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Tour de France 2011: Stage 18


Stage 18 of the Tour de France, 200.5km from Pinerolo to Galibier-Serre Chevalier.

200km remaining from 200km

The peloton has just rolled out of Pinerolo and begun the arduous trek towards the mighty Col du Galibier.

With three Hors categorie passes on the menu today, it's no surprise to see that it's a gentle start to proceedings today. The Colle dell'Agnello, the Col d'Izoard and the Col du Galibier are all part of the agenda on a day that could prove decisive for the aspirations of a number of the overall contenders.

200km remaining from 200km

The opening section of the stage is flat, up until the intermediate sprint at Verzuolo (46.5km). Then, instead of taking the Cuneo road and heading towards the rolling hills and wine country of the Langhe, the peloton swings right and heads towards the French border and the high Alps.

Officially, the Agnello is 23.7km in length, but the bunch will already be starting to climb steadily before they reach the base of the ascent proper.

191km remaining from 200km

An early split in the peloton saw a group of twenty riders briefly sally off the front, but it's all come back together again. With the sprint coming so early in today's stage, it might prove difficult for a break to forge clear before the climbing starts.

The 169 survivors are currently riding in pleasant sunshine and under azure skies as they pedal southwards out of Pinerolo, but temperatures will plummet come the end of the stage. It's currently 6.2 °C atop the Galibier...


184km remaining from 200km

The first break to get any traction comes from Gianni Meersman (FDJ) and Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM). FDJ have been throwing riders up the road since the very first stage of this Tour, but in spite of the fine efforts of Jeremy Roy and Sandy Casar, they have fallen just short of their bounty.

Meersman and Marcato barely had the chance to take a couple of turns each before they were swallowed up by the peloton again. The pace is scorching as the bunch zips through the village of San Martino.

It's going to be very, very difficult for a break to slip clear ahead of the intermediate sprint at this rate. Considering the extreme difficulty of the second half of the stage, this is an incredibly fast beginning to the day.

In the points classification, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) holds a 35-point buffer over Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) is all of 70 points clear of Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Barring disaster, the Manxman is unlikely to miss out on the green jersey this year.

174km remaining from 200km

Of course, today's stage to the Galibier is also going to be crucial to the destination of the yellow jersey. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) remains the overall leader, but there no fewer than seven riders within 4 minutes of the Frenchman.

Voeckler has been a hugely impressive maillot jaune, but he knows that he'll have his work cut out to keep the jersey to Paris. In spite of impressing on the way up the Pramartino yesterday, a disastrous descent saw his advantage slashed further. But if Voeckler can repeat his Pyrenean form, he could still potentially wear the yellow jersey into the final time trial. No matter what kind of wings the maillot jaune bestows upon its wearers, however, the Frenchman's buffer would need to be bigger than 1:18 if he is to win the Tour.

164km remaining from 200km

Movistar and HTC-Highroad are allies of circumstance here as the peloton bowls through the hinterland of Saluzzo. Rojas and Cavendish's teams are stringing out the bunch with a little under 10km to go to the day's intermediate sprint.

Incidentally, Saluzzo was the site of the start of a famous stage of the melodramatic 2000 Giro d'Italia. Paolo Lanfranchi was the winner after a stage that crossed the Colle dell'Agnello into the France and then climbed the Izoard before finishing in Briancon. The man who finished in second place? Marco Pantani.

Incidentally, Saluzzo was the site of the start of a famous stage of the melodramatic 2000 Giro d'Italia. Paolo Lanfranchi was the winner after the race crossed into France via the Colle dell'Agnello, and then climbed the Izoard before finishing in Briancon. And the man who finished in second place? Marco Pantani.

After a lacklustre Giro, Pantani sparkled into life on the Agnello and the Izoard, working for his teammate Stefano Garzelli, who would go on to wear pink in Milan two days later. Lanfranchi slipped away from the lead group on the descent of the Izoard, however, and in spite of an attack on the sharp climb into Briancon, Pantani had to settle for second place.

160km remaining from 200km

Back in 2011, and it's Movistar and HTC who are still forcing the issue here. The average speed so far must be touching 50kph, and that's going to take its toll on the riders once they hit the climbs. The shock of going from an hour or so of grinding flat out in 53x12 to slipping into the small chainring is going to cause serious problems for some riders.

155km remaining from 200km

The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglae... With barely a kilometre to the intermediate sprint, seven riders have ghosted off the front of the peloton...

