Hello and welcome back to the 19th stage of the Tour. Things are starting to wind down now, but the riders can't let up yet. This is an interesting stage which is more rolling than not, and has a pretty big bump near the end, which we expect will take the sprinters right out of things.
The major difficult with today's stage is tomorrow's stage. Mont Ventoux will make or break the podium, and lots of riders are already concentrated on that, either on how to make a break and try to win, or simply how to survive. But they need to remember to ride today, too!
We expect to see a break today, and we wouldn't be surprised to see a group or an individual come through to the end.
And they're off! The 19th stage has now officially started.
176km remaining from 178km
It didn't take long for the action to start today. Thierry Hupond of Skil-Shimano has taken off on the first attack. The little Dutch team has been very active in the Tour so far.
172km remaining from 178km
Frederik Willems (Liquigas) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) gave chase, but the peloton caught them. Hupond is still alone up front.
170km remaining from 178km
That's it, the first attack is over and Hupond is back in the peloton. Who will be the next to go?
167km remaining from 178km
The first climb came today right from the start. At only km 6.5, they will top out on the Cote de Culin. This category four climb is only 2.6 km, and has a maximum gradient of 5.6%. Hupond took the points, followed by Loosli and Martinez.
Now we have a split in the peloton, with a group of 10 slightly ahead of the rest of the gang.
164km remaining from 178km
The group has now grown to 12, and has a slight lead of 10 seconds. Sorry, we don't know any names yet.
164km remaining from 178km
Now we hear it is actually 17 riders, including Cadel Evans!
160km remaining from 178km
Now they tell us 11 riders, and some pretty big names at that: Cadel Evans, Yaroslav Popovych, David Millar, Kim Kirchen, Jose Luis Arrieta, David Arroyo, Luis-Leon Sanchez, Leonard Duque, Simon Spilak, Carlos Barredo, and Geoffrey Lequatre.
But they have only a 20 second lead.
Garmin's Jonathan Vaughters warns that anybody too tired out from yesterday might fall apart here. “It’s also a day where a weary or sick GC rider can collapse.”
What do you think? A large escape group, a small group or even a solo winner? Or will the most unlikely happen and the sprinters will thunder in for the win? You can discuss it at www.forum.cyclingnews.com
153km remaining from 178km
Six more riders have moved up to the lead group: Nicolas Roche, Daniele Bennati, Jose Gutierrez, Sylvain Chavanel, Stijn Vandenbergh and Jonathan Hivert. William Bonnet is giving chase.
151km remaining from 178km
Bonnet has caught up with the group and they have now pulled away, with a gap of more than a minute.
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How about an updated list of those in the escape group? We are now told we have these 20 riders:
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Yaroslav Popovych (Astana), David Millar (Garmin), Kim Kirchen (Columbia), Jose Luis Arrieta, Nicolas Roche and Christophe Riblon (AG2R), David Arroyo, Luis-Leon Sanchez and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Leonard Duque (Cofidis), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Carlos Barredo and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Geoffrey Lequatre (Agritubel), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Stijn Vandenbergh and Nicolai Trussov (Katusha), Jonathan Hivert (Skil-Shimano) and Ruben Moreno (Euskaltel).
And their lead is now 1:30.
Meanwhile we have had the first intermediate sprint. Duque took the 6 points, followed by Roche (4 points) and Chavanel (2 points).
Behind them, Milram, Bbox and Rabobank are heading the peloton.
Our start town of Bourgoin-Jaillieu is famous for its rugby team, the CS Bourgoin-Jaillieu. Players Julien Bonnaire, Marc Cecillon, and Stephane Glas all come from here. And for another sports note, it is the hometown of Brahim Asloum, world boxing champion and Olympic gold medal winner.
We are rapidly approaching the second climb, the Côte de la forêt de Chambaran at km 40.5. It is a 3.1 km climb with a gradient up to 6.4%, and is also a category four climb.
135km remaining from 178km
The group goes over the top with a mere 40 second lead over the peloton. Sorry, we don't yet know who picked up the mountain points.
Here we go: Lequatre went over the mountain first, followed by Roche and Duque.
130km remaining from 178km
The group's lead has picked up again, and is back up to 1:30.
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We had 168 riders at the start today. Only six teams are still complete with all nine riders: Silence-Lotto, Garmin-Slipstream, Columbia-HTC, Liquigas, Cofidis and Bbox. Seven teams have lost one rider, six teams are two down, and the worst hit is Agritubel, which has lost three riders.
The 20 riders in front now have a 1:50 lead.
Defending champion Carlos Sastre has had to bury his dreams of winning or even standing on the podium this year. He finished 70th yesterday, and is now 14th overall. "The time trial was very hard because we had to stay very concentrated and couldn't move out of the position," the Cervelo TestTeam rider said.
Like so many others, he is looking to tomorrow's stage. "Now we have Mont Ventoux, which is perhaps my last chance to do something in this Tour.”
118km remaining from 178km
The lead group now has 2:20 on the peloton. The advantage at the moment has to go to AG2R and Caisse d'Epargne, with both teams having three riders in the break. Quick Step and Katusha have two each. In all, we have 14 of the 20 teams represented.
