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Tour de France 2009: Stage 9

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Good morning and welcome to our coverage from day nine of the Tour de France, the final Pyrenean mountain stage of the race.

Today's race is 160.5 kilometres in length and takes a looping westwardly direction from Saint Gaudens to Tarbes, passing some really stunning scenery. The route will see the riders scale the category 1 Col d'Aspin (km 60.5, 12.3 km of climbing averaging 6.4 %) and then the hors categorie, and legendary, Col du Tourmalet (km 90, 17.1 km of climbing at 7.4 %).

The stage also has three bonus sprints, at Sarrancolin (km 41.5), Lau Balagnes (km 125.2) and Lourdes (km 139). Mark Cavendish and new points leader Thor Hushovd may tussle it out in the first of these but, frankly, we don't expect either to be in the running for the final two as they come after the two big climbs.

172 riders started racing a few minutes ago. There were no non starters. Yesterday's stage saw a couple of riders pulling out, including 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro. He crashed out of last year's race and called it quits yesterday, citing bad form: www.cyclingnews.com/news/former-winner-pereiro-abandons-tour

There's been a very active start, with plenty of efforts being made to get away. Italian champion 'Pippo' Pozzato (Katusha) is close to the front and may give it a go today. He's been relatively quiet thus far in the Tour, although he did try to surprise the sprinters in Barcelona.

It's another stunning, sunny day, with some really beautiful scenery.

149km remaining from 160km

A group has gone clear and is ten seconds ahead. Astana is chasing, but Lance Armstrong is at the back of the bunch...they will hope the field doesn't split.

The Saxo Bank warrior Jens Voigt is in this break, and is pushing the pace.

Irish champion Nicolas Roche is close to the back of the bunch. He said after yesterday's stage that he has had to put any thoughts of personal ambition to one side in order to protect Nocentini's yellow jersey. The young Ag2r La Mondiale rider had started stage 8 in 28th position overall, and sixth in the best young rider classification, but used up energy yesterday in helping the Italian to defend his lead and ended up losing a lot of time.

 

As a young rider in his first Tour, he wanted to see how he could fare overall. But defending a yellow jersey for a few stages is the most important thing.

 

Ag2r are also leading the team's classification now, thanks to Vladimir Efimkin's presence in the break yesterday. Here's the overall standings in that competition:

 

1 AG2R-La Mondiale 89:21:00
2 Astana 0:00:03
3 Team Columbia - HTC 0:04:45
4 Team Milram 0:05:20
5 Team Saxo Bank 0:05:24
6 Garmin - Slipstream 0:05:56
 

144km remaining from 160km

Voigt pushes the pace onwards in this move, which contains 13 riders. They have 19 seconds. The move also contains Danny Pate (Garmin Slipstream), Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo) and others. Stand by for names...

137km remaining from 160km

Okay, we have got the names together. The 13 leaders are: Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo Test Team), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Danny Pate (Garmin Slipstream), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Benoit Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Stéphane Auge (Cofidis), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Daniele Righi (Lampre NGC), Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom), Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), Marcus Fothen (Team Milram) and Simon Geschke (Skil Shimano).

They are 18 seconds clear of the peloton, which is led by Team Katusha.

136km remaining from 160km

Voigt clearly felt this break wasn't working and has attacked, dragging Pellizotti, Duque and Fedrigo clear.

Armstrong attacks! He's clear with the yellow jersey...

Is that a clear challenge to Contador? 

He's got up to the second half of the break, and now goes again. Nocentini is on his wheel.

Maybe he's hunting the bonus seconds at the sprint? Whatever the reason, it seems the gloves are off with Contador.

The four leaders are still clear, riding well. We'll find out what's happening behind. There's a lot of jumping around, but can't see Armstrong right now.

Very unusual to see Armstrong attack on the flat like this. He appears to be back in the peloton, but that will have raised eyebrows.

To recap, here's our four leaders: Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) and Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom)

129km remaining from 160km

They are 44 seconds clear of the peloton, which has settled down. Armstrong and Nocentini are back in the fold.

126km remaining from 160km

Carlos Sastre said before the start that the last mountain is relatively far from the finish. He said that this region has headwinds and makes it more difficult to attack.