Leonard Duque (Cofidis) takes the honours at the intermediate sprint, ahead of Joost Posthuma (Leopard Trek) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun). They're part of a 16-man move that forced its way clear of the peloton ahead of the sprint.

The order at the sprint at Verzuolo (46.5km):

1 Leonardo Duque (Cofidis)
2 Joost Posthuma (Leopard Trek)
3 Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun)
4 Dries Devenyns (Quick Step)
5 Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank)
6 Brent Bookwalter (BMC)
7 Markel Irizar (RadioShack)
8 Imanol Erviti (Movistar)
9 Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD)
10 Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Cervélo)
11 Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
12 Pablo Urtasun Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
13 Maxim Ignlinsky (Astana)
14 Maxime Monfort (Leopard Trek)
15 Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale)

The 16th man in that move is Marcus Burghardt (BMC), by the way. They have 45 seconds in hand over the peloton.

149km remaining from 200km

The first hour of racing saw the bunch cover an incredible 50.3km. The break has swung right  towards Venasca, as they pick off the villages that dot the road before the base of the Agnello.

Correction. Marcus Burghardt was not the 16th man, it is in fact Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM). Burghardt is attempting to chase across in the company of Mickael Delage (FDJ) and Egor Silin (Katusha). That trio is 1:35 behind the break, while the peloton is around two minutes back.

138km remaining from 200km

Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is the best-placed rider overall, 21st at a shade over 14 minutes down. The Irishman told Cyclingnews in Limaux on Sunday that he would go on the attack in the final week, and he's been as good as his word. He was already aggressive yesterday on the road to Pinerolo.

135km remaining from 200km

The peloton has sat up after the searing pace of the opening hour of racing, and the escapees have almost five minutes in hand on the approach to Frassino.

It's interesting to note that there are two Leopard Trek riders in the break today, Joost Posthuma and Maxime Monfort. The Luxembourg team did a lot of the work on early climbs on the stages to Luz-Ardiden and Plateau de Beille, but the anticipated follow-through from the Schlecks on the final climb never really materialised, save for an attack from Frank Schleck near the summit of Luz-Ardiden.

Frank Schleck lies third overall at 1:22, with Andy a further place behind and 2:36 off the maillot jaune. Given the relative paucity of their time trialling, however, the duo desperately need to overhaul Cadel Evans ahead of Saturday's test around Grenoble. If they are to do that, they will need to attack with far more conviction than they have shown to date.

BMC also have two riders up the road in the shape of Brent Bookwalter and Marcus Burghardt, but one would imagine that Cadel Evans' tactics will be rather different to those of the Schlecks. The Australian is a stronger time triallist than the Luxembourgers and the yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler, and he can afford to ride with a degree of caution. Over the next two days, Evans' main objective will surely be to try and retain as much of his 1:57 buffer over Alberto Contador as possible.

Meanwhile, Alberto Contador's time trialling has regressed somewhat from when he beat Fabian Cancellara at Annency in 2009, and he needs to peg back time on Evans in the mountains if he is to win this Tour de France. In spite of attacking with abandon on the two stages since the rest day, Contador actually lost a handful of seconds to Evans, but the summit finishes at the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez should be more to the Spaniard's liking.

127km remaining from 200km

The break passes through Sampeyre, the scene of Marco Pantani's crash during his final Giro d'Italia in 2003. Although the Italian remounted, he came in over 16 minutes down at the finish at Valle Varaita.

The break's lead over the peloton is now over seven minutes, with Nicolas Roche particularly prominent in pushing on the pace. Burghardt, Silin and Delage have narrowed the gap to a minute, but they'll have their work cut out to make it across before the break hits the slopes of the Agnello.

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is a man who could have a big, big say in the final destination of the yellow jersey. He hasn't been shy about collaborating with his friend Contador on the past two stages, and the Spanish alliance could well be to the fore again today. Sanchez reckons Contador can "turn the classification upside down" over the next two stages.

Contador was careful to leave space for Euskaltel-Euskadi to take two stages during the Giro d'Italia, with Igor Anton winning atop the Zoncolan and Mikel Nieve winning the tappone at Gardeccia.

There are two Euskaltel-Euskadi riders in the break today, Pablo Urtasun and Ruben Perez, and one would imagine that that duo are placed with a view to offering support to an attack from behind later on the stage.

In many respects, this Tour is reminiscent of the 1989 edition. Pedro Delgado suffered a disastrous opening weekend. He missed his start in the prologue and lost 2:50, before an abysmal team time trial looked to have ruled him out of the running, The fight back began in the Pyrenees, however, as Delgado went repeatedly on the offensive, and like Contador, he appeared to have support from a number of his countrymen who weren't part of his Reynolds squad.

