Good afternoon and welcome to the live coverage from stage 15 of this year's Tour de France. After a series of transition stages where the sprinters had a chance to shine, the race returns to the high mountains today for the first of three stages in the Alps.
The 183 kilometre stage heads into Italy and will reveal much about CSC's plans to overthrown Cadel Evans. Will the team be able to show as much horsepower as on stage 10 to Hautacam, when it effectively ended the GC hopes of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre)? If so, it could well put Evans under pressure. His Silence Lotto team is nowhere near as strong as the CSC squad and so he will have to ride very astutely in the days ahead.
Heading into the stage, Evans has a one second lead over Schleck. Christian Vande Velde is an excellent third, just 38 seconds back.
Realistically, those in the top eight are in with a shout of the final victory. However, stranger things have happened in the Tour and one strong day could bring more riders back into contention. Never say never, especially with three big days in the mountains ahead.
The riders are racing, minus the quadruple stage victor Mark Cavendish. He was dropped close to the finish yesterday and, feeling considerable fatigue in advance of three tough Alpine stages, decided not to start today.
14km remaining from 183km
Three riders went clear after some 12 kilometres of racing: Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel Euskadi), Jose Luis Arrieta (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle).
Prior to that move, many others tried to get clear but with no success.
We are getting reports that there is snow on the first climb, the Hors Cat
Simon Gerrans (Credit Agricole) got across at km 16. So we have four leaders now.
19km remaining from 183km
The quartet is 2'16 ahead now.
The riders have a very tough day ahead; the weather is wet and grim looking.
Martinez took the earlier sprint in Guillestre (km 14.5) ahead of Arrieta and Pate.
24km remaining from 183km
The four breakaway riders are working hard to build their lead. Meanwhile, the peloton is taking things handy. The riders are spread across the road and clearly not giving it socks as yet. They've a long day in the saddle and will bide their time.
Arrieta rode for Miguel Indurain, having joined Banesto in 1993. He's been around a while; the Spaniard is 37 years of age.
Evans' Silence Lotto team are on the front, but the fact that Robbie McEwen is in the front line on this climb shows that they are taking things handy. He's a great sprinter, but not much of a climber (as is usually the case for those with fast-twitch fibres).
28km remaining from 183km
Robert Hunter has a flat tyre.
Writing on his site www.robbiehunter.net, the sprinter had this to say about the Barloworld withdrawal from the sport:
This morning, the points classification looked like this:
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