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Good morning and welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of the fourteenth stage of the Tour de France, a lumpy 199 kilometre run from Colmar to Besancon. Today's stage is flatter than yesterday's race to Colmar, so there's a chance that a bunch sprint could settle things. The Columbia HTC team of Mark Cavendish will be keen for this to happen as he lost his green jersey to Thor Hushovd yesterday. But with the mountains coming up, the non-climbing specialists will be doing their utmost to get into a breakaway and chase success that way.
Today's race is about to start. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) has been riding strongly and, in the absence of any out and out attacks by the GC contenders, has kept the yellow jersey for a lot longer than he probably expected. There's quite a good chance he'll keep it today, but he might have to bid adieu to his time at the top tomorrow - it's expected that there will be all out war on the summit finish of Verbier.
He's six seconds ahead of Alberto Contador and eight up on Lance Armstrong.
Following the withdrawal of Levi Leipheimer prior to yesterday's stage due to a broken scaphoid, Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) moved up to fourth place. He is 46 seconds back, while Andreas Klöden (Astana) is 54 seconds behind. White jersey wearer Tony Martin (Team Columbia - HTC) is sixth, one minute down.
The riders are now underway, with no-non starters. 164 signed on today. With 180 riders starting this year's Tour, the attrition rate has been pretty low thus far. Of course, that's partly due to the parcours - we are two weeks into the Tour, but the mountain stages have been far less decisive than in the past.
What's your feeling on this year's course? It was designed to ramp up the suspense and keep things open until what is a very tough final week. Has it been a success? You can give your thoughts on this in our forum section.
Yesterday’s stage saw a well deserved win by Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo Test Team). Following a very frustrating second place in Milan San Remo plus another runner-up slot in the Tour of Flanders, the German/Australian rider finally landed a big, big victory when he hit the line over four minutes clear of
Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel - Euskadi). Haussler had been away for most of the stage and shed his final breakaway companion Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) en route to the line, where he was understandably very emotional.
Stage seven winner Brice Feillu (Agritubel) was third while Chavanel held on for fourth.
Thor Hushovd finished second in the bunch gallop to the line, wheeling in just behind Peter Velits (Team Milram) to net sixth on the stage. Mark Cavendish finished in the autobus and so this saw the Norwegian regain the green jersey.
He’s got 205 points to Cavendish’s 200. The Isle of Man rider is undoubtedly quicker in a head to head gallop, but Hushovd’s superior climbing ability means that he has the chance to rack up some points in the days ahead. This contest is by no means a foregone conclusion, and it’s quite likely that things will be settled in Paris next Sunday.
Today's stage has three intermediate sprints as well as the final gallop to the line, and so both riders will do what they can to try to add to their respective totals. The intermediate points are at Pulversheim (km 34), Dannemarie (km 67) and Baume les Dames (km 161.5).
There are also two category three climbs, namely the Côte de Lebetain and the Côte de Blamont, coming 90.5 and 111.5 kilometres after the start in Colmar.
Simon Spilak (Lampre) finished 45’45 behind Haussler yesterday and was outside the time limit. However, given the very difficult weather conditions, the race jury decided to allow him to start today.
The riders are unfortunately facing wet weather again; fingers crossed it will clear up, and there will be no accidents because of the wet roads.
As mentioned, tomorrow may well see the GC contenders throw down the gauntlet and finally slug it out, following a week of subdued action on their part. Many will be keen to see what happens within the Astana team; Contador and Armstrong both want to lay claim to leadership. Former Tour winner Stephen Roche advises Contador to follow, to bide his time and then make his move. You can read more on this here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/roche-says-contador-should-bide-his-time
14 kilometres into today’s stage, 14 riders were clear. Mark Cavendish was amongst them but he’s gone back to the peloton. After 20.5 kilometres of racing the baker’s dozen had 25” advantage over the main field. That first sprint is 34 kilometres after the start so if these are not brought back, they will mop up the available points.
