Here we are again, with only three stages left. Today will most likely be one for the sprinters
We have a very long neutralized zone today, 8.7 km. That will give the riders a chance to get used to today's weather. Sunny and hot
We know that at least one rider wasn't at the start today. Damiano Cunego had a nasty crash early on yesterday and, battered and bloody, made his way to the finish eventually. A hospital visit showed that nothing was broken but the pain and problems were too great, and the Italian had to drop out.
The race has started and the expected attacks are starting immediately. We will let you know if any of them get away.
2km remaining from 165km
Two km already gone, and none of the attacks have yet been successful! They are moving fast today. They know the Tour is almost over and probably want to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Roanne is making its Tour debut as a Tour host town. This city lies on the Loire River, about 90km northwest of Lyon, and has some 40,000 inhabitants. It is known for its textiles and its gastronomy
9km remaining from 165km
The peloton is already at the base of the day's first climb. No one has yet been able to get away.
The first of two ranked mountains of the day is La Croix du Sud, which has the honour of being the last Cat. III climb in this year's Tour. It is not particularly steep, having an average gradient of only 3.5%, but it is loooooooong
The e-mails have started coming in already and Tomas of the Czech Republic wants to know about the neutralized zone. That is usually the first 5 km or so, and usually runs through a downtown area. No attacks are allowed in this zone. This allows the riders a chance to warm up, and gives the public a chance to see them. It also protects the riders from attacks and potentially dangerous riding in city streets with (hopefully) lots of fans on the way.
17km remaining from 165km
A foursome finally got away on its way up the climb. Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Pierrick F
Gert Steegmans of Quick Step jumped out to go after the four escapees, but he didn't make it. The field gobbled him back up quickly, and at the summit, the quartet has a 30 second lead.
23km remaining from 165km
Schumacher led the way over the mountain, followed in order by F
Carl of Australia asks, "How is the weather looking from the blimp? I looked on the web and it seemed to suggest morning rain for Saturday. What chance the circuit will be damp for the ITT?" Right now we are slathering ourselves with suntan lotion, but unfortunately we will probably have to pull out our rain jackets for the final two stages. The weather forecast is for warm temperatures and "light rain".
Whew, did we say it was warm today? Perhaps it would be better to say HOT. The air is 25
Some of you have been asking why certain riders have negative points in the points classification. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake answers the question how riders who misbehave get punished. The rule book states several sanctions riders can face.
34km remaining from 165km
The leading quartet now has a lead of exactly one minute. Is this going to be the break of the day?
And to return to the "negative points" discussion.....
39km remaining from 165km
The field is now 1'10 behind the leading four.
42km remaining from 165km
Here we have our second and last ranked climb of the day, the Cote de la Croix-Rouge. This cat. IV climb is only 1.4 km with an average gradient of 6.4%.
And those speedy devils are already over this not-so-monstrous climb. Once again Schumacher took the honours, ahead of F
Carlos Barredo was yesterday's unhappy second-place finisher, and today he is a water carrier. The Quick Step rider just stuffed a number of bottles down the back of his jersey. The cool bottles probably feel good today.
52km remaining from 165km
Liquigas and Caisse d'Epargne are leading the chase and it seems to be effective. The lead is down to 42 seconds.
And here is another water carrier who we saw yesterday in a different role: Marcus Burghardt. The big blonde German from Team Columbia is back at the team car loading up for his team-mates. Today he is wearing the red number for being the most aggressive rider yesterday.
56km remaining from 165km
This is a lovely, rolling ridgey countryside. The field just went by a field full of totally disinterested cows.
CSC-Saxo Bank has just officially announced that it has extended its contract with World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara for another three years. "Now I have the perfect horizon in relation to my career and I look forward to the next three years with my teammates and the results we're going to achieve together," the Swiss rider said.
61km remaining from 165km
Everyone is in the city of Vichy now, with the chasing field only 36 seconds back. This escape group is working well, but never really has been able to build up a significant lead.
Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) told Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner before the start that "it is important for Gerolsteiner to be in the break. If I will be in it depends on the situation." Well, the situation is that Schumacher *is* in the break, but the four are losing ground. Schumacher hoped "to just get by as good as possible. I just want to make it through the next three days."
65km remaining from 165km
100 km to go, and the lead is down to 20 seconds. Looks like it will be over soon, so we now start to wonder who will take off when this group is gathered back into the fold?
Guess we won't see Luis Leon Sanchez in the next break
The leading quartet fights bravely on, but they look nervously behind them. And they see a peloton which is not very far away. It is being led by Liquigas, Quick Step and Caisse d'Epargne.
69km remaining from 165km
That was it, they are caught. Now there will be some jockeying until another group gets away.
A number of riders accelerate and hope for the best, but can't get away.
Martyn Masskant of Garmin isn't having any part of these games. He is comfortably riding at the back of the field.
71km remaining from 165km
Two riders have moved a few meters away. Geoffroy Lequatre started the move and was joined by S
A handful of riders have joined them but the field won't let anyone go. Now a Cofidis rider gives it a try.
Sylvain Chavanel is persistent an keeps on going. Yaroslav Popovych gives chase. The Cofidis rider is perhaps 15 meters ahead of the peloton.
