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Live coverage

Tour de France 2010: Stage 9

Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage nine of the Tour de France.

After a well-earned rest day at Morzine, the convicts of the road saddle up for another tough day in the Alps.

Today’s stage is 204.5km from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and includes the climbs of the Col de la Colombière, the Col des Saisies and the Col de la Madeleine.
 

204km remaining from 204km

The flag has just dropped and Sylvain Chavanel is straight off the front. Incredible!

Like Sunday's stage, it's looking like it's going to be an aggressive start to the day. Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank) has led the chase up to him. Damiano Cunego is there too.

It's all come back together, but the bunch is strung out and the attacks will keep coming until a suitable break goes clear. Damiano Cunego seems very keen to get up the road.

Pierrick Fedrigo is having a dig on the front of the bunch now with Jerome Pineau in his wheel. No shortage of riders looking to slip away early on today.

198km remaining from 204km

The peloton is lined out as we pass through Les Gets and gaps are appearing at the front. Thor Hushovd is on the front now with Pineau on his wheel. The green and polka dot jersey trying hard to get up the road.

Hushovd is pushing hard on the short descent to the foot of the 4th category climb of the Côte de Châtillon (2.1km at 3.9%). He'll be hoping he can get clear ahead of the intermediate sprint that comes just afterwards.

Meanwhile Andriy Grivko (Astana) has to stop for a wheel change.

Twelve man break now formed on the front. Jerome Pineau (QuickStep), Thos Hushovd (Cevelo), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Cyril Gautier (Bbox), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) , Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Christophe Moreau (Caisse d'Epargne) are among the riders involved.

Interesting to see three Caisse d'Epargne men in this breakaway. Moreau, Luis Leon Sanchez and Gutierrez are three men well capable of lasting the distance on a day like today.

189km remaining from 204km

The break's lead has stretched out to 50 seconds. There may be some disagreement among BMC, Saxo Bank and Astana as to who ought to chase.

Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r), Anthony Charteau (Bbox) and Johannes Frohlinger (Milram) are also in this breakaway. There are some strong riders in this escape. If they continue to work well together it could go a long, long way.

A couple of Euskaltel-Euskadi riders trying to get across with Damiano Cunego on their wheel. They're desperate to get on to the break, which is now 1:16 clear and on the Cote de Chatillon.

Luis Leon Sanchez is on the front now and the breakaway is motoring well.

186km remaining from 204km

Over the top of the day's first climb, and Jens Voigt leads Sandy Casar over the top. It's a surprise that Jerome Pineau didn't sprint there. Meanwhile Robbie McEwen is struggling at the back of the peloton. The pace is high again early on today, it could be a long day for McEwen.

Correction. Pineau did in fact lead over the Cote de Chatillon ahead of Voigt and then dropped back. Our pictures picked up the break just after they'd crested the summit. Apologies for the confusion.

Thor Hushovd is driving the break now towards the day's first intermediate sprint. They have 1:30 on the peloton.

The trio of Robert Hunter (Garmin-Transitions), Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack) and Christophe Kern (Cofidis) are trying to bridge to the escapees. BMC are on the front of the bunch but don't seem to have things under control.

179km remaining from 204km

Hushovd goes through the sprint uncontested and thanks his companions with a thumbs up. That's another down payment of six points on the green jersey.

Luis León Sánchez is a dangerous man for BMC to allow get up the road. He's only 5:03 down on the general classification and is solid on all terrains.

The breakaway's lead is approaching 2:30. Good to see Sandy Casar in the break today, he's always aggressive in the Tour, especially on stages like this one.

The break are on the lower slopes of the 1st category Col de la Colombière (16.5km at 6.7%).

The Col de la Colombière featured in last year’s Tour on the road to Le Grand Bornand. Fränk Schleck was first over the top and won the stage, but the climb itself was more noteworthy for Alberto Contador’s attack that distanced Andreas Kloden from the break, and led to an even frostier atmosphere than usual at the Astana dinner table that night…

The bunch now takes the sharp right turn onto the Col de la Colombiere. The gap is now 2:50.

Christophe Moreau is riding on the front now. Caisse d'Epargne are keen to make use of their numbers up front, and Moreau doubtless wants to do something special in his last Tour de France.

172km remaining from 204km

Charteau and Pineau pedalling smoothly on the front now.

BMC are on the front of the peloton, but the tempo they are setting is very steady.

