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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews’ live coverage from stage 14 of the Tour de France. Today we're racing from Revel to Ax-3 Domaines.
The riders are making their way to the start line and they'll begin in just a few minutes from now. We've got a potentially cracking stage in store.
We start in Revel, the finish from yesterday’s stage and wind south, towards the Pyrenees. Will we see a battle royal as Contador and Schleck square up or will a rider like Menchov, Gesink, or Sanchez produce the goods? Let's have a look at today's route.
The Tour’s decisive stages start with a tough test that begins easily enough but has two tasty peaks to spice up the closing kilometres.
The road to Mirepoix, which we reach after 51.5km isn’t exactly flat and there’s a fairly decent climb before the bunch reach Chalabre, small French village with some of the best croissants I’ve ever tasted. They’ve also got a couple of nice restaurants too.
From there it’s a very shallow climb before dipping down to Esperaza. Before there they’ll travel through Villefort. If they have a chance to stop they’ll see a farm on the right where they can buy locally produced eggs. Villefort is very small, there's probably around a dozen inhabitants.
It’s then a twisty descent down to Qullian, another picturesque French town, before carrying on due south.
The Port de Pailhères didn’t feature before 2003 but has become a Tour favourite. It ramps up severely over a series of hairpins towards the summit, from where there’s a rapid descent into Ax-les-Thermes to the foot of the final climb. Ax-3 Domaines isn’t long and not overly difficult but the main contenders’ speed here should result in some significant time gaps.
And we're off. Already out of the neutralized zone and Christian Knees from Milram is the first attacker of the day.
A few riders are nipping up the road to join the Milram rider on the attack. Roughly twelve guys now lead the race with around 12 seconds on the bunch.
Zabriskie, Voigt and Moinard are three of the riders who've joined Knees.
Back to the route for a second, and the final climb of today stage was of course part of the 2003 race. That day Carlos Sastre won, producing one of the finest victory celebrations ever seen in the Tour. As he crossed the line he pulled out a dummy and put it in his mouth. It was one of the most original celebrations the Tour has seen and was in dedication to his daughter Claudia. His celebration just edged out Flecha's bow-and-arrow effort in Toulouse.
That day Armstrong, Basso, Vino and Moreau all finished in the top ten on the stage. They're all racing at this year's Tour.
A lot of riders from that break sat up but we've still got five riders in the lead: Zabriskie, Moinard, Brutt, Thomas and Gutierrez.
Radioshack are leading the bunch but has the today's long break already formed?
Gutierrez has also sat up, so we've got four leaders up the road, the gap down slightly, now at 19 seconds.
Auge and Rolland are leading a counter attack along with three other riders. They're sandwiched between the four leaders and bunch so things haven't settled down just yet.
Those riders in the chase are Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Jurgen Van De Walle (QuickStep), Pierre Rolland (Bbox) und Stephan Auge (Cofidis)
The two lead groups are about to form, the bunch have sat up so we should have a pretty strong break for today's stage.
While we wait for those two groups to form let's have a look at how things stand on GC. Schleck leads Contador by just 31 seconds, not enough if he wants to wear yellow into Paris but the race for third place is really intriguing. Just a handful of seconds separate Sanchez and Menchov, with Van Den Broek, Leipheimer and Gesink are waiting in the wings.
Lower down on GC, we've got the likes of Evans, Wiggins and Sastre. Very interesting story in today's Sunday Times on Wiggins from Paul Kimmage.
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 63:08:40
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
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack 0:04:06
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:04:27
8 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:04:58
9 Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:05:02
10 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo 0:05:16
11 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:05:30
12 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:06:12
13 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions 0:06:25
14 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:06:44
15 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team 0:07:34
16 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team 0:07:39
17 Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia 0:07:47
18 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:08:08
19 Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team 0:08:24
20 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack 0:09:05
The breaks have now merged and we've got 9 riders ahead of the race.Their lead is over 5 minutes. Geraint Thomas (Sky), Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions), Benoït Vaugrenard (FDJ), Pavel Brutt (Team Katusha), Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Jurgen Van De Walle (QuickStep), Pierre Rolland (Bbox) und Stephan Auge (Cofidis)
No dangerous threats on GC in the break. Riblon is the highest placed rider but he's almost 25 minutes down on Schleck.