Which teams missed the break? Cervelo, Saxo Bank, Rabobank, FdJ, Bbox, and Milram.
Is Cadel Evans going to leave Silence-Lotto a year early and go to another team next season, as the rumours say? "Rumours are just that - rumours. Actions speak louder than words. Let's see. There's another week and another month and there are plenty more races this year," said Evans after yesterday's stage. You can read more about it here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/evans-maintains-perspective-in-face-of-rumours
So who has won so far in this Tour? Let's look at the teams first. Columbia leads the way with four wins, all from sprinter Mark Cavendish. Saxo Bank is tight on their heels, with three wins, from three different riders. Astana has two wins, both from Contador. Cervelo and Bbox also have two wins per team. And four teams have one stage win: Agritubel, Caisse d'Epargne, Katusha and Euskaltel.
Which leaves 11 teams still looking for a victory here....
Let's make that three wins for Astana, because of course they won the team time trial.
103km remaining from 178km
Rabobank, having missed out on the break, has moved to the head of the peloton. The gap is now 2:45.
Mark Cavendish has the most individual stage wins, four. Contador is the only other one to win multiple stages, with two. That leaves us with 11 riders who have won one stage each.
Two countries have four stage wins. Great Britain has four, all from Cavendish, while Spain has four wins from three riders. France has three wins from three different riders. Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Russia and Luxembourg have one each.
Who is missing from this list? Most notably Belgium.....
Thor Hushovd has a 30 point lead in the competition for the points jersey, but he can't yet be sure of winning it in the end. Will he go for more intermediate sprint points today, to ensure that Columbia's Mark Cavendish doesn't snatch it away in the end? Read more about it here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/hushovds-quest-for-points-not-over
86km remaining from 178km
It's a lovely sunny day today, no rain and drizzle like in yesterday's time trial. And they are in a fairly flat section right now.
Rabobank is doing a team time trial at the head of the peloton. They are riding for Oscar Freire, who would seem also to us to be a good candidate for the win today.
Andy and Fränk Schleck were both happy with their results yesterday, and pledged to keep on fighting. They want to hold on to Andy's second place overall and would dearly love to pull older brother Fränk up on the podium, too. More on the story here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/schleck-happy-with-tours-time-trial
The yellow jersey has been firmly sitting on Alberto Contador's shoulders since stage 15, but the rest of the top rankings continue to bobble around. Going into today's stage, here's the top six:
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 73:15:39
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:04:11
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:05:25
4 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin 0:05:36
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:05:38
6 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:05:59
The leading group rides by a large field full of sunflowers, one of the traditional “pretty pictures” from the Tour.
75km remaining from 178km
Milram has moved up to help with the chase work. This would also be a likely stage for Gerald Ciolek.
A couple of horseback riders on a plowed field accompany the peloton for a while. The ground acutally looks very dry.
The group's lead got up to nearly three minutes at one point, but seems to othewrise hold steady between 2:20 and 2:45. This group is far too high-powered for the field to let it get away, and there are some hungry sprinters/Classics riders who think that this is “their” stage.
Having said that, of course, the lead continues to drop and is just barely over two minutes now.
Trussov has dropped out of the lead group, so it is down to 19.
As the gap falls to under two minuts, the lead group falls apart. We have Duque, Millar, Arrieta and one other a bit ahead of the others.
63km remaining from 178km
The four riders in the lead are Duque, Arrieta, Millar and none other than Cadel Evans.
They have 11 seconds.
Nope, not Evans after all. Let's try again, especially as they have been joined by a fifth rider: Popovych, Millar, Arrieta, Gutierrez and Duque.
60km remaining from 178km
The five leaders are working well together, and the trailing 14 are trying their hardest to catch them again.
Big Thor Hushovd of Cervelo TestTeam disagrees with Kermit the Frog that “It's not easy being green”, and is proud to wear the Points jersey. He leads Cavendish by 30 points, with Caisse d'Epargne's Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil in distant third with 126 points.
124km remaining from 178km
The five in front now have a 47 second lead over the chasers, but the group isn't giving up. There are constant attacks out of the group. The peloton is now only 1:41 back.
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The lead group of five has pulled away from its former companions, who are now 1:22 back. But breathing down their necks is the peloton, only 8 seconds away. Milram and Rabobank continue to lead the chase.
They are now flying by the Rhone River, a beautiful broad, calm, blue river.
Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas has apparently decided that the polka-dot jersey goes will with his long blond curls. He has held the King of the Mountains jersey since Stage 13, with 196 points. Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), who wore the polka-dots before the Italian, has 118 points, while third-placed Pierrick Fedrigo of Bbox has 99 points.
The field has now caught the large chase group. Evans immediately falls back to the rear of the peloton, and does not look happy.
Lance Armstrong had mixed emotions after yesterday's time trial: disappointed that he only finished 16th, but happy that he moved back on to the podium. You can read more comments here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/armstrong-in-podium-place-after-tour-tt
137km remaining from 178km
The field turns away from the river banks and moves into the next village. Less than a minute between the groups now.
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Only 17 seconds now, and the leaders will be swallowed up.....