171km remaining from 204km

Cadel Evans is in yellow today of course. The Australian spoke about his BMC team at the start. “We’re very comfortable, we’ve got one of the most experienced yellow jersey defenders in the peloton in George Hincapie. It’s not going to be easy for us but that’s what we’re here for and that’s what we’re prepared for, so we’ll see.”

David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) is off the back of the peloton now and not looking at all well. Meanwhile Damiano Cunego is back getting some on the move adjustments made by his mechanic. He'll be disappointed not to have made it in to the morning's break.

Robbie McEwen is off the back of the peloton, but is still just about in contact.

169km remaining from 204km

Vinokourov (Astana) attacks and Sylvain Chavanel is the first to react and Christopher Horner is across too. No response from BMC.

The last time Vinokourov rode the Tour in 2007, he tested positive for blood doping.

10.5km to the top of the Colombiere for the break. Luis Leon Sanchez is setting the pace on the front.

Meanwhile there's a flurry of attacking out of the bunch behind. Janez Brajkovic has jumped across to Vinokourov, Chavanel and Horner.

Astana and RadioShack are sending men up the road to put BMC under pressure. Let's not forget that Saxo Bank are already represented up ahead by Jens Voigt. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) is in difficulty at the back of the peloton.

167km remaining from 204km

Jerome Pineau is getting his radio adjusted by a mechanic. The pace is picking up hugely in the bunch now and gaps are appearing everywhere. It's another very tough first hour of racing today.

Now Cunego has attacked from the front of the peloton. He clearly sees today as a big opportunity to win a stage, especially now that the gap to the break is coming down. 2:15 is the advantage now.

Cunego has got across to Popovych and Robbie Hunter, with Sergio Paulinho (RadioShack) on his wheel. He jumped just after Vinokourov had been reeled back in. RadioShack are very aggressive today, trying to put BMC under pressure.

Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) is also in the Cunego group.

Cunego and Paulinho are working hard to get across to the group in front.

164km remaining from 204km

Former World Champion Alessandro Ballan is setting the rhythm on the front of the peloton for BMC. Cadel Evans is looking comfortable in yellow about ten riders back.

Jose Ivan Gutierrez is tapping out a decent tempo for the lead group, resplendent in the red and yellow of Spanish champion.

Hushovd has been dropped by the lead group. He's already 35 seconds back, but he'll be happy with his morning's work regardless.

162km remaining from 204km

There are a lot of tired riders at the back of the bunch. Going up a mountain like this is a tough proposition at any time, but early in the stage straight after the rest day is quite a shock to the system.

Frohlinger has lost contact with the lead group. He had been looking uncomfortable for the last couple of kilometres.

Yaroslav Popovych now off the back of the peloton.

160km remaining from 204km

There's been a lot of movement on this climb of the Colombiere. The break are 2:48 clear of the peloton, and have Rin Taaramae (Cofidis) and Cunego chasing them 1:20 behind. Meanwhile Jean Gadret (Ag2r) and Seeldrayers are trying to work across further down the climb. Frohlinger and Hushovd are falling back towards the bunch.

1km to the top of the col for the men in front. Jerome Pineau will be looking to pick up the points here.

Lance Armstrong is near the front of the peloton with his jersey fully unzipped. The pace has steadied back there again. The break's lead is back up to three minutes.

Cunego and Taaramae have passed Frohlinger. Cunego is riding strongly today, if he descends well he should make it up to the leaders.

158km remaining from 204km

Christophe Moreau jumps to take the points at the top of the Col de la Colombiere ahead of Jerome Pineau. Perhaps Moreau is hoping to make an impact in the King of the Mountains in his final Tour.

Cunego and Taaramae crest the summit 40 seconds down.

Hushovd is over the top of the Colombiere with Gadret and Seeldrayers.

The peloton goes over the top just behind, with BMC setting the pace on the front.

As the race sweeps down the spectacular descent of the Colombiere, there should just be enough time to update you about some of the riders who abandoned the Tour during the rest day at Morzine.

Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) did not start this morning. Contrary to the rumours that Karpets' controversial pre-Tour decision to shear his trademark mullet was the reason for a sub-par showing on the road to Morzine, it has emerged that the big Russian rode the entire first week with a broken hand. Incredible. Karpets went down heavily on the stage to Spa last week, but x-rays that evening showed no damage. Further scans on the rest day revealed the true extent of his injury and the Katusha man is out of the Tour.