Riblon, Auge and Moinard have all been in breaks so far in this year's race but this is the first time we've seen Thomas and Zabriskie make the break on a stage.
The bunch are taking things easy now as the gap creeps up to over 6.10.
On Twitter festinagirl correctly points out: @dnlbenson re: baby themed cycling celebrations - I believe it was Neil Stephens (1997, st 17) who was there 1st, rocking an imaginary baby.
The first sprint today comes at Mirepoix. What a battle we've got for the green jersey this year.
1 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 187 pts
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 185
3 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia 162
4 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 144
5 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 138
6 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team 120
7 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram 102
8 Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 101
9 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 81
10 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 80
I'm surprised that Thor hasn't managed to sneak into the break today, but I'm sure Lampre will have been watching him very closely this morning.Cavendish has also dragged himself into the race too, having been down and out after the first few stages of racing. No lead Renshaw yesterday, but he still managed to finish second, leading home the sprinters behind Vino.
I spoke to French fancy Frédéric Moncassin, at the start of a stage last week (sorry can't remember which, they blur into one) and he told me that that not only was Cavendish the best sprinter of his generation but that he was also one of the most complete sprinters he'd ever seen, more complete than Mario Cipollini. Agree? let me know at twitter.com/dnlbenson
The gap is now out to 7.45
The break take another ten seconds out of the bunch and they're closing in on the first sprint at Mirepoix.
Luckily I think the bunch take a different route out of Quillan today, otherwise they'd face a severe 6km climb back towards Puivert.
Through the first sprint and the results are: Vaugrenard, Zabriskie and Van De Walle (6,4,2 points).
The road will climb steadily now before dipping down towards Chalabre. The leaders have 8.38 on the bunch.
Good tweet from Garmin-Transitions Jonathan Vaughters:
"Typically a break like this will lose 25secs p/km on the big climbs. So, for one of them to win, they will need around 12 mins at the base."
Well, the lead has gone up to 9 minutes now and Rabobank, Astana and Liquigas are at the front of the bunch.
9.24 now for the nine-man break.
The leaders now have just over ten minutes on the bunch as Astana start to make their presence felt more at the front.
Today's two climbs are going to be vital for both Contador and Schleck. After the ten seconds the Spaniard gained at Mende it's up to Schleck to bounce back and drag more time out with the long time trial still to come. Everyone's saying that he needs between 3, 3 1/2 minutes on Contador going into the time trial.
We've seen Schleck drop Contador, Contador drop Schleck. What will we see today? It could be epic, it could define the rest of the race.
In other news, we're hearing that Euskatel might lose their ProTour license next year. We'll have a story coming very shorty.
As we've also seen, while the onus is on Schleck to attack, Contador will take an opportunity, like he did at Mende, if it presents itself.
Away from the top two for a moment, there are a lot of riders who talked the talk coming into this year's race: Basso, Kreuziger, Sastre, Wiggins and Rogers. They're all sitting outside the top nine and if they want to move up they'll have to perform in the next few stages, starting with today.
The leaders are now in Chalarbe. They'll swing around the town square in a clockwise motion, by the croissants I told you about earlier and then head towards Villefort.
Lovely town house in Chalarbe, the riders wont see it though as it's up towards the top of the small town.
Moinard is back with the doctor at the moment as the leaders take on a very gentle climb. The road will swoop down in a few minutes, a few tricky corners.
The lead is holding at around ten minutes.
The leaders take a left hander and now they'll swing down to the next down.
Town, even. It's called Esperaza.
We've got less than 100 kilometers left to race.
Worth noting that Saxo Bank haven't come to the front yet, despite having the yellow jersey in their team. Mind games from Riis?
Instead Astana are now on the front of the bunch with three riders setting the pace. Behind them is a Rabo jersey, then HTC's Tony Martin.
The gap is starting to come down. It's at 8.30 now.
Nice crowds out in Qullian for the Tour riders as the break go through.
Esperaza, apologies, Quillan is still to come.
Second sprint done and Auge, Moinard and Riblon take the points.