Lots of nervous looking-over-the shoulder by the front five.
Everybody just passed the last intermediate sprint of the day, and they are now preparing to start up the final climb of the day. We expect lots of attacks shortly!
Best young rider, of course, is Andy Schleck, who is second in GC. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) trails him by three minutes and Roman Kreuziger of the same team is nearly 10 minutes down.
33km remaining from 178km
Duque is now alone in front, hanging on to a 19 second lead, as all the others are now back in the Rabo-led peloton.
It is starting to cloud up. We hope this doesn't mean rain.
Duque has been caught and his teammate Christophe Kern promptly attacks.
31km remaining from 178km
Liquigas, riding for Ballan, pulls the peloton along and catches Kern.
The road is still flat, but the landscape is not. The mountains are beckoning in the background.
Duque has now passed through the whole peloton and fallen off the back.
This stage will end with a bang, as the Col de l'Escrinet appears at km 162. This category two climb is 14 km , with a gradient up to 4.1%..
The peloton is moving very fast today, as it starts up the climb. That means we see more and more riders falling off the back.
The peloton is now totally falling apart. But don't worry, all the top favourites are all near the front.
Popovych is the next to fall off the back of the peloton. But he is certainly not alone.
Pellizotti is pretty far back. But he doesn't have to worry about mountain points today.
Cervelo and Rabobank lead the way up the mountain. A Bbox rider jumps out.
25km remaining from 178km
It is Lefevre.
He is 10 seconds ahead of the peloton, where Contador is sitting in fifth position.
Even Mark Cavendish is near the front of the peloton on this climb! He is being accompanied by Tony Martin, who keeps looking back to make sure the Manxman is still there.
Teammates Sastre and Hushovd ride side by side.
Lefevre continues to battle valiantly and holds on to his narrow lead.
One side of the road is full of parked cars, and there are lots of fans on this mountain.
Cavendish is still right up there. He just dumped a bottle of water over his head.
21km remaining from 178km
The World Champion gets away and quickly catches Lefevre.
The Frenchman hangs on to the Italian's rear wheel.
The duo builds their lead up slowly to 13 seconds.
Four Columbia riders including Cavendish are now riding ahead of Hushovd.
17 seconds for the two leaders.
Behind Hushovd is Milram's Peter Velits. And behind Velits is, of course, Ciolek.
17km remaining from 178km
Ballan and Lefevre share the lead work, as the gap climbs to 19 seconds.
16km remaining from 178km
Menchov is at the head of the peloton, keeping the pace high. Rabo wants the win for Freire, and hopes to keep things fast enough to drop those pesky rivals like Ciolek, Hushovd and Cavendish.
Big crowds as Ballan and Lefevre approach the top of the climb.
Ballan crosses the line first, and now he and Lefevre start the descent. Martinez was third over.
Luis-Leon Sanchez jumps out of the peloton on the descent.
14km remaining from 178km
Here's an unpleasant surprise: it has started to lightly rain.
Cavendish leads the peloton on the descent.
The two leaders continue to look back nervously.Three Columbia riders fly down the mountain at the head of the field. Sanchez has given up his chase and is waiting for the field
8km remaining from 178km
Four Columbia riders at the head of things, followed directly by Hushovd. Their group has some 40 or so riders in it. The rain is getting heavier.
Milram has moved into the lead of the chase group. Linus Gerdemann takes the lead work.
5km remaining from 178km
Officially 11 seconds for the two leaders, but it looks like less.
Ballan has his teeth clenched as he gives his all.
4km remaining from 178km
4 km to go, and one Milram rider leading four Columbias.
The road is slick, and we have a number of traffic circles and turns still to come.
2km remaining from 178km
A straightaway now, and the field gives gas as it sees the two so close ahead....
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The rain is getting heavier. Ballan ties to go solo, as the field catches Lefevre.
1km remaining from 178km
Ballan is caught. Martin leads Cavendish, with Hushovd right behind.
The last curve. Martin still leads.
Martin leads and leads and leads. Cavendish goes, with Ciolek and Hushovd tight behind him. But there is no stopping the Manxman!
Cavendish won by not quite a full bike length. Hushovd was second, and Ciolek third.
Didn't we say today was a stage for an escape group to come through? And that the sprinters wouldn't have a chance today? Hmm.....
A very fast stage today, with an average speed of over 46 km/h.
No changes in the overall, but did Amstrong pick up a few seconds on Wiggins?
Here's our Top Five on GC, after today's stage:
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 77:06:18
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:04:11
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:05:21
4 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:05:36
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:05:38
Popovych and Pellizotti lead a group over the finish line, 9:30 down.
Well, wasn't that a more exciting stage than expected? And what a finish! Not at all the escape group coming through that we all predicted, but an honest-to-god sprint.
But if today was exciting, just wait until tomorrow! The much-dreaded Mont Ventoux is the scene of Saturday's battle, and Lance Armstong has said it will be a war.
Let's hope for some fantastic racing tomorrow, so join us then as we all climb up above the tree line!
Thanks for reading along today.
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team
3 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
4 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence-Lotto
5 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
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