Yesterday's stage had a bizarre twist when two riders - triple world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Garmin's Julian Dean were shot at. Freire, who had to have a pellet removed from his leg afterwards, said that it was the actions of a 'madman': www.cyclingnews.com/news/freire-responds-to-shooting-incident
Needless to say, we hope this is the last time this occurs.
The break consists of the following: Hayden Roulston (Cervélo Test Team), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Martijn Maaskant (Garmin Slipstream), George Hincapie (Columbia HTC), Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale), Daniele Bennati, Frederik Willems (Liquigas), Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux), Sebastian Minard (Cofidis), Daniele Righi (Lampre), Serguei Ivanov (Katusha), Gerard Ciolek (Milram) and Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano).
Ciolek beat Bennati and Righi at the first sprint, that of Pulversheim (km 34). At that point the peloton was 32" back.
The peloton is 26" back now.
So, will the break pull further ahead, or be hauled back? The composition looks good as many teams are represented, and there's some very strong riders present.
Roche has been a little frustrated during this Tour. His team has held the yellow jersey for a long time and while that is of huge value from a sponsorship point of view, it's meant that the riders have had to spend many kilometres on the front riding for Rinaldo Nocentini. Roche is currently 45th overall but would have been 19th had he not lost time after doing a lot of work last Saturday. He's very ambitious and wants a chance to chase a stage win in what is his first Tour.
The Irish national champion was second on a stage in last year's Vuelta and finished 13th overall.
The peloton has drawn closer to the leaders after that first sprint, so the next kilometres will be vital.
The lead has gone up again, rising to 46" now. One Quick Step rider tries to chase but it's a big gap by yourself. What's more likely is that he is trying to entice the peloton to chase.
This break really has some good rouleurs in it so we'd be surprised if it doesn't pull well clear. They are all working well together, it seems.
This could well be the break of the day; the peloton is headed by the Saxo Bank and Lampre riders behind, who are blocking. The gap goes up to 2'23". Roche sits on the back in his distinctive Irish champion's jersey; he has no obligation to chase as his team-mate is leading the race.
Voigt punctured and got a slow wheel change from the Mavic neutral service car. He doesn't seem happy with it - looks like it was rubbing. He reaches back and loosens his brakes off, shaking his head. He's chasing now.
Voigt looks back...he might be looking for his team car to sit behind. It's important for the break that he gets back up to them, as he's a real engine...he'll drive this move along.
Voigt is not a happy camper...he's rolling, and giving out to the camera. He's decided that he can't get back up to the break, which is now 4'07" clear. That's unfortunate for the affable German.
Voigt now stops, gets off his bike and adjusts his brakes. Seems that his team car was not up there - either it couldn't get past the bunch, or else it was not allowed to do so, despite the considerable gap. As a result he had nothing to slipstream to get back up to the break.
He is forced now to wait for the bunch...he's not going to be pleased.
It's a grey, overcast day with some rain falling. But it's nothing like yesterday, fortunately.
The rain is coming down heavier now. Voigt is back in the main bunch, which is being lead by the Astana team. Ag2r don't have to chase with Roche up the road. The gap is 5'50" now. Astana won't be particularly focussed on bringing this back, but rather on maintaining a decent pace behind.
Roulston took the recent sprint at Dannemarie, ahead of Le Mevel and Rinard.
It's really raining heavily now . Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) sits at the back, looking for his team car. His jersey has been changed - you might remember earlier in this Tour the Italian federation said that they were not happy with the design his team had made up for him.
He's now got a more traditional white jersey with two thin stripes of colour.
The break is 5'50" ahead. The Astana riders are set on maintaining the gap rather than bringing it down.
Roche sits at the back...he went through for a few turns, but now is monitoring the break. As mentioned, Nocentini's yellow jersey means he is not obliged to work.
The roadside spectators are releasing a load of yellow balloons as the riders go by. We hope those don't snarl up the TV helicopters as it could get kinda messy then...
Former French champion Christophe Moreau (Agritubel) is now chasing.