150km remaining from 204km

The three Caisse d'Epargne men - Moreau, Gutierrez and Sanchez - are trying to keep the speed up on this descent. Their lead over the peloton of the main overall contenders is 3:13.

The youngest rider in this year’s Tour is another non-starter today. Fabio Felline (Footon-Servetto) fell early on Sunday, but the twenty-year-old was only ever going to ride as far as the rest day for in any case. “I started without objectives,” Felline told La Gazzetta dello Sport, “I just started with the idea that it would be better to ride ten good days perhaps even with a breakaway, than three weeks slogging to finish half an hour down every day.”

Felline’s story is an incredible one. This time last year he was just finishing school. Part of his final examinations was to submit a short dissertation. His chosen topic? The history of the Tour de France, in French. On submission, his teacher laughed and asked him, “And when are you going to ride this blasted Tour?”

Surely not even Felline himself could have believed it would come so soon.
 

Thor Hushovd has been absorbed by the peloton. Mission accomplished for the big Norwegian today. Six more points in the bank for the green jersey, now he'll just get to the finish as steadily as possible.

147km remaining from 204km

Back at the front Damiano Cunego has made contact with the break. Rin Taaramae also worked across with the former Giro winner, while Johannes Frohlinger managed to tag along on the descent too and make his way back up to the leaders.

144km remaining from 204km

Simon Gerrans (Sky) was another victim of the rest day. He fell early on during stage eight and broke his arm. He then broke the news on Twitter. “Just had a scan that confirmed what I feared, I broke my arm when I crashed after 7km of yesterday’s stage. My 2010 TdF is finished.” He also added, "What's harder than racing an Alpine stage of the TdF? Racing an Alpine stage of the TdF with a broken arm." Hard to argue with that. www.cyclingnews.com/news/gerrans-out-of-tour-de-france

The lead group are working well together in the valley ahead of the Col des Aravis and their lead is stretching out towards four minutes. They currently have 3:45.

141km remaining from 204km

The breakaway group are now at the foot of the Col des Aravis. It's category 2 climb, 7.6km with an average gradient of 5.9%.

Damiano Cunego is now getting his radio adjusted on the move.It's a complicated operation fitting it back into the pocket in his shorts, but the mechanic has - finally - managed it.

The peloton has just started the climb of the Aravis, a shade over four minutes behind the twelve men up front.

137km remaining from 204km

Johannes Frohlinger may have been dropped on the Colombiere, but he's looking a lot more comfortable on the shallower slopes of the Aravis. He's still up in the lead group.

Frohlinger might well be putting himself in the shop window for next season. Latest reports suggest that Milram will struggle to find a sponsor for 2011.

135km remaining from 204km

BMC are still setting the tempo of the peloton on the front for Cadel Evans. The pace isn't too high right now, but we can expect some fireworks over the Saisies and Madeleine later in the stage.

It's no surprise to see Sandy Casar up the road on a day like today. He finished second on the stage to Bourg-Saint-Maurice during last year's Tour. The Frenchman had particular reason to feel hard done by that day, as it was subsequently revealed that the victor Mikel Astarloza had tested positive for EPO before the Tour.

107km remaining from 204km

Jerome Pineau leads over the top of the Aravis just ahead of Moreau.

Pineau was a little unhappy that Moreau jumped him for the points on the Colombiere. They seemed to have reached an agreement on this climb however. The break's lead is now almost five minutes.

The break is now drilling down the descent of the Aravis. Luis Leon Sanchez is closing in on being virtual leader on the road.

Luis Leon Sanchez was 5:03 behind this morning.

125km remaining from 204km

Sanchez is just about the virtual leader on the road. The break is still pressing hard. The next climb on the menu is the Col des Saisies, and that should shed the break of a few riders.

While one Australian is enjoying life in the yellow jersey today, another man from Down Under is having a tougher time of it in this Tour after crashing in week one. Robbie McEwen was off the back earlier on today, but he hasn't lost his sense of humour. He had this to say on Twitter before today's stage: "Just to make todays tough day that bit harder-730am wake up call for UCI blood control. I need the extra sleep & blood but they rob me of it."

121km remaining from 204km

The trio of Caisse d'Epargne men up front are pushing things on in front now. They're trying to get Sanchez a yellow jersey tonight.

