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Hello and welcome back to the Cyclingews Live report of the Tour de France stage 12 from Tonnerre to Vittel. 211.5 kilomtres are on today's menu, with the stage profile looking extremely rugged. A total of six categorized climbs (all Cat. 4 except one, Cat. 3) and many more bumps will make this stage a rocky one - suited for the sprinters if Columbia-HTC's rivals are willing to cooperate in the chase of a more than likely breakaway. Stay tuned!
170 riders were at the start in Tonnerre this morning, with one rider missing: Rui Costa from Caisse d'Epargne left the race after injuring his shoulder ligaments in yesterday's massive pile-up.
The bunch has been waved off at the end of the neutral zone about ten minutes ago, and the race is on. Riders attempt to break away off the front, but at the moment, nobody succeeds.
The categorized climbs of today's stage are:
km 19 - Baon climb (2.2km at 4.2%)
km 55 - Gye-sur Seine climb (2.4km at 4.4%)
km 64.5 - Essoyes climb (2.2km at 5%)
km 150 - Grands-Bois climb (2.3km at 5%)
km 156.5 - Morlaix climb (2.1km at 4.2%)
km 170.5 - Bourmont climb (0.8km at 11.1%)
Interesting! At the moment, the peloton still rides "groupé", but some escapees are bound to jump away soon.
The riders have reached the baon climb. Still all together.
Intermediate sprints in this stage are:
km 32 - Channes
km 90 - Longchamps-sur-Aujon
km 169 - Saint-Thiebault
Maybe we will assist to a sprint duel between Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish in Channes in a few minutes? These two are certainly battling it out for the green jersey.
David Millar, Daniele Bennati and Franco Pellizotti were the first three to cross the summit of the Baon climb. Looks like the tall Scotsman wants to get away! That would also make sense for Bennati, who doesn't stand a chance against Mark Cavendish in bunch sprint finishes, but could be victorious out of a small group.
No luck: the three riders are back inside the bunch.
The UCI has just sent out a press release about the use of team radio in tomorrow's stage 13. Apparently, the sport's governing body has lifted the interdiction to use it, so the riders will rely on an earpiece again on Friday, even though it had been convened not to use it. But the measure generated such heavy controversy that the UCI decided to quit the experiment...
Today is Miguel Indurain's 45th birthday. Bon anniversaire!
The bunch is racing at 48 km/h average... no wonder no-one can get away!
On this stage, Jonathan Vaughters commented on Cyclingnews: "This is definitively a day for an attacker with its up and down all day, and a pretty nasty 3rd category climb close to the line.
"The sprinters’ teams may not feel secure in their steed making it over a hill so close to the line.
"However, an on-form Oscar Freire certainly can make it to the line on a day like this, so perhaps Rabobank will force the pace, pick up the attackers, drop the rest of the sprinters, and pick up a win."
The Spanish sprinter and three-time world champion surely longs for a victory in France these days.
Approaching the first intermediate sprint now...
Cavendish takes six points in front of Hushovd, 4 points and Casar, 2 points. One step closer to the green jersey in Paris!
In the descent, 11 riders took off the front, and have about ten seconds over the bunch now. Working on their identity...
The group now has 15 seconds over the peloton, but we're not sure if they are going to succeed.
Nope - sorry, folks. The peloton swallowed them again. Racing at 58 km/h at the moment!!
Angelo Furlan (Lampre) has abandoned.
The bunch has crossed the second climb of today, the Côte de Gye-sur-Seine. The points were taken by Pellizotti, Martinez and Kreuziger in that order.
Still no breakaway!
Just FYI, the 11 riders that tried to jump away earlier on were: Brett Lancaster (Cervélo), Gustav Erik Larsson (Saxo Bank), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel), Benoit Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Mauro Santambrogio (Lampre), William Bonnet (BBox), Jerôme Pineau (Quick Step), Peter Wrolich (Milram), Simon Geschke (Skil).
