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This is one for the sprinters again. Which of the men with the fast legs has best come over the Alps? The finale should be an exciting one, with lots of big names fighting it out for the precious green jersey points.
Hello and welcome back to the Tour de France. The 11th stage sees us turn away from the Alps, and this “flat” stage is going to be one for the sprinters again. The two questions of the day are, when will the peloton catch the expected escape group, and which of the mighty sprinters will gallop to the finish line first?
There was another early, and successful, attack today. As soon as race director Christian Prudhomme dropped the flag, an attack set off. Anthony Geslin (FdJ), Stephane Auge ( Cofidis) and Jose-Alberto Benitez (Footon) had built up a gap of up to 2:45 for themselves, but it is now down to 3;10.
We are now down to 179 riders. Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions) and Charles Wegelius of Omega Pharma-Lotto were not at the start.
Wegelius was hit by the intestinal virus, and is unable to retain any food or drink. You just can't ride under those circumstances!
The gap is jumping from 2:45 to 3:45, with the sprint teams giving chase. Right now it is 3:05.
For those of you playing our Easton-Cyclingnews Wheelset a Day Giveaway during the Tour de France, here is your trivia question for the day:
How many times has current World Champion and BMC team leader Cadel Evans finished the Tour de France on the podium?
For a hint, click here
Enter your answer in our contest page here
Today's prize is an Easton EC90 Aero wheel set. Click here for information about the prize.
Looks like we started out with some techinical problems today, but thanks to those with greater minds than me, we are now up and going.
Congratulations to two more winners in our Easton-Cyclingnews Wheelset a Day Giveaway. On stage four, Kerry Lau of Singapore won an EC90 Aero Wheelset by knowing that Erik Zabel had won six green jerseys.
And stage five sayw another set of EC90 Aeros going to Mark Allebach of Wilmington, NC, for knowing that George Hincapie was born in Farmingdale, NY.
Congratulations to them and all our winners, and be sure to participate every day!
The gap has grown now, to 4:15.
The UCI is still scanning bikes to see if anyone has sneaked a motor or battery in. So far no one has. Yesterday they checked out Paulinho (RadioShack), Kolobnev (Katusha), Roche (AG2R), Bouet (AG2R), Aerts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Rolland (Bbox).
40km into the race, the gap is at 3:40. The sprinter teams aren't going to let a huge gap like yesterday's develop.
Brecht Decaluwe was at the start today for Cyclingnews. He tells us that HTC-Columbias Ralf Aldag said his guys have the job not to let breaks go with riders from other sprinter teams. They would work. to make it a sprint. "We will work, but not for intermediate sprints. Hopefully other teams will lend a hand."
Decaluwe also talked to Garmin-Transitions's sprinter Tyler Farrar: "It should be a sprint. There are not many sprints left in the Tour and we have not won one yet, so we are motivated for today. The important thing is not to have a big group away at the beginning."
We are coming up to our one and only climb today. Here are the details:
* Km 56.5 - Col de Cabre - 5.0 km climb to 5.9 % - Category 3
18 riders failed to sign in this morning. That means 16 of them forgot or were too late or or or....
There was a 50 km transfer to the start this morning, notes Milram's Christian Knees. “From the map it looks like a sprint today!” No surrprise who he picked to win today. “So go, Gerald”.
The leaders appraoch the top of the day's climb, with a lead of 3:16. In between it had crept up to over five minutes.
'And they went over in this orde: Benitez, Auge and Geslin.
Four or five rides break from the peloton to gather the last mountain points.
Pineau was able to grab the points, and add to his total to keep the polka-dot jersey another day.
The gap has dropped, and is now down to 2:15.
HTC-Columbia's Alan Peiper thinks Mark Cavendish will have a good chance today. “It's a great opportunity for Mark to get some points and close the gap in the race for Green so we can't take any chances at all with the stage. We'll be looking to control the race from the front - ideally there will be a break of about four people and then we can get Grabsch and Montfort to the front of the peloton and control the gap.
Team Sky has reluctantly but realistically given up on the idea of Bradley Wiggins finishing on the Tour podium. What to do now? Look for stage wins, of course.
“Without a doubt - it’s the obvious thing to do,” said team principal Dave Brailsford. “It frees up the likes of Edvald [Boasson Hagen], Geraint [Thomas] and [Juan Antonio] Flecha.”
And the gap has yo-yo'ed back up to 3:15.
Down, down, down the mountain they all go....
Lampre and HTC are sharing the lead work in the peloton.
The peloton is strung out single file, as the lead falls to under two minutes.
We see World champion Cadel Evans at the back of the field.
It's not easy riding the Tour de France with a broken elbow. But it's possible. Just ask BMC's Cadel Evans.
It is basically all downhill from here. There are some very minor bumps along the way, but there is a slow and continuous descent or the next 100 or so kms.
The gap has crept back up to three minutes. It is a hard line to draw: the peloton wants to keep the group from getting too far away, but doesn't want to catch them too early, either.