Speaking of the yellow jersey, it's worth noting that Rinaldo Nocentini is very active in this breakaway, which has just started the climb of the Col des Saisies. The Italian had eight days in yellow in last year's Tour. He started this season in fine form, but then broke his tibia, fibula and several bones in his foot in a crash at the end of February. He returned to racing just in time for the Tour de Suisse, and was delighted just to make the start of this year's Tour.

The breakaway is still working together now on the slopes of the 1st category Col des Saisies, which climbs for 14.4km at an average gradient of 5.1%. BMC are still setting the pace on the front of the peloton.

118km remaining from 204km

Green jersey Thor Hushovd is now suffering off the back of the peloton. It's no surprise, he put in a huge effort this morning to hoover up those sprint points.

Rin Taaramae is riding very strongly today. The young Estonian has been off the front at every opportunity in the Tour so far and no less a figure than Bernard Hinault has tipped him as a stage winner this year. If this break goes the distance he'll certainly be a major factor in the finale.

Andy Schleck is looking composed near the front of the peloton. He laid down a serious marker as to his Tour ambitions on Sunday's stage. It will be interesting to see how Alberto Contador has processed that psychological blow. The gap at the finish was only ten seconds, but the Astana leader will surely be concerned that he couldn't respond to the acceleration in the finale.

The breakaways slow as they pass through the feed zone halfway up the Saisies. They've ridden very intelligently so far. There's a long descent and valley between the top of the Saisies and the foot of the Madeleine, it makes sense for them to stay together for that, it will increase their chances of staying clear.

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 was the Lanterne Rouge in last year's Tour?

For a hint, click here.

Enter your answer in our contest page here.


Today's prize is an Easton EC90 SL wheel set. Click here for information about the prize
 

113km remaining from 204km

The gap to the breakaway has been reduced a little now to 4:32 and Luis Leon Sanchez is no longer maillot jaune on the road.

George Hincapie is on the front of the peloton now in the stars and stripes of American champion. The man from Queens has been in the news recently as the investigation into the US Postal team gathers momentum.

110km remaining from 204km

Damiano Cunego has barely climbed out of the saddle all the way up this climb. He's hunched over the bars in that familiar style of his and he looks like a man who might be trying to conserve a bit of energy for an acceleration on the Madeleine. That's if the break gets that far of course. The gap is coming down slightly.

108km remaining from 204km

Cadel Evans is wearing a yellow helmet today to match his jersey. The Australian has now worn the leader's jersey in each of the last three major tours. He also held the pink jersey at this year's Giro and had a spell in the lead at last year's Vuelta. In the intervening period, he's also won the World Championship Road Race, Fleche Wallone and a stage in the Giro. In this age of specialisation, Evans really is a throwback to a different era, when the big guns raced from March to October.

107km remaining from 204km

Back at the front of the race, Jerome Pineau leads over the Saisies from Moreau and takes some more points towards his King of the Mountains jersey. It looks like Pineau should have at least another day with the polka dot paintjob on his bike.

Fabian Cancellara slips his chain at the rear of the peloton and the France Television cameras are immediately trained on him. And no, he hasn't changed his bike...

Andy Schleck drops back to his team car to take a bidon from Bjarne Riis. While Schleck seems destined for the new Luxembourg team along with his brother Frank, Riis yesterday announced that he has found new sponsors for his Saxo Bank squad for next year.

The peloton is over the top of the Col des Saisies now, 4:39 down on the breakaway group.

2008 World Champion Alessandro Ballan is leading the bunch down the descent of the Saisies in the service of 2009 champion Cadel Evans. Meanwhile, the 2008 Worlds silver medallist and Ballan's erstwhile Lampre leader Damiano Cunego is pushing hard in the break ahead.

There is some spectacular forestry in the Savoie region. The terrain in the Alps becomes a bit more exposed further south.

91km remaining from 204km

It's a fast sweeping descent down the Saisies. Perfect for Thor Hushovd to make up a bit of ground.

85km remaining from 204km

The leaders are just coming off the descent and facing in to a long ride in the valley to  the foot of the Col de la Madeleine. They wisely stayed intact over the Saisies however, so they should survive at least that far.

Sandy Casar takes a look at the stage map. Eyes on the road Sandy! In 2007 Casar was knocked off by a dog when in a break on the stage to Angoulême. He got back up, chased back on and then tried to jump off the front of the break in the finale. Casar was caught in the finishing straight and forced to lead out the sprint, but he managed to take the win ahead of Axel Merckx. It was a fantastic win by a rider with a great degree of natural class. The Frenchman is always a consistent performer at the Tour.