The riders covered 47.9 kilometres in the first hour, and don't seem to want to slow down yet. They're doing 54 km/h at the moment. Hopefully a break will form soon! They're tackling the third categorized climb now, the Côte d'Essoyes (Cat. 4).
All of these climbs are short, but could be good opportunities to get away.
Laurent Lefevre (Bbox) was the first to cross the summit of the climb, followed by Sylvain Calzati (Agritubel) and Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas). The Italian is definitely out on a hunt today!
The three riders try to get some space in the descent. But once again, the bunch won't let them.
Another group has detached itself from the peloton. They have 15 seconds.
The break includes Lefevre, Calzati and Pellizotti, as well as Markus Fothen (Milram) and Egoi Martinez from Euskaltel. Behind them, even the GC riders get going, with Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Cadel Evans (Silence) and Levi Leipheimer (Astana) countering.
The break now has 30 seconds.
We have the exact composition of the breakaway: Laurent Lefevre (Bbox), Sylvain Calzati (Agritubel), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Markus Fothen (Milram), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) and Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis) are out front.
A chase group has formed, with Greg Van Avermaet (Silence), Niki Sörensen (Saxo Bank), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Christophe Le Mevel (Francaise des Jeux) and the inevitable Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha).
Sörensen was the only one to make contact with the front group, the other riders are back in the bunch.
Our seven riders thus have 1.30 minutes over the peloton right now, which seems to let them go.
The gap is growing well, finally. It has increased to 2.35 minutes, with the peloton taking a break after that huge amount of effort from the gun.
A word on the weather and why we haven't reported on it yet: It is another beautiful day out, perfect conditions for the riders with 25° celsius.
AG2R La Mondiale is leading the peloton out , nicely lined up on these rolling hills through the dépatrement de Haute-Marne.
At the intermediate sprint in Longchamps-sur-Aujon, Calzati was the first to take the points, followed by Pellizotti and Martinez. Just to remind you, the first sprint was won by Mark Cavendish in front of Thor Hushovd, who thereby secured six more points on his way to Paris.
Jérôme Coppel (Francaise des Jeux) has abandoned...
In a short while, the riders will get to the feed zone, where their team assistants wait with the precious "musettes", the bags containing much-required energy food to make it further through the day.
The breakaway works together well, now that they're finally out there.
Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish are chatting inside the bunch, now that the furious pace has come down a bit. AG2R's José Luis Arrieta is leading the peloton through a small forest.
In the break, Martinez probably wants to get a few more mountain points for his polka dot jersey before the race gets to the Alps...
Andreas Klöden from Astana also chats with a Lampre rider. Good that the German seems a bit more open to his colleagues than to journalists. He has been boycotting many media at this Tour, including Cyclingnews.
David Zabriskie has dropped to the back of the bunch to get some bottles for his team.
In the break, the best-placed rider is Sörensen in 38th place on GC, 10.36 minutes back on race leader Rinaldo Nocentini from AG2R. But we're sure the French team will do its best to keep him in a reasonable distance, as it is team manager Vincent Lavenu's goal to keep the yellow jersey as long as possible in this race.
The gap is being held constant at 3.15 minutes. We're midway through today's parcours now.
We see Cavendish talking with FDJ's Benoit Vaugrenard. Looks like the Brit has good relations with some French riders, anyway!
The breakaway has reached the feed zone. Bon appétit!
There are many spectators out on the road again today, even though we are in full countryside right now, with fields and forests along the route.
The gap has grown to 4.17 minutes, but that is probably also due to riders having lunch. There's still pnety of time to catch this break if Columbia/Rabobank/Garmin put their mind to it!
None of these teams have a rider in the escape, so it would seem like a good idea to go after them in the last 50 kilometres. We'll see how it goes...
In the break, Sylvain Calzati is the only rider to have won a Tour stage before. That was in 2006, when the Frenchman beat Kjell Carlström and Patrice Halgand in Saint-Méen-Le-Grand.
Back in the bunch, yellow jersey wearer Nocentini has six teammates lined out in front of him. But Armstrong is sitting right behind him.