Saxo Bank have moved towards the front of the bunch. All of Schleck's men are sitting behind the Contador train at the front.
We're going to see some action on the first climb here, surely. Astana dont really need to chase from this far out and the gap continues to decrease. It's under 8 minutes now.
The break hit the feed and grab some food.
Vino sits on Contador's wheel as Astana continue to set the pace on the front of the bunch. What did you think if Vino's win yesterday? Let me know @ twitter.com/dnlbenson As long as it won;'t get us sued I'll try and print it ;-)
Meanwhile Zabriskie takes a swig from his bottle and comes through and takes pull on the front.
Astana are really driving on the front now though. They've taken another minute out of the lead group.
I wonder what's going on in Schleck's head right now. He lost ten seconds in Mende and now Contador has his men on the front setting a furious pace. Contador must feel strong.
Less than 70 kilometers to go now and closing in on the first major climb of the day. If Astana keep this pace up we'll have less then a dozen riders by the top.
Back to Vino for a second: PiesG @dnlbenson Vino's attack was awesome, committed and beautifully timed: should it have been 2 in a row??
Another 45 seconds slashed off the lead group. The gap now down to 6.15
The break looked stressed now, a number of riders looking back while some aren't coming through with much help. Thomas is calling for the team car.
Another 30 seconds lost and the gap is at 5.44
DavidGafa @dnlbenson Although impressive, anything Vino does just can't excite me like it once did. Irreparable damage I suspect!
We're about 15 kilometers from the start of the first major climb of the day, the Port de Pailhères.
Just over five minutes between the break and the peloton now.
Moinard comes through at the front of the break and he's really giving it everything but it's not enough. Astana are getting closer and closer.
Some stats on today's first climb:
15.5 kilometers long, with an average gradient of 7.9 per cent. However there are some sections that reach closer to 10 per cent.
The gap is down to 4.39 as Sky come through and help Astana set the pace. Not sure about that tactic.
Rabobank and Saxo Bank also moving towards the front now. Perhaps Sky are just trying to help Wiggins move to the front before the climb starts.
Gesink gets a gel from one of his teammates, he's in the top 15 riders, while at the back a spent Astana rider drifts back, his work done for the day.
Fantastic scenery in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Astana still drilling a hard pace along the narrow French roads
The break is starting to split here, a few gaps begging to appear and Brutt and Auge are the first to slip back. They'll get back on but things don't look great.
Brutt calls for the team car, has a quick work and then moves back to break.
Thomas slips to the back of the line now and gets a bottle from his team car. The break is on the lower slopes of the climb.
Here we go. Moinard is the first rider in the line, Auge at the back. Thomas has his jersey undone all the way.
The gap is just under 4 minutes now. I'm not sure they'll all last until the top of this climb.
Brutt at the back again, he's not the best when it comes to going uphill and Auge is off the back first.
Vaugrenard is the next to lose contact as Astana continue to drive things on.
The sprinters are starting to sit up, a lot of riders are going to drop back here. Liquigas are forming nicely at the front with their two leaders nicely placed.
Hushovd one rider dropped by the bunch, Hondo too.
Gerdemann dropped already. That's a bit of a surprise.
Valls attacks. That's impressive considering how much pressure Astana are putting at the front.
Millar going backwards now too.
Lots of struggling riders now slipping off the back of the bunch as Astana spread over the front of the road. Things have calmed a little bit as all the main GC riders settle in near the front of the bunch.
Sky have slipped back totally from the front . Rabobank are coming through on the right hand side.
Brutt being dropped from the break.
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And Sastre attacks. He's on Gustov's wheel and he's got a gap here.
Siutsou also having a dig here.
Contador is just sitting on Schleck's wheel.
Riblon and Moinard still pushing at the front of the race.
The bunch have let Sastre go here. Casar is hanging off the back of the bunch now, Schleck isn't exactly near the front either you know.
Schleck is maybe half up the bunch. He should be much closer to the front.
Riblon still setting the pace with his two surviving breakaway riders as Moinard comes through and takes a turn. Valls comes up to Auge and goes straight by him.
