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Bonjour and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 15 of the Tour de France. Today is the big one! The longest stage of this year's race at 242.5km, the mountain finish atop Mont Ventoux and all on Bastille Day, as France celebrates.
Today's stage is expected to be decisive in the battle for the race leader's jersey. Will Chris Froome gain time on his rivals and come under attack and see his lead shrink?
The riders are lining up for the start in Givors, the atmosphere is tense and electric. Everybody knows today is a big day in the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) wears the yellow jersey for a seventh day. After the attacks on Friday, his lead is now 2:28 on Bauke Mollema (Belkin), with Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) at 2:45.
Today's stage is the longest of the race at 242.5km. However much of the stage (221km) is on flat or rolling roads through the Rhone valley. There are three early category 4 climbs early on to help form the early break of the stage and a cat 3 climb after 143km. However it is the Geant of Provence: Mont Ventoux that dominates the skyline, the stage and the minds of the riders.
Mont Ventoux is legendary in cycling. It is the ninth time the 1912m high mountain hosts a Tour summit finish and the 15th time it features in the Le Tour.
The riders have now rolled out of Givors and are in the short neutralised section.
Will some French riders attack early in search of glory on Bastille Day? We will soon find out.
181 riders have started the stage according to Radio Tour.
To read about the history of Mont Ventoux and the Tour de France, read this special feature by Pete Hymas and check out the huge photo gallery. History is always made on Mont Ventoux.
It is sunny and 24C at the start, with a warm breeze down the Rhone valley expected to help the riders cover the long ride south to the foot of Ventoux.
And they're off! The white flag has been dropped and the racing has officially begun. Allez!!!
The first attacks have been launched after just two kilometres.
World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) are the first to go clear.
They have a 20 second gap.
C'est fini. Gilbert and Westra have been caught after 7km of the stage.
The speed is high at the moment but more attacks are expected very soon.
We have another attack from Andreas Kloden (Radioshack-Leopard), Kevin Reza (Team Europcar) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil).
However BMC leads the chase and only De Gendt stays off the front.
De Gendt is fighting hard to stay away.
De Gendt is first over the côte d'Eyzin-Pinet but the peloton is about to catch him.
Other riders have jumped across to De Gendt but their lead is still small.
De Gednt and the others have been caught but now Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) accelerates away on the second climb, looking for points and perhaps the break of the day.
Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil) joined Rolland but they were swept up on the descent.
The average speed is close to 50km/h!
The attacks are becoming more serious now.
There 11 riders in a front group and then 13 chasers.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) is part of the break, as is Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge).
Ten riders remain in the front group. Is this the break of the day?
They are: Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Markel Irizar (Radioshack), Pierrick Fédrigo and Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil) and Julien El Fares (Sojasun).
El Fares is the first to the summit of the côte de Lens-Lestang, the third climb after 44km. But the peloton is still chasing them.
The gap is just 35 seconds.
Race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) has stopped for a natural break but is being escorted back to the front by several teammates.
As a result the peloton has eased and is 2:00 behind the attackers. Other riders are in the middle, desperately trying to get across.
Rolland and Christophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) are at 1:15.
Rolland has caught Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and the two are working together but they are still a minute behind the attackers.
Team Sky leads the peloton but gap is over four minutes now. It looks like we could have a race for the stage and an overall battle on the slopes of Ventoux.
Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) and Le Mevel (Cofidis) are also in a chase group, 1:30 down on the attackers.
The riders covered a painful 48.2km/h in the first hour of racing and things haven't slowed much in this second hour.
Rolland and Burghardt are still at 45 seconds but the peloton is now 7:00 down
Rolland and Burghardt are catching the break after a huge effort. However Le Mevel and Astarloza are going backwards and will surely give up their chase of the break soon.
The riders have now covered 80km. That leaves 162km to go.
So cruel. Just before Rolland and Burghardt got up to the break, the riders up front accelerated away and the gap is now at 35 seconds.
Movistar is now helping with the work at the front of the peloton.