Mathieu Perget of Caisse d'Epargne is back amongst the team cars, with his jersey pulled up. We suspect he is gong back for radio repairs.
Mark Cavendish's next Tour stage win will be his 13th, which would put him one up on hs mentor, Erik Zabel. It took the German seven years to garner those wins, whilst the Briton has done it in only three years.
On the other hand, Zabel won six green jerseys, and Cavendish is still chasing his first.
What do the two have to say about this? Read it here.
Ah, how lovely. The peloton just went by a field of lavender.
And here is a highly-paid water carrier. Alessandro Petacchi packs his jersey full with water bottles for his teammates.
Let's take a look at our three escapees. Stephane Auge, 35, rides for Cofidis, and is in his eight Tour. He won a stage his first time out in 2002. In 2007 he won the combativity award for one stage, and wore the polka-dot jersey for two days. He had that jersey for a day in 2009, too.
Geslin, 30, is with FdJ. He turned pro with Bouygues Telecomin 2002, and stayed with them until joining FdJ last year. He won the Brabantse Pijl last year.
We are now approaching the feeding zone in the town with the ominous sounding name of Die. And, no, it is not pronounced the english way, and doesn't mean that at all.
At least we hope not....
Benitez is 28. He turned pro with Spuik in 2005, before joining Sauner-Duval, Footon's predecessor team, the next year. He is making his Tour debut.
Lunch time for the peloton now, with a gap of 1:36.
That was it for me today. I'm handing off to Dan Benson who will bring you safely to the mass sprint finish today.
The bunch are still having their lunch, Saxo's Cancellara is munching away on an energy bar of some kind. How come every time I see him in the bunch he's either eating or smashing it on the front?
Basso's having a can of Coke. Wow I've really walked straight into the action haven't I?
Anyway the gap is under two minutes, now 1:57 to be precise. Nice to see Footon in the break here. Apparently the riders in the bunch are getting used to the kit now, and believe it or not it's actually looked upon now as 'not that bad' by some of the peloton.
Vino gives us a wave from the bunch and then takes a swig from hit bottle. Another day of hot, hot weather for those at the Tour. The gap is coming down, perhaps a bit too quickly. It's at 1.37 now.
Bad new for Garmin-Transitions this morning was that Robbie Hunter wasn't able to start. Hunter, who, how should we put it, has a colourful twitter account, broke a bone in his arm in a crash yesterday.
It means that Julian Dean will lead out Tyler Farrar in today's probable sprint finish.
The guys out front are riding into a headwind so it's tough out there, especially on these wide roads.
Contador and Schleck are next to each other having a little chat. Both riders seem to have a fair amount of respect for each other. They bumped into each other in recon rides during June and often swap text messages to each other. Friendship will be put aside when they race in the Pyrenees though.
Another picturesque scene as the peloton rides through the French countryside. On one side a lake and on the other rolling hillsides.
Columbia send a rider to the front of the bunch, with Garmin doing the same too.
Lots of transfer news in world of cycling at the moment but another story that's causing headlines is this. Former UCI grand fromage exchanging emails with Flloyd Landis.
Cavendish and Armstrong are talking in the bunch. Looks pretty relaxed and happy. Cavendish is the big favourite for today's finish. It's a perfect opportunity for a sprint and having bounced back and won two stages in the race already, he'll be confident of making it three.
Sastre is near the front. A difficult year for the Spaniard so far. He struggled with his health in the Giro and he's been off the pace so far this year. It feels much longer than two years ago since he won the Tour de France.
We've got a sprint coming up in 500 meters. Doubt the three leaders will contest the points.
So assuming we do have a sprint today, who are tipping for the win? Let me know at twitter.com/dnlbenson.
Lampre are setting the pace in the bunch now, just keeping the three leaders in check at 1.45
Rémi Pauriol has a flat and needs some help from the team car. All done and now he's chasing back through the cars.
Chepe Gonzalez won a stage into Valence in 1996. Anyone remember his celebration? Pretty good I thought, arms everywhere.
Here's our first prediction:
royvanrijn @dnlbenson I had the feeling Ciolek will be making a comeback after the first mountains, maybe he'll show his face today..?
The gap now down to 1.26 now.
Dave Zabriskie pulling on the front now for his man Farrar. Zabriskie has been quiet in this year's Tour. Some had him down as doing a strong ride in this year's race. He's been a good teammate but hasn't done much on an individual level.
The Lampre boys are gathering behind now and the chase is starting to pick up.
Here's a look at how things stand in the green jersey competition. It could change hands today.
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 138 pts
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 131
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 116
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 98
5 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia 97
6 Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 86
7 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team 82
8 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team 74
9 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram 71
10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 69
No Cervelo action at the front of the bunch yet. Either Thor knows he's not going to win today or as speculation we've heard suggest, he's not at 100 per cent right now.