Gustov still leading Sastre, the man from HTC sitting on the Spaniard's wheel. Nice move from Sastre, the winner here in 2003.
Horner is with Contador near the front as Monfort slips back from what's left from the bunch. Who is setting the pace? Still Astana.
Casar well and truly dropped now. Schleck still no where near the front of the bunch yet.
Astana still have three or four riders on the front, hammering out a good pace.
Michael Rogers is slipping back. That's a surprise.
The Austrlian is around 10 bike lengths off the back of the Astana led bunch as Valls goes by Thomas.
Samuel Sanchez looks good. Will he try something on the descent before the final climb?
Sastre still sitting on Gustov's wheel but he's only got around 20 seconds on the bunch. What's he got left?
Kiryienka wow. He's just attacked. Not sure he'll get a huge gap but he's giving it a go.
Sastre is going by Thomas who is really struggling now. Zabriskie going backwards too.
Rogers still fighting to stay close to the bunch but it's tough for the Australian. The gap is getting bigger now.
Saxo have put a man on the front now.
Armstrong slipping back now. He's getting dropped.
Rogers the only GC guy in the top 20 who has been dropped so far though.
Kiryienka is closing in on Sastre now.
Andy Schleck in trouble? He's at the back of the bunch calling for a team car. He's taking some food and taking a new bottle. Why is he doing that and not his teammates?
He's back now but Evans is being distanced. The Australian is slipping back
There's still a long way to go on this climb as Zabriskie is caught and passed by the Astana bunch.
Sastre is setting a good pace here but Astana, who are down to their last man are still setting a strong pace. Is Schleck calling their bluff?
Sastre goes by Roland.
The three men at the front doing a fine job, Riblon doing most of the work.
Vino back with the team car. Schleck still near the back of the group.
Van De Walle is slipping back now, he's losing contact with Riblon and Moinard.
Evans still dangling off the back of the Astana group.
Another brave performance from Evans but he's still not 100 per cent and he's paying for it. Navarro still on the front, driving things for Contador.
Evans goes by Fuglsang who has been dropped. Two ex-mountain bikers.
And Wiggins is near the back of the Contador group too.
Wiggins looks like he's in big trouble here. He's now right at the back of the group.
He's on Kloden's wheel but that's not where he'll want to be.
Charteau attacks from the main group. He wants points.
As Riblon leaves Moinard just before the summit of the climb.
Cunego now has a dig.
Navarro has everyone lined out.
Cunego has a pretty good gap and he can descend well.
1km for Riblon.
Riders all over the road. Van Den Broek sitting second in line, Gesink just behind him.
Wiggins losing contact now.
WIggins is passed by Chavanel just as Riblon crests the top of the climb. Sastre is now with Valls, strong rides by both of those riders, Charteau too, who is also ahead of what's left of the bunch.
Charteau is joined by Cunego but he beats the Italian to the points. The bunch aren't that far away.
Riblon now on the descent and it's his stage to lose. He has to take as many risks as possible before the final climb. He needs every single second.
Such a fast descent and Contador had to close a little bit of a gap there to Schleck on the downhill.
Samuel Sanchez running very wide on a corner there and just about holding it together.
To recap: Armstrong, Evans, Wiggins, Rogers all dropped from the group of main favourites.
Wiggins was the last to go and is charging down the descent trying to make contact.
Cunego is coming up to the Sastre group.
Armstrong at the top was seven minutes down.
Evans was at four minutes.
Vino is leading the main field on the descent.
Wiggins makes contact with the main group as Riblon continues to push on, on his own.
Riblon will be worried by the small group behind him. Schleck is closer to the front now, he's just behind Contador.
Cunego pours a bottle over his head, descending with just one hand. Has the Italian won a race yet this year? I dont think he has.
Very twisty section on the descent, as Riblon hugs each corner. He looks pretty good at the moment but it's all about the final 7.8km climb.
Not far from the final climb now. Sastre won here in 2003, can he do it again today?
Moinard still trying to catch Riblon, he's gaining on him.
Moinard still trying to catch Riblon, he's gaining on him.
Moinard still trying to catch Riblon, he's gaining on him.
Moinard still trying to catch Riblon, he's gaining on him.