Delgado's comeback ground to a halt in the Alps, of course, and he had to settle for third behind Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon.

In many respects, this Tour is reminiscent of the 1989 edition. Like Contador, Pedro Delgado suffered a disastrous opening weekend on that occasion. He missed his start in the prologue and lost 2:50, before an abysmal team time trial looked to have ruled him out of the running definitively.

The fight back began in the Pyrenees, however, as Delgado went repeatedly on the offensive, and like Contador, he appeared to have support from a number of his countrymen who weren't part of his Reynolds squad.

Delgado's comeback ground to a halt in the Alps, of course, and he had to settle for third behind Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon.

117km remaining from 200km

The Burghardt group has succeeded in catching the break just in time for the start of the day's first climb.

The Col Agnel (or Colle dell'Agnello as it is known as on the Italian side) forms part of the border between France and Italy. Its 23.7km length and 6.5% gradient only tell a part of the story. The summit of the Agnel is the highest point of this year's Tour de France, at 2,744 metres above sea level, and at that kind of altitude a rider's efforts take an even bigger toll than normal.

The second hour of racing was covered at a seemingly more sedate 34.6kph, but don't be fooled by that number - the road has already been climbing steadily since the intermediate sprint.

The break's lead is 8:55 as the 19 riders in front begin the long trek to the highest point of this year's Tour de France. The first man to the top will not receive the Prix Henri Desgrange, however. That honour is reserved for the first man to the top of the Galibier today. Normally the Galibier is also the highest point in the Tour, but when the pass is not included in the route, the Prix Desgrange is awarded to the first man to the top of the race's highest climb.

A crash for Mickael Delage (FDJ) as the climb begins, but the Frenchman is quickly back in the action.

The only other time the Tour tackled the Col d'Agnel was in 2008. On that occasion, the race was crossing from France into Italy en route to Pratonevoso. Egoi Martinez led over the summit, but it was Simon Gerrans who took the stage honours.

110km remaining from 200km

The sixteen breakaways are continuing to work together on the lower slopes of the Agnel. Nobody is going to want to go out alone this early in the stage, especially with two long descents to come.

The main peloton has hit the Agnel, with Europcar setting the pace.

The gap to the break has come down by just about a minute as the break skirts around the edges of the Lago di Castello.

105km remaining from 200km

The pace is sedate in the main peloton, as Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) drops back for a chat at his team car.

103km remaining from 200km

Europcar may be a Pro Continental team, but the French squad have dealt well with the weight of the yellow jersey to date. Voeckler said yesterday that he will have to reconsider his approach to the Tour in future and prepare as an overall contender.

Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) climbs out of the saddle as he sets the tempo at the front of the leading group.

101km remaining from 200km

An inattentive fan turns to wave at the camera and almost knocks Maxime Monfort from his bike. The Belgian manages to weave past, and shows admirable calm by not even deigning to gesticulate in his direction.

A little under 8km to the summit of this mighty climb. So far the break hasn't fragmented on the ascent, The pace appears to be rising slightly in the main field, although it still appears to be intact.

Europcar are still setting the tempo at the front of the peloton, but there are a number of Liquigas-Cannondale jersey prominently placed up there too. Ivan Basso struggled on the descents to Gap and Pinerolo, perhaps proving Gilberto Simoni's harsh 2007 assertion that "Ivan Basso can practice descending as much as he wants, but he'll still always descend like cement."

The Italian is on terrain more suited to his diesel engine today however. The long, long climbs of the Agnello and the Galibier should be to his liking, but he'll need to do something very special to force his way into yellow jersey contention again. He is currently 8th at 3:49.

99km remaining from 200km

Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) have launched ambitious attacks out of the main peloton, and there are a number of other riders now looking to bridge across.

99km remaining from 200km

Andrey Zeits (Astana) and Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) have launched ambitious attacks out of the main peloton, and there are a number of other riders now looking to bridge across.

Carlos Barredo (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Remi Di Gregorio (Astana) and Kristijan Koren (Liquigas-Cannondale) have joined Gilbert and Zeits and they have 20 seconds on the peloton.

Meanwhile, Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD) has been dropped out of the breakaway.

Leopard Trek have taken up the pace-setting in the main peloton now, and a number of riders are being shelled out the back. The gradient is steeper here on the upper section of the climb, and Stuart O'Grady's injection of pace is causing problems in the main peloton.

