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Popovych crusades to Carcassonne

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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel)

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) (Image credit: AFP)
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Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital)

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole)

Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Boonen and McEwen

Boonen and McEwen (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Aww, thanks Robbie.

Aww, thanks Robbie. (Image credit: Anthony Tan)
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George Hincapie (Discovery)

George Hincapie (Discovery) (Image credit: AFP)
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Le Mevel

Le Mevel (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The main bunch strung out

The main bunch strung out (Image credit: Jon Devich)
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The break group becomes disorganized.

The break group becomes disorganized. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The main bunch strung out past the village of Saint-Lizier.

The main bunch strung out past the village of Saint-Lizier. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Riders still on the chase.

Riders still on the chase. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Tom Boonen (Quickstep) wins the sprint for 4th.

Tom Boonen (Quickstep) wins the sprint for 4th. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) rolls in after a long hard day.

Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) rolls in after a long hard day. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) takes to the podium after his win.

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) takes to the podium after his win. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) happy to still be in yellow.

Floyd Landis (Phonak) happy to still be in yellow. (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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The Aussies are everywhere!

The Aussies are everywhere! (Image credit: Jonathan Devich/epicimages.us)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) wins the stage in Carcassonne

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) wins the stage in Carcassonne (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) likes the feeling

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) likes the feeling (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) crosses the line to win

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) crosses the line to win (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) enjoys the moment

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) enjoys the moment (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ballan finished second

Ballan finished second (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) couldn't do better than second

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) couldn't do better than second (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) didn't have the legs to go for it

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) didn't have the legs to go for it (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) finishes a painful 4th

Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) finishes a painful 4th (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) rolls across

Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) rolls across (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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McEwen and Boonen head for the line

McEwen and Boonen head for the line (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) won the sprint for 5th

Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) won the sprint for 5th (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The bunch sprint for 5th was won by Tom Boonen

The bunch sprint for 5th was won by Tom Boonen (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Boonen and McEwen roll across after placing 5th and 6th

Boonen and McEwen roll across after placing 5th and 6th (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Wegmann and Kloden finish in the bunch

Wegmann and Kloden finish in the bunch (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) didn't have any problems today

Floyd Landis (Phonak) didn't have any problems today (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Cadel Evans (Davitamon) finishes the stage

Cadel Evans (Davitamon) finishes the stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The telltale signs of a hard race: Riders don't even know how to eat and drink any more.

The telltale signs of a hard race: Riders don't even know how to eat and drink any more. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) rolls in with the bunch

Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) rolls in with the bunch (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Daniele Bennati (Lampre) after the finish

Daniele Bennati (Lampre) after the finish (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) gives his view

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) gives his view (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) the stage winner

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) the stage winner (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) waves from the stage

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) waves from the stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) surprised, but happy

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) surprised, but happy (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel)

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) with his winner's trophy

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) with his winner's trophy (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) pulls on the maillot jaune

Floyd Landis (Phonak) pulls on the maillot jaune (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) on stage in yellow

Floyd Landis (Phonak) on stage in yellow (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes after his first day in yellow

Floyd Landis (Phonak) salutes after his first day in yellow (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) in the maillot jaune again

Floyd Landis (Phonak) in the maillot jaune again (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) with a tricolore lion

Floyd Landis (Phonak) with a tricolore lion (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Floyd Landis (Phonak) in yellow, before the stage

Floyd Landis (Phonak) in yellow, before the stage (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) bided his time today

Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) bided his time today (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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World champ Tom Boonen follows Garzelli through a field of sunflowers

World champ Tom Boonen follows Garzelli through a field of sunflowers (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Vive le Tour!

Vive le Tour! (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Bert Grabsch on the front of the Phonak train

Bert Grabsch on the front of the Phonak train (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The lead break passes through a tunnel

The lead break passes through a tunnel (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The peloton passes through a tunnel

The peloton passes through a tunnel (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) with Erik Zabel on his wheel

Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) with Erik Zabel on his wheel (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Le Mevel leads the breakaway

Le Mevel leads the breakaway (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) wins the stage in Carcassonne

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) wins the stage in Carcassonne (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) tells it how it was after the stage

Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) tells it how it was after the stage (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) gave it his best

Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole) gave it his best (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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George Hincapie (Discovery) was in the early break that didn't quite make it

George Hincapie (Discovery) was in the early break that didn't quite make it (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Nicolas Jalabert gives a bidon to his teammate Robert Hunter

Nicolas Jalabert gives a bidon to his teammate Robert Hunter (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) attacks the break

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) attacks the break (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) put in a powerful solo attack with 3 km to go to win stage 12

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) put in a powerful solo attack with 3 km to go to win stage 12 (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) wins the 12th stage into Carcassonne

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) wins the 12th stage into Carcassonne (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) celebrates his win in Carcassonne

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) celebrates his win in Carcassonne (Image credit: AFP Photo)
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Jens Voigt thinking about one of his infamous day-long attacks?

