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The Tour de France has crossed the Alps and is now headed full-speed towards the Pyrenees. But today is not only a chance for the sprinters, but is pre-destined for an escape group. Will the leaders decided to give themselves a day off and let a not-so-dangerous group through to the end? Or will the sprinters' teams put an end to that plan and claim the glory for themselvs?
Welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Tour de France. The 13th stage is officially a flat one, yet features five ranked climbs – go figure. One for the sprinters? Most definitely one for the breakaway experts!
Only five km into the stage, the escape group of the day (apparently) formed. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep) and Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox) got away. And stayed away. By km 32, they had built up a lead of 5:44.
The leading trio went over the day's first climb in this order: Chavanel ahead of Fedrigo, with Flecha third.
The leaders have now also crossed the day's second climb, with Fedrigo this time ahead of Chavanel and Flecha again third.
The race got under way at 12:35 with a 5.7km long neutral zone. And what happened there? Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) crashed! Of course he was back up and going again, but how many times has he crashed so far in this race?
176 riders started this morning, which means everybody who finished yesterday is still in the race.
Well, that is, they started out that way, at any rate. Rein Taaramae of Cofidis abandoned less than 30 km into the day.
Here are today's climbs:
Km 24.0 - Côte de Mergals - 3.7 km climb to 3.8 % - Category 4
Km 31.5 - Côte de Bégon - 3.1 km climb to 4.5 % - Category 4
Km 72.0 - Côte d'Ambialet - 5.2 km climb to 4.6 % - Category 3
Km 125.0 - Côte de Puylaurens - 4.3 km climb to 3.9 % - Category 4
Km 188.5 - Côte de Saint-Ferréol - 1.9 km climb to 6 % - Category 3
The gap is dropping ever so slightly, now at 5:08. The biggest it got was 6 minutes at the top of both climbs. The sprinters' teams are apparently determined not to let this break get too much of a lead and stay away to the end.
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: Who is the oldest rider ever to win the Tour de France?
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
The gap is hovering around five minutes, as -- no surprise -- HTC-Columbia and Lampre are leading the chase.
We have more winners in our Easton Wheelset a Day contest.
Roy Nicholl of New Brunswick, Canada, won an EC90 Aero set for knowing that eight Australians have won stages at the Tour.
Graham Paul Knopp of Hawaii won the EC90 aero set with his answer of Eddy Merckx wearing the yellow jersey longer than anyone else, 111 days.
And Ruta Skujina of France picked up an EC90 SLX set for knowing that Richard Virenque won the most polka dot jerseys, a total of seven.
Congratulations to them and all of our wiinners so far!
Good crowds along thway here, as the leading trio heads up the next climb. The gap is now at 4:40.
The field works its way up the climb now, to the cheers of the fans along the way.
This isn't a really fierce climb, but still a number of riders were dropped on it. They will be back again, no doubt.
The Tweet of the day award goes to Lance Armstrong, who said, “Whoever invented roundabouts and traffic islands must have hated bike racing.”
A trio of riders jump out to grab the final mountain points: Moreau, Voeckler and Casar, we think. Voeckler won the sprint to pick up one point.
The trio went over the top of that last climb in the same order as the second climb: Fedrigo, Chavanel and Flecha.
22 riders are no longer in the race. Nine teams are still complete. Garmin-Transitions and Footon-Servetto are the hardest hit, each having lost three riders.
Let's take a look at these three riders in the escape group.
Juan Antonio Flecha, 32, is Spanish but was born in Argentina. He is the first Argentinian-born rider to win a stage in the Tour. He turned pro in 2000, and has ridden for Relax-Fuenlabrada, iBanesto, Fassa Bortolo and Rabobank, before joining Sky this year. This spring he won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The peloton is spread out single file now, but the gap continues to hang around the five minute mark. Sometimes a litlte above, sometimes a bit under.
Chavanel, 31, is French, but his family actually comes from Spain and only move to France during the Spanish Civil War. He rode for Bonjour from 2000 to 2004, and for Cofidis from 2005 to 2008. Last year he joined QuickStep. This has been quite a Tour for him, as he has already won two stages and worn the yellow jersey for two days.
Fedrigo rounds out this over-30 group. The 31-year-old is from Marmande, France, and as Wikipedia tells us, his nickname is "le nez de Marmande" (The nose of Marmande) due to his remarkable nose.” He turned pro with Credit Agricole n 2002 and joined Bouygues Telecom, now called Bbox, in 2005. This year he claimed the overall title in the Criterium International. He also has two Tour stages, in 2006 and 2009.
It's lunchtime for the peloton! Bon Appetit!
What was it like a the start today? Read about it here.
Two riders tried to get away from the peloton, but were unsuccessful. The gap dropped to 4:30 and is now at 4:43.
The peloton is passing through a lovely wooded "allee" right now.
We hate to say it, but there is a whole lot of nothing going on in this stage today....
Chavanel is having a snack along the way, chewing away on whatever.
Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions gave it his all yesterday, hoping to pull off a big coup. It didn't actually work out, but he was glad he gave it a go. “I’m here to race... I’m not scared to go hard and leave it out on the road.” You can read more here.
And another filed of sunflowers!
The gap is creeping down again and is now at 4:08.
Here is our top five overall following yesterday's stage. Note that the gap between Schleck and Contador has gotten slightly smaller.
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 58:42:01
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:31
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
The leading trio has now started up the fourth climb of the day. Some four minutes back, Luke Roberts of Milram has moved up to help with the chase work.
Thor Hushovd has the green jersey again, with a narrow lead over Alessandro Petacchi.