Hincapie is now the virtual race leader. He started the day 28th, 5'25 back. There's now the curious situation where Astana are chasing a rider who was a former integral part of the US Postal/Discovery teams. He and Armstrong are friends.
Meanwhile, Moreau stops by the side of the road and says hello to his wife and child. If we remember accurately, she was a podium girl at the Tour in years past.
Puncture for a Bouygues rider, who is now chasing.
So, if it came down to seconds at the end, we wonder if Astana would let Hincapie take the race lead for a stage? If they keep the break within reach, Nocentini would retain yellow (providing there were no more splits). But if the break has enough of a gap, he could take over briefly.
Speaking of Hincapie and the colour yellow, the American nearly came a cropper when he almost hit a yellow umbrella held by a spectator on a corner. He had to duck to avoid it, then cast a filthy look backwards. It's great that people come out to watch the race, but they really have to be careful.
The break has gone through the feed zone now. The twelve leaders have got off their bikes, pulled up chairs to a banqueting table and are getting stuck in.
Okay, we kid you...they opted for the less glamorous, but more practical, method of grabbing musettes. Eating on the move is the better option.
They are not on the first climb, rolling through as they head towards the summit. It's only a category three ascent, so it's not going to kill any legs there. Bennati sits at the back, behind Roche.
Here's more on Simon Spilak's tough day yesterday, and the decision of the race jury to allow him to stay in the race: www.cyclingnews.com/news/spilak-allowed-to-remain-in-tour
Roche will be hoping that this break can stay clear and that he will have a chance to chase what would be his biggest win. He's the first Irish rider in the Tour de France since Mark Scanlon took part in 2004. Prior to that, his father Stephen was the last competitor when he made his swansong in 1993. Roche senior was also the last Irish winner of a Tour stage, winning in La Bourboule in 1992.
The bunch now crosses the top of the climb, 5'30 after Willems took the points ahead of Timmer, Ivanov and Ciolek.
Moreau attacks again...more family up the road, or is he just feeling antsy? He's got the boost of a one year deal with Caisse d'Epargne for 2010. He had originally been expected to retire.
Ah, he went ahead to greet his fan club. He's soaking it up, smiliing broadly and waving.
The riders are rolling through nicely. Astana remains at the head of the bunch. The roads are not too technical so that helps with the safety aspect.
The gap is 5'26, so Hincapie is hovering in the virtual race lead.
It's stopped raining. We've heard that it's quite nice at the finish so hopefully the riders will have some sun at the end of the stage.
The gap has now gone out to just over six minutes... Jens Voigt will be very frustrated not to have stayed in the move.
Oscar Freire sits at the back of the bunch, no doubt still stiff after the shooting incident yesterday. Up front, Armstrong looks composed as he rolls along.
The leaders are now on the day's second (and final) climb, the Cote de Blamont. This tops out at km 111.5 and 558 metres; a dwarf compared to what's coming up from tomorrow onwards.
The break is 6'10 ahead, so the gap keeps going out.
1.6 kilometres to go to the summit of the climb, and Roulston rolls through.
As a reminder, Maaskant was called into this Tour at the last minute after Roche's compatriot and first cousin Daniel Martin was forced to scratch from the start list with tendonitis. He's better known as a Classics rider but has a chance to shine today. Garmin would greatly appreciate a win - the team has had a huge amount of second places this year.
In this group, Bennati and Ciolek are probably the two quickest if a) they stay clear, and b) it comes down to a gallop.
They are nearing the top of the climb. There's a good crowd here, cheering, clapping, waving flags.
Columbia's Brian Holm has said that he expects Astana to keep the break within shouting distance, and that the sprinters' teams to chase later on. He said that he expects the twelve riders to dispute the stage win between him, though, and Nocentini to keep the race lead.
Minard, Ciolek and Willems go over the top in that order, with the rest of the break all together...nobody sprinted.