Jens Voigt thinking about one of his infamous day-long attacks? (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Oscar Freire gives Cyclingnews his big bad bandito face.

Oscar Freire gives Cyclingnews his big bad bandito face. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Levi Leipheimer a far happier man today than he was a few days ago.

Levi Leipheimer a far happier man today than he was a few days ago. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Stuart O'Grady gives some time to a few young admirers.

Stuart O'Grady gives some time to a few young admirers. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Rabobank have quickly become the dominant team of the Tour de France after their exceptional teamwork in the Pyrenées yesterday.

Rabobank have quickly become the dominant team of the Tour de France after their exceptional teamwork in the Pyrenées yesterday. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Riders get ready to make their way to the départ fictif.

Riders get ready to make their way to the départ fictif. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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The press cars leave a few minutes ahead of the peloton.

The press cars leave a few minutes ahead of the peloton. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Some Luchon locals take in a bird's eye view.

Some Luchon locals take in a bird's eye view. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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New maillot jaune Floyd Landis looked the business in yellow.

New maillot jaune Floyd Landis looked the business in yellow. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Not long to go now...

Not long to go now... (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Aww, thanks Robbie. Can you show me how to sprint one day?

Aww, thanks Robbie. Can you show me how to sprint one day? (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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The various classification leaders on the start line in Luchon.

The various classification leaders on the start line in Luchon. (Image credit: Anthony Tan/Cyclingnews.com)
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Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) at the winner's press conference

Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) at the winner's press conference (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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These bikes performed really well yesterday

These bikes performed really well yesterday (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Zabriskie, Zabriskie, Zabirskie, Zaribskie ....better stop now

Zabriskie, Zabriskie, Zabirskie, Zaribskie ....better stop now (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Rinero will be one of the riders who might have a go for the win today

Rinero will be one of the riders who might have a go for the win today (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Erik Zabel looked like he recovered really well from yesterday's mountain stage

Erik Zabel looked like he recovered really well from yesterday's mountain stage (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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An Austrian fan, you don't see them quite often

An Austrian fan, you don't see them quite often (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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A bit of folklore in Luchon, the traditional clothing was shown by these locals

A bit of folklore in Luchon, the traditional clothing was shown by these locals (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Retiring boss of the Tour de France JM Leblanc and his press chief Phillipe Sudres

Retiring boss of the Tour de France JM Leblanc and his press chief Phillipe Sudres (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Savoldelli crashed on the descent of the Pla-de-Beret yesterday, while cruising to the hotel ... one Falco down

Savoldelli crashed on the descent of the Pla-de-Beret yesterday, while cruising to the hotel ... one Falco down (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Isaac Galvez the Spanish sprinter enjoyed the company of his family at the start in Luchon

Isaac Galvez the Spanish sprinter enjoyed the company of his family at the start in Luchon (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Quatorze Juillet, an important day for the French people ... this lady is definitely hoping for a French win today!

Quatorze Juillet, an important day for the French people ... this lady is definitely hoping for a French win today! (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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French champ Florent Brard knows the French would like to see him win on Bastille day

French champ Florent Brard knows the French would like to see him win on Bastille day (Image credit: depart fictif)
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'Pippo' Pozzato does a little posing at the start

'Pippo' Pozzato does a little posing at the start (Image credit: depart fictif)
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Yesterday's locomotive for Menchov, Michael Boogerd, looked rather tired...

Yesterday's locomotive for Menchov, Michael Boogerd, looked rather tired... (Image credit: depart fictif)
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A happy Stuey O'Grady

A happy Stuey O'Grady (Image credit: depart fictif)
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Thor Hushovd will he take revenge on his unlucky fate today?

Thor Hushovd will he take revenge on his unlucky fate today? (Image credit: depart fictif)
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'Il Falco' injured himself in a crash yesterday

'Il Falco' injured himself in a crash yesterday (Image credit: depart fictif)
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Discovery's best-placed rider: José Azevedo.

Discovery's best-placed rider: José Azevedo. (Image credit: depart fictif)

Discovery Channel's youngster Yaroslav Popovych scored a big victory today in medieval Carcassonne, making up for his team's recent disappointments in this Tour de France. The young Ukrainian went out on his very own crusade and attacked his breakaway companions in the final kilometres towards the historic city, and took the victory after 211 kilometres of racing. Italian Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) placed second, with double stage winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank) coming through the finish third - just in time before torrential rain cooled down the town that was baking under 40 degree heat.

"This morning when I stepped out of the team bus, Johan (Bruyneel) told us that we now had to try and win a stage... and that was exactly what we did," said the 26 year-old in the finish. "So I think I can be happy today.