He was asked if he would collaborate with Schleck and Evans to distance the Astana riders. He ruled that out, saying he doesn't believe in alliances.

Will something happen at the Tourmalet? "Everything is possible," he replied.

Given that Sastre is quite far back, along with some of the other GC contenders, it seems suprising that he'd rule out an alliance. The Astana team is very strong.

Back in the peloton, Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) tried to get clear but the Ag2r La Mondiale team closed him down. They know that if Rinaldo Nocentini can get through today, he will have the yellow jersey heading into tomorrow's rest day....that's important as many interviews are done tomorrow, therefore more publicity for the team.

Also, with the next few stages being flatter, he could theoretically keep the jersey for several more days.

Armstrong remains very close to the front of the bunch. No sign of his team-mates,and of Contador. Is the Spaniard on a bad day?

Nocentini may have punctured...he was close to the front a couple of kilometres ago, but he's now riding back on through the cars behind the peloton.

Cadel Evans was asked by reporters at the start if he planned another surprise attack today.

"It won't a surprise if I tell you about it!" he replied.

He said that he didn't attack to impress his rivals, but to try to beat them. Evans felt that his legs might feel yesterday's efforts today, but we suspect he'll have a go regardless.

119km remaining from 160km

The four leaders are now much further ahead - they are 2'08 clear at this point, and working well.

Situation:

Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) and Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom).

Peloton at 2'08"

Duque took the first sprint, ahead of Fedrigo and Voigt. So it's unlikely that there will be a change in the points standings today. The peloton really relaxed and the gap is now 3'01".

111km remaining from 160km

Onwards, ever onwards by the break...the quartet are 4'18" clear. Voigt might be thinking about the stage win, but more likely he's up the road to help the Schleck brothers if they get clear on the climbs.

The riders are now on the Col d'Aspin, climbing past a spectator waving a 'Delgado' sign. Perhaps he went through a time warp or something - he's 20 years out of sync.

Voigt is doing his Energizer Bunny impression and driving this onwards. He's full of energy, both on and off the bike.

Armstrong looks very psyched today. He's just back from the leading Ag2r riders, but seems very attentive. We guess he's going to attack at some point...time will tell.

The leaders continue to build time; it's now five minutes. Voigt sits up for a second and stretches his back.

Tom Boonen is also near the front. He's using the 'sliding' technique...start near the front, then even as a non climber you've plenty of time to slip back and, hopefully, to still be with the group going over the top.

The peloton is now on the climb. Ag2r lead them onto the slopes.

Eurosport spoke to Lance Armstrong this morning:

"It is a hard stage, but it is probably not a selective stage. You still have to be attentive but when the climb is so far from the finish, realistically you will probably have 40 or 50 riders together at the end.

He said that he thinks the Verbier stage (a full week from now) which will be the next selection.

If today's stage had finished in Lourdes, the Tourmalet would be more decisive, methinks. There's 49 kilometres between the summit and the famous town, but the finish is a further 21 kilometre past that point.

The four leaders are working well together - nobody sitting on.

Attack! Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) jumps out of the peloton and gets a gap.

107km remaining from 160km

There's no reaction as yet... The bunch is in one long line,though...we expect gaps to start appearing soon.

Now Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence Lotto) goes, dragging a couple of others with him. But the bunch is close behind.

It's splitting up here. Paulinho (Astana) jumps across to the Van Den Broeck group - he'll just try to mark the others. Actually, no - he's gone to the front. Is he paving the way for Armstrong or Contador to jump across?

Ahead, Ten Dam is with Amets Txurruka, but they are being joined by the Paulinho - Van Den Broeck - Stephane Goubert (Ag2r La Mondiale) - Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel - Euskadi) group.

More jumping around - Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) jumps away from the bunch. The Astana team hasn't really been noticeable today...is that a deliberate tactic, we wonder? Certainly things are pretty chaotic.

Other groups are going clear, including one with Andreas Kloden in it. Maxime Monfort (Columbia) and Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r La Mondiale) are also there.

103km remaining from 160km

Which of the GC contenders will be the first to try to bridge across to this, we wonder?

