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Hello cycling lovers, and welcome back to our Live coverage of the 2009 Tour de France. Today promises to be an epic stage, the second of three summit finishes at this year's Tour. We hope to see some decisive GC action on the road to Switzerland... stay tuned!
Before taking the start in Pontarlier, the peloton has paused for a minute of silence in remebrance of the 61-year-old woman who died in an accident involving a police motorcycle yesterday. It is always tragic when these things happen.
The first big news today is the fact that Quick Step sprinter Tom Boonen has abandoned this morning. The Belgian suffers from severe digestion problems and could not take the start of stage 15.
Today's stage has six categorized climbs on the menu:
km 8 - Côte du Rafour (3.7km at 5.1%)
km 18.5 - Col des Etroits (1.5km at 5%)
km 54 - Côte de la Carrière (6.3km at 4.4%)
km 74 - Côte de Prevonloup (4.5km at 4.7%)
km 135 - Col des Mosses (13.8km at 4 %)
km 207.5 - Verbier (8.8km at 7.5%)
Unfortunately, the weather in Eastern France is not too good, there is a risk of some rain showers. But the sun is currently out on the finish in Verbier, so the riders are headed towards better conditions.
The battle for the polka dot jersey will continue today between Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel). The Italian has added four more points to his tally by being the first to cross today's first climb, the Côte du Rafour. He was followed by Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox) and Martinez in that order.
The race is fast, and the bunch has already passed the second climb of this stage. Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) accelerated before the ascent, but was caught by Pellizotti, who again posted the best time at the summit. Chavanel got second, with Martinez third.
Yesterday, we were witnesses to another "fait divers" as they call it in French, when Bernard Hinault knocked an intruder off the ceremonial podium in Besancon. That was another impressive push by the man known as the "badger", also famous for his outspoken words on current racing.
The bunch is racing down the descent, all together. Bbox's Arashiro and Rabobank's Flecha punctured, and are chasing back on within the team car caravan.
There is a big chance that AG2R will be losing the yellow jersey today. Rinaldo Nocentini may not be a bad climber, but if the race unfolds as expected - as hoped - we should see some GC contenders attacking on the final climb to Verbier today. We doubt he will be able to hold their wheels once the going gets really tough.
A breakaway has yet to be established. The peloton will soon tackle the next ascent, the Côte de la Carrière - maybe someone will be able to jump away then!
Cyclingnews blogger Andy Schleck has also given us some insight lately. The Luxembourger is rated as a podium contender in Paris, but knows that competition is sharp: He still expects Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre to ride strongly and improve their placings, and also has a great deal of respect for Bradley Wiggins and current white jersey wearer Tony Martin.
Here goes a climber with stage victory ambitions: David Moncoutié (Cofidis) has a bit of a gap over the bunch now. Let's see if someone goes with him.
The Frenchman has been denied an escape. Now, Pellizotti is again up there, hoping to consolidate his lead in the mountains classification.
A few riders have bridged up to Pellizotti now, and they have about 100 metres advance over the bunch.
We have eight riders in front: Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), David Arroyo, José Ivan Gutierrez (both Caisse d'Epargne), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox). They have 35 seconds.
Four rider are trying to bridge up to them: Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), Christophe Kern, Amael Moinard (both Cofidis) and Simon Spilak (Lampre). Interesting: Cofidis sends out antoher two riders to help Moncoutié. He should be motivated for today's finish in Verbier, as he has given up hope for the polkadot jersey.
The four chasers have joined the break. We have 12 riders out there; they have a 30 seconds gap.
They are still climbing the Côte de la Carrière. With 12 men, they stand a good chance to get away.
Interesting to note that Van den Broeck is also out there. He could be of valuable help to his team leader Cadel Evans later on. The same goes for Cancellara, who should be working for Andy Schleck. Then again, the Swiss time trial champion has proven that he can also climb - and a victory in his home country would surely be appealing!
Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), David Millar (Garmin) and Tony Martin (Columbia) have joined the escape! We now have 15 riders off the front, and a high-quality group going.
At the summit of the climb, Kern has snatched the points from Pellizotti, who once again outsprinted Martinez. The bunch crossed the KOM line 40 seconds behind the escape.
White jersey wearer Martin is currently eighth on general classification, only one minute behind Nocentini. He could be dangerous and might have a negative impact on the break...
Hesjedal may have realized this and has attacked the group. He has a small gap of eight seconds, with the bunch still looming very close, 30 seconds behind the breakaway.
Millar, Martinez, Martin, Pellizotti, Arroyo and Kern are back inside the bunch, where Juan Antonio Flecha has countered.
The current situation is:
- Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin)
- Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Amael Moinard, David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox), Simon Spilak (Lampre) at 0.11
- Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) at 0.28
- Peloton at 0.46
Hesjedal now has 1.20 minutes over the peloton and 27 seconds over the chasers. Not bad at all!
Back in the peloton, Astana is controling the pace.
The peloton is letting the break go. It is already at two minutes from Hesjedal.
Hesjedal sits up in the descent of the Côte du Prevenloup. He will have more opportunities if he waits for the others.
