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Tour de France 2011: Stage 15

A flat stage again, and one for the sprinters.  Who will have the fastest legs after all that climbing?  Or will an escape group get away to the end?

Welcome back to one more day of racing before the second rest day and the final brutal week of climbing and racing. 

And they're off!

This could be an uncomfortable day for the riders.  The forecast is for temperatures up to 26° Celsius and heavy winds.  Actually the weather forecast called for sun but of course what did we have a the start?  Rain!

They were right about the wind, though...

After yesterday's stage we still had 170 riders in the race.  Nine teams are still complete with nine riders.  Katusha and RadioShack are hardest hit, with each having only five riders left.

182km remaining from 187km

Once again an escape group has formed early. Mickael Delage (FdJ) jumped the very second the flag dropped to open the stage.  He was subsequently joined by Niki Terpstra (Quick Step), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur Sojasun).  By 4.5km they have a lead of 1:05, Letour tells us.
 

After all that climbing the last few days, the peloton will be happy to see today's stage profile: one tiny little Cat. 4 climb at the 82 km marker.

181km remaining from 187km

The gap is now up to 2:50 and we very strongly suspect it will get even higher.

There is, of course, one intermediate sprint today.  It comes fairly late, at km 146.5.  We expect to see the usual fireworks there and again at the finish.

Are you following the Cyclingnews/Easton Cylcing trivia contest during the Tour?  Of course you are!  Yesterday's question was:   Who was the youngest rider to ever win the Tour de France?

The answer:  Henri Cornet in 1904.

Today's question will be coming up later on, be sure to see it and get a chance to win a great prize!

Rabobank's Laurens ten Dam finished the stage yesterday with enough gauze on his blood-covered face to look like a gruesome cycling mummy.  So of course he was at the start today.

Warning!  The photos are not for the faint of stomach!

171km remaining from 187km

The gap has jumped another minuted, to 3:55 at 16km.  HTC-Highroad has sent a rider to the front of the field to keep an eye on matters.

Our usual look now at the rankings.  Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) continues to lead by 1:49 over Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek), with Cadel Evans third at 2:06. In fact, here is the whole top ten:

1     Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar     61:04:10      
2     Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek     0:01:49      
3     Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team     0:02:06      
4     Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek     0:02:15      
5     Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale     0:03:16      
6     Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi     0:03:44      
7     Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard     0:04:00      
8     Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD     0:04:01      
9     Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo     0:05:46      
10     Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team     0:06:18    

The points classification is a tight one, a three-man race at the moment.  Mark Cavendish of HTC-Highroad is still hanging on to the green jersey with 264 points, but Jose Joaquim Rojas of Movistar is very close behind him with 251 points.  Third is the ever-dangerous Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) with 240 points.
 

161km remaining from 187km

Looks like the peloton, or at least HTC-Highroad, isn't wiling to put up with a big gap today.  It is already down to 3:20.

The polka-dot jersey for the best climber has changed hands every day lately.  Right now Jelle Vanendert of Omega Pharma-Lotto is King of the Mountains, followed by Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ).  We venture to say there will be no change in that ranking today.

The wind is strong today and really blowing the group along.  In fact, a handful of riders fell off the back, including Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto).  But they are all back up with the group again, as the gap falls again to 2:55.
 

There is a new best young rider, and his name is Rigoberto Uran of Sky.  Rein Taaramae of Cofidis is second, with Pierre Rolland of Europcar third.

The team classification has been hopping back and forth between Leopard Trek and Garmin-Cervelo the last few stages.  Leopard Trek is currently at the top of the list.

Here are the details on the not-so-incredible climb today: 

Côte de Villespassans - 2.2 km climb to 4.6 % - Category 4
 

Who's a happy man in yellow? That's right, Thomas Voeckler.   He didn't win the stage but celebrated just the same.  And why not?  “My goal was to save my yellow jersey but I thought it would be a question of a couple of seconds. I didn’t expect to finish with the favourites.” 

Ah, the wind...... it had been a tailwind.  A strong one.  Then the course changes direction and the peloton gets -- what else -- a strong headwind!