79km remaining from 204km

Cadel Evans is gone back to his team car, but his BMC team are controlling the pace at the front so he'll come back without any problems. Evans is discussing BMC's plan of action for the rest of the stage with his directeur sportif John Lelangue. They seem to be allowing the gap to the break grow a little, it's back up to six minutes.

The breakaway has to collectively bunnyhop a speedbump as they enter Alberville. That could cause problems for the peloton when it steams though in six minutes' time.

Albertville hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics. It was also the scene of a stage finish in 1998, when Jan Ullrich outsprinted yellow jersey Marco Pantani for the win. It was the day after Pantani's epic win over the Galibier to Les Deux Alpes. Ullrich and Pantani seared clear on the Madeleine that day to Albertville, they were head and shoulders over everybody else in that very controversial Tour.

69km remaining from 204km

Anthony Charteau has been contributing solidly to this breakaway. It's the Nantes man's fourth Tour de France, and he's never finished in the top 100 overall.

Gutierrez led the escapees through the sprint at La Bathie. Damiano Cunego is looking intently at the route map now. We're a little over 12km from the foot of the Madeleine.

According to France Televsion's on-screen statistics, Christophe Moreau has done the most work on the front of this breakaway and Cunego has done the least...

Bbox Bouygues Telecom have two men in this breakaway. Along with Charteau, Cyril Gautier is also up here in the light blue kit. The Breton is riding his first Tour, and was European Espoirs Champion in 2008.

62km remaining from 204km

BMC are still on the front of the peloton. They seem to have slackened the pace a little bit. It will be interesting to see just how many of the team will be able to accompany Evans on the slopes of the Madeleine. There are question marks over the relative strength of his squad in the mountains.

58km remaining from 204km

The breakaway is now on the slopes of the mighty Col de la Madeleine with 6:30 over the peloton. 25.5km of climbing lie ahead of them. It's hard to imagine that the twelve will stay together all the way to the top. The average gradient is 6.2% but there are some particularly steep sections. The sheer length of the climb is a difficulty in itself too, especially from a psychological point of view.

The three Caisse d'Epargne men are on the front of the break now, tapping out a decent pace on the early slopes of the pass. They're working towards a stage win and possibly a yellow jersey in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne this evening.

Back in the peloton, a phalanx of Rabobank orange is moving up to the front. This is interesting. Robert Gesink was hugely impressive on Sunday's stage and Denis Menchov is riding solidly too.

The Rabobank and BMC-led peloton is on the Madeleine now. Denis Menchov is 5th overall at 1:10. Gesink is 11th, 2:37 behind. As Rabo's designated "loose cannon", we might Gesink put in a dig on the Madeleine.

55km remaining from 204km

Pineau has been dropped by the lead group. The Caisse d'Epargne trio's pace is taking its toll now.

Spanish champion Gutierrez has seized the initiative here on the front of the breakaway and his pressure is telling. Taaramae and Frohlinger have also been dropped. Pineau in his polka dot jersey has inched past them, but he'll be struggling to make it back on now.

54km remaining from 204km

The pace is picking up in the main field and riders are suffering accordingly. A large group including Fabian Cancellara has been dropped off the back.

53km remaining from 204km

Chris Anker Sørensen is driving on the front of the bunch for Saxo Bank and is whittling down the numbers. Popovych is among those going backwards, but he's not alone.

The peloton is started to fragment completely on the slopes of the Madeleine under the impetus of Sorensen's tempo. As happened on Sunday, the selection is taking place at the back of the field as riders are dropping off in twos and threes.

Two national champions are among those dropped. Britain's Geraint Thomas (Sky) and the USA's George Hincapie (BMC). Janez Brajkovic and Michael Rogers have also been dropped.

Sorensen is setting a very decent pace on the front. The main contenders are all still behind him.

51km remaining from 204km

Vinokourov attacks for Astana. Or perhaps more accurately, for Vinokourov.

The controversial Vinokourov has about ten seconds on the main contenders. Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) is on the front of that group now with Matthew Lloyd on his wheel.

50km remaining from 204km

Vinokourov is pressing hard in that squatted style of his. Surely this attack is part of an orchestrated plan from Astana. It would seem illogical for Vinokourov to attack by himself at this point.