The question is, who will chase behind? Hushovd leads the green jersey classification but knows he is very unlikely to beat Cavendish if it comes down to a gallop. That would hurt his points total, so with Roulston up the road Cervelo are unlikely to chase. Milram and Liquigas have good sprinters there, while Garmin, Ag2r, Cofidis, Skil Shimano, Francaise des Jeux, Katusha and Lampre have riders present and are in with a shout.
The most likely winner of a bunch sprint would be Cavendish, and he could do with the points. But with Hincapie up there, will the Columbia HTC team chase?
With just under 80 kilometres to go, they are 6'54 clear. We'll shortly see what's going to happen, as the bunch will need to start chasing quite soon if the move is to be brought back. Using the 'one minute per ten kilometres' rule of thumb vis a vis the peleton's ability to bring back a move, things have to start happening in the next ten kilometres or so.
Alberto Contador drops back to the team car..not sure what's happening.
Seems like his radio is not working, perhaps.. Either that or he's having his bike adjusted.
Contador has a chat, then heads back to the team car. Doesn't look like there's any problems.
The weather is getting brighter and brighter. The break has 8'08" and now looks good to say clear until the end.
Ivanov is on the front, no doubt thinking of his win in the Amstel Gold this year. He'll want more of the same today, if possible.
The gap has suddenly rocketed. It's 11'32" so either the bunch has put the breaks on, or else the previous time checks were wrong (and wrong for quite some time). This means the break will stay clear, and Hincapie could take the yellow jersey today.
Okay,. those time gaps were wrong...the latter ones. The gap is now reading 7'51", so either something's broken or somone is drunk somewhere! We couldn't see how it would have gone up so quickly. So let's accept it's around eight minutes. Still enough for the break to stay clear, but it makes a chance in the yellow less certain.
Even though they have Roche up there, the most logical development is that Ag2r La Mondiale will start chasing soon in order to try to reduce the gap somewhat. They'll know that they can't endanger his chance of staying clear, but will savour the thought of one more day in yellow before the GC contenders step in.
The leaders are on a slight drag. The course tends to flatten out from here to the finish, although there are some small ramps.
All, bar Roche, have been riding through. There's good co-operation in this move.
The countryside is much flatter than they will experience in the days ahead.
Hmm...Contador is sitting near the back of the peloton. We wonder if something's not quite right with him today?
The peloton is 8'20 back, tackling a steep ramp out of the saddle. It's once again a relatively uncomplicated day. although the Astana team has done a lot of riding. They were tapping through for a long time but now there is a sense of urgency.
Gerard Ciolek is one of the fastest riders in the peloton, but he's long been keen to underline he's more than just a sprinter. Beating former team-mate Mark Cavendish was proving impossible so he's taken his chances in a break today. If they are still together at the end he's certainly one to watch.
You can read more about him here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/ciolek-i-am-not-a-sprinter-1
Very sad news...we are hearing reports that a spectator was hit and killed by a motorbike during today's stage. We presume it was a motorbike in some way connected with the race. Our deepest sympathies to her family.
Correction - we have more details on that accident here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/spectator-killed-at-tour-de-france
It's terrible to hear news such as that. Several years ago the Tour organisers brought in measures to limit the amount of press cars that were able to drive the race course; many take an alternative route to the finish, thus cutting down on the number of vehicles close to spectators.
Christian Vande Velde is one of the riders who will be nervously awaiting the mountain stages. He's currently seventh overall, 1'24" back, and will soon find out if he has got the same sort of legs as last year. He had a difficult run up to the race due to a bad crash in the Giro, but we hope he can perform to his considerable abilities. Here's the latest on CVV: www.cyclingnews.com/news/vande-velde-satisfied-after-tough-stage-13
With the lead still 8'18", Hincapie knows that yellow is within reach. If the bunch speeds up and takes three minutes back, it'll be gone; otherwise, he'll be in the running.
As expected, the Ag2r La Mondiale team are now chasing. They want to keep Nocentini in yellow for one more day.
The race has been getting progressively faster in the second half of the stage. Up front, Maaskant rolls through. His team boss Jonathan Vaughters would love to see him get the stage, Twittering "This break is gone, for sure. Let's hope Martijn has one of the great days he is totally capable of having."
