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Welcome to our live coverage of stage 7 from the 2012 Tour de France. With the race now a week old the general classification is set to start taking shape with the first real climbing test this afternoon.
Ten minutes to start time...
Today's 199km stage runs from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles in the Voges mountains. After a relatively gentle first half of the race, the riders will face two category three climbs before tackling the formidable final climb up to La Planche des Belles Filles - the first category one climb of this year's Tour.
Yesterday's stage was marred by an horrific crash 25km from the finish. More on that to follow, but let's show some respect to Liquigas rider Peter Sagan, who won his third stage of the Tour in comfortable fashion:
TOP TEN FINISHERS - STAGE 6
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 4:37:00
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team
3 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
4 Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
5 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
6 Greg Henderson (NZl) Lotto Belisol Team
7 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
8 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha Team
9 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
10 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 0:00:04
And we're off and racing in bright sunshine...
RadioShack-Nissan's Fabian Cancellara remained in yellow after yesterday's sixth stage. The Swiss has held the jersey for almost a week but his position is likely to be under threat this afternoon as the race heads into the mountains:
GC TOP TEN AFTER STAGE 6:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 29:22:36
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
4 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:17
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
8 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:19
9 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan
10 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:22
Letour.com tells us that there were 182 riders at the start today, or eight non-starters. They are: Amets Txurruka (EUS), Ryder Hesjedal (GRS), Robert Hunter (GRS), Hubert Dupont (ALM), Oscar Freire (KAT), Maarten Wynants (RAB), Imanol Erviti (MOV) and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (MOV).
Ten of the 22 teams in the Tour are now at least one man short. Garmin-Sharp and Movistar have both lost three riders, while Euskaltel and Rabobank are both two men down.
We're eight kilometres in and no breakaway yet
As I just said, Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal is the biggest name casualty of the race so far. Yesterday's crash has led to his early withdrawal from the race. Here's what he had to say on Twitter:
ryder_hesjedal In a car to Paris. Not really the way I envisioned it happening. Thank you for all the support, especially from my Team. @Ride_Argyle
At least Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank have retained their sense of humour amid all these crashes and injuries. According to Karsten Kroon, the music on the team bus this morning was "Stayin Alive" by the Bee Gees...
Looks like we have our first sustained breakaway of the stage. Just getting details now...
Gautier (EUC), Riblon (ALM), Sanchez (RAB), Sorensen (STB), Fofonov (AST), Martin Velits (OPQ) and Albasini (OGE) are the seven who have broken clear...
And the gap is quickly up over four minutes...
Luis Leon Sanchez is the biggest name in this breakaway. He's won three stages at the Tour in his career, including stage nine last year.
Meanwhile, Riblon was the winner of stage 14 in 2010.
Riblon is also the highest placed of these seven in the general classification. At the start of the day he lay in 55th place, just over five minutes behind Cancellara.
Sorensen is not far behind him in the GC, at 5:13...
Albasini has been in excellent form this season and will be hoping to make his mark here at the Tour. He already has three stage wins in 2012 and also won the overall title at the Volta a Catalunya.
Gap is now up to almost six minutes...
Sanchez's team have been talking about their revised goals for the rest of the Tour following the disruption caused by all these crashes. Read exactly what they mean right here.
The average speed for the first hour today is 43.9km/h. That makes it the fastest start to any stage so far the 2012 Tour de France.
And the gap has stablised and even come down a bit. Wonder how long that will last...
ABANDONMENT: Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) has pulled out early in the stage. He hasn't recovered from his fractured wrist.
Gorgeous day here in northeastern France. Temperatures have now crept up to 25 degrees Celcius and the sun is shining.
Leaders are about to start climbing. It's fairly gentle at first, but they are now essentially climbing gradually for the next 70km until they reach the top of the first categorised climb. There are sections of respite between now and then, but not many.
Almost 60km in, the leaders have reached the picturesque village of Roville-aux-Chenes in the foothills of the Vosges mountains.
Albasini was in bullish mood this morning when he spoke to the race organisers. He said that if he could attach himself into a breakaway he had a chance of pushing for a stage win. Well, he's done the first part today...
Gap is remaining pretty constant at around the five-and-a-half minute mark
VIDEO: In case you missed yesterday's action, you can watch video highlights of it right here.
Average speed will certainly be considerably slower for the second hour. The leaders are currently clocking just under 38km/h as they ride towards the next landmark - the feeding station.
Hearing reports that Bradley Wiggins was almost decapitated by a camera after yesterday's stage. I must have missed this yesterday...
So Sagan is basing his celebrations on the films that his Liquigas team watch on the team bus. Forrest Gump, the Hulk, etc. Trying to think of the most difficult one to pull off on a bike...
I guess Free Willy would be pretty dangerous. And Four Weddings and a Funeral would take some real planning.
Let's focus on this final categorised climb for a moment. It's about 6km long and has gradients of up to 13%. So it's short and explosive - not, perhaps, particularly suited to pre-race favourites Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, who are better suited to longer, more endurance-based ascents.
Gap still remaining constant here. Not much change over the last 30kms or so...
