Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 95th Tour de France. Today the riders will continue their eastbound journey, going from Narbonne to Nîmes over 182 kilometres. The overall contenders are expected to try to stay out of crash trouble and remain healthy until the Alps, when the real showdown will start. The only question today is if a break can take advantage of the little cat 4 rises to stay away or if the sprinters (or should we say *the* sprinter?) will try to get another one.
Maybe that should be measle-y points, given that the jersey is spotted red (groan).
Today's stage is of course another transition one, bringing the riders from the Pyrenees ever closer to the Alps, and the big showdown of this race.
The climbs are the Cote de la Resclauze (62km), the Code de Puechabon (105.5km) and the Pic Saint-Loup (126km).
Niki Terpstra (Milram) and Florent Brard (Cofidis) attacked in the first kilometre of today's stage.
Oscar Freire has taken three stage wins at the Tour; one in 2002 and two four years later. The injury-prone Spaniard has only once finished the race, placing 96th in 2003.
Certainly, the addition of the maillot vert to his palmar
18km remaining from 182km
After nearly 20 kilometres, the breakaway duo are five minutes clear. A bunch sprint is expected today, but much will depend on how much control teams like Columbia, Credit Agricole and Milram can exhibit.
26km remaining from 182km
Brard and Terpstra continue to pull clear. They are now eight minutes ahead of the peloton.
It's a beautiful day in France, with the sun shining and temperatures in the 30s. Celsius, of course, not Fahrenheit..
Both the sprinters and the breakaway specialists need to capitalise on the opportunities presented today and tomorrow. On Sunday, the race heads into the mountains and will remain there for several days; there's three high mountain stages, interrupted by a rest day on Monday.
39km remaining from 182km
The maximum gap of the break was recorded 21 kilometres after the start. At that point the duo were 9'55 clear. It started to drop slightly after that, and is currently down to 9'10.
45km remaining from 182km
Further reductions in the gap; it's now 8'20.
There is a gap of several days between samples being taken and results being returned.
51km remaining from 182km
The Frenchman and the Dutchman continue to work together, but their gap is now down to 7'45.
John Trevorrow also got hold of Evans, asking how it was going on his third day in yellow? "Busy, and getting busier," he replied. "It is a bit of a balancing act trying to keep relaxed and accommodating all the media requests. Then there's the fans of course, but that's all good.
We diga um alô para o Brasil - saying a hello to our Brazilian readers, who get up early to follow Le Tour and especially Murilo Fischer of Liquigas. The Brazilians hope Fisher can take out a stage win this year, but it all depends on the instructions from the team management. The South American work horse may have to give all his power for his leaders and may not get a chance to get into a break.
61km remaining from 182km
The gap is 7'10. Brard leads on the first climb of the day, the Cote de la Resclauze.
John Trevorrow also had a chinwag with Robbie McEwen. "I wasn't too happy," he said about yesterday's sprint, where he was eleventh. "I had a good position as the sprint started but Chavanel chopped me as he was following the wheel past, and Casper was coming backwards at the same time.
Matteo Tosatto (Quick Step) spoke to Gregor Brown at the start. "Every day we are trying to get an escape. It is difficult, but we are trying. Yesterday we tried, but then we switched tactics to work in the finale for Steegmans. Today will be another day to try.
Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) jumped clear of the main bunch and easily took the point for third place on the climb. His team-mate Bernhard Kohl is his closest challenger, and a better bet once the race gets into the high mountains.
68km remaining from 182km
The gap goes back up, reaching 7'07. The skies are virtually cloudless and our Hindenburg IV blimp cruises quietly onwards, having been taken out of storage and dusted down.
Columbia and Fran
79km remaining from 182km
The riders are passing the cirque of dolomites de Mour
Gregor Brown spoke to Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) prior to the drop of the flag. He wasn't putting his hopes on a big bunch gallop. "On a day like today, I think there is more chances of a break than a sprint. We will see.
Markus Burghardt got a musette in the feed zone. He's right on the front and so was very careful in disposing of it, reaching over to the side of the road and tossing it towards a spectator. That's safer than just chucking it over his shoulder :)
News just in: The Saunier Duval has fired both Riccardo Ricc
93km remaining from 182km
Status quo: two leaders, the bunch behind is led by La Fran
Frank Schleck was off the back a couple of kilometres ago, and was dragged back by his CSC - Saxo Bank team-mates. So too Cadel Evans, who was escorted by Silence Lotto. We doubt the first and second riders in GC took their personal marking of each other too far; maybe they both took a nature break at the same time.
97km remaining from 182km
Brard is doing 65% of the work in the break.
Evans is back up near the front, sitting on the right hand side of the bunch. The wind is coming from left to right, so he's sheltering behind his team-mates.
105km remaining from 182km
Brard and Terpstra continue their bid to be birds in flight, but they are unfortunately more like sitting ducks. They have 4'33 lead now with over an hour and a half of racing to go.
106km remaining from 182km
There's a burned out bus/truck and car beside the road, as the bunch passes by. Perhaps some angry fans got hold of the Saunier Duval team vehicles. Okay, okay, we doubt that's the case...
The fire engines are still there so it must have been a recent little bonfire.
There's a bit of laughing and joking going on in the bunch. This is quite a relaxing day in the peloton, at least until things ramp up before the final sprint.
109km remaining from 182km
Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) is close to the front, as he will go for the remaining point on the climb and thus extend his lead in the KOM classification. He's got spots on his helmet.
Leonardo Piepoli's home in Monaco has reportedly been searched by police.