"My most beautiful victory was when I won the World Championships in the U23 category," Popovych continued. "It was more important to me because the emotion was very different. You're standing on a podium and you hear the national anthem of your country. This victory comes in as a nice second, though!"

Popovych, Ballan, Freire and Frenchman Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) had been racing in front of the peloton for the last half of the stage, but the Phonak-led bunch kept a close eye on them. Nevertheless, today's stage winner moved up to tenth position at 4'15 behind GC leader Floyd Landis (Phonak).

"We'll have to see what happens in the next stages," Popovych replied when asked if he thought he could make a difference on GC now. "If I'm still as bad in the Alps as I was in the Pyrenees then of course, I don't have a chance. There’s still a long way to Paris."

Fast man Freire used this opportunity to grab a few sprint bonuses along the way. The Spaniard now sits in second behind Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) in the maillot vert , but didn't try to go for the points at today's finish line. When Popovych attacked, the Spaniard chose to stay in Ballan's wheel instead of chasing the Ukrainian down.

"No, not at all," explained Popovych when journalists asked him whether there had been an agreement between him and the Rabo rider. "I attacked because it was impossible for me to win over Freire in the sprint. I didn't have another option if I wanted to win the stage. Maybe Freire didn't react because he wanted to see what Ballan was doing. The circumstances were just like that during the race, so that was in my advantage."

In the finale, Frenchman Le Mevel was the first to concede to the overall high pace of today's stage, taking place in the blisteringly hot département Aude. When Popovych charged to the first of his merciless attacks with 8 clicks to go, the Crédit Agricole rider knew his time was up.

"My legs just hurt so much; I couldn't react when Popovych left," a disillusioned Le Mevel told the press at the finish. "I'm disappointed, but it just wasn't possible. These three were just too strong, and they were not nobodies. I should have been able to attack, but it was also very, very hot, and I wasn't in the right rhythm."

Team Phonak and Yellow jersey wearer Floyd Landis were in charge of the field today across the bumpy roads coming down the Pyrenees. "It was a difficult day to control for me," said Landis in the finish. "Yesterday in the mountains was better... The problem was that there were always breaks with too many guys in them, and that other teams wanted to chase."

Indeed, stage 12 started fast and furious, with many break moves initiated, but soon destroyed by a raging bunch. One early jump included Robbie McEwen and Tom Boonen, who was plagued by light stomach troubles since yesterday. Boonen didn't appreciate the riding of his Australian rival in the break, saying it annihilated the escapists's chances.

"Everybody was ready to work in that break to make it succeed," said the world champion, who later got his revenge on McEwen by winning the bunch sprint. "McEwen disturbed the flow by constantly coming up to the front and bringing down the rhythm. He was to one who ruined our break. I thought it was ridiculous."

Later, with the gap to the break of the day being down at a constant four minutes, many believed the sprinters' teams would collaborate to get the better of them before the finish line. But it wasn't to be, also because Quick.Step decided not to chase.

"I wasn't sure about a bunch sprint, as I'm not at a 100 percent because of those stomach problems," explained Boonen. "I didn't want to risk having my teammates work for me and not being able to finish it off. And I certainly didn't want anybody else take advantage of our work."

Asked if he now considered Popovych a threat, race leader Landis said, "No, I don't think so at the moment. He won the stage, congratulations to him. I don't think we are too worried about the classification with him now, but if he does it again, we have a problem."

How it unfolded

On a hot midday Friday, Stage 12 began in the Pyrenees spa town of Luchon at 12.16pm, with 165 riders starting on 14 Julliet, the French national holiday on the way to the beautiful walled city of Carcassonne. Stage 12 had 4 categorized climbs, the Cat 2 Col des Ares after 27 km, the Cat 4 Cote de Pujos after 47.5 km then two back to back Cat 4 ascents, the Cote de Paul de Pailhes (126.0 km) and Cote de Pamiers (136.0 km). Stage 12 also had two intermediate sprints in Caumont after 76.0 km and Mirepoix at the 162.0 km mark.

As always on 14 Julliet, the French were on the attack and just outside of Luchon, it was '05 Giro d'Italia stage winner Le Mevel (C.A) on the move. His attack provoked a large break with French champion Brard (Caisse d'Epargne), Jensy Voigt (CSC), Kopp (Gerolsteiner), De Groot (Rabobank), maillot vert Robbie McEwen and teammate Vansummeren (Davitamon), Bennati and Righi (Lampre), world champ Boonen (Quick.Steo), Moreni (Cofidis), Ventoso (Saunier Duval), Da Cruz (Française des Jeux), massive Maggie Bäckstedt (Liquigas) and Fedrigo (Bouygues). But the break never got more than 0'30 and was doomed as Phonak and T-Mobile chased them down after 20 km at the foot of the first climb of the day.