There's some nice platforms there, in the form of those little groups ahead.

Now Efimkin jumps from one group up to the next...he's going well...

Further down the mountain, Boonen is in a small group with Jerome Coppei (Francaise des Jeux) plus several others. They are behind the peloton.

In the bunch, Nocentini sits second in line. Hushovd, Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) and Cancellara (Saxo Bank) are some of the riders being dropped.

101km remaining from 160km

Situation
Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) and Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom)
Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Sergio Paulinho (Astana), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Stephane Goubert (Ag2r La Mondiale), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel - Euskadi) at 3:41
Main group with yellow jerser at 3:52

101km remaining from 160km

Duque was dropped several kilometres ago, but Fedrigo, Pellizotti and Voigt continue on. They are being chased by nine others, with the peloton now closing up to them.

Here's the situation on the road:

Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Pierrick Fédrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom)

Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) at 55"

Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Sergio Paulinho (Astana), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r La Mondiale), Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale) at 3:41

Main group with yellow jerser at 3:52

100km remaining from 160km

Nocentini remains second in line in the peloton. No big guns have tried to get clear as yet...must be nervous back there.

Now Thomas Voeckler jumps clear! The Bouygues Telecom rider tore out of the bunch.

Pellizotti takes the prime at the top of the Aspin, ahead of Fedrigo and Voigt. Txurruka and Martinez are leading the next group as they climb towards the top; the yellow jersey group is 3'29" behind Pellizotti's trio.

98km remaining from 160km

Situation
Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Pierrick Fédrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom)
Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) at 55"
Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Sergio Paulinho (Astana), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r La Mondiale), Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) at 2:57
Main group with yellow jerser at 3:29

98km remaining from 160km

Txurruka is doing all the driving. His group is 2'52" back, with the peloton at 3'21".

Martinez now jumps clear for the KOM points, crossing the line 2'44" behind the leaders. He gets fourth.

Behind, Brice Feillu and Christophe Kern sprint from the main bunch, taking the minor points.

Situation
Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Pierrick Fédrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom)
Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) at 1:50"
Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Sergio Paulinho (Astana), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r La Mondiale), Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) at 2:42
Main group with yellow jerser at 3:14

Kern remains in the lead of the KOM classification, but is now just three points ahead of Martinez, who looks like he has a good chance of taking over that lead today if he stays clear on the next climb.

The riders are all on the descent now. With Voigt up front, can we expect to see the Schleck brothers try to get clear on the Tourmalet?

86km remaining from 160km

There's a slight lull now...the three leaders are in the feedzone, so they are concentrating on grabbing some food.

Behind, though, the chase group is giving it loads to try to get up to them. If they can bridge the group will be a good size.

Garate (Rabobank) had a problem going around a left hand bend - might have slipped some gears or dropped his chain. He's back up with the chasers.

___________
Situation
Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Pierrick Fédrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom)
Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) at 1:50"
Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Sergio Paulinho (Astana), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) at 2:52
Main group with yellow jersey at 4:01

84km remaining from 160km

The riders are on the Tourmalet, heading upwards towards the 2,115 kilometre summit.

The Nocentini group is grabbing some food, while Dimitry Muravyev (Astana) stops and changes bikes. He got a sticky bottle from the Lampre car.

82km remaining from 160km

Maxime Bouet (Agritubel) has jumped away from the peloton.

The first chase group is 3'03" back, with Bouet 4'00 behind. He's now 19" ahead of the peloton.
 

__________
Situation
Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Pierrick Fédrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom)
Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank), Sergio Paulinho (Astana), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Silence-Lotto), Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Juan Manuel Gárate (Rabobank), David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) at 3:00
Main group with yellow jersey at 4:22
Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) at ??

The Ag2r team are setting the pace, with Irish national champion Nicolas Roche second in line. His jersey is quite distinctive, stands out well.

81km remaining from 160km

The chasers are led by Txurruka, who has been doing this for quite a while. Bouet is 35" back and chasing hard.

Duque has been dropped from the chase group - surprising for a Colombian, but he's more of a galloper.

