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Hello and welcome to our live coverage from stage 17 of the Tour de France, a final fling for the climbers in this year's Tour with a 143.5 km trek from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes.
We're about 10 minutes away from today's stage with the riders busily signing on and coming off their team buses. It's be a hard Tour, full of crashes, hardship and sacrifice but the peloton will see today as the last big test in the mountains. Get through this and each rider should make it to Paris.
You can check out a video preview of today's stage with Chris Boardman, and see maps and profiles, right here.
In the battle for GC Wiggins still leads from Froome and Nibali. After yesterday's stage to Luchon the big change was Nibali putting time in Van den Broeck but also Evans dropping out of contention all together. Here's the top ten, as it stands:
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 74:15:32
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:46
5 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:07:13
6 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:07:55
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:08:06
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:09:09
9 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:10:10
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:11:43
Evans complained of illness but was dropped on the last two climbs of the stage. It will be interesting to see what BMC do next. Van Garderen is in white and climbing and time trialing better that Evans. They could use Evans to shake up the GC riders, and then see if van Garderen can move up. In all likelihood that might not happen but 5th, and even 4th, is possible for the American with the final time trial in this race still to come.
The mountains classification is a little tighter than the battle for yellow with Voeckler holding a slight lead over Kessiakoff.
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 107 pts
2 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team 103
3 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 77
The question is how much energy do either of those riders still have? Kessiakoff has to go on the attack so Europcar may just try and mark him out the early break, which one would assume will form on the first climb of the day which starts at 40km.
The bunch are now rolling out, overcast skies and Leipheimer is on the front as we head through the neutralized zone.
Prudhomme drops the flag and we're off. So much for my prediction of the break forming on the climb, we're already seeing attacks, BMC leading the way.
Cool temperatures today but there will still be some sore legs out there from yesterday. Argos are the next team to try their luck with a rider going up the road.
The bunch snake along the French highway as the lone Argos rider plugs away up ahead. Surely we'll see more riders try and come across to him.
Of the race for a moment and our tech tzar, James Huang was allowed to have a look around the Sky service course. You can see the report and huge gallery, right here.
Albert Timmer is the rider up the road, as Pineau tries and leads a counter attack but he's quickly reeled in.
Poor old Timmer, he's looking back for help but nothing has come through so far. He's about to sit up.
Argos are really going for this, sending another rider up the road.
This time Liquigas take up the invite and join the latest Argos rider on the attack.
Tyler Farrar at the very back of the bunch is sprinting through the corners just to keep in contention.
A more significant group have attacked, including Albasini. Still no attack or break from Gerrans in the race. Perhaps he's waiting for tomorrow.
Albasini is on his own at the head of the race, takes a look over his right shoulder and sees a small group coming up to him. The peloton haven't given up yet though and they're chasing everything down.
Voigt is leading the counter attack. Incredible after the efforts he made yesterday.
Almost 20km raced already with multiple attacks coming from the front of the bunch. The peloton have caught everything so far and Astana are the latest team to give it a go.
The road is rising, a gently unclassified climb. A good place for a possible attack but the bunch are still keeping everything in check.
Bert Grabsch has been dropped by the bunch, he simply can't keep up with this pace.
They're now on the slopes of the first major climb, the Col de Mente, and Kessiakoff is keeping a close eye on Voeckler at the front of the bunch.
The rest of the peloton is already splitting up.
Cavendish is near the back of the bunch, Pineau has been dropped.
A number of riders have broken clear, a rather large group: Valverde, Menchov, Cobo, Sorensen, all there.
Rolland is also in the break as well. Leipheimer too. And Boasson Hagen has moves back to the front of the bunch and begun to set the pace.
Cobo sits up having worked for Valverde. The mist is low and there's a good chance of showers at the moment. Menchov has a rider from Katusha on the front driving the break along.
It looks like Horner and Kessiakoff are both in the break too. I can't see Voeckler though.
Vino has been dropped by the bunch.
The roads are wet and Sky are under a bit of pressure to bring this one back. There aren't any GC threats up the road but there are apparently 20 riders in the break and Sky won't like the numbers plus the strength.
Wiggins is lying in fourth wheel, riding through the mist with his Sky teammates. Riders are being dropped and passed from the main break but Menchov is still driving things on.
Voeckler is in the break, right on Kessiakoff's wheel.
Sagan has been dropped too. He's normally able to keep pace at this stage. Yury Trofimov is doing a fantastic job for Menchov on the front of the break and more and more rider, Bouet, next have been dropped from the bunch.
Feillu was in the break this morning but he can't hold the Katusha pace and he's been dropped, with Boasson Hagen leading Wiggins by him.