Mark Cavendish is among the riders dropped from the peloton, while Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) is also beginning to suffer.

Leipheimer and Di Gregorio have jumped clear of the Gilbert group, and they now have Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) for company, as the road really begins to kick upwards towards the summit of the mighty Agnello.

Posthuma and Monfort are doing the lion's share of the work at the head of the breakaway, while their Leopard Trek teammates continue to pull behind.

O'Grady's stint on the front of the bunch has sown riders all over the mountainside, but Leopard appear to have desisted their efforts now.

Leonardo Duque and Michkael Delage have been dropped by the break, while Erviti, Irizar and Bookwalter are also losing contact.

The Leipheimer group has expanded. The American is 30 seconds clear of the peloton with Westra, Zeits, Di Gregorio, Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and David Moncoutie (Cofidis).

94km remaining from 200km

Alberto Contador is a long way down in the yellow jersey peloton and there don't appear to be any other Saxo Bank-SunGard riders in that group. Worrying times for the Spaniard? Or is he bluffing? He was back at the doctor's car earlier in the race, but yesterday it seemed as though his knee problems were behind him.

94km remaining from 200km

Up in the break, Ignlinsky sprints clear to take the points at the top of the Agnello, which we can now start calling the Agnel, as the riders descend into France.

Hoogerland led Devenyn and Monfort to come over the summit in second place. Roche is also still up there, but that early break blew to pieces in the final 5km approach to the summit, and it might not all come back together on the descent.

While Hondo et al are going backwards, the Leipheimer group is pressing on. They are 4:50 down on the break and 30 seconds clear of the yellow jersey group.

Iglinsky is descending alone ahead of his erstwhile companions on the way down the vertiginous slopes of the Agnel.

The yellow jersey group crosses over the summit 5:30 down on Iglinsky. Although the sun is shining, it's pretty cold up here, with gilets and winter gloves the order of the day as the riders begin the descent.

83km remaining from 200km

Iglinskiy swoops through the first village on the French side of the border, Fontgillarde. It's a long, steep and technical descent, but Iglinskiy is about to be swept up by the ten of the original breakaways.

Juan Antonio Flecha is leading the peloton down the Agnel in support of Rigoberto Uran. Sky want to keep tabs on Arnold Jeannesson, who is just 3:16 off Uran's white jersey.

The Leipheimer group's efforts would appear to be doomed due to Jeannesson's presence. Sky aren't going to let the Frenchman slip up the road.

The early break fragmented on the climb, but 14 of its number have come back together on the descent, while Burghardt, Delage, Delaplace, Hondo and Duque are giving chase a little further behind.

73km remaining from 200km

Five minutes the gap to the peloton as the break approaches the feed zone at Chateau-Ville-Vielle.

Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) has crashed on the descent, but word reaching us that he is back on his bike.

71km remaining from 200km

Monfort forces the pace at the head of the breakaway as they approach the base of the Col d'Izoard.

The irrepressible Philippe Gilbert swoops clear of the peloton on the descent with Jelle Vandendert on his wheel. Thomas Voeckler has also bridged across, but this trio are hardly likely to be allowed to stay clear ahead of the Izoard.

Gilbert and Voeckler bridge across to the Leipheimer-Gesink group, but the peloton is breathing down their necks and it should all come back together before they start the Izoard proper.

The fearsome Col d'Izoard is 14.1km of climbing at an average of 7.3%, and today the peloton approaches it from its more famous side, via the stirring Casse Desert and its evocative scree slopes.

Joost Posthuma is driving at the front of the break. Ruben Perez Moreno has slid off the back of the group, as has BMC's Brent Bookwalter. The lead group is really start to thin out as the climb begins in earnest.

Back in the main peloton, Frank Schleck waves angrily at a television camera for reasons unknown.

66km remaining from 200km

Maxime Bouet accelerates out of the yellow jersey peloton and blast past the dropped Danilo Hondo, who is retreating in search of the gruppetto.

Posthuma is doing all of the work in the break with 9.5km to go to the summit of the Izoard, while Nicolas Roche is sitting on his wheel.

Maxime Bouet is picking his way through the remnants of the early break, but he'll have his work cut out to make it back up to his teammate Roche. He's just gone by Mickael Delage.

With two teammates up the road, are the Schlecks going to try and make a move on the Izoard? So far, they haven't given any signs of doing so, they're tucked safely into the yellow jersey group.

