The Tour de France finally moves into the mountains. There are six ranked climbs today, and we have our first mountain-top finish. Will we see a change in the GC today? Will one of the candidates for the overall title make a first showing of strength?
Hello and welcome back to the Tour de France. Is everybody ready to climb today? Some of the riders will be looking forward to the upcoming mountains, while for others it will be a mere question of survival. Today's stage isn't so bad though, kind of a warm-up for the big climbs they will face later.
The mob is waiting at the start.... let's go!
The short neutralised section is over and the real stage has started. Immediately the speed picks up and a handful of riders try to get away -- led by Jerome Pineau, the King of the Mountains.
A group of five has established a small lead. More riders are trying to join them. When things calm down a bit, we will see if we can't gather some names.
There are two Germans in the lead group, Danilo Hondo of Lampre and national champion Christian Knees of Milram.
Believe it or not, this stage starts off as flat as can be. Perhaps that is why the first two intermediate sprints come so early? Because after km 40, things change. You won't find a flat centimetre after that.
157km remaining from 165km
Our group is Christian Knees (Milram), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Jerome Pineau (QuickStep), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), and they have 30 seconds on the field.
There are still 187 riders in the race. Eleven riders have had to drop out, from ten different teams. Juan Jose Oroz of Euskaltel was not at the start this morning so they are now two rider down. Saxo Bank, Garmin-Transitions, AG2R, Milram, HTC-Columbia, Omega Pharma-Lotto, BMC, Footon, and Cervelo are all one rider down.
The peloton has given this group its blessing and taken the speed out. So the quintet now has just over a minute.
Dimitri Champion of AG2R doesn't like it, though, and gives chase. The peloton promptly picks up its speed to chase him down and keep him with them.
The weather could play a role today. It is already hot – if not very hot – and there could be thunderstorms at the finish.
147km remaining from 165km
The gap is starting to grow now, up to 1:30.
Knees is the best-placed in this group. He was 44th, 3:18 down. Will he soon be wearing the virtual yellow jersey in addition to his national championship jersey?
The stage started in Tournus, which is hosting its very first Tour de France visit. Last year a stage of the Dauphine Libere started here, though.
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Today's prize is an Easton EC90 Aero wheel set.
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Bradley Wiggins is back at the team car for a visit.
136km remaining from 165km
Meanwhile, the gap has ballooned to six minutes! Of course, we are still in the flat....
The first intermediate sprint of the day went to Hondo, which should be no surprise. Dumoulin and Perez were second and third.
The peloton is giving itself a little R and R in the early part of this stage, and letting the gap grow to 8:02.
Here's the skinny on the day's climbs:
Km 51.5 - Côte de l'Aubépin - 4.9 km climb to 5 % - Category 3
Km 69.0 - Côte des Granges (DESSIA) - 5.9 km climb to 3.5 % - Category 4
Km 84.5 - Côte d'Arinthod - 8.5 km climb to 4.7 % - Category 3
Km 104.0 - Côte du barrage de Vouglans - 6.6 km climb to 5.6 % - Category 2
Km 134.5 - Col de la Croix de la Serra - 15.7 km climb to 4.3 % - Category 2
Km 161.5 - Côte de Lamoura - 14.0 km climb to 5 % - Category 2
They may not be the toughest climbs ever, but they are long ones, from six to 12 kilometres. It is not so much a stage for a classic climber – but that doesn't make it an easy one!
This is one of those classic “you won't win the Tour here, but you can lose the Tour here” stages. As letour.fr puts it, “an initial cull will take place and those who are not on form, who will not reach the front of the race, may already be looking at a Tour that is lost.”
HTC-Columbia's Mark Renshaw does a little stretching on the bike. He won't be pulling any sprints today for Mark Cavendish.
And our daily look back at the various rankings. In the overall rankings, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) continues to lead over Geraint Thomas (Sky) by 20 seconds and Cadel Evans (BMC) by 39 seconds.
In the fight for the green jersey, Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) has a narrow lead of four points over Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), with Robbie McEwen (Katusha) not far back.
The polka dots are still with Jerome Pineau of QuickStep. Matthieu Perget of Caisse d'Epargne is only one point behind him in the mountain rankings, with Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep) third. We expect all of this to change today, though.
Geraint Thomas (Sky) is still best young rider, ahead of Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas).
The fluorescent numbers for best team will be worn today by Saxo Bank, which leads Garmin-Transitions and Sky.
The first climb is still over 3km away, so let's take a look at these five in the lead.
