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Tour de France 2010: Stage 15

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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews’ live coverage from stage 15 of the Tour de France from Pamiers to Bagnères-de-Luchon. We're still in Pyrenees and we've got another exciting stage ahead of us.

The Tour's Pyrenean centenary is very much in mind today on a stage that features the Portet d'Aspet and Ares passes 100 years on from their appearance in the race's first ever high mountains day.

The Port de Balès, is a 19.5-kilometre climb that averages a 6.2% grade, with the final 10 kilometres at 8.5% which should show who is the strongest in this year's Tour. After yesterday's exploits from Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador the two riders sitting at the top of GC will be mindful not pull the same stunt again. Giving someone like Samuel Sanchez a lead at the top of the final climb could be a huge mistake.

Right now the riders are signing-on in the start village. A lot of nervous faces in the bunch as some of the riders gather on the start line. It's a day of survival for a lot of the riders today. With 14 stages of racing in their legs, the crashes, the heat and the climbs, a lot of riders will be hoping for a relaxed start to this morning's stage.

Let's have a look at the top twenty as things currently stand:

Big winners from yesterday were Menchov and Sanchez, who clawed a few seconds out of Schleck and Contador. Gesink, Rodriguez, Van den Broeck and Sastre also put in good rides. However the biggest winner has to be Riblon: a fantastic ride from the Frenchman who almost pulled out of the race the day before. You can read his comments on winning a stage of the Tour, right here.

187km remaining from 187km

The bunch have a 4th category climb at the 30km mark - the Carla-Bayle. It could be a good launchpad for a break.

End of the neutral zone. We're officially racing now.

Let's look at the profile of the Port de Balès, while we wait for the riders to wake up.

A few riders trying their luck, with attacks but nothing has stuck so far. The bunch are still all together.

Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step and Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions have jumped clear of the bunch. The duo have around ten seconds on the bunch. Pineau, of course, will be on the hunt for vital KOM points.

Pineau obviously too dangerous to let go and the bunch have reeled him back in - along with Van Summeren. Everyone back together.

Despite the severeness of yesterday's stage the bunch aren't hanging around today and the pace has been flat out. A few early casualties include Robbie McEwen, who has already been dropped. The Aussie sprinter is in for a long, hard day.

McEwen has had a torrid Tour so far. Crashes, bad luck, allergies have all played a part. On one stage a photographer walked out in front of him after the finish line (same day Barredo and Costa decided to throw bike parts at each other) and caused him to crash. Still, he's hanging in there and deserves a lot of credit.

167km remaining from 187km

Astana split the bunch there for a few minutes and Saxo Bank and Rabobank had to chase. Everyone is back together again now.

Still lots of riders trying to make a move from the bunch but nothing is being allowed to stick.

Now this is interesting. Hushovd and Petacchi have attacked the bunch - along with a few other riders - and they have a small gap on the bunch. The battle for the green jersey could go down to the wire this year.

The riders will climb the Portet d'Aspet this year. One of the most famous climbs in cycling and in the Tour, first used in 1910.

That didn't last long, did it? The bunch don't like the look of the break and chase them down. Everyone is back together we've raced 30km.

Going back to the Port de Balès. As mentioned it was used in the 2007 for the first time. That day Kim Kirchen reached the top first. That day in 2007 Vino won the stage but was later stripped of the win. Kim Kirchen finished in second. Vino was sent packing in Pau the very next day. We all know why.

Here are the results from the climb:

152km remaining from 187km

147km remaining from 187km

They are really moving along today, covering 47.5 km in the first hour.  What's the hurry, guys? 

All the main sprinters are near the front as Lampre set the tempo for their man Petacchi.

Well not quite the result we were expecting from the sprint, but there you go:

A quick shot of Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo in the bunch. He's had a poor Tour so far. This was a great chance for him to step up after some solid rides in the last couple of Tours but he's not quite been on the pace so far in the race and he was dropped early yesterday. Roman aside, who has been your flop of the Tour so far? Let me know at twitter.com/dnlbenson.

