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Bonjour tout le monde, welcome back to Cyclingnews' Live coverage of the greatest bike race on earth. Today, the peloton faces the penultimate test before the event's finish in Paris, a 40.5km time trial all around the beautiful lake of Annecy in the Savoie region. The general classification far from being set in stone, it will be an important day for a lot of riders who still want to improve their standing, especially in the top ten. Podium placings on the Champs Elysées are being played today - and on Saturday on the Mont Ventoux - so watch out for some impressive racing against the clock!
The weather in Annecy is a bit cloudy, but still nice with temepratures in their mid 20's. The first rider that has left the start ramp in downtown Annecy was Yaheni Hutarovich from Française des Jeux. Tyler Farrar from Garmin-Slipstream is now up there.
We have four intermediiate time checks before the riders return into the city: the first one is in Doussard (km 18), the second in Talloires (km 25), the third on top of the Côte de Bluffy - the only climb on this parcours - (km 28.5), and a fourth in Annecy-le-Vieux (km 37).
We will keep you updated on the riders' progress on their way around the famous lake of Annecy.
158 riders are still in the race, hoping to make it to Paris this Sunday. The three weeks of racing have been intense as always, so many of them only have one goal left: survive until the Champs Elysees.
But the four stages yet to be completed still promise a lot of action for the peloton. Starting with today's: On top of the overall battle between the likes of Alberto Contador (Astana), the Schleck brothers And anf Fränk (Saxo Bank), Contador's teammates Andreas Klöden and Lance Armstrong, as well as the dark horses on Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Bradley 'the wig' Wiggins (Garmin), be sure to see other great time triallists at their best in the hopes of a stage win today.
For example... Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank). The winner of the Tour's stage 1 in Monaco will definitely put the hammer down again this afternoon. Will anybody really be able to match him? Read our rating of today's favourites.
Niki Terpstra from Milram is currently the fastest rider on the course. He is in front of Steven de Jongh (Quick Step) at the two first time checks.
William Bonnet from Bbox is also doing well. He is only 10 seconds back on Terpstra after 18 kilometres.
Bernhard Eisel from Columbia is getting into the groove. His first split wasn't too good, but now he is third at the second time check.
"Spartacus" Fabian Cancellara is the 77th rider to get underway around the lake today. He will be pushing down the start ramp at 1.42pm local time. He is sure to crush these first times to pieces...
Terpstra continues to lead at the third check with a time of 38.58.
Eisel gets over the Côte de Bluffy in third position behind Terpstra. It is a short hill, not too steep, and shouldn't be too much of a problem on this otherwise very rolling circuit.
Terpstra has finished, keeping his lead. His time is 50.45 minutes. Good job!
Mikhail Ignatiev of Katusha is on his way to take Terpstra's hot seat. He pointed at 20.21 minutes at the first split, taking over the lead there. Ignatiev is a powerful rider - he has been in many breakaways since the start of this Tour, always trying to go solo in the final kilometres.
While we watch the riders set off on the course one by one, we can't help but wonder what Lance Armstrong is going to annouce this evening. The seven-time Tour winner has set up a date with the press at 6pm local time to reveal his plans for next year...
To French newspaper L'Equipe, Armstrong said yetserday that he would be "better in 2010" - then definitely going for an eighth victory? Likely against Alberto Contador, who might not be part of the American's team next year.
Ignatiev is getting a bit of pressure from behind: Bert Grabsch (Columbia), the current time trial world champion, is placing second behind him in the first half of the course. Ignatiev only leads by some 20 seconds...
At the moment, Sébastien Augé (Cofidis) and William Bonnet (Bbox) also have to wait in the finish as they are second and third respectively behind Terpstra.
Grabsch may be strong, but it's not his day today. He remains second at the third split, 1.22 minutes behind Ignatiev. All this pulling for Mark Cavendish must have taken its toll, understandably.
Ignatiev's finish time is 48.46. He should be able to hold this against his German rival.
Wow! Danny Pate from Garmin has made up a lot of time coming off the climb. He's posted a brilliant 44.50 minutes at the fourth time check, beating even Ignatiev there. And his first splits weren't even listed in the top five...
The TT world champ gets second in the finish. His time is 50.09 behind Ignatiev's 48.46.
It seems like Pate's tremendous result at the fourth time check was actually a software error! Sorry about that.
At the moment, no-one is coming near the top three's time splits in this race. We have Ignatiev leading in front of Grabsch and Terpstra. Cancellara is only starting to warm up on the rollers, he will be on the course in about 50 minutes.
Ignatiev has averaged 49,83 km/h on this course. The best riders will probably ride faster than 50 km/h later on.
Rabobank's Stef Clement has taken Terpstra's third place at the first time split.