Menchov takes over on the front, will he get assistance from other riders? As Zubeldia has been dropped from the bunch. That's a shock, and it could see BMC move to the front and help Sky set a furious pace.
And Valverde ups the pace and Rolland follows with Voeckler too.
Rolland has 1km to the summit and he's got a bit of a gap.
Zubeldia has been dropped but no RadioShack riders are with him.
Fair play to Kessiakoff, he really gave that a go. Rolland had a gap but the Astana rider attacked, catching the Frenchman napping. Rolland then had to wait and pace Voeckler up to Astana man. Voeckler was the stronger of the two at the summit, taking maximum points but Kessiakoff made it hard for him.
This descent is going to be dangerous. The riders can only see about 50 meters in front of themselves.
Wet roads, mist all around the rider, this is a very difficult descent for the bunch and the riders up the road.
After a few kms the riders clear through the mist, providing much safer conditions.
Nibali has attacked. Nibali has gone clear on the descent and he's in the break.
There's no time gap but the presence of Nibali in the break really changes the complexion of the break and intensifies the pressure on Sky to try and shut this down.
The Liquigas rider has moved into the Voeckler break and Boasson Hagen is leading the peloton on the descent.
The gap on race radio is 22 seconds.
Game over for Nibali. He shakes Valverde's hand and then sits up and waits for the bunch.
Here's the current make up of the lead break. We'll add more names as we get them:
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Rui Costa and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Sandy Casar (FdJ), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R)
The leaders have 51 seconds on the Wiggins group, while Zubeldia is a further 20 seconds back.
Zubeldia has made contact with the yellow jersey group. He's got some time to recover until the final two major climbs of the day.
Wiggins has dropped back to the Sky team car for a chat with the Yates, as Vino, ten Dam attack with Weening, Leipheimer also trying to go clear.
The leaders are 1:10 clear of a chase group, with the Wiggins bunch at 1:28
Levi in an attacking group. Adorable.
@nyvelocity Thu, 19th Jul 2012 13:17:11
The break is on the Col des Ares, Kessiakoff and Voeckler intent on watching each others every move as the counter attack continues to close up. Sorensen is in the counter attack with Vino, Leipheimer and ten Dam.
The chase group: Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), Biel Kadri (AG2R), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel), Jorge Azana (Euskaltel), Peer Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) ,Levi Leipheimer (OPQS), Simone Stortoni (Lampre) and Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank)
Costa is suffering in the break as Valverde increases the pace. He wont wont the chase group to come up.
Ruben Plaza (Movistar) is also in the chase group.
Liquigas are on the front of the bunch and setting the pace.
Costa makes it back to the lead group, which is still lead by Valverde with Casar just sitting on the back and keeping out of sight.
The full chase group:
Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), Biel Kadri (AG2R), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel), Jorge Azana (Euskaltel), Peter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Levi Leipheimer (OPQS), Simone Stortoni (Lampre), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Ruben Plaza (Movistar)
1km to the summit of the climb.
Voeckler unleashes an ugly but effective sprint to take the 5 points at the top.
Weenings Weeners go over the top of the climb 50 seconds back.
Voeckler now has an 8 point lead in the KOM competition.
Latest KOM sit: Tommy V 133. Kessiakoff 117, Sorensen 77
@fmk_RoI Thu, 19th Jul 2012 13:37:34
Rui Costa and Valverde have a brief chat, as the chase group catches them. That makes three Movistar riders in the break. Making a 17 man group, with a gap of 2:33
Sorensen has crashed. He's back with the bunch and receiving help from the medical car.
Nibali still has his men on the front of the peloton, indicating that he's keen on giving it another go when it comes to trying to crack Wiggins and Froome. There's also the possibility of the stage win to take into account as well.
Next is the Port de Balès, where Andy Schleck dropped his chain and the race in 2010, which is an ideal place to launch a long-range attack. Then comes the Peyresourde and the final, and first-ever, climb to the resort above it.
You can get the latest edition of Cyclingnews HD. It's just a click away.
The break still have to contend with the Cote de Burs, which they've just started climbing.
Kessiakoff launches the sprint but once again Voeckler is too good for him and takes two more points to the Astana rider's 1. That's a ten point lead now for the KOM leader.
In other news today, Bruyneel says he's going to stand by Frank Schleck.
The gap has started to come down, it's now at 2:33, with Movistar doing most of the work on the front. The problem is, the group is too big and there are a lot of riders just sitting on.
Liquigas continue to set the pace on the front of the bunch: Nibali has already tried once today, on the descent of the final climb, and it's clear he's feeling strong today.