They are perhaps working to control the break in the hope that Quintana can win the stage at the summit of Mont Ventoux.
Le Mevel and Astarloza have sat up and decided to wait for the peloton, which is 6:30 down on the attackers.
Rolland and Burghardt are also losing ground. They are now a minute behind the ten attackers.
Rolland has also sat up. He and Burghardt were just 15 seconds from the attackers at one point but could not close the gap.
There will be no polka-dot glory for the Frenchman on Bastille Day.
The average speed for the second hour was 50.4 km/h. That's even faster than the first hour, giving an average for the race so far of 49.3km/h!
Both Rolland and Burghardt have been swept up by the peloton.
However the gap between the breakaway and the peloton is down to just over five minutes now.
Team Europcar is now leading the chase. Is that some kind of revenge for the ten not waiting for Pierre Rolland?
The gap has fallen to 4:30.
At the half way point of the stage, the racing is finely balanced.
The gap is down to 3:50 and the peloton seems determined to chase the break.
The climb of Mont Ventoux is expected to a battle amongst the GC contenders, with a clash between Team Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff.
Team Sky performance manager Rod Ellingworth is confident that the Sky riders are good enough to help Froome win.
"We’ve brought a good team to the Tour. You can always look back and ask but we’ve got a lot of good guys here. Have we brought the right team? I think we have yes," he told Cyclingnews.
"We’ve been unlucky with Thomas and Edvald too. I’m still confident that we can see it through though. I’m 100 per cent confident."
The hard racing is starting to take its toll on the riders in the break. Julien El Fares (Sojasun) has been dropped.
Saxo-Tinkoff road captain Michael Rogers played a key role in helping Bradley Wiggins win the 2012 Tour. He switched teams in the winter and is playing an equally important role this year for Contador.
He told Cyclingnews that the team want the stage victory and to gain time today on Mont Ventoux.
"The aim is to win the stage and to take time. I’ve not the wind conditions yet and we’ve not thought that far but the plan is to take back more time," he told Cyclingnews.
"The morale in the team is really good, and I think the team turned a chapter when we took back a minute on Froome. We’re amongst the strongest."
Former polka-dot jersey and Tour stage winner is writing s blog for Cyclingnews during the Tour de France.
His unique insight and knowledge means he gives a special view on the race.
In his latest blog here, he talks about Chris Froome Bastille Day, what attacks he expects to see on the Ventoux and gives his tongue-in cheek awards of the week.
The break is approaching the fourth climb of the day, the Côte de Bourdeaux. After this Cat 3 climb the only remaining ascent is the Geant, Mont Ventoux.
The blog is by the great Robert MIllar.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale) continues to ride a smart race. He is the break of nine riders and so is set to pick up maximum points at the intermediate sprint after 208km. His is virtually unbeatable in the fight for the green jersey but has to make it to Paris to win it.
Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is also in the break and could have a chance of victory after working hard for team sprinter Mark Cavendish.
The rider still face 100km of racing including the 20.8km climb to the summit.
Susan jumping in for a few kms, so Steve can prepare to take you up the Ventoux.
It is surely every French rider's dream to win on Mont Ventoux today on Bastille Day. Thomas Voeckler of Europcar knows that he is due to do something big in this year's race....
We are fortunate to have blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures today. But it will be signficantly cooler atop the final climb!
With 76 km to go the gap is 3:40. The group may be caught before the massive final climb, at this rate.
We are in a heavily agricultural area here, fields of various sorts on both sides of the road.
They are now riding by some beautiful purple fields of lavendar. Wonder if the riders can catch that wonderful scent?
There is always discussion about how fast the riders go up Mont Ventoux, and what exactly the speed means. You can read about that and other things in today's Tour de France shorts.
With 66 km to go, the gap has dropped to 3:20.
In case you missed it, here is the Cyclingnews preview of this stage.
Movistar is very definitely in the lead of the chase group,hoping to bring Quintana into good position on the closing climb. Sky is right behind them, though.