Here is today's trivia question in the Easton/Cyclingnews Tour de
France Trivia Challenge:
If you are the randonly drawn Grand Prize winner of our Easton/Cyclingnews 2011 Tour de France Trivia contest, you'll win a BMC Teammachine SLR01. What wheelset does that bike come equipped with?

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

62km remaining from 200km

Jens Voigt starts to up the pace for Leopard Trek in the peloton, but as he does so Linus Gerdemann and Jakob Fuglsang are dropped. Meanwhile, Posthuma continues to press on in the breakaway. Leopard Trek are trying to do it all today, but when it comes down to it, the Schleck brothers themselves need to deliver a telling attack.

Johnny Hoogerland is dropped from the break as the Izoard pitches upwards. He gestures to the camera to show that his day is finished.

Stuart O'Grady leads Andy Schleck at the head of the yellow jersey group and his forcing is beginning to take its toll as David Moncoutie is unceremoniously deposited out the back.

60km remaining from 200km

Posthuma swings over from the lead group, and Iglinskiy immediately puts in an acceleration.

60km remaining from 200km

Andy Schleck attacks on the Izoard and immediately opens a sizeable gap.

Pierre Rolland tried to follow but couldn't. Andy Schleck took a glance over his shoulder before his went, but he hasn't looked back since.

This is a very impressive attack from Schleck, and there is clear daylight between him and the yellow jersey group. After two weeks of hesitancy, the Luxembourger is finally, finally seizing the initiative.

Daniel Navarro comes to the front of the yellow jersey group and labours in pursuit of Schleck. Contador moves up and sits on his wheel.

The other overall contenders were caught napping by that Schleck attack, and even now that they have organised the chase, he has 30 seconds in hand.

58km remaining from 200km

Andy Schleck's advantage continues to grow. He now has a 45-second lead over the yellow jersey group. So far Contador has resisted the temptation to chase in person. This is a daring move from Schleck, the first time in four Tours de France that he has really thrown off the shackles.

Brent Bookwalter has been caught by the yellow jersey group, and he is helping Cadel Evans to limit the gap.

It would be fascinating to be able to eavesdrop on the radio conversation between Alberto Contador and Bjarne Riis right now. Navarro and Contador have drifted away from the front of the yellow jersey group - does Riis reckon that Andy Schleck is going to run out of steam?

At the head of the race, Maxim Iglinskiy climbs through the almost eerie expanses of the lunar Casse Desert, one of the most hallowed sites in Tour de France lore. The Kazakh is riding well here.

56km remaining from 200km

Andy Schleck has made it across to Joost Posthuma and the Dutchman is burying himself in the service of his leader, who now has all of a minute over the yellow jersey group. This is a crucial, crucial moment in this year's Tour de France. Somebody needs to take responsibility for the chase behind.

Sylvester Szmyd takes over the pace-making for Liquigas-Cannondale in the yellow jersey group, but Andy Schleck has taken flight up front. The Luxembourger is showing no signs of letting up as he powers past Posthuma and sets off alone again against the majesty of the Casse Desert.

One kilometre to the summit for Iglinskiy.

Incredibly, Andy Schleck has an advantage of two minutes over the yellow jersey group. Schleck is 26 seconds off the overall lead on the road.

55km remaining from 200km

Maxim Ignlinskiy cross the summit of the Izoard alone, with Nicolas Roche and Monfort chasing around a minute behind.

Rigoberto Uran is dropped from the yellow jersey group.

Andy Schleck presses over the top of the Izoard, a shade under two minutes down on Iglinskiy. Monfort has waited for him to guide him down the descent.

Schleck makes a very nervous start to his descent of the Izoard. If he continues at this rate, he'll risk throwing away a big chunk of his lead.

Schleck links up with Monfort, and he will benefit from following the Belgian's line on the descent.

Rein Taaramae was impressive in the yellow jersey group as they reached the summit, but they are all of 2:10 down on Schleck with a little over 50km to race.

49km remaining from 200km

Maxime Monfort is using every available inch of road as he plunges around the sharp bends of the Izoard's descent.

So far, Schleck hasn't had any trouble in following his teammate, and they also have Egor Silin and Devenyns for company.

Andy Schleck is now leading on the descent. He is unrecognisable from the rider we saw in the Pyrenees, and he has opened out another 10 seconds on the yellow jersey  group.

Iglinksiy is still holding firm out front, with Nicolas Roche chasing hard behind.

Crash for Rigoberto Uran on the descent, although he doesn't appear to be injured.