80km remaining from 160km

Pellizotti is leading the other three up the climb, but they are all rolling through. They have 10.4 km to go to the top.

Maillot Vert Thor Hushovd got back to the peloton on the descent, but he's heading south again.

Bouet is about to catch and pass Duque. However he doesn't appear to be making much inroads into the next group.

Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale) is paying the price for the work he has done, and is slipping out the back.

79km remaining from 160km

Now Pellizotti puts in a little dig, dropping Voigt. Fedrigo goes with him.

Fedrigo and Pellizotti continue on; Voigt tries to limit his losses.

No attacks yet from the peloton.

Cancellara is also dropped, so predictions he would be climbing well in this Tour have proved inaccurate.

Popovych is being dropped from the peloton... Surprising, as the Astana riders haven't done much riding today. The peloton is still quite large.

Perhaps he's going back for water...hmmm...

Former Spanish champion Garate leads the chase, then Van Den Broeck takes over.

The Nocentini group is 3'56 back...no attacks as yet.

Popovych is in trouble all right...he's goooone.

Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) has also gone south, as has stage 7 winner Brice Feillu (Agritubel).

Fedrigo and Pellizotti are 7.5 km from the top of the climb, with Voigt a little further behind.

We hope there's some action from the peloton, as there's little point in the GC contenders who have already lost time in not giving it a go. There's a long way to the alps, after all...

Bouet is clawing his way, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, towards the chase group. He can see the cars behind them, so is nearing..

6.3 kilometres to the top...Pellizotti and Fedrigo trade pedal strokes and positions at the front of their move. Garate is still leading the chase, while Bouet is still in no-man's land.

Kloden was in trouble earlier. The Astana team are certainly quieter today.

The two leaders are going through the covered section, where there's protection from avalanches. Not many of them expected today...

The roads are wide, with plenty of writing on them.

Garate is in the zone, fixing his eyes on the road ahead.

They are 3'12 back, while Bouet is at 3'26. He's getting there, gradually... The peloton is at 4'32, and riding steadily upwards. Surprsingly, no attacks as yet.

75km remaining from 160km

Bouet gets across - good ride...

Now Van Den Broeck moves to the front, out of the saddle and pushing down on the pedals. Garate waves away a spectator waving a flag - was a bit close to the wheels.

Plenty of orange shirts in the crowd, plus some runners with yellow wigs. There was also a middle aged spectator in speedos...scary stuff.

Correction - the spectator we mentioned was waving a flag, not a flat. He's not that strong...

Garate and Van Den Broucke are doing almost all of the work. Behind, Inigo Cuesta (Cervelo) is being dropped from the bunch.

73km remaining from 160km

The leaders have just over three kilometres to go to the summit. They are sharing the pace setting pretty well. Has been quite a while since we saw Voigt - he's going to be picked up by the chase group.

Cyclingnews' Susan Westemeyer has given an update on the Tour of Austria: 

It was Team Columbia-HTC's day at the Tour of Austria. Sprinter Andre Griepel won the final stage in Vienna in a mass sprint, for his third stage win. And the overall title went to his teammate Michael Albasini.

The GC contenders have been surprisingly quiet...come on guys! Not that we want to see Nocentini lose the jersey, but it'd be nice if the big guns would at least try to move themselves up the classification.

72km remaining from 160km

Voigt has been caught by the others...he's pulling all sorts of faces, but will try to hang on.

72km remaining from 160km

There really are a lot of orange t-shirts...plenty of Basque supporters here.

Further down the mountain, Dave Zabriskie (Garmin Slipstream) has been dropped.

There's maybe 40 to 50 riders left in the peloton. Zubeldia, Armstrong and Kloden are near the front. Where is Contador?

Ah, looks like he is to Armstrong's right.

Nicolas Roche now leads the bunch - a nice experience in his first Tour.

Sylvain Chavanel has been dropped.

Bradley Wiggins (Garmin Slipstream) is near the front.... good riding. He's really improved a lot this year, having focussed a lot more on the road and lost weight.

The chasing group is 2'57" and, according to the splits, Bouet has cracked and gone backwards. That's a pity.

70km remaining from 160km

Pellizotti led Fedrigo over the top....they are now on the descent, which is nice and wide.