Christian Knees is riding in his fifth Tour de France. He finished in 20th place last year and will be trying to match that this time around. He won the German national title the week before the Tour started. It was also the day that Germany played England in the World Cup, so the organisers took the novel step of shortening the race by a lap so that it would finish before the football started. Knees should make it to Station des Rousses in plenty of time for tonight’s third place playoff…
The group is on its way up the first climb, so let's look at the KOM.
Jerome Pineau has been in flying form this season. He took a great stage win at the Giro d’Italia and was very active in that break with his friend and teammate Sylvain Chavanel on stage two. His best Tour finish is 27th in 2004, but he could be looking to extend his tenure in the King of the Mountains jersey. It’s certainly a very open competition this year.
Samuel Dumoulin took a fine stage win at the 2008 Tour, and has been in decent form this season too winning the Étoile de Bessèges. He joined Cofidis from Ag2r in 2008, but he didn’t burn his bridges with his former team – that year he married Ag2r manager Vincent Lavenu’s daughter Magalie.
They have conquered the first climb of the day, the Cote de l'Aubepin. The points went to Pineau ahead of Knees and Perez.
111km remaining from 165km
The gap is up to 8:30.
Danilo Hondo tested positive for carphedon at the 2005 Vuelta a Murcia and it has taken a while for him to get back to the highest level of the sport. He’s been riding well in support of Alessandro Petacchi thus far, and has a win of his own this year, too, a stage at the Giro di Sardegna.
Ruben Perez is riding in his fourth Tour for Euskaltel. He took a win at the Bayen-Rundfahrt earlier in the season.
Thanks to Barry Ryan for putting those short bios together.
The peloton now crests the first mountain, some 8:33 back.
Congratulations to Maxime Monfort of HTC-Columbia. He became a daddy during yesterday's stage Girlfriend Laure delivered daughter Lou at 15:45. Cyclingnews wishes the young family all the best.
Looking to the end of today's stage, the Station des Rousses is also hosting its first visit.
The leaders are on their way up the day's second climb, the Cote des Granges.
Jürgen van den Broeck of Omega Pharma-Lotto is in a promising 10th place overall going into the mountains. “I look forward to it,” he told Sporza. “Normally I do very well in the transition from flat to mountains.”
95km remaining from 165km
The gap is starting to drop now, down to 7:14.
92km remaining from 165km
We are already at the third ranked climb, and the gap is now under seven minutes.
And we had a crash in the peloton. An FdJ rider went down but is back up and going again.
Yvon Sanquer, Astana team manager, expects Lance Armstrong to do something today. “This should make up some time he lost on the cobbles of the third stage."
Hedwig Kröner talked to Jonathan Vaughters at the start this morning, and he had an interesting prediction. “I can't see a 50 something group arriving together today, maybe more like 30. My bet is Boasson Hagen, this could be for him. And I can also see Geraint Thomas in yellow tonight. He might have more of an impact on this tour than presumed.”
86km remaining from 165km
The third climb is category three, and is longer than the first two, at 8.5km.
And what does Thomas think about Vaughter's prediction? “Oh, that never really crossed my mind but if it happens, it will be pretty special. Definitely anything is possible in this race. Still, it's going to be a tough one. Fabian is a special rider and it will take a lot to take the jersey from him.
I'll be out there thinking about Brad Wiggins but with one km to go , if it suits me, then why not? The stage is pretty tough with the heat and the succession of climbs. The final climb will be tough going because of that.”
How hot is it today? An 8-year-old girl collapsed from the heat at the start. She was taken inisde the Bbox team bus and treated by the team doctor. She is ok again.
It is “really, really hot, about 34° right now,” Kröner tells us, and the road surface should be even hotter.
84km remaining from 165km
Knees goes back to the team car, as the gap continues to fall, now down to 6:35.
BBox is at the head of the peloton. The peloton looks pretty big still, apparently no one has been dropped yet.
A Milram rider has a mechanical problem -- Gerald Ciolek.
He gets quick help and it shouldn't be too hard for the speedy sprinter to get back to the field.
Rolf Aldag of HTC-Columbia thinks a group of “10 to 15 riders” will go up to the finish, and he hopes that the group includes Tony Martin. “That would be ideal, but the rivals all have a lot of respect for Tony,” and thus would be reluctant to let him go.
The lead group has topped the day's third climb, the Cote d'Arinthod, with points going to Pineau ahead of Perez and Dumoulin.
The gap is under six minutes now and still dropping
Robbie McEwen (Katusha) visits the race doctor and gets some aid for the injuries he suffered yesterday when he was knocked down after the finish.