129km remaining from 187km

But the attacks are coming again and a large group is forming, around 10 seconds ahead of the main bunch. The green and the KOM jersey are both in the break.

Again, the bunch look up, don't like the contents of the break and chase them down. I think Julian Dean needs to attack. Everyone likes Julian Dean.

Martin Elmiger is not Julian Dean, but he has attacked and he does have a small lead over the bunch.

Four riders are in pursuit of Martin Elmiger, with Sky leading the chase behind. The Brits could be looking to get riders in breaks today. Yesterday it was Thomas.

Earlier I asked who the big flops of the Tour had been so far. Here are some of your answers:

Sigh, Martin Elmiger has been caught.

A few more Tweets on the flops of this year's Tour:

116km remaining from 187km

After giving us your Tour flops it's only fair we ask you to send us your favourite Tour success stories. Was it Riblon? Cav winning again? Let me know twitter.com/dnlbenson

Vogondy has around 10 seconds on the bunch.

98km remaining from 187km

I asked for you to tweet your favourite moments of the Tour so far. Here are some of your answers:

Vandborg and Roberts are now trying their luck and they've got a small group behind them as Radioshack lead the bunch.

We're coming up to the Col de Portet d'Aspet. Fabio Casartelli died on the descent of the climb in 1995 so today has a very special meaning for everyone in cycling. Our thoughts go out to his family.

95km remaining from 187km

Not sure about this one: Biggest Tour success:

90km remaining from 187km

88km remaining from 187km

Our man Pete Cossins spoke to Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Eisakdi) at the start in Pamiers.

Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) belieives his main rival for the polka-dot jersey is now Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).

It's a fairly short climb, just under 6km but it could see the gap go out to another couple of minutes.

In his blog in the French newspaper L'Aujourd'hui, Christophe Moreau predicted that a break would go clear during the stage and that Alberto Contador will continue their game of poker.

The Saxo Bank boys are on the front of the bunch now but he gap is going out further. It's close to five minutes now.

Cunego, Evans and Contador climbing alongside each other in the bunch.

1km to the summit for the break. No real specialist climbers in there but a few good all-rounders.

83km remaining from 187km

Back in the bunch and Cavendish has a problem with his bike and has to stop as the break crest the top of the climb.

The bunch aren't going that quickly, so Cavendish should get back on without much fuss.

And we have a special guest joining us for a bit of live coverage, Mike Creed from Team Type1.

DB: How are things going for you? 

77km remaining from 187km

DB: Strong break today, do you think they could make it to the finish like Riblon did yesterday?

Saxo have just led the bunch over the climb, Andy Schleck close to the front, so he's not on bottle duty for today at least.

DB: You dont think they'll wait for the Tourmalet?

DB: And who is your money on for yellow?
MC: Lance, I'm a patriot.
DB: Haha

The bunch sweep passed the Fabio Casartelli. Stuart O'grady leads the peloton and pays his respects as he goes by.

DB: On the subject of Armstrong, how would you asses his Tour so far?

DB: You rode with Armstrong for two years. Fond memories:

66km remaining from 187km

The break, as you would expect at this stage, are working well together. Everyone seems to be pulling their weight as Voeckler gives each rider a look and a few words as they come through. He really, really wants a stage in this year's race. The French have had a good Tour but he's in the national champs jersey and he'd love to crown that with a stage win.

DB: Okay, give us your biggest flop and biggest surprise of this year's race.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck has a puncture, a teammate is with him so he should be able to get back on quickly. The bunch are still just rolling along as the gap creeps up towards ten minutes.

Ballan is worth watching in the break. He's not the best climber here but he's been far more active this year in the Tour compared to last year.

DB: What did you think of the Contador/Schleck antics from yesterday?

MC: It was funny to see that they attack each other out the back.

The race is now on the Col des Ares, Samuel Sanchez is back with his team car and getting a bit help with one of his pedals.