Garate is now doing all of the work, with Van Den Brocke sitting on his wheel. They are needing the top. In fact, they've ridden clear of the others, but it's just a couple of seconds.

This descent is fast, and dangerous...big drop off to the side.

Garate led Voeckler and Moncoutie over the top of the climb, netting third.

The peloton goes over the top - looks like Brice Feillu leading them over. It's pretty disappointing that none of the GC contenders had a go; they are not going to get time back if they just follow the Ag2r and Astana riders, frankly.

Armstrong is now leading the peloton down the descent. Not a bad idea as he can pick his desired line. Nocentini, Efimkin and Contador are next in line.

They are about to catch Bouet, who got across to that chase group and then went backwards.

Armstrong is pushing the pace on this descent - is he trying to get a gap, or just play it safe by chosing his own line?

Apparently Laurens Ten Dam had a crash on the descent..we hope he is okay.

This terrain is stunning. France is apparently the most-visited country in the world; the Tour must be at least partly responsible for that, as it gives a superb opportunity to showcase the country.

Armstrong and Nocentini, who is second in line, pass Voigt.

57km remaining from 160km

Pellizotti and Fedrigo are now 5'03" ahead of the Nocentini group. The chasers are somewhere in the middle.

Apparently Ten Dam is not badly injured - he's chasing again, but is completely covered in mud and has a torn jersey. Ouch...

He must have gone off the road and gathered quite a bit of dirt. But no sign of serious cuts. He's spraying water on his elbow, which must be sore.

Ten Dam is tall and slender - that can help a lot with the climbing, but but can make things a little more testing on the descents as the centre of gravity is high.

50km remaining from 160km

He's sitting on the top tube, getting as low as he can.

Pellizotti and Fedrigo press onwards, holding a lead of 4'52"...

We've got perhaps an hour of racing left. Will the leaders be caught? They are being chased by the group behind, and it in turn is in front of the peloton.

The sprinters have been dropped, so those teams won't ride. Nocentini, Contador and Armstrong won't mind too much if some stay clear.

Ag2r La Mondiale is doing a great ride today.

Ah, now the Columbia riders move to the front. Surely Cavendish isn't still in there?

Ten Dam is just coming back into the peloton

44km remaining from 160km

The chasers are 3'30" back, not really making much of an impression. Van Den Broeck looks back and urges them onwards. Voeckler is blocking for Fedrigo, disrupting the chase a little.

Meanwhile the Nocentini bunch is 4'32 back.

Jurgen Van den Broeck is setting the pace for the chasing group as Fedrigo and Pellizotti push on with 44km to go

Now Caisse d'Epargne are driving it, looking for their second stage win in a row? 

Columbia's Tony Martin remains in the white jersey for best young rider, and is pretty happy with that: www.cyclingnews.com/news/martin-holds-on-to-white-jersey

The the peloton has now absorbed the chase group as Caisse d'Epargne come to the head of the peloton

Pellizotti has taken three stage wins in the Giro, and was third overall this year. That's one place better than his finishing position in 2008. He hasn't won a stage of the Tour, but Fedrigo has - three years ago, he took stage 14 in Gap.

He's apperently nicknamed "le nez de Marmande" (The nose of Marmande) due to his rather large nose.

The advantage held by Fedrigo and Pellizotti is ticking down steadily

Fedrigo beat Salvatore Commesso to take that stage - the Italian was very upset afterwards as he really wanted the victory.

The Frenchman is pretty fast; how will he fare against the Italian climber?

The leading duo are now 3'22 ahead....with 35 kilometres to go, a committed bunch could bring them back. Time will tell.

They go through the sprint in Lau Balagnas, where Fedrigo takes full points. There's one sprint left - that in Lourdes, 21 kilometres from the finish.

Ah...the chase group has been hauled back by the Nocentini bunch. Caisse d'Epargne are working hard to try to get the leaders back.

Fedrigo and Pellizotti are still working together as the peloton is strung out some 3:05 back

The leading duo have a 2:50 with 32km remaining in the stage

Carlos Sastre is at the back of the peloton with some team-mates. Not sure if he punctured, or what's going on.