Susan thinks the Karate Kid or Saturday Night Fever would be good ones for Sagan's next piece of showboating...
Personally I'd pay a lot of money to see him and a couple of his teammates act out Priscilla, Queen of the Desert...
Feeding station is only a few kms away now...
We've just passed the 2-hour mark and the riders have completed 85km.
There's flood warnings back home in the UK. It's been the wettest June on record. This gorgeous weather here is making a lot of people very jealous.
Feeding time for the leaders
With three categorised climbs coming up over the next three hours, let's take a look at the mountains classification:
1 Michael Morkov (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 9 pts
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 2
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 2
4 Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Saur - Sojasun 2
5 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 2
6 David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin - Sharp 1
7 Pablo Urtasun Perez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 1
8 Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan 1
9 Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 1
Sanchez was in a similar position in a breakaway on stage nine of the Tour last year and managed to win. It's early days here but he has proven that he can win from these sorts of positions.
Kazakh rider Fofonov finished inside the top 20 at the 2008 Tour but tested positive for Heptaminol shortly afterwards.
As we enter the final 100km the gap is now under five minutes.
As they continue to climb the riders are closing in on the day's intermediate sprint.
One rider who has been talking up the significance of today's final climb is Liquigas rider Vincenzo Nibali. We caught up with him yesterday and you can read what he had to say right here.
And we've reached the intermediate sprint...
The leaders are through it, and Gautier has taken the full 20 points.
Just waiting on the full results. Should have them in a minute
And Sagan cruises past Matthew Goss, treating him almost with contempt, to secure 8th position in the sprint ahead of the other chasers.
FULL RESULTS - INTERMEDIATE SPRINT
1. Gautier (EUC) 20 pts
2. Fofonov (AST) 17pts
3. Sanchez (RAB) 15pts
4. Albasini (OGE) 13pts
5. Riblon (ALM) 11pts
6. Velits (OPQ) 10pts
7. Sorensen (STB) 9pts
8. Sagan (LIQ) 8pts
9. Goss (OGE) 7pts
10. Impey (OGE) 6pts
11. Greipel (LTB) 5pts
12. Hutarovich (FDJ) 4pts
13. Lancaster (OGE) 3pts
14. Cooke (OGE) 2pts
15. Casar (FDJ) 1pt
Going to leave you in the capable hands of Susan for a while now while I go and take a short break...
Susan here while Mark grabs a sandwich. We have 88km to go, and a gap of 5:19.
The lead group is approaching the first ranked climb of the day, the Col de Grosse Pierre. And are there lots of fans alongside the road!
Only two riders got points at this category three climb. Two points went to Sorensen, and one point to Sanchez.
Sanchez has dropped back slightly on the descent and must scurry to catch up. Let us not forget that he is still suffering from a broken bone in his right hand.
Tyler Farrar of Garmin continues to lag behind, but on the other hand, at least he is still in the race.
Sagan is now at the back of the field, but looks to be dropping back to the team car.
The peloton crossed the mountain top 4:43 behind the leaders.
Gorka Verdugo of Euskaltel has joined Farrar back amongst the team cars. We are actually surprised to see Verdugo in the race today. He was involved in yesterday's crash and said to have a gash in his leg so deep that the bone was visible.
The new bottle carrier for Sky is none other than World Champion Mark Cavendish. He is back at the team car loading up.
It is a long descent now, and the peloton is strung out single file.
The final climb won't be a surprise to the Sky riders. Team Principal Dave Brailsford told us that all of them have ridden it in training.
With 70km left on the day, the gap is 4:49. But with that big climb coming at the end, we don't expect this group to get through all the way on their own.
Pierre Roland was one of those involved in yesterday's crash, a hard blow for Europcar.
George HIncapie is the watercarrier for BMC Racing Team. This is the American's last Tour de France, as he will soon be retiring.
Mark is back, well-fed and ready to climb that final mountain. Back to you, big guy!
BMC definitely pushing things at the front of the peloton. Evans has been quiet over the last few days, as expected. That could change today...
Check out @cyclingthealps preview of stage 7 from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles (1035m). Explore the route on a Google Map, with a Google Earth Tour or cycle it virtually! Watch profiles, Street View tours, detailed Google Earth tours and a lot more of each climb. Visit the cyclingthealps website right here.
The leaders are now into the last 60km and have a lead of 4:56. They are almost at the foot of the second categorised climb, the Col du Monte de Fourche. There's only two points on offer here.
Pace increasing here. Sky's turn at the front of the chasing pack.
They're not exactly hard to spot with those yellow helmets...
That was an extremely fast last 10km. We're now into the last 50km almost in a blink of an eye
There's a carnival atmosphere here along the roads this afternoon. Such infectious enthusiasm must breathe life into some tired muscles.
Sky must realise that Wiggins is vulnerable for the first time this afternoon. Any rider with designs on the GC must attack him on the mountain stages as the Briton appears to have such a large advantage in the time trials.
Gap is under four minutes. Eisel and Boasson Hagen taking responsibility for Sky at the moment.
Sorensen leads Sanchez over the top of the second climb and takes the two points on offer.