Hedwig Kröner also spoke to Roman Kreuziger (Lampre) at the start this morning “It's the first stage of the Alps, it won't be the decisive one. Today a break will get through. Tomorrow will be harder so the guys as well as myself will save their energy for tomrrow. I have receovered well since my crash early in the race and now I feel good.”
75km remaining from 165km
A nice descent here for the leader, not very steep at all.
Damiano Cunego of Lampre is now 23 minutes down, going into the mountains –but he says it is on purpose. “I’ve lost so much time on purpose because what I want here is to win a stage or more, but I’m not concerned by the overall classification. Any stage win is welcome, he told Cyclignnews. You can read more about it here.
The leaders just zipped through a small village.
67km remaining from 165km
Up, up and further up it goes for the five leaders. This is the Cote du barrage de Vuglans, a 6.6km climb. And it is our first category two climb of the day.
Carl0880 of the Cyclingnews forum takes a statistical look at Cavendish and his win yesterday. Yesterday was his 12th stage win. Cavendish yesterday was 25 years,1 month and 18 days old. This makes him the fourth youngest to 12 stage wins in the Tour.
Francois Faber was the youngest at 23 years 5 months and 14 days (Faber's career was cut short tragically when he was killed in WWI being only 28 years old.
Jean Alavoine was 24 years 3 months and 3 days old.
The Cannibal, Eddy Merckx was 25 years and 23 days old.
For those French fans, Bernard Hinault was 25 years and 8 months old on his 12th stage win.
Robbie McEwen is dropping back. He is at the team car, so maybe he is just picking up some nourishment.
Mark Cavendish is falling off the back of the field. No surprise. Bernhard Eisel is along with him, either to pull him back up or keep him company.
62km remaining from 165km
This long grinding climb is taking its toll on the field. The non-climbers are clustering at the back and we may soon have the gruppetto.
Once again Pineau leads the way over the climb. Perez and Knees take the next points.
The peloton has crested the climb, 3:55 back. Up ahead, Hondo has taken off out of the group on the descent.
Two more climbs to go, both category two.
QuickStep's Jerome Pineau is currently sporting the polka-dot jersey of the King of the Mountains. That could change today, but he hopes to hang on to his fancy shirt a bit longer.
The peloton definitely split on that last climb. But now two larges groups are coming together again. Interestingly enough, Cancellara was in the second group.
Rabobank team doctor Dion van Bommel assures that everyone on the Dutch team is fine going into the mountains today. "It looks good. Everybody has some small pains but apart from that, they are just as good as fit."
The lead group is starting up the fifth cllmb now. But first they have another intermediate sprint, with Hondo ahead of Knees and Perez.
Robbie McEwen has fallen off the back of the field and is making his lonely way now. We hope he can finish and within the time limit. He is already over seven minutes down, while the field is at 3:03.
The gap had dropped to under three minutes. Another group has come up from the rear to join the peloton.
Fabian Cancellara was briefly dropped by the main group, but now he seems to be riding his way back up relatively comfortably.
39km remaining from 165km
Damiano Cunego has bridged across to Voeckler's group. Also present are Cyril Gauthier, Matthew Lloyd and Mathieu Perget.
37km remaining from 165km
Up front, Pineau and Hondo have managed to distance Knees.
Pineau and Hondo approaching the top of the climb. Gauthier and Voeckler very keen to drive the chase group behind.
Cancellara looks to have blown definitively. He's off the back with George Hincapie and looks like he's struggling now. The bunch isn't moving particularly quickly so he might get back on on the descent, but will surely struggle on the final climb.
33km remaining from 165km
Knees has now been caught by the Voeckler group.
He tries to hang on to that group.
Sprinter Hondo is doing quite well on these climbs.
The CN team drove up the final climb. It's severe for the first few kms with at least three or four switchbacks. However it levels out after that and isn't that steep from there on in. The last few kms are also downhill.
31km remaining from 165km
The peloton has fallen back slightly, as the two leaders cross the fifth mountain.
Knees is still with the first chase group, and looking better again.
The peloton now is 2:15 behind the leaders. Will they be able t0 make it up?
RadioShack moves into the lead. Cancellara has fallen off the back of the field but only by a few metres. He ought to be back in the thick of it on the descent.
So far no signs of the thunderstorms we had been threatened with. Instead of that we have lots of sun.
Pineau and Hondo descend, taking turns and staying together.
25km remaining from 165km
Only 25 km to go for the two leaders.
An HTC-Columbia rider attacks out of the pack -- Kanstantsin Siutsou.