The Cervelo jersey looks very well, it has to be said.

Caisse d'Epargne are doing 53% of the work behind, 10% more than Rabobank. Is Freire there?

The gap is 2:38 and closing with 30km to go

30km remaining from 160km

Looks dodgy for the two leaders, I'm afraid...they have just 2'42" now...

After losing some time yesterday, Nicolas Roche is riding well today.. That national champion's jersey really stands out. In the past, some teams were reluctant to have their riders aim for a jersey which is less identifiable with their sponsor, but now many recognise that it stands out well from the peloton and provokes interest.

There's speculation that Freire might be in the yellow jersey group...that would explain Rabobank working. He's a very fast sprinter and so would fancy his chances if Cavendish, Hushovd and Boonen were missing.

Martinez now has 78 points in the mountains classification, so he's well clear now.

Five kilometres left to the final sprint of the day..

The gap is hovering around 2:30 with just over 25km to race

Let's clarify that - five kilometres to the final intermediate sprint of the day. The actual final gallop, the most important one, is in 26 kilometres...

Less than 25 kilometres to go, and the Caisse d'Epargne and Rabobank teams are thundering along. They want this move to come back, but Fedrigo and Pellizotti are doing their utmost to resist. They have 2'28..it's possible, but difficult.

Pellizotti and Fédrigo are keeping the peloton honest; with 22km remaining the gap is 2:28

Speculation continues as to whether or not Cavendish is in this big group. If he was, we tend to think that the Columbia team would be riding more. We'll let you know if we spot him at any point.

140km remaining from 160km

The leaders are in Lourdes, looking for a miracle.. Can they do it? 

The peloton is chasing like fury... really working hard. The leaders are coming up to the 20km to go banner.

20km remaining from 160km

20km out and the gap is 2:27. Caisse d'Epargne are still driving on the peloton.

The leaders have been surprisingly good at resisting the chase behind...we figure they must have a tailwind. With 2'25", it's possible...but they've got to keep focussed and not mess around at all.

If they arrive at the finish together, we think that Fedrigo will be quickest. If the line was on top of a climb, Pellizotti would get our vote.

Fedrigo was first over the intermediate sprint line, by the way. Pellizotti took second, while Garate led the bunch across.

The gap ticks below 2:20 with 17km to go

16km remaining from 160km

Nocentini is enjoying another day in yellow and, barring mishap, has a good chance of holding it into the rest day. Potentially, he could have it for a few more days, depending on how things go.

Under the 15km banner and Pellizotti and Fedrigo have 2:03

We had a sweeping view of the bunch, and it looks like Cavendish is indeed absent. That's to be expected from the profile of the course; his climbing has improved a lot this year, but these big cols are seriously challenging.

13km remaining from 160km

Theres some animated discussion in the bunch between the Liquigas and Caisse d'Epargne riders. Pellizotti's team is trying to disrupt the pace a little.

It's really looking like curtains for the bunch; 1'53" is the gap.

Still Caisse d'Epargne and Rabobank leading the chase. The bunch isn't very lined out, either. We really feel there's a tailwind.

Fedrigo and Pellizotti are stil working well together. They have 1:35 with 11.5km to the finish

The road furniture is making things a little dicey for the riders.

This road is very long and straight...the bunch can see the duo up front, but it's still over a minute and a half.

The 10km banner approaches

10km remaining from 160km

Under the 10km to go banner, and it's 1'22. It'll be close...it all depends on how well they work from this point. Certainly thus far Fedrigo and Pellizotti have been fully committed to the cause.

The peloton passes the 10km to go banner. They are 1:16 behind the leaders

9km remaining from 160km

The Caisse d'Epargne team are doing 80% of the work, but Garate is also up there.

8km remaining from 160km

Nocentini is halfway back the bunch, flicking around a roundabout.

7km remaining from 160km

Still 1'05" - looking good...

Gap touches 1:00 with 7.1km to go

Can Pellizotti win his first Tour stage, or will Fedrigo net his second? 

Fedrigo leads, Pellizotti grabs a drink. Might be the last one before the sprint. He'll try to compose himself, focus on the sprint.