Carl0880 of the CN forum likes to play with statistics, and came up with the following for us:

Starting with the 2000 Tour, Bernie Eisel (HTC-Highroad)  has been a part of 21 road stage wins by teammates in the TDF. That puts him tied for 2nd among all riders in this time, behind Georgie Hincapie (BMC) with 22, this doesn't include the 3 TTT he also was a part of (And the 1 stage win he has) He is tied with ex-teammate Michael Rogers, now with Sky.

Hincapie has in fact been a part of a stage win every year except for 2000 (Armstrong's stage win was a ITT) and last year with BMC. Out of those 22 stage wins, Hincapie has assisted 7 teammates in stage victories (Armstrong 8, Savoldelli 1, Popovych 1, Alberto Contador 1, Cavendish 10, Burghardt 1, Cadel Evans 1)-

124km remaining from 187km

Either the chase or the wind (or both) is having an effect.  The gap has fallen to 2:25.

Mark Renshaw of HTC-Highroad has carefully studied each stage this week – not a particulalry sprinter-friendly week – to see where Cavendish's rivals for the green jersey might pick up points, and how his team can counteract that.  He talks about it here. 
 

Hard times for the HTC-Highroad riders.  Matthew Goss just crashed, but is ok.  Cavendish punctured.

Speaking of HTC-HIghroad, tomorrow is the team's big day, as team owner Bob Stapleton said that he would announce the team's future on the second rest day. 

Either a new sponsor or -- the end of the team? One rumour has the worst case scenario.  Another says that HTC will re-up for three years.  And yet another has, of all things, a German company springing in to take over.

Guess we will learn tomorrow which, if any, of those is true.

112km remaining from 187km

And just like that, the gap has mushroomed.  All the way up to four minutes!

The lead group is on its way up the climb.  As a cat. 4, it only offers one point.

And that point goes to Igantiev.

The field now tops this monstrous climb.  The gap has dropped to 3:28.  The sun is shining and it is exceptionally windy.

Rigoberto Uran of Sky is not just the best young rider, but also in 11th place, looking to move up.  Sky DS Sean Yates was quite naturally happy about this.

Who is at the front of the peloton?  A few HTC-Highroaders, Europcar, looks like some Leopards lurking there too.

Seven Highroaders, actually.....

And here is some news:  Alexandre Vinokourov apparently just announced on French tv that he is retiring from racing.  This Tour which ended so tragically for him will have been his last pro race.

The gap is now yo-yoing around the three minute mark.

HTC-HIghroad is really serious about this chase.  They are practically doing a team time trial out there.  Aren't they worried about burning their guys out in this wind even before the intermediate sprint and the expected mass sprint finish?

Damiano Cunego of Lampre lost some time yesterday and dropped to eighth place, but he is not upset about it. He thinks things will be better in the Alps.

88km remaining from 187km

The lead group visits the feed zone.

Actually they move out of it only shortly before the peloton moves in.

Bjarne Riis was very happy that Alberto Contador only lost two seconds yesterday, and predicts that things will turn around this coming week. 

The peloton has changed direction again, so that they once again have tailwind.

Andriy Grivko of Astana takes off out of the  peloton.  Perhaps he is as bored as we are.....

It looks to be clouding up.  Maybe the rain will return?  Hot, hard winds, rain -- what a lovely combination!

Ten Dam is back at the medical car.  Fortunately he looks much better today with no blood and gauze-wrapped face.....

The gap is dropping like a rock now, hovering around the two minute mark.

BMC and Leopard Trek have now moved up to help HTC pull the peloton along.

The field passes through another town, and as always, lots of people are stadning along the way to cheer the riders on.

Even out in the country, amongst the orchards, there are lots of fans along the road.

It just wasn't FdJ's day yesterday, as Sandy Casar didn't win, Jeremy Roy lost the KOM jersey, Arnold Jeannesson lost the best youn rider jersey and William Bonnet had to leave the race after missing the time cut.

Were they happy?  Of course not.

56km remaining from 187km

The intermediate sprint is coming up in 10km now, so we can expect some excitement there.  The gap, by the way, is now at 1:44.


Once again Cyclingnews and Easton Cycling have teamed up for a contest during the Tour.  We have some great prizes line up for you, ranging from a signed BMC team jersey to the grand prize, a complete BMC Teammachine SLR0.  For more, just click here.  

All you have to do is answer one trivia question and you are automatically entered.  And you get 21 chances, one per stage!