At the front Gutierrez is still on the front. He's burying himself in the service of Luis Leon Sanchez. Sanchez is just about in yellow on the road. There are 17km left to the top of the Madeleine. It's a monster of a climb.

48km remaining from 204km

Rinaldo Nocentini has been dropped by the breakaway group. For a man who suffered a complicated leg break in February, it's been a remarkable performance by the Italian today.

The break reaches a flat section on the Madeleine and Christophe Moreau comes to the front and the pace has shot up accordingly. He may be 39 years of age, but the former Festina man can still  turn a mean pedal.

Alexandre Vinokourov had his Weetabix this morning, he's eating up the ground.

Vinokourov has blown past Taaramae in pursuit of the leaders.

The three Caisse d'Epargne men have done  all the work on the front of the break since we hit the Madeleine. Meanwhile Cunego and Casar are still on their wheels.

45km remaining from 204km

The break are still 5:17 clear of the bunch. Vinokourov is 4:30 behind. A shade under 13km to the top of the Madeleine.

44km remaining from 204km

The break are out of the trees now. Anthony Charteau looks to be suffering at the back of the lead group.

Jose Ivan Gutierrez has sat up. He buried himself in the service of Luis Leon Sanchez on the Madeleine. Gautier has also been dropped, and is rocking from side to side a la Richard Virenque.

43km remaining from 204km

The main overall contenders are in a group of about 10 riders now.

Sorry, that should have read 20 riders. The group is getting smaller, but not quite that small yet.

Meanwhile, up front Jens Voigt and Sandy Casar look like they're beginning to feel the pinch a little, although they're still hanging on in there. Damiano Cunego is looking comfortable.

Sorensen is gone back to the front of the yellow jersey group for Saxo Bank and the pace has gone up once again.

Not surprisingly Jens Voigt is the next man to drop off the back of the lead froup. It's down to just five riders now: Moreau, Luis Leon Sanchez, Charteau, Cunego and Casar.

41km remaining from 204km

Sorensen has pulled over and it's Jakob Fuglsang who is now driving the yellow jersey group for Saxo Bank. Andy Schleck seems to want to assume the responsibility of the race.

Carlos Sastre has been dropped by the yellow jersey group. The 2008 Tour winner has wilted under the pace that is now being set by Astana. Hesjedal also dropped.

Cadel Evans in difficulty....

The yellow jersey is sliding off the back of the group of contenders. He's just about staying in contact, but it's a huge struggle for him. Meanwhile Astana are hammering on the front to try and dislodge him.

Up in the break Christophe Moreau has been dropped. 

Cadel Evans has blown completely.

40km remaining from 204km

Evans is suffering badly now, it looks like he's going to lose a lot of time. He's completely alone, without a BMC teammate in sight.

Sandy Casar is dropped by the lead group. They're down to three riders now.

Navarro pulls on the front and takes Contador and Schleck with him. These three are gone clear of the other contenders now.

Navarro drops back and now Schleck accelerates. Contador is on his wheel.

Schleck slows and watches Contador. This is a fascinating battle between these two. It's real cat and mouse stuff and meanwhile Samuel Sanchez rides back up to them.

Vinokourov had sat up to help the pacemaking just before those attacks, but he's back in a group with Armstrong and Basso now, 22 seconds behind Schleck and Contador.

Schleck attacks again! Contador is straight on his wheel but Samuel Sanchez can't match him. If they slow again he might get back on mind.

38km remaining from 204km

It's a real psychological battle between Schleck and Contador here, it's almost like a track sprint. Brief accelerations and then they almost slow to a standstill. It's riveting stuff.

Andy Schleck takes a look at Contador and the Spaniard goes to the front.

Meanwhile, the gap to the breakaway has grown. They have six minutes over Evans' yellow jersey.

Contador and Schleck pass Jose Ivan Gutierrez and the Spanish champion gives a bidon to his fellow countryman.

Shades of the 2002 Giro d'Italia for Evans, he is barely able to turn the pedals at this point. The top of the Madeleine can't come soon enough.

Gutierrez has found his second wind. He's sitting in behind Schleck and Contador. Schleck is setting a high pace now.

Armstrong and Ivan Basso are in a group together but nowhere near Contador and Schleck.

36km remaining from 204km

5km to the top of the Madeleine for Schleck and Contador. They seem to have called a temporary truce and are riding together now. They know that they can distance all of the other contenders today. They have almost 1:30 over the Armstrong-Basso group.