We're going through a pretty flat stretch of today's parcours at the moment. Wheat fileds to the left, wheat fields to the right... and the road is dead straight.
The riders have reached Chaumont, a beautiful old town.
Jérôme Pineau is back at the race doctor's car getting some assistance. He has two bandages over his right arm and leg and looks pretty scraped.
The gap is down to 3.30 again.
AG2R is not giving this break a lot of advantage. If the gap remains under three or four minutes, we'll likely see the sprinter's teams lending them a hand later on in the stage, towards the finish.
Then again, that nasty little Bourmont climb - short with only 800 metres, but averaging 11 percent - could mess up today's outcome significantly. It comes with 41 kilometres to the finish in Vittel, where the famous mineral water comes from. Vittel is also the official water supplier of the Tour de France.
In about ten kilometres, we have the next climb coming up: the Grands-Bois climb (2.3km at 5%). In the break, Pellizotti might also go for it along with Martinez - the Italian is third in the KOM classification.
The bunch take advantage of some shade as they ride through a forest. It's a hot day out in the sun again.
A Liquigas rider just avoided a crash with a race official's car to the back of the bunch. The driver of the car slammed on the brake, avoiding a small dog on the road, and the rider neraly hit the car. Luckily he was able to swerve around it.
The gap to the break has grown again to 4.16. Apparently AG2R doesn't expect Columbia-HTC to work today, which is what team manager Lavenu told the race website. They hope other sprinter's teams will engage in the chase later on though.
The escapees are on the climb now. It's not too hard, averaging five percent. The riders make sure they stay together, as the'll only stand a chance against the bunch if they remain united.
Pellizotti is the first one to cross the KOM competition line on top, followed by Martinez.
Armstrong has stopped on the roadside, with a mechanic fixing something on his rear wheel. He is now being driven back to the bunch by four teammates.
The gap has decreased again to 3.40 minutes.
The small Astana train is back within the bunch - all good.
Romain Feillu, the brother of stage winner Brice, has abandoned, too. That's the third abandon today.
AG2R's Vladimir Efimkin is not having a good day, either, as he crashed yesterday and suffered several injuries. Not only did he bruise and scrape his face, but his knee and ribcage also cause him a lot of discomfort.
Our break of seven is halfway up the Morlaix climb (2.1km at 4.2%) now, getting some cheers from the spectators. Sörensen taking his turn.
Again, Pellizotti takes the mountain points ahead of Martinez. He is defintely the better uphill sprinter. The Italian would also be a good bet for the stage victory today if the break holds on until the end - but this scenario seems unlikely at this point.
Lefevre is getting a power gel from his team car. So is Pauriol, a young French rider who is quite promising. He won the GP d'Ouverture in Marseille this spring, and the GP Lugano.
Pellizotti leads the break on a descent through some villages. Everyone takes their turns evenly.
In the mountains competition, Martinez still leads Pellizotti by 18 points. There is one last climb before the finish today, the Bourmont climb (Cat. 3). Still, the Spaniard will keep his jersey at the finish in Vittel today.
AG2R is still making the pace at the front of the bunch - no help from any other team yet. The gap is just over four minutes.
Pauriol led Pellizotti over the line in the intermediate sprint in Saint-Thiebault.
The climb starts.
It's a fairly steep one through a residential area. Many people are standing at the roadside, waving flags and PMU cardboard hands. Calzati is on the front.
Now Pellizotti leads, followed by Martinez. This hurts!
The Italian takes the points: That totals up to 71 for Pellizotti and 88 for Martinez.
With a gap of over four minutes and 40 kilometres to go, this would be about the time that the sprinters' teams would have to contribute to the chase, if they want to catch the break. AG2R could live with this gap, as the bect-placed rider in the break is Sörensen in 38th place on GC, 10.36 minutes back on race leader Nocentini.
Stéphane Goubert, 39 years of age, leads Nocentini over the climb safely. "Goubi" is riding his 10th Tour de France - always reliable.