Sagan drops back to the team car to pick up a bidon.
The terrain at the moment is flat, but the mountains are looming all around....
Today too there is an intermediate sprint. It comes up in about 18 km, at 208km.
49m to go, and the gap is holding steady at 3:40.
Chavanel drops back to the team car for a short chat. We wonder what he is planning....
Tour organizers have made a big effort this year to ask fans to behave themselves on the climb, and not to interfere with the riders. Many riders have joined that campaign, tweeting their fans to just watch. It will be interesting to see how it all works out.
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) knows Mont Ventoux well, and calls it a "special mountain."
The sprint is approaching. What a perfect opportunity for Sagan to tank up on points for the green jersey.
Steve is coming back, ready to charge up that climb with you!
We're getting closer and closer to the start of the climb up to Mont Ventoux now.
The break is close to the intermediate sprint, so watch for Peter Sagan to pick up the points and so further extend his lead in the green jersey points competition.
Here comes the sprint and Sagan eases up to the front to take the maximum points ahead of Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma).
Sagan picked up 20 points for crossing the line first.
Behind Movistar is still setting the pace, with other teams riding together.
Cavendish and Greipel are slightly ahead, fighting for the minor points at the sprint.
But both don't really up their speed, with Greipel crossing the line ahead of the Manxman.
The riders can see and almost feel the presence of Mont Ventoux now. It is an imposing mountain, mythique, legendary.
It is 46 years and one day since Tommy Simpson's tragic death on the climb. He died of exhaustion after consuming a mix of a amphetamines and alochol.
A lot of people are posting photos on social media of the Simpson memorial, situated two kilometres from the summit.
Mont Ventoux is packed with spectators, who have ridden up, or slept on its slopes in tents and camper vans.
We are just seven kilometres from the start of the climb. Team Sky is back on the front.
Radioshack-Leopard is also riding near the front to set up Andy Schleck.
David Lopez, Kansta Siutsuo and Geraint Thomas are leading the peloton.
Behind, some riders and the sprinters are already easing up.
The peloton is lined out in one long line of pain.
Here's a shot of Peter Sagan in the breakaway.
And this is not the Ventoux but the Col de la Madeleine.
Up front Chavanel has surged clear. He loves to fight for victory but the peloton is only 1:45 behind.
The crowds are huge at the start of the climb. French police have estimated that a million people will line the route of the stage today.
The remains of the break are about to be caught by the peloton. It seems the overall contenders will also fight for the stage victory. It should be a battle royale on Bastille Day.
The race is ahead of schedule thanks to a good tail wind. It seems the wind is also a help in the final kilometres of the climb and so that should inspire the attacks.
At the back of the peloton both Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) have been distanced.
Peter Sagan puts on a show before being caught by the bunch, pulling a wheelie just before he is swept up.
Pierre Rolland has also been dropped. He used a lot of energy trying to get across to the breakaway.
Chavanel has a grimace of pain but still holds a lead of 1:35.
Riblon and Irizar are also out front but will soon be caught.
Froome is spinning a low gear, with his GC rivals close behind him.
Omega Pharma is on the front of the peloton, trying to block the chasers and so help Chavanel.
There are 40 or so riders in the peloton.
Jan Bakelants (Radioshack) is off the front of the peloton but teammate Andy Schleck has cracked and been dropped.
Chavanel's jersey is open but his lead is melting in the sun as the climb begins to hurt him.
Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel) jumps away to try and anticipate expected attacks.
Both Andrew Talansky and Dan Martin are in the front group for Garmin-Sharp.
Here we go! Quintana has attacked alone!
Nieve has caught Chavanel but Quintana is surely going to pass them all soon. He wants the stage win and the white jersey.
Quintana does not seem to be pedaling hard but he's very effective and efficient.
Pete Kennaugh is leading the peloton for Froome as Chavanel is caught and dropped.
Contador is just behind Froome and looks fresher as he takes a drink.