It's a similar tactic to the one Liquigas used at the Giro this year and one they rolled out yesterday on the final two climbs, very quickly they got ride of all of Sky's riders bar Wiggins and Froome. Perhaps if they can isolate the two Sky riders a bit earlier, Nibali will have more room to play with. For example, attacking on the descent of the Bales....
56km to go, and Katusha have also put a man in the Liquigas train.
There's a crash and Cavendish, Porte, and both involved.
Both riders are on their feet with Porte waiting for a new bike.
It's going to be hard for Porte to make it back to the main bunch now. Cavendish is back chasing already, through the cars.
At the head of the break riders are being to be distanced. Our two Euskaltel riders are clear with Plaza. Valverde is trying to come across.
As Cavendish makes it back to the bunch.
We're almost at the foot of the Bales and a critical part of the race. Nibali still has his troops on the front of the main field, trying to unsettle Sky as much as possible.
Meanwhile Porte is coming through the cars and is with the medical team right now.
The Bales is a 15 kilometre climb, averaging 7 per cent.
Porte finally makes it to the tail of the peloton.
Liquigas are continuing to set the pace. Perhaps they've looked at Wiggins and seen a slight weakness in his condition today, perhaps he's on a bad day, perhaps he's bluffling a la Armstrong and he's about to win the final mountain stage in this year's Tour.
Onto the final HC climb of this year's Tour as Movistar chase the few riders that have skipped off the front. The bunch are 2:30 behind.
Did Liquigas hear that Sky is holding try-outs today?
@nyvelocity Thu, 19th Jul 2012 14:38:29
Nibali's men hit the foot of the climb and straight away riders are being dropped from the bunch.
Sky are slowly moving up to the front of the bunch but Basso is doing a good job, positioning the Liquigas riders on Nibali's behalf.
Have Sky tired, is Wiggins on the ropes? Liquigas will be hoping so.
The break is splitting with Leipheimer leading a small group up to our two leaders.
Liquigas driving the pace on the Port de Balès, Poste Italiene. Can Nibali deliver? Sky down to Wiggins, Froome, Rogers and Boasson Hagen.
@inrng Thu, 19th Jul 2012 14:49:45
Costa, Valverde, Kadri, Levi and Martinez lead the race now.
More fog and mist at the top of the climb, perhaps another opportunity for Nibali to go again. If he can isolate Wiggins at the top of the climb and then attack him on the descent he has a good chance of going clear.
As Rui Costa goes clear at the head of the lead group. A stage winner last year of course.
Knees has blown and is dropped.
The yellow jersey group is down to less than 40 riders.
Weening, the last Dutch rider to win a stage in the Tour, in 2005 attacks from the chase group.
As Voeckler just glues himself to Kessiakoff's rear wheel.
Liquigas keep the pace steady but it's not super quick at the moment. The gap to Rui Costa is at 2:00.
Costa also won the Tour Suisse of course, he was in a decent GC position for the first week of the race but has fallen back since. He's got 2:00 on the yellow jersey group, which now has Richie Porte near the front.
Nibali just has two men with him, so he's burnt a number of matches on the run in and lower parts of the climb. Basso is going to be key here, and then it's up to Nibali on the descent.
Valverde has attacked from Martinez and Levi and goes clear. He's onto Rui Costa's wheel already.
And Valverde has gone on alone, dropping his teammate. It's still a long way until the finish though, 35km.
This is probably the best climbing performance we've seen from Valverde since his comeback from a doping violation. He finished second at TDU but this is a race with harder climbs.
Further down the climb, and Voeckler is matching Kessiakoff pedal stroke for pedal stroke.
1km to the summit for Valverde as Liquigas start to pick up riders from the break. Nerz is doing all the work for his team, and catches Weening.
Basso will have to roll up his sleeves and take over in a minute, I'm sure.
A few boos on the road for Valverde from the fans.
Less than 30 riders in the yellow jersey group, Valverde has pulled out a few seconds though, and leads over the top by 2:22
Voeckler takes second on the climb, with Kessiakoff next.
As Van den Broeck lifts the pace and jumps out just over the top of the climb. He takes a bidon and then sits up.
This a technical descent but the roads are dry and there doesn't appear to be fog on the top slopes as Valverde heads for a possible stage win.
Voeckler has 11 points on Kessiakoff now, and the Frenchman is tearing down the descent. He can't win another mountain stage, can he?
Voeckler is catching Rui Costa it seems on the descent.
Up ahead Kadri and Leipheimer are still riding together.
Liquigas are still on the front, two riders with Nibali and it looks like three riders with Wiggins.
Just 20km left for Valverde, who has 2:30 on the bunch. He'll want at least three minutes by the foot of the last climb.
Costa is around 30-40 seconds ahead of Voeckler at this stage as Valverde reaches the foot of the climb of the Peyresourde.