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 167 pts
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 161
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 138
4 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia 132
5 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 122
As we are now going up a climb, let's look at the King of the Polka Dots ranking.
1 Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 107 pts
2 Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step 92
3 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 64
4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne 62
5 Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 58
On this fourth climb of the day, Chavanel took the points ahead of Fedrigo and Flecha.
Oh, the gap is really coming down now, down to 3:32.
George HIncapie and Mathew Lloyd off the back of the peloton. Falling off, or going back to the team cars?
Lars Boom was back at the Rabobank car and picked up another feed bad. He is now busily distributing its contents to his teammates.
The peloton tops out the climb at 3:33 behind the three leaders.
Andy Schleck has what we consider to be an unshakeable hold on the best young rider ranking.
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 58:42:01
2 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:04:27
3 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo 0:05:16
4 Cyril Gautier (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 0:31:01
5 Julien El Farès (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne 0:33:54
And to finish out the various rankings, RadioShack has a narrow lead in the team competition.
1 Team RadioShack 176:11:16
2 Caisse d'Epargne 0:00:21
3 Astana 0:15:43
4 Rabobank 0:16:13
5 AG2R La Mondiale 0:20:22
The gap is creeping down towards the three minute mark, now at 3:04.
And now it is under three minutes. The peloton doesn't want to catch them too early, or else another group will take off.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) knows he won't be near the podium this year, but he still thinks he can move up from his current 16th place to the top ten, especially with a good time trial next week. He talks about it here.
The gap is now hovering around the two minute mark.
They are on a long section of straight road here, ad it looks like the peloton will be at least able to see the three leaders soon.
We see more Milram near the front now. The team mangement is not really pleased with their performance so far, and this does look like a good stage for Gerald Ciolek. Their directeur sportif, former rider Ralf Grabsch, has no doubt brought that to their attentions.
Leipheimer a the back of the field, amongst the team cars. He has now been joined by a teammate who will help him back up to the front, and a Sky rider who jumps on the train for a free ride.
The three leaders are riding through another tree-line "allee," and their gap is now down to 1:46.
We now see Ivan Basso moving up in the field. He has been much more anonymous in this Tour than expected.
Milram, Lampre and HTC-Columbia in the lead. The gap is 1:33.
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) is giving the Belgian something to cheer about. He is currently fifth overall. His goal coming into the race was Top Ten, but now he thinks it might be even better.
Flecha wins the second intermediate sprint ahead of Fedrigo and Chavanel. And the gap coninues to fall....
Just over a minute now.
Under a minute now -- the leading trio can practically feel the peloton breathing down their necks.
The peloton knows they have them now, too. The field is strung out single file, racing along with the white-and-yellow HTC-Columbia jerseys leading the way.
More sunflower fields, but the leading trio is too busy fightig for its survival to notice.
Today's final climb is only 7.5km before the finish line. Will it be enough to eliminate the sprinters?
Not a good sign: Chavanel looks back over his shoulder. The peloton is now at 37 seconds.
The peloton is keeping the leaders on a short line here. The gap is around the 40 second mark.
Will Cavendish not only come over the climb, but be able to win without his usual setup today? He lost Adam Hansen early in the race, and now has to do without final leadout man Mark Renshaw.
A good turn out of fans at the 25km marker, right in the middle of fields.
N0 changes. The gap is at 30 seconds. The field doesn't want to catch them too early. We expect some attacks on the final climb, so the sprinters's teams will have their hands full trying to keep things under control.
Rabobank moves up near the front of the field. Did someone just say Oscar Freire?
The three leaders are riding for their lives now, all tucked down on a small descent.
The peloton keeps grinding away....
Wow! Jesus Hernandez (Astana) takes a dramatic tumble. He's ok, though.
Voeckler has moved up near the front, and Euskatel brings Samuel Sanchez up to the front. Look for some attacks on the closing climb.
We have a group of 20 or so riders who have fallen back. It includes not only Armsgtrong but also the KOM.
Only nine seconds now and falling rapidly.
The Armstrong group has caught the peloton again.
The trio was caught just after the 10km marker.
George Hincapie brought Cadel Evans up to the front, but HTC-Columbia still has control.
Milram now in the lead.
The speed is high enough thhat we are dropping riders again.
Three others follow, but Ballan has a nice little lead.
A steep section here, and Ballan looks good.
Armstrong is amongst those dropped.
The three followers are coming closer to Ballan, and the field isn't all that far back.
Vinokourov has now caught Ballan.
They have maybe 10 seconds over the field?
Ballan used himself up on the climb, and Vino is alone in front.
Voeckler has attacked out of the field.
The gaps are not large.
Hushovd is near the front of the peloton. Otherwise we don't see any sprinters.
Armstrong is back in the field. Vinokourov looks to have the win here, but his lead is still not enormous.
The field has nearly caught Voeckler.
Milram leads the way as Voeckler is caught.
Vinokurov had a 20 second lead with 2km to go.
Gerdemann leads the field, hoping to set up Ciolek.
The last km for Vino.
He won't be caught today!
He looks back to see no one. and crosses the finish line with joy.
The filed sprints for the next points. Cavendish made it over the climb and takes second place.
Vinokourov pointed to his Astana logo and then let out a cry of happiness as he crossed the finish line. He is rewarded with big hugs from his teammates.
Armstrong was not in the first group and is in fact still underway.
Petacchi was third today, and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) fourth. Hushovd was eighth. They were all 13 seconds down on Vinokourov.
Popovych and Armstong lead a group oer the finish line some 4:35 after Vinokourov.
The green jersey wanders back to Petacchi, who now leads Hushovd by two points. Other than that, there are no significant changes.
That's it for today. Things will be livelier tomorrow, as the mountains take over again.