Cadel Evans is suffering at the back of the front group but is fighting hard to stay with the leaders.
Evans has lost the wheels and is out of the saddle.
Upfront Quintana has caught Nieve.
Froome takes a bottle of water from a spectator. He is trying to cool down in the summer heat.
Bakelants is caught by the peloton.
Sky take on bottles with musettes. hydration will be vital in the last 10km.
Team Sky seem in total control for now...
Kennaugh pulls off after doing a great job setting the pace. He comes to an almost complete stop. Richie Porte is now the only Team Sky rider with Froome.
Behind Talansky has been dropped as Team Sky's pace continues to spit riders out of the back. Kwiatkowski has also been distanced.
Daniel Martin is also losing contact.
It is a very select group up front: Porte, Froome, Contador, Rogers, Kreuziger, Mollema, Rodriguez.
Valverde and De Clerq have also been dropped. Fuglsang is also fading.
Porte is breaking up the front group. Only Froome and Contador are able to stay with him.
Belkin are trying to get back on with ten Dem and Mollema but it will be a tough task. Porte seems to enjoying dishing out the pain.
Quintana has dropped Nieve but the Porte trio is just 15 seconds behind.
Froome attacks! Contador tries to stay with him but blows!
Can he stay clear all the way to the finish?
Froome is catching Quintana.
The crowds are huge.
Froome accelerates again and drops Quintana.
Froome seems able to accelerate sharply and then maintain a high pace.
However Quintana fights back and comes back up to Froome.
Contador seems to have asked Nieve for help but they are already 30 seconds behind.
Quintana is glued to Froome's wheel and will probably not work again after Froome's attack.
There is a strong side wind blowing on this section and Froome seems to have eased.
Froome surges again but Quintana stays with him.
Froome and Quintana are now talking. Froome should be trying to gain time but he also wants to win the stage.
Contador is fading and is now 45 seconds behind Froome and Quintana.
Quintana is like a sphinx. He is determined to win the stage.
Quintana is now on the front as the road hugs the bare slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Behind riders are suffering in the rarified air of the summit.
There are wall to wall fans along the roadside, including Didi the Devil.
And Froome accelerates again, this time he seems to have distanced Quintana.
The finish is in sight. Last Km.
Froome is spinning his gear at almost 100 pedal strokes a minute.
Froome is riding to victory at the summit of Ventoux. He will also extend is overall lead. He proved he is the strongest today.
Froome sweep right and heads to the finish at the very summit of Ventoux.
He dances out of the saddle and celebrates by pointing to the sky and by pointing to his jersey.
Quintana takes second at 29 seconds.
Rodriguez has accelerated but Nieve holds him off to take third at 1:22. Rodriguez is fourth but Contador is further back at 1:40 and finishes with Kreuziger. Mollema is also close and so is Fuglsang.
Rogers, Valverde and Dan Martin also finish 2:30 behind.
Froome raced for almost six hours today.
Froome has extended his overall lead to 4:14 on Mollema. Contador is third at 4:25.
Quintana moves up to sixth place at 5:47.
Riders are still finishing. Pierre Rolland comes home in the polka-dot jersey, just ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC). They both finish eight minutes down on Froome.
Andy Schleck finished more than ten-minutes down with Thomas Voeckler just behind him.
The gruppetto is expected to finish 30 minutes behind.
Froome has taken the first British victory at the summit of Mont Ventoux. 46 years after Tommy Simpson died on the slopes of the Geant of Provence.
Froome struggled to catch his breath after finishing the stage but can now enjoy the podium ceremony.
Quintana is the new best young rider and so will pull on the white jersey.
Froome took the lead in the mountains competition by winning atop Ventoux.
Well what a day at the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
We will have a full report, huge photo gallery, videos, news and interviews on Cyclingnews.com very soon.
The riders will enjoy the second rest day of this year's Tour de France on Monday. Join us on Tuesday for full live coverage of stage 16 from to Gap.