The gap is dropping as Caisse d'Epargne string the peloton out even further

Ten Dam sits at the back of the bunch, covered in dust and scrapes. He'll welcome a shower and a new jersey...rest day tomorrow, that'll help.

5km remaining from 160km

Hmmm...this gap is falling quite a bit.. 46" left now..

The 5km to go banner approaches. Fedrigo and Pellizotti have 0:44

Can they do it? Keep your fingers crossed for the duo, who have been out here all day, plugging away..

The peloton passes under the 5km to go. :042 behind

If they don't mess around at all, it's possible...but no finessing, no track stands, no high jinks...has to be completely committed.

4km remaining from 160km

42 seconds...

0:40 at 4km to go

Ouch...Andy Schleck punctured! He was outside the final 3km...he's got to get back on...

3km remaining from 160km

Looking good for the leaders....42"

0:41 was the gap with 3km to go

Give that man a pay rise...despite being away on the climbs, Jens Voigt is thundering along and brings Schleck back up...great ride by Jens..

2km remaining from 160km

Last two clicks...who will win?

The leaders approach 2km to go with a 0:39 gap

Fedrigo is on the front, heading towards the kite...

Pellizotti comes through...no messing around....

The leaders go under the red kite with 36 seconds advantage

1km remaining from 160km

Under the kite, with a decent lead...they can do it...

Pellizotti is sitting on Fedrigo...he wants him to lead it out...

He goes! Pellizotti gets the jump...he's gone for it...

Fedrigo does it! He has too much speed...

Pellizotti jumped going into the final corner, got ahead, but Fedrigo got him back...

Freire takes the sprint for third...

What a finish!

Great ride by Fedrigo, who nets France's third sage win in six road race stages. Leaving out the two races against the clock, France has taken 50% of the stages....very good showing.

That's the second stage win for Bouygues Telecom, too...Thomas Voeckler won earlier in the Tour.

Freire came in ahead of Ivanov (Katusha) and Peter Velits (Milram). And good ride by Nicolas Roche, who netted tenth...

Bouygues Telecom has said that it doesn't want to continue as a main sponsor, so the team is looking for another company to come on board. That's the way to do it.. lots of publicity at the Tour.

No change in the overall standings, so Ag2r keeps yellow on the shoulders of Nocentini. The team did a lot of work today on the climbs, so that's well deserved.

It's a shame the climb was so far from the finish...it really neutered the Tourmalet, it must be said. Even so, we are disappointed that some of the GC contenders didn't at least try to have a go...they are running out of time to try to get back up near the top of the classification.

There's still quite a way to go to Paris, of course, but the next few stages are relatively flat. Perhaps Friday's stage to Colmar might do the trick, as the final first category climb is 20 kilometres from the finish.

There's a rest day tomorrow, of course, so a chance for the riders to put the legs up. They'll still get out on their bikes to keep the legs moving, but will get to sleep in a little, eat and unwind.

Fedrigo notches up another win for France. French riders are having a wonderful Tour. Italian, Rinaldo Nocentini, will hold on to the yellow jersey until Tuesday as the riders have a rest day tomorrow.

Interestingly, we've just got notification of the Astana press conference planned for tomorrow. Once again Lance Armstrong will not speak to the press, leaving it for Alberto Contador to do the talking.

Normally team leaders share it out, so that's unusual.

Anyway, we look forward to hearing what he has to say.

That completes our live coverage for today's stage - thanks for reading, and make sure to come back for the report and full results. The Tour de France has a rest day tomorrow; we won't, though, so you'll get all the latest news here. Merci!

July 12, Stage 9: Saint-Gaudens - Tarbes 160.5km

Stage 9 result:

1 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom 4:05:31
2 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
3 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 0:00:34
4 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha
5 Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram
6 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
7 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence - Lotto
8 Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Agritubel
9 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre - NGC
10 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale

General classification after stage 9:

1 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:06
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:08
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:39
5 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:46
6 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:54
7 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:01:00
8 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:24
9 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:49
10 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:01:54

Click here to view the full results and report

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