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Hello and welcome to CN's coverage from the Tour de France. Today we cross the border into Italy with a 179km stage fro Gap to Pinerolo.
The race heads into Italy via the Montgenèvre pass, climbs to Sestrières and then features a late complicating factor in the shape of the 7km Pramartino climb, off which the road descends steeply into the finish in Pinerolo.
The overall contenders are likely to wait until that last test before making any move today but the temptation for most will surely be to hold something back for the epic test the next day. That once again gives breakaway riders another good chance of going all the way to the finish. In fact, it is likely to be their final opportunity to do so.
However after yesterday's action anything is possible, after we saw Contador rip the race apart with some savage attacks on the final climb. Cadel Evans came away with the biggest advantage, gaining time on Contador on the descent and putting even more time into both of the Schlecks.
"Sestriere is a real hard drag up and it will set up the last climb, the Pra Martino. It's only 7km but they will be hell for leather and I think you'll see gaps of up to two minutes. The strongest guys will be to the fore now and I see somebody losing the Tour here."
Today's profile is flat until we hit the 3rd cat climb at 71km. Then it's just a few kilometers until the intermediate sprint. That might be a good chance for Rojas and Gilbert to drop Cavendish, although the HTC sprinter did a pretty good job in the hills yesterday.
From there the bunch will tackle another third cat climb, then the 2nd cat climb - col de Montgenevre - before a fast descent and the climb up to Sestrieres.
Then it's around 40km of downhill before the final climb - where Contador might try again - and the final descent to the finish.
We're in for another cracking day of racing.
We're about ten minutes away from the official start.
Conditions are good out there at the moment. While at the finish they're even better, with the sun out.
And we're off. 170 riders leaving the start in Gap for the stage that rides and indeed finishes in Italy.
The last time the Tour finished in Italy was in 2008. I think that was Cuneo. That was where CONI pinged Valverde, I believe.
This is how things stand in GC
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 69:00:56
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:01:45
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:49
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:03:03
5 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:03:26
6 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:42
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:03:49
8 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:04:01
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:06:04
10 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:07:55
It's an interesting debate and while rider safety should never be compromised, the fact is that pro cycling is a dangerous sport. Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject throughout the day.
In the race we've got a large group of between 25-30 riders off the front, trying to establish a break.
After yesterday's stage I wouldn't be surprised if a break established itself a lot earlier today.
We now have ten men in the break.
BMC and Garmin are chasing, up the road we have Gerdermann, Thomas, Boassan Hagen (again), Di Gregorio, Sanchez (Rab), Costa, Casar, Hondo, Van Garderen, de Gendt
The leaders have 25 seconds on the bunch at the moment.
AG2R on the front again. They chase at some odd times don't they?
That's a interesting break though, a few very strong riders in the mix but a lot of teams have missed out. With the tough days in the Alps, the TT and then the stage to Paris, this is the last chance for a lot of teams.
The gap is still less than 30 seconds though so the break are a long way from establishing a healthy lead.
The gap is up to 40 seconds now. Once it's over a minute I'll produce the situation for the right hand side of live.
Garmin back on the front now doing the chase work, clearly AG2R weren't doing enough.
20km into the stage and the lead is still hovering around 40 seconds. Sanchez, Hagen have already won stages in this year's race.
Interesting that Hondo has jumped into the move. A good sprinter in his own right, he's now the main leadout man for Petacchi. We've seen him get into breaks in the mountains before though, and he's not too bad at climbing.
Garmin want to be in the move so they're intent on chasing this one down. It's going to use a lot of energy though. Today might be a day for Millar though.
Lots of riders in break are what French call "clients for a stage win". But gap being pegged by Ag2r who want a stage win, still 44 seconds.
@inrng Wed, 20th Jul 2011 12:09:09
Garmin has called off the chase but they're still aggressive and would you believe it Hushovd and Roche have attacked the bunch and are trying to bridge the gap. I bet Boasson Hagen's heart sank a bit when he heard that news.
Roche has been having a poor Tour so far, he really suffered in the first mountains, but has vowed to get into a break. Today suits him too.
But this hasn't worked for either Hushovd or Roche and both men have been caught. The ten are still up the road but their lead has been cut to 30 seconds.
With so many teams still hoping for a stage win the group aren't being given too much room. They've not even established a lead bigger than 45 seconds and they've been out there for a while now.
Quick Step, Shack, AG2R, Liquigas, Cofidis, Katusha, Lampre, Vacansoleil all want to be in there.