Sure enough, the gap is coming down under Ag2r La Mondiale's impetus. It's now 7'40". The break is pedalling along a wide river. It's warmer and drier here than earlier in the stage. Methinks the break will continue to work well together for another twenty kilometres or so, then the fun and games will start.
Ciolek sits at the back of the break, putting one foot on the saddle and stretching his quads. Shouldn't be cramp - he's probably just getting ready for the fireworks. There's a slight sense of nervousness in the break...some riders are missing turns. They are getting ready for the 'friend becomes foe' part of the deal.
Roche is pedalling a big gear on what is an uncategorised climb. It's not particularly long.
Roulston took the final intermediate sprint, ahead of Minard and Bennati. Behind, Ag2r are ramping up the speed for what is almost certainly Nocentini's final podium appearance as maillot jaune.
And now it starts, earlier than might be expected....Hincapie pushed clear on a climb. He's brought back by Maaskant...probably either testing legs, or else trying to urge the break onwards and preserve his chances of getting into yellow.
The peloton is 7 minutes back now, so his chances are threatened.
He started the day 28th overall, 5 minutes and 25 seconds back...
The break is riding well together again. Hincapie is urging them onwards. His chances of a stage win will be affected if the gap remains above six minutes, because he'll put all his energy into trying to take yellow.
If it becomes clear he won't get it, he'll shift his focus.
Meanwhile, back in the bunch, Contador is back up near the front and smiles for the cameras.
The break is looking a bit more disjointed now, with the riders trying to get Roche to start working. His team are chasing behind to ensure Nocentini keeps yellow, so he won't contribute. It doesn't make any sense for him to do so, as it would counteract the Ag2r efforts.
Someone with creativity (or too much time on their hands!) has dressed some cows up in the colours of the Tour main jerseys... Daisy has yellow, Moo Moo has green, etc. They don't seem to disturbed by it all, standing relaxed in a field as they get their fifteen seconds of fame.
Nocentini is now 6'29" back, so the Ag2r team are getting close to the 5'25" that Hincapie needs to take yellow. Will he do it?
The break is working quite well, so we expect the attacks to come a little later. Proabably inside the final 15 kilometres.
To recap, here's the front group, which are 6'27 ahead now. Hayden Roulston (Cervélo Test Team), Martijn Maaskant (Garmin Slipstream), George Hincapie (Columbia HTC), Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale), Daniele Bennati, Frederik Willems (Liquigas), Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux), Sebastian Minard (Cofidis), Daniele Righi (Lampre), Serguei Ivanov (Katusha), Gerard Ciolek (Milram) and Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano).
'Sir' Jonathan Vaughters has given another TwitterUpdate, saying of Maaskant that he is "not only intelligent and cunning, but he's also very powerful after a long day in the saddle."
The team certainly deserves a win.
The break is now inside the final 20 kilometers of racing. Things will get more animated shortly...stay tuned!
Puncture for Tom Boonen. He's had a tough Tour thus far...his morale must be pretty low. There were also signs of tension in the team, with management faulting his lack of form and Boonen saying that maybe Patrick Lefévère should sprint if he felt that way...Hmmm..
Hincapie continues to push the pace, with less than 15km to go. The gap is 6'40 so he has a good chance of taking yellow.
Bennati is now marking Roche, realising he will be the freshest.
Boonen gets back to the bunch without too much delay. Meanwhile Nocentini knows it will be touch and go for his jersey.
The break is less organised, with some riders missing turns. Roche is now up to the middle of the group. He'll have to mark any attacks that go.
It starts! Maaskant goes! He jumps hard on a hill, 11.8 km from the finish. Ivanov goes after him.
They get back up to him, but it's going to be fireworks from now on.
Le Mevel goes! Hincapie jumps up to him. The others are looking around. Bennati gets across too.
Bennati gets up to him... Roche looked quite sluggish, surprisingly...he has done a lot of riding for Nocentini in recent days. We'll see what happens now.