The Schleck group has now hoovered up Nicolas Roche. If that quintet works together, Schleck will fancy his chances of holding this lead until the base of the Galibier.

43km remaining from 200km

There is no cohesion in the efforts of the yellow jersey group, which is fragmenting and regrouping on the descent. Schleck's attack has sown seeds of panic it seems.

Schleck turns and remonstrates with Roche, Devenyns and Silin. He wants them to ride with him and Monfort, but understandably they are reticent to tow the Luxembourger to the foot of the Galibier.

40km remaining from 200km

Schleck has 2:20 in hand on the yellow jersey group with 40km still to race. Considering how poorly coordinated the chase effort has been on the way down, Contador, Evans et al are fortunate that they have only conceded a handful of seconds since the summit. BMC are now taking matters in hand.

Alberto Contador consults with Samuel Sanchez at the rear of the yellow jersey group. 2:35 behind Andy Schleck, they'll need to conjure up something special on the Galibier.

36km remaining from 200km

Alberto Contador stops to change his bike as he approaches the bottom of the descent of the Izoard. He didn't appear to have any mechanical problems, so it's possible that he is changing to a special bike for the final climb.

Contador is chasing back between the cars to latch on to the yellow jersey group. Once there, he needs to get his head around reeling in Andy Schleck's sizeable gap.

Iglinkiy has passed through Briancon and is on the long false flat before the Galibier begins in earnest.

Today's final climb to Galibier-Serre Chevalier is the highest summit finish in the history of the Tour de France, 2654m above sea level. The road climbs for 23km at an average gradient of 5.1%.

The race approaches the Galibier via the "shoulder" of the Col du Lautaret today, with the toughest section of the Galibier "proper" coming in the final 8km of the stage.

33km remaining from 200km

It's been a long time since a possible Tour winner has gone on the attack from so far out in a decisive mountain stage... Scheck looks remarkably comfortable as he leads his five-man group towards the base of the final ascent.

Chris Anker Sorensen hits the front of the yellow jersey group for Saxo Bank. It's very hard to believe it, but Schleck is now all of three minutes clear of Contador et al. He is betraying no signs of suffering.

30km remaining from 200km

Iglinskiy is swallowed up by the Schleck locomotive with a shade under 30 kilometres still to race.

Maxime Monfort has put in a fine day's work in the service of Schleck. He puts in another long turn at the front of the lead group.

Euskaltel-Euskadi are now taking up the chase for Sanchez and Contador. The gap is coming down ever so slightly to 2:55.

The word from the summit of the Galibier is that it is very windy at the summit and that riders will have to combat a headwind all the way up the climb. It would be a remarkable feat if Schleck succeeded in maintaining all of this lead over that chase group between now and the finish.

26km remaining from 200km

Thomas Voeckler was reluctant to commit riders to chasing Andy Schleck on the descent. He takes a deep breath as he sits in the wheels of the yellow jersey group - it's been a tough day, and there are still 23km of climbing to come.

25km remaining from 200km

Andy Schleck has 3:10 over the yellow jersey group with 25km to go. Dries Devenyns is setting the pace now, but once the climb starts, one would assume Schleck will have to take over again.

Schleck is yellow jersey on the road, but there is a long, long way to go to the finish. While the opening slopes are very shallow, Schleck will have to battle against a stiff headwind, and that's where the chasers will hope to peg back a considerable amount of time.

Pierre Rolland passes a bidon to Thomas Voeckler as they approach the foot of the final climb.

22km remaining from 200km

Maxime Monfort takes over from Devenyns in the leading group as the climb begins.

It's 100 years since Emile Georget led the Tour de France over the Galibier for the first time. With the yellow jersey on the line, now is the time for somebody else to step up and write himself into Tour lore.

Monfort's pace-making has added another 30 seconds to Schleck's buffer. As the yellow jersey group starts the climb, they are 3:40 behind Andy Schleck.

Logically, Schleck should not be able to maintain that advantage with the likes of Contador, Sanchez, Evans and Basso chasing behind, but incredibly his lead is still growing. It's now at 3:50.

19km remaining from 200km

Chris Anker Sorensen takes up the pursuit behind once again, rocking from side to side in typical style. With such a long way to the summit, the contenders themselves are not keen on committing themselves to the chase in person.

18km remaining from 200km

After the gridlock of the Pyrenees, the race has exploded into life in the Alps. Schleck has dramatically thrown caution to the wind here.