The scenery around lake Annecy is stunning, with mountain tops peaking all around the 14km-long lake.
In the team bus area, Cyclingnews' managing editor Daniel Benson talked to Columbia's Kim Kirchen, who will be out on the course at 3.12pm. Kirchen said that he was still recovering from yesterday's efforts. "I had a bad day yesterday. Today’s course holds no surprises but I won't be going at full gas as it’s important to be fresh for the next few days. I had a bad day yesterday but Tony Martin will do a good ride today. It’s a day for the specialists."
Columbia's Michael Rogers is 49 seconds behind Ignatiev at the first time check in Doussard. Clement continues his fine ride, holding his third position after 25 kilometres. The climb will hurt, though.
Daniel Benson also talked to George Hincapie, who's due to start at 3.44pm. Hincapie still suffers a lot from his crash in stage 16, but has decided to continue the race.
"It’s about survival," he said of his hopes for today. "I don’t know if can even get down in the time trial position. It’s about survival and to get better in the next few days. I rode the last 70K injured yesterday but I was able to ride, I was in pain but I could get out of the saddle. I'm hoping I can do the same in the next few days."
Rogers holds his third position behind Ignatiev on top of the Côte de Bluffy. He should be taking Grabsch's place in the finish.
Hincapie also commented on the outcome of stage 14, when he was in a breakaway and could have taken the yellow jersey - but finally missed out on it by five seconds.
"Disappointed I didn’t get it [yellow]. I’m not the sort of person to start wars in the press or anything so I don’t want to reflect on who did what or why. I’m just disappointed that I was so close and that it was one of my last opportunities to wear yellow," he told Cyclingnews today.
The Astana team had been controlling the break at some two minutes, which is why AG2R finally decided to pull in an effort to save Nocentini's jersey. "As I’ve said before, anyone can watch the race and come up with their own options as to what happened. I have mine and care to keep them to myself. Maybe there were some questionable decisions made by other teams in the sense that they had no benefits in keeping me that close so that’s just racing. You can’t ever predict or sway other people’s tactics."
Rogers finally got in fourth - but with the same time than Grabsch (50.09 minutes.)
Today's top favourite, Fabian Cancellara, has just started. Let's see how much time he'll put into Ignatiev...
The next time trial specialist is David Millar, starting in a few minutes. The Scot will have a good reference in Cancellara riding just a few kilometres in front of him.
Millar's teammate Ryder Hesjedal has written in on his Cyclingnews blog last night. He expects the team's GC leader, Bradley Wiggins, to pull off another great performance today and hopefully take back that time he lost in yesterday's Alpine queen stage.
"You’ll see him [Wiggins] on fire today in the time trial. He missed out on a TT win by just one second in the Giro and was bitterly disappointed. Today should be a different race. He’ll be looking to claw back as much time on some of his rivals and climb back up the leaderboard. Sparks could really fly," Hesjedal wrote, as teammate Dave Zabriskie was already fast asleep beside him in the hotel room.
Christian Vande Velde also thought that Wiggins will be a major force in today's race against the clock. "He’s going to kill people in the time trial," he told Daniel Benson at the start. "Time he lost yesterday, he’ll gain back."
'Wiggo' shouldn't have lost his abilities in the time trial, even though he lost 6 kgs in an effort to improve his climbing skills. He is currently sixth, 4.53 minutes back on race leader Alberto Contador (Astana). The Schleck brothers, now placed second and third, are nevertheless expected to lose some time today.
Surprise! Cancellara gets "only" second at the first time check, 18 seconds behind Ignatiev. Wow. Either the Russian delivered an extremely good performance, or the Swiss pwerhouse doesn't have such a good day. Or both...
Did you know that the first time trial raced in the Tour de France was a prologue in 1967? Speaking of history, the Australian organisation The Cycling History Collection has just launched a range of 15 images from the 1930 Tour from original lanterns that originally belonged to Sir Hubert Opperman, the first Australian to race the French Grand Tour in 1928.
Back to the present: Cancellara remains second after 25 kilometres, with his time unchanged - 18 seconds back on Ignatiev. The Swiss former time trial world champion has done a huge amount of work for his teammate Andy Schleck lately - maybe this can explain his performance.
Garmin's Dave Zabriskie is also powering out on the loop around the lake now. He will be trying for a top result as well, and it's looking good so far.
The sun is out on Annecy now, and there is very little wind, so the conditions are perfect to let pure power speak. Zabriskie has his hands folded one on top of the other on inside extensions.
Ha - we still have a new best time! Cancellara's motor need a bit more time to warm up, and he has bested Ignatiev in the finish by 12 seconds. His total time: 48.34 minutes, more than 50 km/h average.