What about Oscar Freire? He's been no where in the sprints in this year's Tour so far. Perhaps it could be his day...
But don't expect it to all go the sprinters way today. No doubt we'll have some suicide attacks in the final few kilometers of the stage. Vino? Jens?
Kathy_72 @dnlbenson todays stage 11..I want Cav to win, think Petacchi will though as he wants the Green, x
Ooh an x.
Well finally some action from the bunch. BBox, FDJ and Caisse spring a few riders from the bunch. HTC on the front.
The gap now down to 45 seconds.
FYI Bruyneel tipped Cavendish for today's stage too. A lot of you agree with him according to the tweets you've sent in.
What did we do before Twitter existed? How did we cope?
Garmin and Liquigas back on the front now, so it looks like Farrar is up for the sprint today. I think if he's fit then he's Cav's closest challenger but this wide open sprint really does suit Petacchi.
Bunch are heading north now towards the finish. There is a descent before the finish by the way so that could play a part today.
The gap is down to just 26 seconds now. Almost all over.
Benitez goes for it alone but is brought back.
Zabriskie stil on the front and Bole comes through and takes a turn. Milram up there as well.
We've got one little climb at about 12km to go, then a descent and a tailwind finish. They'll be flying by then.
Auge makes a move from the back of the three leaders but he's reeled in. Just 16 seconds now on the bunch. Combativity award up for grabs and now Geslin, and then Benitez, and then Auge goes. Geslin is the only casualty.
Geslin is back in the bunch now. So we have two leaders on the front but the gap is less than 200 meters.
Still the bunch aren't really increasing the pace yet. It's going to take a really serious attack to snap them into life.
The two leaders shake hands, job done, and the bunch have them
Shack near the front now too, helping to keep the pace high (ish) and keeping their leader out of trouble.
Columbia setting the pace now. Four or five Shack riders just behind. Vino near the front too.
Liquigas and Milram moving their men to the front. Katusha jerseys hovering close by too.
FDJ send two men out from the bunch.
They dont have a sprinter so they might as well give it a go but they're already caught.
Saxo are looking after Schleck now, he's got five riders around him to make sure that he's okay.
Long line now so the bunch are finally working.
Navarro dropped so Contador hasn't got that much support. Vino is with him. Three Astana riders dropped already.
Contador is trying to move up on the outside, Saxo setting a blistering pace.
Hushovd, Cav, Petacchi all near the front. Saxo still setting the pace.
Eisel is near the front now, Cav will be close to him. Thor is on his own, he's on Cav's wheel. smart move.
Hunt is there but is isolated from his leader.
Cancellara now on the front taking up the challenge
Riders getting dropped here.
Pineau one of the riders dropped.
Gesink near the front too, he's just trying to keep out of trouble.
Contador is messing with his ear piece but he has to focus here, it's not an easy run in and Saxo are putting down the hammer.
HTC letting Saxo do all the work here.
Last week HTC were starting to work from a long way out, they've change tactics now.
Chavanel attacks. Popo on his wheel and HTC finally come through
Eisel is restoring order in the bunch, calling his teammates through
The two riders have a gap of around 50 meters but they'll be caught very soon.
Tony Martin on the front, Lampre moving up now. Everyone positioning themselves now. It's tense in the bunch.
One rider we've not talked about is McEwen, could it be his day today?
Armstrong near the back of the bunch and Lampre lead the bunch now.
Three Sky riders move up
Lampre keep Sky in check with a little look and surge. Hunt pulls off he's cooked and Van Summeren is there for Farrar.
Thomas is moving up, Hagen on his wheel. So many sprinters in the mix here.
A Sky rider attacks and HTC catch him.
Lampre and HTC are leading here both teams are right up against each other. Sky are hovering close by, two tight turns to come.
1km to go
Renshaw now moving up Dean there with Farrar.
Renshaw and dean clash heads
They almost come down. Cav now comes out but has he gone too soon. Petacchi is on his wheel. Farrar is fading.
Cav is going to take it.
It's his, Petacchi second and then Farrar in third.
Hushovd in 7th. That's Cavendish's third stage win of the race.
A great finale. Cavendish taking the win. He had to go early there, with over 300 meters to go. He caught the other napping.
Petacchi moves into green with his second place, Hushovd was boxed in there.
No change in the overall. Here are the results for today and in the race for yellow:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
3 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
5 Robbie Mcewen (Aus) Team Katusha
6 Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team
8 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
General classification after stage 11
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:41
3 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:02:45
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0:02:58
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:03:31
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack 0:03:59
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:04:22
8 Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:04:41
9 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:05:08
10 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:05:09
A 13th stage win for Cavendish. He now surpasses Erik Zabel's 12.
The big talking point will be the head butting between Dean and Renshaw in the final 500 meters. The judges will want to look at that again. There didn't seem to be any real need for that.
Well, thanks for joining us today and please tune in tomorrow for another day at the Tour de France.