10km for Riblon and he's got 2:46 on the yellow jersey but just a few seconds on Moinard.
Moinard about to make contact but no, he's cracked on the first 100 meters of the climb and Riblon looks back and then goes on alone. He still looks good.
Sastre has a little stretch at the back of his group. Will he try something?
Astana crew now on the final climb, as Riblon starts to rock his head.
Incredible courage from Riblon, Sastre sets the pace behind, Navarro leads the yellow jersey group.
Kiryienka has been dropped, quick step rider too. so Valls and Cunego dig in with Sastre.
Riblon grits his teeth but Astana are moving up a gear.
Sastre goes alone.
Vino sets the pace
Cunego coming back to Sastre.
Riblon still rocking his head as Navarro takes over.
Contador is just watching Schleck.
Wiggins is about to be dropped again.
Vino out of the saddle and still setting the pace. Le Mevel is struggling.
Meanwhile, Sastre drops Cunego again.
Can Sastre make up that much time on the final climb?
Kreuziger has been dropped. Vino is destroying the field.
Basso, Kloden, Roche, Ryder all getting dropped.
All the big gun are feeling it now. Vino has even attacked.
And Gesink is going backwards.
yellow group down to : LL sanchez, Van den Broeck, Rodriguez, Schleck, Contador, Vino, Menchov, Sam Sanchez, Leipheimer
Contador and Schleck just watching each other at the back of their group.
Vino is caught by Van den Broek.
Schleck takes off his sunglasses, Contador looks good.
Riblon is hanging on with everything he's got. Such a brave ride.
Sastre having his best day in the Tour since 2008.
Contador and Schleck flirting at the back, each just watching each other.
Levi has popped. Out the back.
Cunego about to be caught, Gesink is catching back up but as Vino slows the pace goes out.
Vino is about to be dropped as Van den Broek takes the race by the scruff of the neck. Grreat riding.
Schleck straight on him, Menchov chasing and it's all over for Sastre as Sanchez comes over.
Sanchez now setting the pace as Van den Broek makes it over to the leaders as well.
Sastre attacks. Cunego makes it back to the Contador group.
Less than 4km for the leader on the road. Levi is cooked for for the day. as Rodriguez starts upping the pace.
Cunego dropped again. That might be it for him. Gesink at the back and giving it everything.
Contador goes again, Schleck and Menchov make it over.
Sastre caught and passed and Gesink drops. Samuel Sanchez comes passed and joins so we now have four riders at the front, Van den Broeck leading he chase.
Gesink is back on and is now setting the pace. Incredible scenes today at the Tour. No attack from Schleck, is he on the ropes?
Riblon still ahead as Contador and Schleck ease up, just watching each other. Menchov and Sanchez riding away.
Gesink is setting a furious pace ahead.
Menchov now attacks. What are Contador and Schleck doing?
SChleck comes through and sets the pace. I bet the Rabo DS can't believe his luck.
Menchov is riding himself into the race for yellow. Sanchez trying to do the same but isn't as strong.
Contador and Schleck are starting to ride now but that was incredible as they both almost stopped.
Riblon isn't far away. Can he hang on?
Menchov, then Sanchez, then Rodriguez, VDB and Gesink, then Schleck/Contador
Less than 1km to go for Riblon, he's going to do it.
Menchov is really suffering but he has to push on and get every single second.
A fantastic win for France, for AG2R and the Tour. Riblon comes to the line.
His biggest ever win.
Sanchez now with Menchov as Schleck and Contador catch Van den Broeck.
Menchov and Sanchez,
Schleck leads Contador and co over the line. They lost around 10 seconds to Menchov.
Here comes Cunego, Levi and Sastre.
More riders are coming over the line, Rogers one of them.
The yellow jersey stay's on Schleck's shoulders but the big talking point will be how Contador and Schleck eased up and allowed their other rivals to move ahead of them.
End result is that Andy Schleck will have more pressure on him after today. He needed to gain time on Contador, he didn't and he has just three days left in the mountains to do it.
Four stage wins for France in this year's race.
Thanks for joining us today. Tune in tomorrow for another action-packed stage in the Pyrenees.