Casar has had enough of this. With the gap starting to drop again he's taken off again.
It hasn't worked though and the group - including Casar have been brought back.
I'd expect Movistar and Lotto to collaborate soon in a bid to drive the pace and drop Cav on the next climb, as the intermediate sprint comes 10km later. The climb is only 3rd cat but it's a possible opportunity.
Roche was briefly dropped from the bunch but he's back now. They're still doing 50km/h plus as they head along the Durance valley
@inrng Wed, 20th Jul 2011 12:35:20
Here's where we stand in the points race. Cav has a healthy lead.
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad 319 pts
2 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team 285
3 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 250
4 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo 235
5 André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto 170
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 165
7 Tyler Farrar (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 141
8 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 136
9 Mickaël Delage (Fra) FDJ 122
10 Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ 107
A new break has formed. Boassan Hagen is there again and he's been joined by Perez, Tjallingii, Fofonov, Muravyev, Amador, Paterski, Chavanel, El Fares, Casar, Bozic, Leukmans, Hivert and the bunch are 1:30 back
Mollema has also made it across to the lead group.
The gap is now 2:05
62km covered and the lead is over 3 minutes. It looks like we've got our break for the day. It's a surprise that the two Italian teams - Lampre and Liquigas, do not have a rider in the break considering the race finishes in Italy.
Apologies, Liquigas do indeed have a man in the break.
It's 3:50 so the bunch look happy or apathetic to chasing this one down.
The lead is now 4;30 and we're closing in on the first climb of the day. It's only a 3rd cat climb but considering the tough pace we've had so far today a few riders will really struggle.
Some good climbers in the break, Mollema, Casar, to name two but it's worth noting that while France have the yellow jersey they've still not won a stage in this year's race.
Tiralongo has quit the race. He's been suffering for a number of days.
Over the top of the climb and Chavanel takes first place, followed by El Fares.
There's rightly been lots of talk about Anthony Roy's breakaway exploits, but how many has Euskaltel's Ruben Perez been in?
@petercossins Wed, 20th Jul 2011 13:11:25
Europcar setting the pace on the front of the bunch. Casar is best placed on GC but he's well down on Voeckler.
As well as providing unbelievable prizes for our 2011 Tour de France trivia contest, Easton sponsors two pro racing teams. One is Team BMC. Name the America domestic team that boasts an Easton sponsorship?
For a clue, click here.
You are entered for the random drawing for prizes by filling in your answer here. http://easton.cyclingnews.com/ Good luck!
Weather conditions are a total contrast to yesterday's stage. The sun is out, there's little in the way of wind, and there isn't a rain jacket in sight.
Casar takes the intermediate sprint. Not much of a contest. FDJ have picked up a number of sprints like that during the race.
Huge crowds out today, cheering the break on as they hit the next 3rd cat climb of the day.
Cav took the 1 point at the intermediate sprint by the way. Nice move from the HTC rider. One point, just goes to show that he thinks every point counts.
Chavanel, in the national champs jersey is leading the break up the climb. He's been in a few moves but it's never quite stuck for the Frenchman.
Chavanel takes 2 points, Leukmans gets 1, at the top of the climb. The lead is now 6:20
The lead is still growing, it's at 7 minutes, with Europcar still leading and BMC close to the front as well. A slight chance that Evans could take yellow today if he can drop Voeckler on the final climb. It's possible. Almost anything is in this year's Tour.
The break still working fairly well, the lead up to 7:15. Back in the bunch, Evans looks relaxed, on Burgy's wheel.
The bunch has just gone through the feed zone
Alberto Contador near the front too, along with a gaggle of his Saxo Bank teammates. They'll be looking to keep him out of trouble today and then I'm sure he'll try something on the final climb. The Schlecks won't like the final descent so he'll want to put them under as much pressure as possible.
El Fares leading the break now and they're all still together, climbing the second cat climb. Casar takes his turn and comes through, followed by Hivert
Hushovd off the back of the bunch but it looks like he's coming back rather than going backwards.
Europcar still pushing the pace at the head of the bunch but it's just nice and steady.
Try as he might, Simon Gerrans can't get in the break this #tdf...
@janeaubrey Wed, 20th Jul 2011 13:51:02
Rode down the final descent today. Steepest yet, very twisty under trees. Good surface but super technical, can't see it staying together...
@Chris_Boardman Wed, 20th Jul 2011 13:53:24
Cavendish climbing well in the peloton at the moment.
As Roche goes on the attack.