David Millar (Garmin) is also doing a great ride, third/fourth in the first time checks, at about 25 seconds behind Ignatiev.
His teammate Zabriskie just passed Igor Anton (Euskaltel) at an impressive speed!
Zabriskie gets out of the saddle. He is on the climb called "Bluffy" now - no bluffing possible here, It is the race of truth. There are lost of spectators enjoying the fine weather.
Millar gets third! 38 seconds off Cancellara at 49.11 minutes - a great ride for the Scottish Garmin rider.
The climb towards the end of the parcours totals 3.7 kms, by the way. It is a serious bump that will break any TT specialists' rythm. The rest pf the circuit is very flat and rolling.
Zabriskie is passing Bbox's Thomas Voeckler now. The small Frenchman tries to stay behind the American - albeit not in his slipstream, that is not allowed.
Zabriskie was third at the second time check, 20 seconds down.
Voeckler is still 10 metres behind Zabriskie. He might get dropped though once they reach the flatter part towards the finish, but right now on the climb, the Frenchman is not letting go!
Zabriskie crosses the summit of the Bluffy climb 28 seconds behind Ignatiev, where Cancellara was 11 seconds behind. If he continues like this, he'll beat his teammate Millar by a few seconds.
Finally, Zabriskie paid his efforts a bit in the final kilometres. But he's still fourth behind Cancellara at the moment, 59 seconds down. Millar is third. Great performance by the two Garmin riders!
Columbia's Tony Martin is also doing well. He's fourth at the second time check.
But Saxo's Gustav Erik Larsson is pulling off a great performance: he just posted second behind Ignatiev at the second check, 17 seconds behind. Better than his teammate Cancellara at this point!
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) has embarked on his journey. The Australian is not having a good time at this Tour, far from it. Maybe he can make up for his lost hopes in September at the Vuelta...
Polka dot jersey Franco Pellizotti is taking it easy. No points here for him today. He is all white with red dots - down to the socks.
Christophe Moreau is off, showcasing his golden glitter time trial helmet. The whole Agritubel team wears these helmets - rather funky.
Larsson continues his very rescpectable ride. He got third on top of the Côte de Bluffy, 14 seconds adrift of Ignatiev, and has hzeld onto that placing in Annecy-le-Vieux.
Kim Kirchen (Columbia) has just passed Pellizotti - two quite different speeds here...
Columbia's Tony Martin made up some time in the descent and the final flat, finishing sixth behind Cancellara at the moment.
Larsson is third, 30 seconds behind his teammate.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) has signalled to his DS that his earpiece is not working. The stage 8 winner is not a bad time triallist - he would want to have some information on his performance.
Tony Martin is not too happy with his sixth placing. He would have wanted to achieve a top ten result, but "with the overall favourites still to race, chances are not so good," he said in the finish.
Former French time trial champion Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) is also on his way. He will be aiming at a top result here, but can't be too happy with his Tour de France, as he failed repeating his stage win of last year.
Kirchen is on the toughest part of the climb now - pushing down hard.
Evans cannot redeem himself today, either. His splits are okay - along the lines of Millar's - but he's done so much better in the past. It can't be easy to fail one's objectives like he has done this year.
For a while now, clouds have started to darken the sky, and a few drops can be felt in Annecy right now. Hopefully it won't be a thunderstorm!
Some Aussies still cheer him on on the climb. He looks better now, like he's found some rythm.
Evans sprints to the top of the hill... and becomes fifth: 37.52 mintues. He's really dug deep on the climb!
People are taking their umbrellas out - it started raining seriously now! This will change the whole outcome of this TT...
Actually, it seems like it only rains down on Annecy - the south part of the loop around the like is still dry.
Sanchez finishes strongly, fifth behind Cancellara at 41 seconds. A very solid ride for the 24-year-old.
49.44 is the time Evans posts on the finish line. We're not sure if it still rains on parts of the course - might have been just a short shower.
Moreau finishes, tongue out as usual. Sixth, 49.15 minutes is his time. He's still up there with the best...
The road is starting to dry up, but it's still a bit slippery on some stretches of the course, especially the descent from the Bluffy climb. No more rain though - cross your fingers!
Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ) has rolled off the ramp. He will be trying to defend his top ten placing on GC, he is currently ninth.
George Hincapie (Columbia) is using a Camelbak, with the drinking tube sticking out of his jersey.
Now it's Christian Vande Velde's turn. He looks focused.
Linus Gerdemann finishes with a time of 50.41.
We're entering the hot phase of the race now. How much time will the Schleck brothers have to concede to their Astana rivals? What will the order of the pack look like before the great finale on the Mont Ventoux? We will soon find out.