It's still a very big yellow jersey group. If they can concert their efforts, they should be able to make inroads into Schleck's lead, but so far they've scarcely made a dent in his advantage.

Monfort swings over, and now it's up to Andy Schleck alone. Roche, Silin and Devenyns are still battling to hold his wheel.

16km remaining from 200km

Silin struggles at the rear of the lead group under Schleck's impetus. Euskaltel and Saxo Bank and leading the chase in the yellow jersey group.

And then there were three. Silin is dropped and it's just Roche and Ignlinskiy who can match Schleck's forcing.

Nicolas Roche is beginning to show some signs of suffering as Schleck continues in his inexorable rhythm.

15km remaining from 200km

Uran, who crashed on the way down the Izoard, is safely tucked into the yellow jersey group.

BMC are now lending a hand to the chase effort, but there is still a lack of cohesion in the yellow jersey group. Schleck, Roche and Iglinskiy are 3:55 clear with 15km to go.

If Alberto Contador wants to win this Tour de France, he is going to have to respond now. He is 4:39 behind Andy Schleck overall on the road...

13km remaining from 200km

And right on cue, Contador comes to the front of the yellow jersey group. The armada of Euskaltel and Saxo Bank domestiques failed to make any inroads into Schleck's lead and now Conador has to take this chase in hand himself.

13km remaining from 200km

Contador and Evans are now sharing pace-setting duties at the front of the yellow jersey group, with Frank Schleck tucked in behind.

Evans presses so hard that he opens a small gap to the rest of the yellow jersey group, but he quickly sits up. There is no rhythm to this pursuit, and it is playing right into Schleck's hands.

Voeckler sits coolly on Evans' wheel, but he is determined not to do any work to defend his jersey.

12km remaining from 200km

Incredible scenes - the yellow jersey group is spread across the road. Nobody wants to commit to the chase. Evans remonstrates with his companions, but nobody wants to help the Australian limit the damage.

11km remaining from 200km

And all of that tactical manoeuvering means that Andy Schleck now has 4:15 in hand over the yellow jersey group with 11km to race. Roche and Iglinskiy are resolutely hanging on to Schleck's wheel.

Schleck climbs out the saddle. The gradient begins to rise here, before kicking up definitively with 8.5km to go.

After disappearing to the rear of the chase group, Contador drifts back on to the front and sets the pace, but there is no urgency in his chase. 4:24 the gap to Schleck.

A brief injection of pace from Andy Schleck has done for Nicolas Roche, and he is not going to get back on. Iglinskiy remains on Schleck's wheel, but it surely only a matter of time before he is dropped.

9km remaining from 200km

Cadel Evans attacks hard down the right hand side of the road, but Pierre Rolland responds, and brings Voeckler and then the rest of the yellow jersey group up to him. Basso and Szmyd were also vigilant but Contador was slow to respond.

Evans is throwing himself into the chase, and with good reason. He was 1:18 clear of Schleck this morning, but is now almost three minutes down on the road.

Samuel Sanchez was caught at the back of the group behind Rigoberto Uran, but he lifts himself out of the saddle and manages to move back up.

8km remaining from 200km

Schleck and Iglinskiy reach the top of the Lautaret and swing onto the Galibier proper. Andy Schleck still has the bones of four minutes in hand over the yellow jersey group, in spite of the headwind on the lower slopes of the climb.

7km remaining from 200km

Schleck drops Iglinskiy and simply motors away while remaining seated.

Evans continues to lead the chase in the yellow jersey group, but his style appears a bit more ragged compared than Schleck's.

Finally a grimace on Schleck's face, after over 50km off the front. His advantage has fallen to 3:30 over the chasers as they hit the Galibier proper.

Fine riding from Evans. He may well pay for these efforts at the top of the climb, but if he didn't take the risk of leading the chase, he risked letting Schleck simply ride away with the Tour de France. Rolland, Voeckler, Szmyd and Basso line up behind him.

6km remaining from 200km

Schleck takes a swig from a bidon and powers on towards the summit. He still has 3:25 and that advantage isn't coming down quickly enough for Evans' liking.

6km remaining from 200km

Sanchez is dropped from the yellow jersey group. Contador sits in seventh place, and is showing no signs of preparing an attack.

Meanwhile Andy Schleck continues to glide up the mountain. It's been a eyebrow-raising turnaround from Schleck, he looks to be a completely different rider to the one we had seen in this Tour before now.

5km remaining from 200km

Evans' efforts are chipping a handful of seconds here and there off Schleck's lead, but the Luxembourger still has 3:15 in hand as he passes the 5km to go banner.