Tyler Farrar and Johan Vansummeren have fallen off the back of the peloton. Not really a surprise considering their crashes over the last few days. In fact, as you can read here, the Garmin-Sharp squad is probably more battered and bruised than any other. And as we discussed earlier, Hesjedal and Danielson are already out.
Vansummeren has almost made it back to the peloton. Farrar still struggling though. Has his spirit and body been broken by such a terrible run of bad luck?
Another crash victim, Gorka Verdugo, has also fallen off the back and is alongside Farrar.
Front seven working well together. Can't see them hanging onto their lead through to the end though. If anyone is going to attack from here you would think it will be Sanchez.
We've just passed the four-hour mark and the leaders have just under 35km left to go.
More on yesterday's massive crash. Europcar's Thomas Voeckler is blaming team radios. Read his full comments right here.
Gap is under three minutes now for the first time
Garmin-Sharp are certainly fighting hard. Zabriskie and Millar have both been on the front in the last few minutes. Millar pushing to reduce this gap, probably for Dan Martin.
Excitement building for this decisive final climb that's looming. It's never featured in the Tour before.
And now its Lotto-Belisol's turn to hit the front. They've been quiet today but the finish could play to the strengths of Van Den Broeck.
The riders have just passed through the small town of Melisey, which is the home town of FDJ's Thibaut Pinot.
With 20km to go the gap is now less than two minutes. It's looking like curtains for the seven breakaway riders.
Let's not forget that Lotto also have Jelle Vandendert. He could also be a big factor here.
The riders are ploughing uphill now. In a few kilometres there'll be a brief descent before the final category one climb until the finish line.
Lots of the sprinters are now falling off the pace
The breakaway has responded slightly. Gap is not coming down as rapidly. But there's still over 10km to go until the final climb starts.
Pack are biding their time here. One final breather, you suspect, before their assualt on the breakaway and then the final climb.
And up front, Fofonov turns up the pace and attacks.
Gap is less than a minute now
Disaster for Van Den Broeck as he loses a wheel. Faces a struggle to get back in touch before the final climb in about 5km.
And the riders are freewheeling downhill now. They'll be at the foot of the final climb before we know it.
Four Sky men at the front now, with Wiggins tucked in behind out of trouble.
And wheel trouble at the back there for Valverde
And here we go - they're at the foot of the climb. Gentle introduction to it
Albasini and Sorensen are left in front
And Albasini gives way
Sky doing a great job for Wiggins as the climb gets steeper. But Evans is stalking them ominously. Michael Rogers leading Sky from the front.
Sorensen is swallowed up
Cancellara falling backwards. Looks like we might have a new yellow jersey holder at this rate...
Cancellara is rallying. Franck Schleck is struggling. Sky setting a suicidal pace. Can they keep it up?
Three kilometres to go. A real war of attrition. Sky still seemingly in control. Roughly halfway up this final climb.
Cancellara 45 seconds behind the leaders. Evans and Wiggins looking good to overtake him in the GC...
This leading eight are clinging on. Amazingly brave performance by Cancellara further down the road.
Menchov drops away
Froome leading Wiggins. They are in first and second. Last two kilometres.
Climb flattening out a bit here before brutal final 500m
Froome going with him
TOP THREE FINISHERS:
Superb counter attack by Chris Froome there. Evans went for the line with less than 500m to go but the Sky man went with him and passed him for a win that was in the end more comfortable than it promised to be. The final climb was a formidable one with several big names unable to cope with it and falling away.
Froome's Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins finished on Evans' wheel in second and looks like he has taken over the yellow jersey.
Great day for Sky then. Stage win and yellow jersey. Froome and Wiggins showing the form that they displayed in last year's Vuelta.
What was telling was the way Wiggins was able to comfortably stay with Evans at the finish, despite the last 500m suiting the Australian more on paper.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) was in fourth place. Brilliant performance by Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) in fifth.
The sight of Froome pulling effortlessly away from Evans at the finish will live long in the memory. In most teams he'd be number one.
UNOFFICIAL TOP 3 IN GC:
Official confirmation to follow soon...
TOP TEN FINISHERS - STAGE 7
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 4:58:35
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:02
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:07
5 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:19
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:44
7 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:46
8 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team
9 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:50
10 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:56
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 7:
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 34:21:20
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:16
4 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:32
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:54
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:59
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:01:09
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:22
9 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:32
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) Sky Procycling 0:01:40
So after the hors d'oeuvres of the opening week, today really felt like we were getting into the meat and drink of this Tour de France.
It was a day for Team Sky, who put two men on the podium and took the yellow jersey. Stage winner Chris Froome and new race leader Bradley Wiggins stole the headlines, with Froome's extraordinary acceleration away from Cadel Evans in the last few hundred metres of a brutal finale taking the breath away. After all the work he had done on the front in support of Wiggins, it was an astonishing show of strength.
Nibali's fourth place on the day moved him up to third overall in the GC, behind Wiggins and Evans. He is not likely to allow the two pre-race favourites to have everything their own way over the next fortnight. Neither, on this form, is Froome.
Join us again tomorrow for live coverage from stage 8.