The others got up him, and now Ivanov goes....he's got a good gap.
With ten clicks to go, the Amstel Gold winner has a good gap and is riding well.
There's a lot of jumping around behind but, for now, it's all about Ivanov.
Roche has gone now....maybe he needed that first effort to warm his legs up to the effort. He wasn't doing much all day.
Ivanov is now 21" ahead of the chasers. Roche was caught again.
Ivanov is looking good. The group behind is breaking up.
Ivanov is totally committed, knowing he can take Katusha's first ever Tour stage win today. He's being chased by a couple of others, while the rest of the break are together and marking each other out of it.
Roulston and Timmer are the chasers, but they are a long way back. They'll do what they can but Ivanov is not waiting around..
The chasing duo are 23" back, with the rest of the break a further seven seconds down. The peloton is 6'36", so Hincapie still has a chance of taking yellow.
Ivanov goes under the 4km to go banner with a lead of 22".
Roulston and Timmer are 24" back...they are working hard but the Russian national champion is not waiting around. He's pedalling well, not looking back at all.
Roulston and Timmer are approximately 10 seconds ahead of the others, who are all together. The peloton is now just under six minutes behind Hincapie. It's going to be close....
Ivanov took a Tour stage win back in 2001. He's got less than 2km to go until he takes another...
Roulston and Timmer go under that banner 30" later, so they are racing for second place today.
Ivanov is now inside the final kilometre, looking good. He's got time to savour this...
Roche is going across to the other two...
Ivanov finishes, taking a fine win....He's delighted...! Roche comes in for second place, ahead of Roulston.
Roche will be disappointed. He tried, but it took his legs a while to get going. That sometimes happens when a rider has been softpedalling during a stage.
Meanwhile his Ag2r team-mates behind are riding flat out to try to hold onto yellow...
Ag2r are no longer chasing...it's Silence Lotto at the front, with Evans sitting second in line.
The clock is ticking now....here come the bunch...
Ouch...Cavendish looks like he closed the door on Hushovd...there was a gap there, then he pushed in right against the barriers. Hushovd may well appeal that, as the Columbia rider devated from his line and blocked him.
It's Nocentini! He hangs onto yellow by five seconds....
That's a pity for Hincapie fans...Nocentini had five seconds to hand, so Hincapie moves into second place. He'll be disappointed with that...
Hincapie tried driving the break onwards but once the jumping around started, it was going to be hard to keep the momentum going. So Nocentini has one more day in yellow .
Hushovd looked like he could have got past Cavendish, but he moved right over against the barrier...we'll find out if there is any appeal.
Here's the top ten today - the peloton was at 5'36".
1 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha 4:37:46
2 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:16
3 Hayden Roulston (NZl) Cervelo TestTeam
4 Martijn Maaskant (Ned) Garmin - Slipstream
5 Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne
6 Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre - NGC
7 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux
8 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia - HTC
9 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
10 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram 0:00:22
Here's a slightly-changed general classification. Hincapie jumps to second place, while Le Mevel moves to fifth...
1 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 58:13:52
2 George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia - HTC 0:00:05
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:06
4 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:08
5 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux 0:00:43
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:46
7 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:54
8 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:01:00
9 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:24
10 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:49
We thought Hincapie had done just enough, but it was not to be... It's going to be hard for him to take it tomorrow as it's likely the race will go nuclear on the finishing climb..
Anyway, we'll leave it there for today... thanks for reading, you can find a report and results elsewhere on the site. We'll have a full report and lots of news later on.
Before we end up here - we've just heard that Mark Cavendish has been relegated for that sprinting incident. So Hushovd's chances of winning the Green Jersey take a boost.
Columbia will be disappointed with that, and also with Hincapie's near-miss as regards yellow. We have heard reports that he is frustrated with Astana for riding behind earlier in the stage...
Anyway, we'll finish up there... Make sure to come back tomorrow for live coverage of the fifteenth stage.
Peloton: at ??