French television commentators are talking about a fourth positive on the Tour, namely Piepoli. It's unclear if this is speculation or if a fourth has indeed been officially confirmed.
118km remaining from 182km
3'06 for the two leaders. The white jerseys of La Fran
125km remaining from 182km
Terpstra is hanging on for dear life behind Brard up the Pic Saint Loup.
127km remaining from 182km
Tons of spectators line the top of the hill. One 'fan' sprays Terpstra with some water. It is hot, but the Dutchman is not happy about the wet surprise. Ever gotten unexpectedly shocked with cold water when you were really heated up? Not a good feeling.
Lang moves clear of the bunch on the climb. Kohl came scampering after him and there were some smiles between the two. Lang got it, though.
Our Brazilian spies have informed us that Fischer has indeed the green light from the green team to get into breaks. He just hasn't gotten into the right move yet.
136km remaining from 182km
Yesterday's stage winner Mark Cavendish moves up in the bunch, looking chirpy. Can he take win number four today? His supporters from the Isle of Man and the British mainland will hope so.
139km remaining from 182km
Terpstra has a nice aero position, getting low on the bike as he plugs away. He takes the sprint in Saint Bauzille de Montmel ahead of Brard. The peloton is 1'34 back. Oscar Freire has sent Rabobank team-mate Juan Antonio Flecha up the road to nab third place, thus saving his legs.
Flecha now waits for the peloton.
Both Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas) and Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) are stretching at the back of the bunch. Right foot up and behind, onto the saddle, then left food. Perfectly synchronised, of course...
145km remaining from 182km
The gap is going out again...it's now 2'01".
Brecht also spoke to Garmin Chipotle's Martijn Maaskant. He asked him if he would try to get into a break. "Well, my task is to stay with Christian [Vande Velde], get him to the front as much as possible. I will do that with a few others on the team.
151km remaining from 182km
The two leaders go over a speed bump and both do a bunny-hop. They push on but it's really only a matter of time; they've now got 1'15.
152km remaining from 182km
Brard pushes the pace on a small drag leading up to the next sprint. Terpstra is a couple of lengths back, but then puts in a great acceleration and opens up a clear lead. He takes the sprint and keeps going, making his bid for the stage.
We can attest that Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto) is not the lanterne rouge because he is a slacker at the back. He is working really hard for the team every day, sticking his wild hair out into the wind for Evans. He will take it relatively easy in the time trials and in the autobus up the mountains. That allows him to 'gain' time against his closest rivals. Vansevenant is riding towards the third title in that inofficial competition.
158km remaining from 182km
Was Terpstra bluffing? He was weaker on the previous hills but is flying along now.
158km remaining from 182km
Brard is now 35 seconds back. The peloton is 1'29 in arrears.
162km remaining from 182km
So it's one against two up front, with quite a few more in pursuit behind. Terpstra is going well, pulling out the gap to 57 seconds.
162km remaining from 182km
The leader is 1'43 ahead of the peloton.
As they go under the 20 kilometre to go banner, Brard reaches over and grabs a drinks bottle from the motorbike. He's had a long, hard day out front (remember, he and Terpstra attacked in the first kilometre) and with this heat, every drop of fluid is welcome.
164km remaining from 182km
Terpstra looks good, getting really low in a bid to beat the wind.
French champion Nicolas Vogondy is also up the front, showing off what is a very nice jersey.
166km remaining from 182km
Terpstra is getting plenty of encouragement, although we wager the two French chasers will be urged on that bit more by the spectators.
Brard and Aug
168km remaining from 182km
Terpstra is slowing, tiring, and has just 52" now.
Brard and Aug
170km remaining from 182km
Riders from Agributel, Credit Agricole, Quick Step and Columbia are up front, making easy work of reducing this lead. Just 20" now...
Terpstra is a picture of pain. He's really suffering now.
Cadel Evans is well placed, sitting behind some team-mates on the right of the peloton.
171km remaining from 182km
Terpstra is well within view, holding a gap of 6 seconds. A Bouygues Telecom rider accelerates clear and passes him, holding a slight lead under the inflatable banner signifying ten to go.
It's Stef Clement. He's not looking too happy out there, almost willing the peloton to catch him and put him out of his misery.
174km remaining from 182km
He's up and limping. His bike is in two halves. There was no Village People warning there, unfortunately.
175km remaining from 182km
Chavanel persists, but has a big stomping bunch to hold off. It's unlikely. However, worth a shot...
Liquigas are now moving up, with Garmin Chipotle also trying to get up to the front. They are working for Julian Dean.
177km remaining from 182km
Chavanel uses every inch of the road, nearly hitting the curb. He's fully committed, although some in the peloton must think that he should be committed for trying such a move.
179km remaining from 182km
He has been caught...all together now...
Quick Step are pushing it, hoping Steegmans can repeat his win of last year.
180km remaining from 182km
Liquigas is also there...
181km remaining from 182km
They are riding for Chicchi. Under the kite...
Milram lead out...
Zabel is well placed...Cavendish waits but gets blocked..
Cavendish versus McEwen...
Four for Cavendish!!
He was blocked in with about 400 metres to go but then got clear, hitting the jets..
Four for the rider who has dominated the sprints in this race...wow.. He's still just 23 years of age, too...
McEwen took second, with Romain Feillu (Agritubel), Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank) next across the line.
Feillu pats Cavendish on the back as he rolls past.
Thanks for joining us in today's live coverage. The sprinters made sure they won't let one of the last opportunities slip away.
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