ahead, an Euskaltel rider attacks.
A Milram rider attacks, too.
The Milram rider is Linus Gerdemann.
With the Mur de Huy looming, more and more riders attack out of the peloton.
The Mur de Huy is only 1300 metres, but offers up a 9.8% gradient.
An HTC-Columbia rider just missed a turn and was lucky to avoid going into the crowd.
Aert and Lagutin start their way up.
And up they all go now, over a very steep section.
Gerdemann is on the steepest section now, some 22-24%, and having a time of it....
Turns out the HTC rider was none other than race leader Tony Martin! That was a bad time to to fall back...
He is back up front again, though.
Mark Renshaw of HTC-Columbia falls off the back of the field. This is not really his kind of terrain.....
The peloton is splitting now, but the gaps are still fairly small.
Moernhout joins a group trying to get away. He is only 10 seconds down, so Martin gives chase.
Machado of RadioShack leads the charge. There are now maybe 25 riders in his group.
Gerdemann tries to attack again. Machado and Boom go with him.
It looks like Martin is in the first chase group.
The first chase group, including Martin, now has a decent lead over its follower.
It is not clear how many helpers, if any, Martin has in his group. Moerenhout has at least one, Lars Boom.
Only about a minute now for Aerts and Lagutin.
Two more riders have punctured.
The two leading chsase groups have come togeher now. Grabsch is with Martin and takes over the lead work.
Only 52 seconds now.
McEwen falls off the field. Jurgen Roelandts was the one who just punctured, and he has a teammate helping him back up to the field.
A Garmin-Transition rider punctures.
Three HTC-Columbia riders lead the peloton -- maybe 50-riders strong? -- over a bridge, in chase of the two leaders.
Christopher Sutton of Sky punctures. This has to be a record for flat tyres!
Aerts doggedly leads the way, with the field only 52 seconds behind him.
AGain attacks out of the peloton, with Machado among them.
Pliuschin is now caught by the field.
The attacks have not really gotten away.
There is a loose group of 20 or so. They can now see Aerts and Legutin.
Moerenhout and Martin are second and third in the chase group.
That was it for the long escape.
Moerenhout took third place in the final intermediate sprint, picking up one bonus second. He is now only nine seconds down in second place overall behind Martin.
The peloton is large again, with a few riders ahead.
A Liquigas rider gives his all a few metres ahead of the field. Up ahead, Machado, Aerts, Devolder and a fourth rider have a 10-15 second lead.
Romain Sicard is the fourth rider in the lead group, with a 21 second lead.
Andre Greipel has worked his way back to the peloton and now takes over the lead work.
Machado is the only one in the lead group who poses a threat to Martin. He is only 1:47 down.
The foursome is building up the gap, now at 39 seconds.
And just like that the gap is down to 30 seconds again.
Machado is actually much more of a threat to third-placed Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky). He is only 23 seconds behind the Norwegian.
There is a Sky rider near the front of the chase group, and we assume it is Boasson Hagen.
The gap is down to 16 seconds. The leaders look back in disgust.
The four leaders will be caught momentarily.
The peloton of some 25 or so riders now catches the four leaders.
No attacks yet.....
Devolder and Aerts have already fallen out of the first group. They have done enough today.
Boom jumps out to take the final intermediate sprint. Martin takes second and Greipel third.
Pliuischin isn't done today -- he attacks again.
He doesn't get away though.
Frederik Veuchelen of Vacansoleil is the next to try his luck. But it looks like someone is ahead of him.....
Veuchelen has only a short lead.
This is a very rolling section, nothing but ups and downs.
Sky move to the head of the chase.
Veuchelen is slowly building up his lead, but it is still maybe only 10 seconds.
Ah, a cobblestone section. 1500 metres of bumps!
Steegmans (RadioShack) and Boom attack out of the field.
None of these attacks are dangerous for Martin, but for Boasson Hagen. Sky moves up to take charge of the chase.
The gaps aren't large, but there isn't far to go, either.
Liquigas now leads the charge to catch Boom and Steegmans, and is successful.
Everyone is now together again, with 2 km to go.
New attacks out of the field.
A Footon rider leads the way, followed by a Liquigas.
The two leader have only a short lead over the field -- now they are caught.
Boasson Hagen opened the sprint, with Greipel so far back he looked to have no chance. Ha! He found his way around the others and took his second stage win in this race.
Boasson Hagen took second place.
Let's make that third place for EBH. Jurgen Roelandts sneaked in for second, a bike length behind Greipel.
That makes 18 wins this season for Greipel, and he leads the peloton with the number of wins. He was named today as captain of the German Worlds team, and has to be a favourite for the title.
A top day for HTC-Columbia, as Greipel wins the stage and Martin defends his overall lead.
And Martin even made it into the top ten at the finish!
That's all for now. Thanks for joining us and be sure to read along tomorrow, when we wrap things up with an individual time trial.