As Rui Costa overcooks a bend and has to stop, turn around and start again. Martinez was with him but the Euskaltel rider wont wait.
As Voeckler is caught as Valverde heads under the 15km to go banner with 2:30.
Levi has been caught and Nerz pulls over to leave Basso taking centre stage.
Wiggins takes a drink and sits on a teammates wheel, he looks comfortable under the pressure Liquigas are trying to put him under.
Basso catches Rui Costa, then gets out of the saddle with Nibali on his wheel.
Boasson Hagen is still there, Porte, Froome and Wiggins. I can't see Rogers at the moment.
Rogers is there, just a bit further back. The two Lotto climbers, Van Garderen, Rollan, and Evans are all there.
Zubeldia isn't though... he's been dropped.
If there aren't attacks from this group then Valverde will win this stage 11km to go and the gap is at 2:26
Scarponi is hanging at the back of the yellow jersey group with Kloden and Monfort.
Kloden needed a new wheel and he's ... well I was about to say he's riding with Zubeldia but the German just goes by him without even looking at him.
Basso's work has now dropped Boasson Hagen. Pinot is still with the group though.
Valverde has lost a couple of seconds as he gets out of the saddle on the climb. His advantage is 2:20.
10km for Valverde, he had 2:30 at the start of the climb, it's not at 2:18 as Basso continues to set the pace on the.
And Jelle Vanendert has attacked.
And Rogers is being distanced by the work done by Basso.
Van den Broeck is following Nibali, then it's Froome, then Wiggins and now Janez Brajkovic has been dropped.
The gap is down to 1:49 though so the more attacks that come from that group the more the gap to Valverde will come down. Basso increases the pace again and the group is down to less than 15 men.
Horner, Kloden, Kern, Roche, Menchov, are all in the Wiggins group too.
Evans is at the back now though, he's struggling again. And he's cracking.
8km to go , Valverde with 1:47. And Evans is about 20 bike lengths off the back.
And Van den Broeck has attacked. Rolland follows, Pinot too and Nibali moves to the front.
Basso has blown and the two Lotto riders, Rolland and Pinot have a small gap.
And Nibali brings them back.
Roche, Menchov have both cracked.
Wiggins comes passed Froome as the GC men all line out and now Pinot has attacked.
VBD sets the pace and now Nibali is starting to crack and perhaps Froome too.
Valverde has 1:14, Pinot has been caught, Everyone is suffering now.
5km for Valerde with the downhill to the final short climb.
There are 8 riders in the chase with wiggins, Froome, VDB, Nibali, Pinot, Rolland all there.
Huge crowds on the climb as Varverde cuts through them and on his way to a stage win in the Tour.
And Wiggins sets the pace now.
Froome on his wheel, and the race leader is doing some major damage now.
Van den Broeck attacks again but is caught as Van Garderen hangs on with 3km to go.
Horner was in the group but he's losing ground and so is Nibali. He's being dropped.
Van Garderen on the Italian's wheel as Froome and Wiggins increase the pace and put time into the Italian.
Froome rides away but then he waits for Wiggins.
Froome keeps checking on Wiggins but he's too strong, Froome wants to catch Valverde but the race leader needs the pace to ease off slightly. Froome is now towing Wiggins, as Valverde has cracked but Froome has now dropped Wiggins again, he waits again.
Down the climb and Nibali is riding away from van Garderen but the Italian can't catch the others.
Froome must have a sore neck by now, as Wiggins comes back up to him. Valverde is there for the taking the gap is just 30 seconds.
1km to go for Valverde and Pinot has come up to the Sky riders. Excellent ride.
A flat section for Valverde to recover before the final kick to the line.
Valverde is coming to the line. His stage win looks a certainty. . He points to his jersey, and crosses the line as Froome leads Wiggins home and then Pinot, Rolland, VBD, Nibali a few more seconds back.
Then van Garderen.
Then Dan Martin, a Shack rider, and Roche.
Menchov is next then , Janez Brajkovic, who has lost time, Evans too.
The Shack rider was Horner .
1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
4 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
6 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
8 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
9 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan
10 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin - Sharp
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 78:28:02
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:41
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:53
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:08:30
Well another tense day in the Tour. Nibali and Liquigas promised much with their aggression but like in the Giro, their leader was found wanting after the team had done so much work.
Sky appeared to have a slightly off day, but in the end Froome and Wiggins were just too strong for everyone, Froome especially, who could have put time into Wiggins but chose to keep by his leader's side.
And Valverde, he won the stage after a long break.
Thanks for joining us today for our live coverage. We'll be back tomorrow for stage 18 of the Tour de France.
Full results, report and pix for today, can be found here.