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Tour de France 2008: Stage 12

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Good morning/afternoon/evening dear readers (depending on where you are reading this), welcome to our live coverage of the twelfth stage of this year's Tour de France. It's another transition-type stage today, heading east from Lavelanet to Narbonne.

Today's biggest news is the positive A sample for EPO returned by Riccardo Ricc

According to l'Equipe's Damien Ressiot, one of the climber's urine samples collected by the French Anti-Doping Agency AFLD showed traces of a third generation EPO called CERA (Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator).

In presuming that Ricc


Also:

Ricc

Returning to the racing, a slightly reduced field took to the start this afternoon.

To sum up the action thus far far:

Apparently Saunier Duval would have been able to start this morning's stage but the team has decided to both leave the race and also suspend all activities. Time will tell if it will collapse or continue racing later in the season.

32km remaining from 168km

More riders have tried to go clear but nothing has stuck as yet.

George Hincapie of Team Columbia gave his reaction this morning. "We can look at the positive side and that we're catching riders that cheat. The sport is doing what it can and it's [putting out] more effort than any other sport out there.

44km remaining from 168km

Arnaud G

53km remaining from 168km

The duo continue to ride well together, and are now a considerable 3'55 ahead of the peloton.

The first hour of racing saw 51 kilometres being covered by the two leaders.

67km remaining from 168km

Dumoulin led G

The bunch is lined out in the right-hand gutter...looks like there's some strong winds blowing.

Mark Cavendish is hoping to take his third stage victory of the race today in Narbonne. Can he do it? Well, of course that will depend firstly on there being a bunch sprint, and secondly on what kind of lead-out Columbia can give him. If he's correctly placed, he could well do so.

75km remaining from 168km

Columbia and Credit Agricole are at the front of the peloton. So too the Silence-Lotto team of Cadel Evans. Evans is himself close to the front, staying out of trouble.

Oscar Freire looks concentrated; he wants the remaining points in this bonus sprint. And he gets them, quite easily.

G

Quick Step's S

86km remaining from 168km

With the teams working on the front, the gap is now down to 54".

88km remaining from 168km

G

92km remaining from 168km

Feeding time at the zoo enable the gap to go back up again. It's now 1'31. The roads are very exposed here, and so any wind will buffet the riders.

Check out this interview by Daniel Friebe and how one doping expert is stunned by Ricc

96km remaining from 168km

Credit Agricole's Jimmy Engoulvent crashed, as did an Euskaltel rider. Both are up again. The break is a minute and a half clear. They look a lot busier than the bunch, so this move will come back whenever the sprinters' teams decide.

The scenery is superb today, plenty of gorges and rivers. France is the most-visited country in the world, and with many non-cycling fans watching the race each year for the scenery, one has to think that at least some of the tourism is down to the race.

103km remaining from 168km

Engoulvent gets his wounds looked at by the doctor. The damage seems to be just scrapes.

The bunch is dropping down a winding descent, while the leaders are passing through the village of Paziols. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sized place..

Dirk Demol, the directeur sportif for Quick Step, rode a bit on the course this morning. He told Brecht Decaluw

112km remaining from 168km

The bunch remains right across the road, and appears not to be trying to hard to catch the leaders just yet. However the gap is dropping down all the time; it's now 35" and those in the peloton can see the following cars behind the break.

Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel Euskadi) has scarpered across the gap. He goes to the front and the other two attach their invisible grappling hooks and try to hang on.

115km remaining from 168km

The added ooomph has pulled the gap out to 52". He's doing all the work and tries to get rid of the others on a small climb. They persist, though.

122km remaining from 168km

Oroz' driving has pulled the gap back up to 1'26. A bunch sprint is still expected, unless CSC decides to put the hammer down and try to get Frank Schleck into yellow.

130km remaining from 168km

It is windy alright. And that's not unusual in this area. We see bunch of wind mills on the hillside on the right.

Jimmy Casper flats, but despite a bit more movement in the peloton, the pace isn't too hard and Casper makes it back to the peloton in no time.

138km remaining from 168km

Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) attacks, trying to get a gap before the sprint. The others close him down, though.

140km remaining from 168km

Barloworld's Kenyan-turned-Briton Chris Froome goes back to the team car and gets some bottles.

Oroz sits behind Dumoulin but as the latter is one of the smallest riders in the peloton, he doesn't get much shelter.

142km remaining from 168km

Dumoulin leads them over the sprint line, with G

Quick Step and Liquigas come to the front, ramping up the speed. Not long now...

149km remaining from 168km

The break is putting the hammer down in response, stepping it up a gear. A tactic is for those up the road to keep something in reserve, accelerating when the bunch does likewise.

157km remaining from 168km

Liquigas and Columbia are keeping the gap sweet until the moment when the teams really want this break back. They don't want to do it too soon, as that will just encourage others to go after the win.

Oroz drives it and then waves his elbow for Dumoulin to come through. Now G

158km remaining from 168km

The bunch has eased back a little, toying with the break. The gap is ten seconds.

159km remaining from 168km

C'est fini. All together. CSC hits the front.

This stage is full of spectacular scenery, including some ruined - and not so ruined - chateaux.

The bunch is very disorganised this year, in terms of teams trying to set things up for a sprint. Instead of a train of guys, there's a few here and there, most of them from different squads.

Quick Step and CSC are near the front. Stuart O'Grady is driving it now, back to good form after his crash in this race twelve months ago.

CSC riders wear yellow back numbers today - they lead the teams classification.

Evans is near the front. It looks quite nervous in there, with riders moving around and trying to get into good positions.

Liquigas and Columbia, with less than four kilometres to go...

The riders now go around a big roundabout, with those on the right having a shorter route and thus gaining a good advantage.

165km remaining from 168km

It's almost certainly going to be a bunch sprint, unless Cancellara pulls a Cancellara and clips away...

166km remaining from 168km

Columbia are leading, looking for win number three from Cavendish. Can he do it?

It's quite messy, with riders moving up and back..

167km remaining from 168km

One kilometre to go!

There was a big, sweeping right hand bend, now the bunch is getting back up to speed...

Credit Agricole are there for Hushovd..

Cavendish is in third place now...

Here we go...

Cavendish!

It looks like it was the young Manx rider, getting his third win. He crosses the line and holds up three fingers. Sebastian Chavanel got second, nearly a bike length back.

Cavendish gets it all right. He sat up to celebrate his win and some riders got by, but that was after the line. Impressive....

Steegmans (Quick Step), Zabel (Milram) and Freire (Rabobank) were third through to fifth.

No change in the overall, other than the absence of the Saunier Duval riders from the top ten.

G

Team Columbia was targeting two stage wins plus a top five place overall in the race. It's now got three stage victories, and Kim Kirchen is seventh in GC. He's 59" behind fifth-placed Denis Menchov (Rabobank).

Thanks for joining us today. Depending on who you ask today was terrible (for those who think there are still too many cheats) or great (for those who think the controls are working).

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