The leaders have just gone over the top of the climb. The gap at 9.28

For those of you playing our Easton-Cyclingnews Wheelset a Day Giveaway during the Tour de France, here is your trivia question for the day: Who is the youngest rider to ever win the Tour?
For a hint, click here

DB: Contador's tactics, if you were him how would you play things?

55km remaining from 187km

DB: Final question for you Mike. Give us your Paris podium

That was Michael Creed, from Team Type1.

50km remaining from 187km

By the way, the CN crew were at the start this morning. Here are some photos

46km remaining from 187km

The break are being given quite a lot of room here. Not surprising as there aren't any GC danger men. Van Summeren is highest placed, but he's around 30 mins down on yellow.

Some of the break should survive until the finish though. They've got close to 11 minutes and there's 43km remaining.

Schleck now moves closer to the front and has a quick word with one of his teammates. He's offered a gel, turns it down and just sits in the bunch. Is today the day Schleck goes all out for the win?

We've not seen anything from Astana yet. They sat on the front for a long time yesterday but they're trying a new tactic today.

Onto the climb now for the break, the Port de Bales. They have 10.52 on the bunch

40km remaining from 187km

Saxo Bank still on the front of the bunch controlling things in the bunch. The break is of no concern to them. All they're concerned with is their leader and his rivals.

Guys from the break dropping back now and getting bottles.

The lower slopes are not that hard but things will start to get very hard soon. It's such a long climb.

Voeckler comes to the front, takes a turn and then looks around. Van Summeren does the same. There's time to play around here for the break.

There are some quality riders in the break but no real stand-out climber. Should make it quite exciting once we get to the really steep sections.

Saxo are upping the pace now and the gap is under 10 minutes but we have a crash

Three riders down Mayoz is one, Geslin and I think that's Lancaster.

That looked like a hard fall. All of them are back up but Geslin has to sit again. He's up now and looks okay to continue.

O'grady, who has been on the front since what seems like 32BC is still there. The Australian will keep the pace high until the really steep slopes.

Riblon and Casar have both been dropped by the peloton.

They're not the only one, the Bus is forming now and a lot of riders are starting to sit up.

34km remaining from 187km

McEwen is dropped and sits up with Hushovd.

Cancellara another rider dropped.

Cavendish, Millar also sitting up now.

33km remaining from 187km

Voigt now on the front of the bunch as we see the break starting to struggle now on the steeper sections.

O'Grady sits up. His job done for the day, but the break are losing time rapidly now. It's 7.32

Groups forming all over the road as Saxo continue to shell more and more riders.

Contador is near the front now, he's on the wheel of Schleck  and there are still around 60 or so riders in the main bunch. That'll change once they hit the really steep sections.

31km remaining from 187km

31km remaining from 187km

Ivanov won a stage last year.

Narrow roads on the climb now as Van Summeren continues to set the pace.

Charteau is going backwards now too.

30km remaining from 187km

Schleck has three men left and he's making them set a strong pace. The bunch down to around 40 riders now.

Still 8km for the leaders on the road.

Vandborg dropped again as Voeckler jumps.

Van Summeren and Ballan are trying to get over to the Frenchman.

Has the Bbox rider gone to early? there's still a long way to go until the summit.

Hincapie also getting dropped.

28km remaining from 187km

Le Mevel is dropped from the main field now too.

Still nothing from the major favourites who are still waiting to strike.

Voeckler grabs a bottle. He's still 5.41 on the bunch so it's still touch and go at this point.

Roche has a puncture and has to stop and get a wheel. Not the fastest change but he's back on and chasing.

Schleck looks back at the damage being done by his team. Contador is still there. Armstrong still there, Sastre and Evans still there.

27km remaining from 187km

26km remaining from 187km

Roche working his way back to the leaders, passing Wiggins as he goes. Good ride by the AG2R rider but bad luck getting a flat when he did.