But it's splitting up in the bunch. Hoogerland and a Quick Step rider have attacked together.
As Chavanel takes the maximum points at the top of the climb.
Tjallingii punctures but that's a super fast wheel change.
A couple of Europcar riders are looking back and talking to BMC and Leopard. It looks like they're asking for some help in bringing the break back.
The bunch is now on the descent and heading towards the foot of the climb to Sestrieres. It's straight down and then straight up.
Chavanel is back with the team car at the moment, Hoogerland, Roche and de Weert around a minute ahead of the bunch.
That's an interesting move from De Weert, he's up in a good spot in GC and he could be a danger for some top ten contenders.
The break are on the climb, they're looking a bit ragged now as you might expect, a few riders missing turns and hiding at the back
Casar and El Fares both taking full turns on the front while it looks like a gruppetto is about to form at the back of the bunch.
Roche isn't doing much work but De Weert is doing a lot of the work and he's cutting the gap in half to the leaders.
Plucky Tommy V's 18th day in yellow jersey in his career, level with Ullrich and Gimondi. If he keeps it tonight he is level with Coppi.
@willfoth Wed, 20th Jul 2011 14:26:27
It's such a long climb, tough at the bottom, and it kicks up again near the top, to around 6-9 per cent. The break is still together but De Weert is catching them, Roche and Hoogy are only able to follow
And Perez has attacked , and he has a gap. He wants the points at the top of the climb and he's going from a long way out. He's got 4km to go.
The other riders are fine with letting him go. The gap wasn't really coming down but the Euskatel rider wanted to attack, so there you go.
Hoogy, his legs still heavily bandaged still sitting on the back of the trio who are chasing. Up ahead Perez is striking out alone. he's got around 3km to go but then around 40km of descent.
Perez has 45 seconds on the main break
Chavanel leads the chasers over the climb, de Weert and co are still climbing and over a minute back.
Perez has a minute on the main break with the peloton at 7 minutes.
Nice wide roads, good surfaces so Perez can really push on the descent. He's not taking a few corners that well though to be honest.
BTW, seeing Linus with his jersey open a few days ago was a real 'Crying Game' moment.
@nyvelocity Wed, 20th Jul 2011 14:43:29
Europcar still plugging away on the front of the peloton, just doing enough and i'm sure some of Voeckler's men will be looking forward to the final climb when their leader can rely on the biggest teams to do the work.
Tyler Farrar is dropped.
Five years ago today Landis won in Morzine.
Such a long sweeping descent before the final climb of the day. It's a real brute and you can bet that there will be fireworks. Will the Schlecks wait for Contador to go or will they spark the moves?
Voeckler will have to pay attention too. He can't compete with Contador if the Spaniard accelerates but he'll need to ride at his own pace.
Hoogerland still sitting in with Roche and de Weert. Who can blame him after he needed over 30 stitches.
Wake up Garmin. Hushovd has a puncture so stop working on the front of the peloton.
Perez isn't the best descender but he's dragging out a few more seconds on the descent. The only question is whether or not he's attacked so far out from the finish.
Five years ago today.
Chavanel is back with the team car. Are they asking him to wait for de Weert?
8:10 between Perez and yellow.
It levels out now and Perez is going to struggle here. This is where the rest of the break can bring him back into check.
The 13 riders behind him are organised and fresher
Lampre hit the front of the bunch, Garmin too, they'll be working for the team classification. Lampre perhaps working for Cunego, we're in italy, the final climb suits him, he just needs to make sure he attacks before the likes of Contador.
20km to go. Perez has 7:30 on the peloton
Europcar starting to drift back. They've controlled the bunch for most of the day.
Eisel has a puncture and needs a wheel.
Andy Schleck , all eyes on you ahead of this descent. He has Frank on his wheel for now, and the bunch are closing in on the final climb of the day.
15km to go for Perez. He turns right, now left, onto a much narrower road. He'll start climbing now.
Looking forward to see Bertie light it up again.... Question is, who will go with him? And will the Schlecks find the descent a doozy?
@anthony_tan Wed, 20th Jul 2011 15:27:10
Perez is pushing the pedals but he looks on the rivet and he's only just started the climb. He could hang on but the break still has a lot to give
but all eyes on the bunch as Leopard bring their men to the front . They all want to be on the front for the climb.
Attacks in the break though. Fofonov is the first to jump. He can see Perez up ahead.
Cancellara on the front for Leopard.
BMC also at the front, no sign of Contador yet.
Up ahead Perez swings around anther tight corner, out of the saddle and starting to really suffer.