Here is today's trivia question in the Easton/Cyclingnews Tour de France Trivia Challenge:  Who is the oldest rider ever to win the Tour de France?

If you need a hint, click here.

You are entered for the random drawing for prizes by filling in your answer here.  Good luck!
 

The lead group will take the top points at the sprint, but none of them are endangering the leades in that ranking.

Johnny Hoogerland is at the back of the field.  He is still sporting some natty bandages on his legs.

The gap continues to fall, now at 1:27.

Dumoulin and Delage sprint for the 20 sprint points -- a very close decision!  Looks like Delage won it by a hair.

HTC-Highroad sets up the sprint for Cavendish. He takes it farily easily ahead of Rojas and Gilbert.  10 points for Cav, 9 for Rojas.

Gilbert directly drops back to his team car.

He climbs off and gets a new rear wheel.

44km remaining from 187km

The gap is just over one minute now.

The gap has edged up again, to 1:26.

HTC still at the head of the field.  Movistar and Leopard Trek are the other two teams up there.

Not much of anything actually happened in the last day in the Pyenees yesterday.  Which BMC manager John Lelangue found to be a good thing.

31km remaining from 187km

31 km to go and 1:24.  Looks like a good set-up for the sprinters' teams.

The peloton is moving along at a very good pace right now.

It's official:  Vinokourov has retired.

The wind is now coming from the left side of the road.

26km remaining from 187km

26 km for the lead group and a mere one minute lead.

The familiar picture of HTC-Highroad and Leopard Sky at the head of the peloton.

Ignatiev attacks out of the group, as the gap does down under a minute.

Terpstra goes after him.

Ignatiev and Terpstra are both good time trialers.  If they work together, they may possibly have a chance to come through.

14 seconds back to the three French riders now.

Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-HIghroad leads the peloton under the 20km marker.

Sylvain Chavanel of Quick Step has brought sprinter Gerald Ciolek up to the front of the field.  The sprinters are gathering....

The run-in to the finish line is supposed to be a tricky one, with traffic circles, a road construction site, turns, curves and narrow roads. 

That doesn't sound nice.

The three chasers will be caught momentarily.

They are caught.  We now have Terpstra and Igantiev with a 41 second lead and 14.6 km to go.

Dumoulin promptly falls out the back of the peloton.

The gap is now down to 33 seconds.

Ignatiev now leads Terpstra as they approach the 10km marker.

The peloton crosses under that banner only 25 seconds later.

They just passed the turn off to the airport, but looks like no one is ready to go home quite yet.

The field disappears into a tunnel.

Fortunately, they all come out again.

12 seconds only for the two leaders.  Again, lots and lots of fans along the way, cheering and waving.

The two will be caught soon....

They have no chance against the sprinters' teams.

Ignatiev falls back and Terpstra carries on alone.

Eisel leads the chase around yet another traffic circule.  Followed by a very tight and narrow turn, but al apparently come through ok.

Ignatiev drops out the back of the field.  Terpstra keeps on going....

Another tight right hand turn, all survive.

SEven seconds and 3.5km for Terpstra.

Gilbert jumps, passes Terpstra.  He is followed by -- can't make out who....

A Vacansoleil rider has joined Gilbert and his companion, but they have a minimal lead.

They re caught.  Marcato and Hondo lead the way.

Last km!

Cav a bit trapped in.  Griepel?  EBH? Peta?

Renshaw leads the way and Cavendish goes for it.  He takes it!

An easy win for the Manxman, with Tyler Farrar second and Alessandro Petacchi third.

And a bunch more points for Cavendish to build up his lead for the green jersey.

No changes in the GC. Voeckler still leads ahead of Fränk Schlek and Cadel Evans.

Here's the top ten for the day:

1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad 4:20:24
2 Tyler Farrar (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo
3 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
4 Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
5 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
6 Ben Swift (GBr) Sky Procycling
7 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Quickstep Cycling Team
8 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
9 Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale

And here is the Top Ten GC:

1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 65:24:33
2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:49
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:02:06
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:02:15
5 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:03:16
6 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:03:44
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:04:00
8 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:04:01
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:05:46
10 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:06:18

That's all folks!  We all get a rest day tomorrow to prepare ourselves for the Alps.

Be sure to join us on Tuesday again.

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