The gap back to the yellow jersey s now 2:42. We now think that one of these first two groups will come through.
They are all flying down the descent now.
18km remaining from 165km
Over 2:45 back to the peloton now.
Pineau has successfully defended his polka-dots today.
17km remaining from 165km
The Voeckler group is now a minute back. Chavanel doesnÄt like tha, and takes off. As does PIneau, up ahead. A clever team action.
Pineau is now alne in the lead, and has a nice lead already.
Cunego tries to attack out of the Voeckler group.
Chavanel is now by HOndo, and in fact zips on past him.
16km remaining from 165km
It is now 3:05 back to the peloton.
Armstrong in the front row of the chasing field. Now George HIncapie movs into the lead and forces the tempo.
Pineau still alone in the lead. He can practically taste this stage win.
Edvald Boasson Hagen had been named as a favourite for this stage, bu he has nw dropped off the back, as has David Millar. And Oscar Freire.
15km remaining from 165km
It is now three minutes back to the field.
Chavanel will soon be with Pineau. Which of the two will take the win?
Cunego attacks out of the first chase group.
Chavanel has now passed Pineau.
Voeckler hs jumped too and is together with Cunego. They meet Pineau.
And promptly leave him behind. Well, he has secure his KOM jersey for another day.
Voigt is the next to fall back.
The field is now exploded, with more and more riders dribbling off the back.
12km remaining from 165km
Even Andreas Klöden is out of the field now.
Gerdemann and Siutsou had been ahead of the peloton, but are back in it now.
Chavanel has 28 seconds on his nearest chasers.
Attacks out of the Voeckler group with Footon's Valls Ferri leading the way.
Chavanel is riding not only for the stage win but also looking to reclaim the yellow jersey. He was only 1:01 behind Cancellara coming into this stage.
Geraint Thomas can say goodbye to his top placing. He just fell off the back. Astana is pushing the tempo, and he fell victim.
Chavanel hs 35 seconds on Valls Ferri, and 50 seconds on the Voeckler group. The peloton is at 2:10.
The peloton is about 35 riders strong at this point.
Doesn't look like Chavanel will get yellow, though. Evans is in the peloton, and he was only 34 seconds behind Cancellara. The Swis rider is back in a group with HIncapie at 5:47.
Valls Ferri continues to get closer to Chavanel.
Nearly six minutes now to Cancellara. And Valls Ferri is losing seconds as well.
Nearly seven minutes for Cancellara.
5km remaining from 165km
Saxo Bank has moved to the head of the tiny peloton.
Chavanel has less than two km to the mountain ranking, from there it is about 4km to the finish line.
The peloton has now caught Pineau.
Many of the top name are in this reduced-size peloton: Evans, Armstrong, Schleck, Sanchez, Contador, Wiggins, Le Mevel.
The Voeckler group crosses the summit 1.35 behind Chavanel. The yellow jersey is over eight minutes down.
4km remaining from 165km
It will be easier for Chavanel in these last four kilometres.
Valls Ferri is nearly a minute back, so Chavanel ought to be sure for his second stage win.
Pineau off the back of the field.
Chavanel was first over the last climb, followed by Valls Ferri, with Garate third.
Nine and half minutes to the yellow jersey. The chase field with the favourites is now racing along, hoping to drop one another, no doubt.
Chavanel races in towards the finish line.
He approaches the finis after four horus and 22 minutes.
The Frenchman takes his second stage win. What a Tour this is for him!
Valls Ferri is the next over the line, at 57 seconds down.
Juanma Garate of Rabobank had jumped from the chase group to take third at 1:27 and finish off the podium.
The favourites' field rolls aross the line not quite two minutes down.
It will be a while before Cancellara crosses the line, and even longer for Robbie McEwen.
Pineau finally comes into the finish. He rejoices, too, though, since the polka-dot jersey is his for another day.
It was indeed the yellow jersey for Chavanel! He has 1:25 on second-placed Evans, with Ryder Hesjedal third at 1:32 and Schleck fourth at 1:55.
That's all, folks! Another exciting stroll in the mountains today. And tomorrow they are even bigger! Be sure to join us then, and thanks for reading along today.
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 4:22:52
2 Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Footon-Servetto 0:00:57
3 Juan Manuel Gárate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank 0:01:27
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 0:01:40
5 Mathieu Perget (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne 0:01:40
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:40
7 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom 0:01:47
8 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions 0:01:47
9 Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:01:47
10 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Footon-Servetto 0:01:47
General classification after stage 7
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 33:01:23
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:01:25
3 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions 0:01:32
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:55
5 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:02:17
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