The last 40 kilometres after this climb are pretty flat. C'mon, Garmin, Rabobank, Cervélo - these teams have nobody in the break so they have to try for a bunch sprint. And like Columbia sports director Rolf Aldag said, "If you don't try, you don't win" against Cavendish...
Cancellara gets a rear wheel change. No problem for "Spartacus" to chase back on we believe!
The gap is down to 3.33.
The riders have entered the département des Vosges, where tomorrow's stage will take place - an interesting one leading over two hard climbs, the Cold de la Schlucht and the Col du Platzerwasel. But more about this later!
It really seems like the sprinters team's are waiting for each other to engage in the chase. Nobody wants to send its riders to the front if they're going to be there on their own with AG2R... The gap is still 3.50 minutes!
It seems like the break will make it. Cervélo doesn't want to work, Columbia isn't going to do it. Garmin better get their guys up there with Rabobank, but it doesn't seem like Jonathan Vaughers is giving the signal to chase. Too bad, as Tyler Farrar was the only one to really challenge Cavendish yesterday.
OK, the bets are on. Pick one of these seven riders for the stage victory today:
Laurent Lefevre (Bbox), Sylvain Calzati (Agritubel), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Markus Fothen (Milram), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis) or Niki Sörensen (Saxo Bank)?
Here we go: Calzati has attacked! He is followed by Sörensen. The other five are waiting behind. Maybe a too early move by the Frenchman?
The Saxo Bank rider is a good time trialist, so he could keep the others distanced. Calzati is a good finisher, and already won a Tour stage in 2006.
The two have 134 seconds.
They work well together. Calzati still looks relatively fresh. The Dane seems a bit more spent - but what do we know? Experience definitely counts in this sort of finishes.
The bunch is definitely not coming back. Five minutes behind now.
The leading duo has 18 seconds over their former break mates. If they come back, bets are on Pellizotti - but the Italian won't want to spend his energy in the chase too much. He takes a turn, though.
Once again, Pellizotti goes to the front. He knows this could be dangerous.
Calzati makes the pace in front, now Sörensen takes over. Behind, Pauriol is also doing a fair amount of chasing - so does Lefevre.
They are on pretty wide open roads now. 16 seconds, still.
Fothen takes a deep dig in the front, bringing down the gap to 13 seconds. Can the two stay away until the finish?
Sörensen looks back. He might not believe they'll make it. The chasers look efficient. Sörensen grinds his teeth - it would be awesome to take such a small gap into the finish.
The chasers are right behind the leading duo now, they have them in sight. Sörensen looks back again. Maybe it was a bit early to attack...
11 seconds with 7 kilometres to go. Calzati doesn't look like he's suffering, though.
Still, we're sure this hurts. Two riders against five through green corn fields. The baking sun is not making this any easier.
Sörensen attacks just before the five-kilometres banner! Where does this man take his energy from? His mouth is wide open, gasping for air.
Calzati is caught.
And what an attack this is! He's extended his advantage to 23 seconds already! The others seem cooked.
And no-one wants to take the initiative to chase him down. They've had it.
Sörensen motors away: 32 seconds!
Lefevre attacks the remnants of the chase group. Calzati drops off the back.
Two kilometres to go for Sörensen!
Lefevre is caught again - but they know they've lost.
Sörensen cracks a smile, but he's still going flat out in between the barriers holding off the crowds.
What an impressive victory for the Saxo Bank rider. He had the strongest legs, and wasn't afraid to attack from afar. He celebrates as he crosses the finish line.
Lefevre takes second, followed by Pellizotti.
It's the first Grand Tour win for the 34-year-old, who usually has a domestique's role. Congratulations!
Tune in again to our Live coverage tomorrow, when the Tour has two hard climbs on the menu for the GC guys to watch each other. Au revoir for now!
Cavendish takes the sprint for the bunch.
Cadel Evans is escorted to the finish by three of his teammates. But he looks OK. Leipheimer, too, is late. Both apparently went down, but seem unharmed.