Sorensen is setting a very fast pace. Still four or five Astana guys in the yellow jersey group.

5km until the summit for what's left of the bunch as Evans and Sastre slip to the back. Ballan looks like he's cooked.

Contador sits on Schleck's wheel, will he attack as soon as Sorensen pulls off?

Gesink, Menchov, Basso, Sanchez all still with the main group.

Voeckler isn't the most graceful of climbers but he's doing a job. Should be safe for a stage win.

Vino and Van den Broeck sharing the space behind Contador's wheel, who in turn is still sitting on Schleck's back wheel.

The yellow jersey group is down to around 20 men now. A couple of Astana men dropped.

24km remaining from 187km

24km remaining from 187km

Armstrong with Chavanel, both men going backwards.

Levi, Ryder, Gesink, all dropped too as Schleck starts to turn the screw again.

23km remaining from 187km

Van den Broeck needs to help with the pace setting.

Voeckler still well ahead of Basso,

All back together.

Gadret is allowed to ride away. None of the favourites want to take it up.

Gesink goes to his radio, asking for advice perhaps.

Schleck attacks. He's lost his chain and Contador attacks!

Schleck is shaking, he's off his bike! He' can't fix it.

Contador now with Sanchez and Menchov as Schleck is trying to chase. That was crazy.

Schleck attacked, Vino followed, chain came off and Contador went passed with other riders. SChleck is coming back so I think Contador and co have settled down. Perhaps he didn't know that SChleck's chain came off.

Contador is looking back but he's probably got 40 seconds on Schleck who is now with Ryder and Gesink and co.

Schleck and Broeck and Vino and Levi are chasing.

17km remaining from 187km

Schleck powering up the climb he's just 12 seconds down on COntador now. He's coming back.

16km remaining from 187km

Schleck is taking huge risks, only Van den Broeck with him.

14km remaining from 187km

Very technical descent for the first few kilometers.

Contador is just following Sanchez, Menchov behind.

The gap is maybe less than 20 seconds, so Schleck is doing a good job right now.

11km remaining from 187km

The gap is going out slightly to around 30 seconds.

Van den Broeck just on Schleck's wheel who is descending very well. The Belgian comes through on a small flat section and helps with the chase.

Contador comes through and takes a turn, giving Sanchez a break.

Gesink leading a group with Gadret, Levi and Ryder further back.

6km remaining from 187km

Just five left for the lone leader who is still taking huge risks he's doing a great job.

You're asking about Roche on Twitter. Sorry no news atm.

4km remaining from 187km

It's going to be win number 5 for the French in the Tour this year.

Contador sticking with Sanchez with everything he's got. Menchov still following. Andy Schleck is dropping Vino on the descent.

The gap between yellow and Contador is over 30 seconds now. 34 in fact but here comes Voeckler, he's going to take the win.

This really is a great Tour for the French.

He kisses his jersey as he crosses the line.

2km remaining from 187km

Perez, then Ballan for second and third.

Mondory getting in the way but Menchov is dragging them to the line.

Now Sanchez take it over. Now Contador.

Here comes Schleck. He's out of the saddle, the jersey is gone. Contador will wear yellow.

Gesink, Ryder, Levi, Gadret come over., ,Then a group with Kloden and Armstrong.

What an incredible stage. What an incredible result.

So Contador now leads Andy Schleck by 8 seconds. Dramatic scenes at the Tour today. Tune in tomorrow for another dose of Tour action.

1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 4:44:52
2 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:01:20
3 Aitor Perez Arrieta (Spa) Footon-Servetto
4 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:50
5 Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Milram
6 Francesco Reda (Ita) Quick Step
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana
8 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
9 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank
10 Brian Vandborg (Den) Liquigas-Doimo

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 72:50:42
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:08
3 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:02:00
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 0:02:13
5 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:03:39
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:05:01
7 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack 0:05:25
8 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:05:45
9 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:07:12
10 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions 0:07:51

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