Voeckler needs to recoup 45 seconds on Schleck if he is to keep that yellow jersey tonight.

Evans continues to do all the work in the yellow jersey group.

4km remaining from 200km

Schleck flashes under the 4km to go banner, but his lead is now down to 3:10.

There's still no reaction from Alberto Contador in the yellow jersey group, and he will need to do something very special indeed on Alpe d'Huez now if he is to win the Tour.

3km remaining from 200km

Evans' efforts have closed Schleck's advantage to 3 minutes, but the Luxembourger doesn't seem to be weakening significantly.

2km remaining from 200km

Voeckler, Rolland, Basso, Cnntador and Cunego are lined up on Evans' wheel, but it doesn't appear that anyone has the wherewithal to attack.

2km remaining from 200km

Alberto Contador is dropped by the Evans group. He is really struggling here, although he manages to make his way back up to the tail of the group.

Contador is definitively dropped from the Evans group. His Tour de France challenge is over. We should have known, he surely would have contributed to the chase had he had the legs.

Like Indurain on Les Arcs in 1996, it's been a sudden capitulation from Contador.

1km remaining from 200km

Andy Schleck powers under the red kite, with his grimace beginning to curl into a grim. Over 60km off the front for the Luxembourger.

Schleck has a shade under 3 minutes over Evans, but 3:30 over Contador.

Pierre Rolland sets the pace for Voeckler. The Frenchman is battling to hold on to his yellow jersey here.

Voeckler needs to close the gap to 2:35 to hold the yellow jersey.

Evans and Voeckler lead the yellow jersey group in pursuit of Schleck.

Schleck appears to have slowed in the final kilometre, his efforts have finally begun to tell in this steep upper section of the climb. He should take yellow by a handful of seconds, but it might be close.

Andy Schleck crosses the line to take the stage win, after a surprising 60km sortie off the front of the race.

Inside the final kilometre for the yellow jersey group. It's every man for himself as they tackle the final push to the line. Cunego has been distanced, and it's just Evans, Voeckler, Basso and Frank Schleck left.

Voeckler is distanced by Schleck, Evans and Basso.

Frank Schleck clips off the front to complete a Schleck one-two on the stage. What a difference 24 hours can make on the Tour de France...

Evans and Basso are next over the line, now can Voeckler save yellow?

Yes he can... Voeckler dives across the line 2:20 down on Andy Schleck to salvage the maillot jaune by  16 seconds. He is visibly exhausted as he crosses the line.

Frank Schleck came home 2:07 down in second. Evans 3rd at 2:15 and Basso 4th at 2:18, while Voeckler was 2:21 down.

Contador crossed the line 3:49 down on Andy Schleck. He now lies 4:44 down overall, and his yellow jersey challenge is surely over.


1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 6:07:56
2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 6:10:03
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 6:10:11
4 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 6:10:14
5 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 6:10:17
6 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 6:10:23
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 6:10:29
8 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 6:11:18
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 6:11:21

General classification#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult 1Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar79:34:06  2Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek0:00:15  3Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek0:01:08  4Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team0:01:12  5Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD0:03:46  6Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale   7Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard0:04:44  8Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi0:05:20  9Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo0:07:08  10Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:09:27 

General classification after stage 18:

1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 79:34:06
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 00:00:15
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 00:01:08
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 00:01:12
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 00:03:46
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 00:04:44
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 00:05:20
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 00:07:08
10 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 00:09:27

General classification after stage 18:

1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 79:34:06
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 00:00:15
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 00:01:08
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 00:01:12
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 00:03:46
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 00:04:44
8 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 00:05:20
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 00:07:08
10 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 00:09:27

An overall contender hasn't gone on the offensive from so far out since the 2007 and 2006 Tours de France, it's been quite a turnaround for Andy Schleck from the measured approach we saw in the Pyrenees.

The Schleck brothers now lie in second and third place overall, and will fancy their chances of dispossessing Thomas Voeckler of his maillot jaune on the slopes of Alpe d'Huez. Cadel Evans remains poised just behind them, and Damiano Cunego hung tough to move up to 5th, while Alberto Contador surely bade his Tour chances farewell.

Thanks for joining us on Cyclingnews for our live coverage of today's stage of the Tour de France. We'll be back for more on the short, sharp stage to Alpe d'Huez tomorrow. We'll have a full report, results and pictures from the Galibier online soon, as well as all the news from a dramatic day's racing.

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