In the Armstrong-Basso group are: Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo), Lance Armstrong (Team Radioshack), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Kevin De Weert (Quick Step), Daniel Navarro Garcia (Astana), Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Astana),
Damien Monier (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne), Imanol Erviti Ollo (Caisse d'Epargne), Levi Leipheimer (Team Radioshack).

There is no sign of Bradley Wiggins or Denis Menchov, the only thing that is clear is that they are losing time to Schleck and Contador.

34km remaining from 204km

Contador and Schleck have caught Jens Voigt. Basso is setting the pace in the Armstrong group, but all they can hope for is to limit their losses it seems.

Jens Voigt is grinding up the climb with Schleck and Contador on his wheel.  Basso is doing all the work in the group behind.

Voigt's face is a mask of pain. Schleck grits his teeth lightly. Contador bobs out the saddle impassively.

Leipheimer is in a group with Menchov and Gesink ahead of Basso and Armstrong but behind Contador and Schleck. A solid ride by the Rabobank duo here.

33km remaining from 204km

Luis Leon Sanchez is still out in front with Casar, Cunego and Charteau. They have 2:20 over Contador and Schleck.

The four leaders are within a kilometre of the summit of the Col de la Madeleine. Cunego is still looking quite fresh.

32km remaining from 204km

Charteau leads the quartet up to the distinctive exposed summit of the Madelein. They've worked very well to hold an advantage this far. Charteau takes the points at the top of the climb.

Contador makes a tentative acceleration behind and Jens Voigt almost pedals to a standstill. It's just Schleck and Contador now.

Contador nods for Andy Schleck to come through. It's been a gripping battle between the two on this climb, but we still haven't seen either man show all of his cards. Schleck will probably be more pleased with how the climb went today mind. They're over the summit now.

Samuel Sanchez cross the summit of the Madeleine about 30 seconds behind Contador and Schleck.

Ivan Basso is setting the pace in the Armstrong group. Basso will be disappointed to have lost ground to Menchov and Gesink. Armstrong will be content to have hung in there today.

Basso and Armstrong crest the summit almost 2 and half minutes behind Schleck and Contador and a minute behind Menchov, Leipheimer and Gesink.

27km remaining from 204km

Contador leads Schleck down the descent and it looks as though he's trying to test him a little. Schleck is sitting off a couple of bike lengths for safety.

Sandy Casar leads the quartet in front down the descent.

24km remaining from 204km

Samuel Sanchez is chasing hard to get back up to Contador and Schleck. Meanwhile Schleck is happy to allow Contador lead the way down the mountain.

Cadel Evans is still climbing the Madeleine. He approaches the summit 9:35 down on the leaders amd seven minutes down on Contador and Schleck.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) punctures on the descent, but stays upright. A quick bike change and he's back in the race.

21km remaining from 204km

Andy Schleck has come to the front now for the first time on the descent. He doesn't seem as fluid going downhill as the Spaniard.

20km remaining from 204km

20km to go for the four in front. Sandy Casar is still leading down the climb. If it comes down to a sprint, Damiano Cunego will be very dangerous.

Anthony Charteau will be the new polka dot jersey wearer this evening thanks to his efforts on the Madeleine. That jump by Moreau early on the stage cost Pineau dearly.

17km remaining from 204km

Schleck and Contador have caught Moreau. Meanwhile Samuel Sanchez is veritably hurtling down the mountain behind them. Schleck is somewhat less fluid.

16km remaining from 204km

Fantastic descending from the Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez, he's closing in on Schleck and Contador.

15km remaining from 204km

Luis Leon Sanchez is sitting on the back of the lead group. He won't take yellow now, but he will fancy his chances if this comes down to a sprint.

13km remaining from 204km

Luis Leon Sanchez and Sandy Casar have previous in Tour de France breakaways. Sanchez outsprinted Casar into Saint-Girons last year.

11km remaining from 204km

The quartet in front have two minutes over Schleck and Contador. That should be enough at this stage.

10km remaining from 204km

Sanchez is trying to claw back the last ten seconds to Contador and Schleck.

10km remaining from 204km

Under the 10km to go banner for the four in front. Charteau and Casar have done all the work since the top of the Madeleine.

Schleck looks happier to back on flat roads on the run-in to the finish now. He's stretched the gap to Sanchez back out to 18 seconds. Schleck is riding his way into the yellow jersey.