TT specialist, GC and white jersey contender Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) is off. The Italian should be motivated for a great performance - if he can't beat Andy Schleck on the overall, he can at least demonstrate his superiority in the race against the clock.
Armstrong's TT bike is being examined by the UCI commissaires, as Bradley Wiggins takes the start - he is THE climbing revelation of this year's Tour. Will he jump from sixth to a possible podium placing again today?
Andreas Klöden (Astana) has started. The German is also a great time triallist - he will be setting the reference times for his teammates Armstrong and Contador. And try to get some time back that he lost yesterday when Contador attacked...
Armstrong is on the ramp, while the Schleck brothers await their turn together. Andy holds himself up on a barrier, and Fränk holds his brother's other arms for balance. Both look extremely concentrated.
Armstrong is off, and the crowds yell...
Armstrong's back locks like a cat's, with his shoulders considerably lower than the upper part of his back. He has such a unique racing style.
Oh - there are a few drops coming down again!
Wiggins is powering along, and looks very efficient. He should score a great result today.
Fränk Schleck is off, followed by his brother. No mistakes allowed for them, if they want to remain within grasp of the final podium in Paris!
Armstrong looks like he's seated a bit lower than in previous Tours, going very fast.
Contador takes a last sip from his bottle before getting his countdown.
The overall leader is off, all in yellow! Flat out straight away.
Contador uses a bigger gear than Armstrong. He's shown great time trial abilities before, a discipline the Spanish climber has seriously improved in recent years.
Armstrong's high cadence, however, has always served him well, too!
Armstrong has already made up 5 seconds on Fränk Schleck on the classement général virtuel.
Wiggins posts a new best time after 18 kilometres, 20.20, one second faster than Ignatiev!
Armstrong looks like he really wants this stage - can he do it?
20.29 minutes for Armstrong at the first check. Nine seconds slower than Wiggins!
Wiggins is 9 seconds down on Klöden on GC, but he is ahead of him now on the road. What a ride!
The Garmin rider is starting the Bluffy climb. This hurts a lot. It's not very steep here though - not yet.
Sastre finishes - 52.17, a current 59th placing. More disappointment - but maybe the Spaniard keeps himself for the Ventoux?
Fränk Schleck passed the 18km-split 44 seconds behind, in 11th position. Losing some time already.
Contador posts a new best at the first split - he is 18 seconds faster than Wiggins!
Wiggo comes to the top of the climb.... 37.20 - fastest time at that point!
Armstrong is 27 seconds back after 18 clicks. He may not win this one today...
Klöden comes over the climb's summit: fifth at 37.36. He can't get anywhere near his rival Wiggins.
Here comes Armstrong, sprinting up the final 100 metres throught the crowds: 12th at 38.02. He's suffering.
Contador posted second best time after 25 kilometres, three seconds behind Ignatiev.
Fränk Schleck has lost some time until now. He gets to the top of the climb in 22nd position, 38.37.
Wiggins is fifth in Annecy: 49.13 is his time. He lost the TT on the descent and the final part - maybe he went too fast in the beginning?
Here comes Contador over the top. 36.50 - new best time after 28.5 kilometres! The Spaniard is blowing this race to pieces!
Klöden comes in: 49.24 - eighth at the moment.
Andy Schleck has lost 47 seconds on the top of the climb - not that much at all!
Armstrong powers away to the finish. His pedalstroke is not very smooth anymore. He is giving it everything, but he only gets 15th, his exact time being 50.00 minutes.
Contador speeds down the descent, very fast. If he wins this TT, he will really have proven that he's not only the best climber, but also the best time triallist - incredible. All of this under a huge amount of pressure from the media and his team....
Wiggins moves ahead of Klöden by 2 seconds on GC.
Fränk Schleck gets into the finish in 33th position, 51.04 minutes.
He lost 1.04 minutes on Armstrong.
Now his younger brother gets in. 50.15 minutes - Andy loses just 15 seconds to Armstrong. What a performance!
The stage victory is tight between Cotnador and Cancellara!
Contador gets it, by three seconds!!!
What a victory for the young Spaniard. He really showed his superiority on all levels today.
On the overall, Contador seems to have no more rivals after today. Andy Schleck is second, at 4.11. Armstrong third, 5.25 back...
Wiggins is fourth at 5.36, Klöden fifth at 5.38. On the Ventoux, the battle for the podium will be on - but can anyone dethrone Contador at this point? Very unlikely.
Thanks for having tuned in again today. Tomorrow's stage to Aubenas will be exciting once again with a Cat 2. climb just 16 kilometres before the finish - a perfect spring board for a late attack. We'll be there again for you! Have a nice end of the day, wherever you are!