The escape has caught Hesjedal, with Flecha still chasing at about 29 seconds.
Flecha is strong today, he has joined the leaders now. We have ten escapees, with just over two minutes advantage.
In the break, Mikel Astarloza is the best-placed rider in 18th position, at 3.02 on GC. This means they might not be given that much of a gap in any case.
It's been quite a stressful first part of the stage, raced rapidly with plenty of attacks. Now, a bit of peace is reigning inside the bunch, with Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) riding next to Lance Armstrong, the two engaged in conversation.
The Australian has Andy Schleck on his wheel. It is not yet time for any GC action, but the Luxembourg champion still prefers to ride to the front of the bunch...
Former rider Laurent Jalabert has his own thoughts on what happened in yesterday's stage, when George Hincapie lost out on the yellow jersey for just five seconds. Apparently, the Frenchman went to see Hincapie this morning, who was still upset about not taking the overall lead and partly blamed the Astana team for this. Jalabert said that Hincapie was disappointed that his former teammates did not give him a greater gap to be sure that he would take the jersey.
Astarloza now is the maillot jaune virtuel. The escape group of ten riders has more than 3.30 minutes over the bunch with 117 kilometres still remaining.
The riders are approaching the feed zone. The sun is out now, with only a few scattered clouds up in the Swiss sky. The roads are undulating, but Swiss tarmac is definitely a smooth ride.
They are driving through a valley now. The whole Astana team is lined up in front of the peloton.
The bunch is strong out, the pace should be picking up a bit.
At the feed point, Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R) has abandoned. The Russian crashed badly the other day, and suffered injuries to his face, shoulder and ribcage. That's a blow to the French team, which still aims at defending Nocentini's yellow jersey today.
The gap is quite constant around four minutes now for the ten leaders, who each take turns in the wind.
Behind, Andreas Klöden (Astana) dropped back to his team car to check something on his race radio receiver. Chasing back up now.
The road starts to be uphill at the foot of the Col des Mosses (Cat. 2), but the real gradients will only be coming up in about 15 kilometres.
Swiss champion Cancellara should be enjoying his ride today. Plenty of people on the roadside to cheer him on - who knows, the 2009 Tour de Suisse winner could even fly to a victory today. The final climb may be hard (8.8km at 7.5%), but it is not the Mont Ventoux yet, either.
'Red lantern' Kenny Van Hummel (Skil) is having difficulties as soon as the road climbs a bit. Hopefully he will be able to hold on to the autobus later on, otherwise he might end up a DNF...
The race continues to unfold under bright sunshine, although it is not very hot: only 13° Celsius, with a very light headwind. Dimitri Murayev leads out the bunch, elbows on his handlebars. It's still very rolling.
Moncoutié got a bike change at the foot of the Col des Mosses. The gap between the break and the bunch is currently 3.37 minutes.
The climb starts now.
There are many spectators out on the first slopes of the ascent. Van Den Broeck leads the break, with Swiss champ Cancellara in third position.
The peloton is also getting ready for the mountain. Astana and Garmin riders are in the front - will the first attacks come on this climb already? It is a long way between this climb and the last one up to Verbier, though.
Haussler gets some bottles for his Cervélo teammates. What are Sastre's plans?
The escapees' advantage is back to about four minutes as they ride through a forest.
Astana leading the bunch out, but Armstrong is not with them. It looks like he's sitting right in the middle of the pack - hiding?
The last rider on GC, Van Hummel (Skil) has lost contact with the bunch. It will be very hard for him to finish the stage on his own...
Armstrong is still riding to the back end of the bunch, whereas all of his Astana teammates are in front. He must be certain that nothing will happen on this climb! Risky business...
Silence's Van den Broeck could also be a good bet for the stage win. He has apparently reconnoitred this stage after the Dauphiné... if the bunch comes back on the break on the final climb, he will also be of good value to his team leader Cadel Evans.
Popovych gets some water for his team, including Armstrong, still deep inside the peloton. Nothing happens, they are taking it easy.
Moncoutié leads the break as the approach the summit. People love this!
There is some tailwind on this climb, which should help the breakaway. Astarloza sprints to take the KOM points!
Here comes the bunch.... There are plenty of motorhomes parked on the sides of the road, too. Let's see. They are 3.26 minutes back at the summit.
It's a fast descent, they are really speeding down towards the valley leading to the final climb. That's where it's going to happen, we hope!
Cancellara is off the front now... he's got maybe 200 metres over the rest of the break. We wonder - would he really try to go for it on his own? It is still 60 kilometres to the finish.
Some Liquigas riders are driviing the bunch now together with Astana. We haven't seen much of Vincenzo Nibali yet, but he is only a few seconds behind Andy Schleck in the best young rider classification.
The chasing escapees have caught Cancellara now again. It would have been a bit much to attempt a solo move at this point - even for 'Spartacus'! Still, the Swiss champion makes the pace; he doesn't want to lose any time and should be highly motivated.
They are on the flat part now, riding through Aigle, where the UCI's headquarters and the World Cycling Centre are located.
The gap is still unchanged, four minutes.