Spanish sprinter Galvez (Caisse d'Epargne) abandoned and as the Cat 2 Col des Ares began, Hincapie (Discovery), Voigt (CSC), Bennati (Lampre) and Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) counterattacked, but Rabobank's Chicken Rasmussen went peckin' for points at the GPM and the determined Dane took the honours. On the descent, another big break formed, including Hincapie, Voigt, Bennati, Pereiro, Rasmussen, Guerini (T-Mob), Goubert (AG2R), Cunego (Lampre), Hushovd (C.A), Verdugo (Euskaltel), Moncoutié, Chavanel and Moreni (Cofidis), Millar (Saunier) and Albasini (Liquigas), and as they approached the second climb of the day, the Cat 4 Cote de Pujos after 47.5 km, the 15 strong break had a 0'50 lead on the Davitamon-Lotto led peloton. The Belgian outfit had missed the break, while Discovery Channel's Paolo Savoldelli, who crashed on the descent of the Pla-de-Beret yesterday while returning to his hotel, abandoned after 42 km. Later in the stage, his Discovery Channel teammate Noval also abandoned.

Millar took the GPM points on the Cote de Pujos ahead of Rasmussen, but last year's TdF maillot á pois winner had gained enough points to get closer to the current maillot á pois David De la Fuente (Saunier Duval). It was a red hot afternoon with white hot racing as 46 km were raced in the first hour. The chase continued across the Haute-Garonne with about 1'00 between the break and the peloton, and as the escape passed into the Ariege departement, six riders sat up and waited for the peloton as they didn't think the break could stay away because Davitamon-Lotto wasn't going to let Bennati get away.

Hincapie, Voigt, Guerini, Goubert, Bennati, Verdugo, Moncoutié, Millar and Albasini kept on riding and sure enough at the day's first intermediate sprint, Bennati took the points in Caumont after 76.0 km. The break had been away for 50 km and had never gotten more than a 1'10" lead, and once Bouygues and Milram joined the chase, that spelled curtains for this escape. 10 km later after the feed zone in St.Girons with the peloton closing fast, Albasini attacked but it was futile as he and the remains of the break were brought back two clicks later. Peloton groupé with 125 km to race and the pace was still swift, with average speed for the second hour of Stage 12 at 47.2 km/h on the small, rolling roads of the Ariege.

After the peloton settled down for lunch, at the 98 km point on the descent of the Plantaurel hills, Freire (Rabobank), Ballan (Lampre), Popovych (Discovery) and Le Mevel (C.A.) attacked and had gained 0'30 after 102 km in Clermont. Davitamon-Lotto considered chasing Freire briefly, but decided to let him and his three companions go. Next up were the two back-to-back Cat 4 ascents, the Côte Du Pâl De Pailhes after 126.0 km and Cote de Pamiers 10 clicks later. Le Mevel took the first GPM while Popovych took the second and the Phonak led peloton was already almost 4 minutes in arrears. At the day's second intermediate sprint in Mirepoix, it was Freire who took the points with 49.5 km to race to Carcassonne.

The afternoon temps were 40 degrees as the break followed the baking asphalt ribbon towards the finish. Erik Zabel's Milram milkmen hit the front to relieve Phonak and the gap between the break and the peloton was stable at 4 minutes. As the front quartet hit the outskirts of Carcassonne in the last 10 km, the attacks started, with Popovych trying repeatedly to get away from the others and Ballan chasing him every time but one. That last attack with 3.5 km to go saw the Ukrainian talent finally cracking Ballan and riding to a solo win in Carcassonne, with Ballan, Freire and Le Mevel coming in about 0'30 behind the Ukrainian.

After yesterday's poor performance for Discovery Channel and today's abandons by Savoldelli and Noval, Popovych gave his team a much needed boost. Popovych was 26th on Thursday's mountain stage and lost 6'25 to maillot jaune Floyd Landis and dropped down to 23rd on GC, 9'00 behind the lead, but today, Popo clawed back half of his losses and won his first Tour de France stage and fifth career pro win. Popovych is currently in 10th on GC, 4'15 behind Landis and Discovery Channel's best placed rider in the 2006 Tour de France.

Stage 13 - Saturday, July 15: Béziers-Montélimar, 231 km

Le Tour's longest day is a flat to rolling stage from the seacoast through the hot rocky vineyards of Herault, Gard and the Ardeche that finishes in the sweet, nougaty town of Montélimar. Stage 13 should be a day long struggle between sprinters teams and escape artists who will try to hang on for the win, but as on Stage 9, the competition for the maillot vert may bring it all together in the end, where Big Bad Belgian Boonen will try to finally turn the tables on Killer Kangaroo McEwen. But don't count out Lampre-Fondital's cannonball Toto Commesso, who will be on the hunt for his third career Tour de France stage win in Montélimar.

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