As Chavanel leads the chase behind.
5km to the summit for Perez. El Fares leads the chase, Fofonov is brought back.
Hivert looks around, he can climb too.
Back in the bunch Leipheimer has been dropped.
Cav also dropped
The bunch swing right and there's a crash
BMC leading now, we cant see who was in the crash.
Hivert is dragging the group back to Perez.
Chavanel attacks and that's a big move, just as Perez is caught. Good timing.
He empties a bottle over his head and pushes on. Can he win for France?
Up ahead Hincapie drives the bunch, Schlecks and Evans are there but I cant see Contador at the moment.
There is Contador , Cunego, Basso Voeckler all there. Uran there as well for Sky.
Hagen has caught Chavanel meanwhile, so two leaders on the road.
Andy Schleck watches his rivals as up had Hagen attacks and goes for it. No reaction what so ever from Chavanel.
The Norwegian is in he form of his life.
Hivert is setting the pace to try and bring him back as Liquigas lead the remnants of the bunch on the climb.
As Chavanel attacks and goes after Hagen. Casar and El Fares both struggling
Hivert goes now, just as Chavanel is caught. Hagen is still on his own up the road.
More riders attacking from the break. Casar one of them.
The yellow jersey group is down to around 20 men, Liquigas leading still. contador hasn't moved yet.
Boassan Hagen has 25 seconds.
1km to to the summit for Hagen, Hivert is now 10 seconds back though. Chavanel chasing on his own.
Mollema is having a go as well. it's all going to come down to the final descent and Contador attacks.
A Schleck and Voeckler there. Evans now too but some riders are dropped. Andy is on the front now. He has to attack.
All back together in the yellow jersey group.
Contador will have another chance when the road steepens later on the climb.
Mollema catches Hivert at the top. And Contador goes again. Andy S follows. Evans too.
Now Frank sets the pace, Contador and the other follow.
Hivert with a huge save. he almost came off the road.
But this time he cant save it and Hivert comes off the road and into a ditch
he's back up and chasing.
Hagen descending smoothly up ahead.
Basso sets the pace. He needs to do more than that.
hagen leads, Mollema and then Hivert as the yellow jersey group come to the top of the climb. Now the tricky descent starts. Andy Schleck takes the lead but up ahead Hivert ends up in a car park. He's okay.
EBH now on the flat section for the final 3km. He should have this one in the bag.
Voeckler is going for it and he almost comes off and Sanchez goes into a corner too hot.
He keeps the bike upright. Contador is on his wheel. Hagen has this one and Contador is attacking on the descent. HE's got to be careful.
Contador is ripping the race apart on the descent. He's dropped all of them.
Hagen has 1km to .
Sanchez, one of the best in the world couldnt keep up with Contador and the Saxo rider is clear.
As Hagen takes the win and Voeckler ends up in the same car park as Hivert.
He'll lose time there's no doubt about that.
We've not seen either of the Schlecks as Mollema takes second on the stage, and then Casar.
Contador and Sanchez together and working well. They're driving to the line, voeckler is by himself.
The two Spaniards pushing and giving it everything. They ride for different teams but today they're allies.
voeckler is behind Evans's group, he's in real trouble here.
I think the Schlecks are with Basso and the Evans group. Still 26 seconds between yellow and Contador.
1km to go for the Spanish Armada.
Schlecks and Evans are coming back to them though.
They finish together, Evans, Contador, Sanchez, and the Schlecks.
Voeckler coming in with Basso and Danielson, 26 seconds down on the GC contenders.
Another fine win for Sky, for Norway and Boasson Hagen
1 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 4:18:00
2 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:40
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ 0:00:50
4 Julien El Fares (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:50
5 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:00:50
6 Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana 0:01:10
7 Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:10
8 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team RadioShack 0:01:10
9 Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur - Sojasun 0:01:15
General classification after stage 17
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 1/3/1900 1:23
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:01:18
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:22
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:02:36
5 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:02:59
6 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:15
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:03:34
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:03:49
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:06:04
10 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:07:36
Evans clawed back more time on Voeckler and is now 1:18 down in GC. The race is still wide open though, Contador, Schlecks, Evans all putting time into the Frenchman.
The Schlecks did what they needed to on the descent and the run in to the finish but on the climb they looked nervous, more concerned with Contador's movements than trying to attack.
It all means the race is wide open and we've got two more stages in the Alps to come.
Thanks for joining us today. Tune in tomorrow for more live coverage from the Tour.