Liquigas is still helping Astana in the pace making as they drive through some Swiss vineyards.
There is still a light back wind down in the valley. This will help the break, but it might still be caught before the finish as it failed to build up a sufficient advantage due to the presence of Astarloza, 18th on general classification at 3.02 minutes of the leader, AG2R's Rinaldo Nocentini.
Armstrong is back with his teammates at the front of the peloton. He took some time out earlier on the Col des Mosses and hid inside the bunch, letting his fellow Astana riders do their job alone.
The bunch is strung out on these relatively flat and straight roads through the Vaud valley. It's still sunny, there shouldn't be any surprises as to the weather on the final climb.
The leader's advantage is coming down a bit now, as Astana is putting the pace on.
Andy Schleck is getting a wheel change. He is being led back onto the peloton by O'Grady and Voigt.
Liquigas clearly has objectives on this final climb to Verbier - either for Pellizotti and his olka dot jersey, or for Roman Kreuziger and Vincenzo Nibali. The gap is down to 3.26 minutes.
Well, this should help Astana as Liquigas is really sharing the work with them, with three riders on the front now.
Cyclingnews blogger Ryder Hesjedal, who's also in the breakaway, wrote in during the week that he had struggled on stage 13 into Colmar. He's been looking a lot better today in Switzerland!
There is a huge crowd in Martigny to greet the breakaway as they drive through the intermediate sprint.
The road is ascending slowly, but steadily from here. The gap is down to three minutes. Not much, if we suppose that there will be attacks of the overall favourites once they are on the final eight kilometers.
Team Milram are also to the front of the bunch, just behind the Astana riders. So is Saxo Bank and Garmin. Tension is building up ahead of the last ascent, where the overall classification will surely reshuffled.
The gap is only 2.40 minutes.
Spilak has accelerated and created a gap to his former breakaway mates. He has 20 seconds already at the 20kms-to-go banner.
The Slovenian powers up that first part of the climb, not overly steep yet. He extends his advantage to 41 seconds.
Brian Vandborg of Liquigas is riding hard in front, and the gap is melting - still not as fast as we first thought. Armstrong is on the wheel of Contador, who takes an energy gel out of his jersey back pocket.
Spilak has one minute. Astarloza tries to go after him, and this makes the chasers' pace pick up.
Back in the bunch, Milram is now lending a hand in the chase with four riders lined up at the front. Linus Gerdmann is in third position.
An autobus is forming for those who can't hold on...
The "real" climb is about to start.
The current situation is:
-Simon Spilak (Lampre)
- Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) at 0.44
- Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence), Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Amael Moinard, David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) at 0.55
- Peloton at 1.50
Wegmann is pulling for Milram, now Saxo Bank has taken over. The pace has really picked up now.
Spilak is still pushing hard at the front.
David Millar leads Bradley Wiggins to the first slope of the climb.
Now Jens Voigt has taken over, burying himself. Astarloza, who was chasing Spilak alone, is back with the former breakaway.
The group will soon be caught by the bunch.
Cancellara is being caught. he will try to do some more for Andy Schleck. No more than 12 seconds to Spilak - that's it for him, too.
Cancellara gives everything... Armstrong in third position behind Klöden.
Fränk Schleck tries something, marked by Contador. Armstrong jst behind.
Yes! Contador attacks! Andy Schleck tries to follow. The race is finally on!
Armstrong does not respond. he looks around at Fränk Schleck, Wiggins, etc. to chase.
Evans is there, too, but doesn't look like he can do any chasing. Andy Schleck is still between the Armstrong group and Contador.
Nocentini has already lost more than a minute. Sastre tries to come back to the Armstrong group.
Contador is likely to take the stage if he doesn't explode.
Klöden sets the pace in the Armstrong group, which also includesKreuziger and Nibali (Liquigas) riders.
'Wiggo' attacks! But he's not going anywhere, marked by Fränk Schleck.
The older brother continues - he wants to bridge up to Andy.
Armstrong is still led out by Klöden.
Wiggins is with Fränk Schleck and one of the Liquigas riders now. Amazing performance by the Brit!
Sastre and Evans attack!!! No response from Armstrong - he has to let them go.
Contador has 1 km to go inside the barriers. Andy is 42 seconds back, Fränk 57 seconds. Armstrong is 1.16 back.
Wiggins drives the chasers. Sastre has diffculties.
Klöden paces Armstrong up the climb, but they are isolated now.
Contador gets out of the saddle once more as the spectators go wild. Here he comes over the line and shoots his gun!
Here comes Andy Schleck. 42 seconds down.
The Wiggins group is in the finish. Evans tries to get some seconds as Klöden also accelerates in the last 100 metres, leaving his leader behind.
Armstrong lost 1.34 seconds on his Spanish teammate today...
Nocentini gets in 2.38 minutes behind. What a race!
Contador looks to be the man to beat at this race after what we've seen today! He takes the yellow jersey with Armstrong second, at 1.37 minutes, with Wiggins third at 1.46 minutes!
Thanks for having joined us again today. Look out for official results and the full report of the day the Astana leadership was finally decided....