Milram is doing its best to get a rider into a successful break. It wanted to do so yesterday, too.
The ever aggressive Cyclingnews diarist Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) had an outlook for Hedwig Kröner this morning. "Today is another attacker's day. The advantage over yesterday is that it's uphill right from the start, so it'll be about pedal strength rather than tactics, like it was yesterday. I see if I have recovered from last night, as my back was hurting again. Yesterday evening it was horrible. My legs are OK, though."
Another handful of riders pull away from the peloton and hope to join Chavanel.
77km remaining from 165km
The Frenchman is building up a nice little lead
A St. Didier farmer has plowed a heart into his field, welcoming the Tour.
Chavanel added "After Alpe d'Huez, where I suffered a lot, I recovered well." Chavanel had some local knowledge. "There ISBN a small climb with about five kilometres to go, so you never know if it comes to a sprint. I could try once again to get a away, like I did twice before during this Tour. But this time the hill is closer to the finish, so I might be luckier."
79km remaining from 165km
And with that his solo escape is over. He has now been joined by Jeremy Roy of Fran
83km remaining from 165km
Chavanel and Roy have about a 30 second lead right now. The peloton looks to have slowed down. Are they willing to let these two go?
85km remaining from 165km
To answer our own question: yes. The lead is now over a minute.
86km remaining from 165km
Either the two ahead are flying along or the peloton has put the brakes on and decided for a comfortable day. The lead is now 1'56.
It's lunchtime now for the peloton - bon appetit!
Jack of New York City wants to know how many teams still have all their riders. Seven teams still have a full nine-man squad. Eight teams have lost one rider, three teams have lost two and one team is down three riders. Hardest hit is Barloworld, which has only four riders left in the race.
Columbia's Marcus Burghardt and Gerald Ciolek are having a nice time at the back of the field. Not having such a nice time is Christophe Brandt of Silence Lotto, who has just dropped out.
So that makes only six teams who still have a full squad: CSC-Saxo Bank, Euskaltel, Credit Agricole, Gerolsteiner, Rabobank and Milram.
Kate from Australia wants to know: "In regards to the discussion of "negative points" and rider penalties, do the race umpires have the power to disqualify or penalise a rider while a stage is still in progress for non-performance enhancing activities or can such actions only formally take place at the end of the stage? If so, have any riders been penalised in this fashion over recent years, resulting in them being kicked out of a tour mid-stage?
99km remaining from 165km
The lead is now at five minutes. Has that woken up the peloton from their after-lunch snooze? The peloton is now strung out and moving faster.
And here the rest of Bjorn Haake's response: Severity of the fine can depend on the rider's GC standing, which may explain Leipheimer's 10-second penalty last year.
Concerning our list of teams, we have been reminded that the hardest hit of all is of course Saunier Duval, which has no riders left in the Tour at all.
102km remaining from 165km
The escapees have just gone through the first intermediate sprint of the day, in Chantelle. There wasn't any sprint as Chavanel rolled through ahead of Roy. Their lead has now shrunk to 4'28.
Milram moves to the front as the peloton nears the intermediate sprint. Erik Zabel and Oscar Freire are both to be seen hoping to pick up the final points.
Zabel pulls out and sprints
"Given the competing interests of increasing (or narrowing) the time gaps at the top end of the General Classification and preserving as much energy as possible for the long Individual Time Trial tomorrow, what are the chances that CSC/SaxoBank or Gerolsteiner or Silence-Lotto or Rabobank or Garmin-Chipotle might launch some form of whole-team-attack today?," asks Paul L.
110km remaining from 165km
There aren't any more ranked climbs today, but there are some pretty significant bumps in the road in the last 50 km. Will they be enough to throw back the sprinters and their tired legs, or are they so determined to have another chance that it won't matter?
The Blimp Lady thinks she needs new reading glasses. Julian has pointed out that Credit Agricole has only 8 riders in the race, having lost Mark Renshaw. After much squinting at our crumpled start list, we must agree that he is correct.
113km remaining from 165km
The lead is now dropping slowly but steadily, and has come down to under four minutes.
Another large field full of large sunflowers graces side of the road.
117km remaining from 165km
The peloton has slowed down again, and the lead for Chavanel and Roy has promptly jumped up again to 4'23. There is another group underway
Mike of Minneapolis wants to know which teams have won stages so far, "Just curious to see which teams are really desperate!" Columbia leads the way with five wins, Caisse d'Epargne, Credit Agricole and CSC Saxo Bank all have two wins, and one each go to Cofidis, Gerolsteiner, Rabobank and AG2R.
123km remaining from 165km
CSC has sent Stuart O'Grady to the front, as the duo's lead nears the five minute mark.
Eric of Washington, DC, had some general questions about team cars. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake explains: Each team has two cars in the caravan. So a team better not break up in three. The car order in the peloton is determined by each team's best placed rider on GC before the stage. If there is at least a minute between the break and the bunch, cars of the riders in the break are allowed to leave the peloton and pull up behind the escapees. Team cars are equipped with GPS and TV.
There is another big name in that group that has fallen back so far
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