8km remaining from 204km

If the stage finished now, Schleck would be in yellow, 41 seconds ahead of Contador.

8km remaining from 204km

The Schleck-Contador face-off is going to be fascinating. For now, the duo are happy to work together to the line.

7km remaining from 204km

The four in front haven't started playing cat and mouse just yet.

6km remaining from 204km

They can't afford to, they only have 1:20 over the chase group.

Evans is taking all sorts of risks on the descent, but it's far too late. He's almost ten minutes down.

5km remaining from 204km

5km to go for the leaders and the pace has slowed slightly.

Casar goes back to the front again. He did 90% of the work on the descent of the Madeleine, according to our friends at France Television.

4km remaining from 204km

Only 53 seconds of an advantage for the four in front. Luis Leon Sanchez is happy to sit at the back now.

3km remaining from 204km

Meanwhile, his teammate Christophe Moreau is similarly shadowing Contador and Schleck.

3km remaining from 204km

Charteau takes up the pace now. The two Frenchmen seem a little agitated by Luis Leon Sanchez's positioning.

2km remaining from 204km

The gap is coming down all the time between the two groups in front. Damiano Cunego will fancy his chances in the sprint if the break stays away.

2km remaining from 204km

Schleck is motoring behind and things are cagey up front. The gap is just 16 seconds at 2km to go.

1km remaining from 204km

Casar is riding on the front, but he's looking for help from Cunego.

1km remaining from 204km

Under the red kite, the gap is tumbling.

Schleck, Contador and Moreau have caught the leaders!

Schleck leads it out.

Casar goes early

Casar gets it! Fantastic victory from the Frenchman. He just holds off Luis Leon Sanchez and Damiano Cunego.

Breathtaking finish. Casar was leading all through the last 2km, and got a shock when Schleck came around him inside the final kilometre when the two groups came together.

It then looked as though Casar had gone too early, but he managed to hold off Luis Leon Sanchez and Cunego for a richly-deserved stage win.

Andy Schleck will take over the yellow jersey, 41 seconds clear of Alberto Contador.

Leipheimer, Menchov and Gesink arrive in 2:07 down.

A further minute or so back to Basso and Armstrong.

Samuel Sanchez climbs to 3rd overall tonight, 2:45 down on Schleck.

Evans, Sastre, Rogers and Wiggins will alll lose big time today.

Cadel Evans made a great descent of the Madeline, but he still lost 8:08 to Contador and Schleck.

Evans is distraught at the finish. It was a cruel day for the Australian, and his hopes of winning a Tour de France, at least this year, are dashed.

Casar had obviously studied his road book last night. There was a sharp left hand bend just before the finish, and he knew that if he was first there, he'd be first at the line. A typically intelligent win from Casar.

Provisional stage result:

1. Sandy Casar (FDJ)
2. LL Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne)
3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
4. Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne)
5. Anthony Charteau (Bbox)

 

Provisional overall standings:

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
2. Alberto Contador (Astana) at 0:41
3. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) at 2:45
4. Denis Menchov at 2:58
5. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma) at 3:31
 

Bradley Wiggins lost around another five minutes on Contador and Schleck today. He won't match last year's 4th place.

That was the second Tour stage win of Sandy Casar's career. His performances over the years have merited far, far more than that, but he looks suitably delighted with his day's work on the podium. It's also a big win for La Francaise des Jeux, especially as Christophe Le Mevel's top 10 challenge appears to have fallen apart.

Meanwhile Andy Schleck is celebrating the first yellow jersey of his young career. His brother Frank held it two years ago, but Andy will hoping to hold it all the way to Paris.

Thanks for joining us for today's stage. Tomorrow the peloton faces 179km from Chambery to Gap, crossing the Cote de Laffrey, the Cote des Terrasses and the Col du Noyer. On paper an easier day than today, but there are plenty of opportunities for an ambush or two.

The full report and results as well as a selection of photography from an epic day of racing will be online soon, and there will be the usual in-depth analysis and news from the peloton on Cyclingnews between now and tomorrow's live report.

Provisional stage result:

1. Sandy Casar (FDJ)
2. LL Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne)
3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
4. Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne)
5. Anthony Charteau (Bbox)

 

Provisional overall standings:

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
2. Alberto Contador (Astana) at 0:41
3. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) at 2:45
4. Denis Menchov at 2:58
5. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma) at 3:31

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