Stage 20 of the Tour de France, the decisive 42.5km time trial at Grenoble.
As the Tour de France reaches its climax, Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) holds a 53 second lead over his brother Fränk, and has 57 seconds in hand over Cadel Evans (BMC).
The destination of the final yellow jersey in Paris is delicately poised. A stronger time triallist, Evans would normally hope to recoup 57 seconds on Andy Schleck over 42.5km, but the rolling nature of the Grenoble course and the effects of the cumulative fatigue of three weeks of racing mean that anything is possible this afternoon.
While the Evans-Schleck duel hangs in the balance, it's no surprise to note that Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) has set the quickest time among the early starters. The world time trial champion scorched around the course at an average speed of 44.54kph, to finish 57 seconds quicker than Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM).
On a lumpy course not ideally suited to his strengths, however, Cancellara might not have it all his own way, with the likes of Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) still to follow this afternoon. Contador narrowly defeated Cancellara on the hilly test at Annency two years ago. That said, we can expect Cancellara to feature at the top of the leaderboard on the right for quite some time...
The early starters are heading every two minutes, but the top twenty on GC will start at two-minute intervals. Their start times are as follows (all times CET):
15:21 Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
15:24 Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad)
15:27 Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervélo)
15:30 Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo)
15:33 Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack)
15:36 Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ)
15:39 Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun)
15:42 Kevin De Weert (Quick Step)
15:45 Rein Taaramae (Cofidis)
15:48 Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
15:51 Pierre Rolland (Europcar)
15:54 Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo)
15:57 Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale)
16:00 Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
16:03 Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard)
16:06 Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD)
16:09 Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)
16:12 Cadel Evans (BMC)
16:15 Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek)
16:18 Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek)
A number of riders have now come home inside the one-hour mark, including Kristjan Koren and Italian time-trialling talent Adriano Malori, but Cancellara remains the sole rider to have gone under 58 minutes. Indeed, Cancellara is 54 seconds clear of Koren at the finish.
David Millar, meanwhile, is 53 seconds down on Cancellara at the first time check in Vizille after 15km. The Scot finished the Giro d'Italia with a fine time trial win in Milan, but with two Grand Tours in his legs, it's not surprising that he's finding the going tough out there today. Millar and HTC's Bernhard Eisel helped each other through yesterday's short but exceedingly tough stage over the Télégraphe and Galibier to l'Alpe d'Huez, and Cyclingnews spoke to Eisel just after he crossed the line.
Cadel Evans lies in second place ahead of this afternoon’s time trial, and the Australian has some previous in this department. In 2007, Evans entered the final 55km time trial from Cognac to Angoulême 1:50 behind Alberto Contador. He finished second to Levi Leipheimer on the day, and managed to close the gap on Contador to 23 seconds, but Evans had to settle for the second step of the podium in Paris the following day.
A year later, Evans was back in contention to snatch yellow from a Spanish climber on the final Saturday of the Tour. He lay in 4th overall ahead of the 53km time trial from Cérilly to Saint Amand Montrond, but only 1:34 down on Carlos Sastre. With Fränk Schleck and Bernhard Kohl grouped just ten seconds ahead of him, Evans was highly-fancied to overturn his deficit and take yellow in Paris, but he could only manage 7th in the time trial, and again had to settle for second place overall, 1:05 behind Sastre.
Evans will be hoping to make it third time lucky here, but it remains to be seen if the memories of those bitter experiences will be a spur or a burden on the rolling course around Grenoble today.
A good omen for Australia, as Richie Porte (Saxo Bank-Sungard) rockets over the line with the new fastest time, 12 seconds clear of Cancellara. He was 40 seconds down at the first time check, but he's pulled out a fantastic ride to move into the lead.
The descent from Saint-Martin-d'Uriage was still wet when Cancellara tackled it this morning, but that notwithstanding, it appears that the Swiss rider has paid for his efforts in support of the Schlecks over the past three weeks. In the chaotic opening week, in particular, Cancellara did a lot of work to keep the Schlecks out of trouble.
Meanwhile, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) has the quickest time at the first intermediate check, 8 seconds ahead of Cancellara and 3 ahead of Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM).
The unspeakably tragic events in Oslo and Utøya island yesterday will surely have been on Boasson Hagen's mind before this time trial, but the Norwegian champion is putting in a fantastic ride here.
Thomas De Gendt has rocketed through the third intermediate check at Gieres with 7km to go with the quickest time, 18 seconds quicker than Porte.
De Gendt enters the finishing straight and looks set to pip Porte's time...
It's tight, but De Gendt - just - gets it, one second quicker than Porte. The Belgian mined a rich seam of form back in March, especially at Paris-Nice, but he has been relatively quiet at this Tour de France to date.
Boasson Hagen swoops down a sweeping descent and looks to be flying, but we're still waiting for his second intermediate time.
Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) won over this very course at the Criterium du Dauphine and the big German has started off on the right foot here. He clocks 20:12 at Vizille (15km), 22 seconds clear of Boasson Hagen.
As Martin closed in on Xabier Zandio, he came perilously close to crashing into the rear bumper of the following Sky car. He managed to adjust his trajectory at the last second, however, and cruised imperiously past Zandio, Martin is looking very, very smooth here, and his morale can only have been boosted by the knowledge that Cancellara has managed just the third best time to date.
Overcast skies over Grenoble, but mercifully the rain appears to be staying away this afternoon. Most of the roads seem to be dry, although word reaching us that some of the descents still include some wet patches.
Spanish time trial champion Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) has lost over three minutes in the first 15km, but he doesn't seem to be particularly concerned. With his stage win at Saint-Flour, Sanchez feels he has done his bit at this Tour.
Sylvain Chavanel comes across the finish line with the 9th fastest time to date. After his heroics twelve months ago, Chavanel has endured a frustrating Tour. A crash in the first week took its toll, even if he was never less than grittily determined to get up the road and show off his French champion's jersey.
Edvald Boasson Hagen looks to have set off too quickly. He was 48 seconds down at the second check after 27.5km and has just come through the 35.5km point in 4th place.
Tony Martin, meanwhile, has eased past his four-minute man Steve Morabito (BMC), and is continuing with his metronomic progress around Grenoble.
Boasson Hagen enters the final kilometre. He was 36 seconds down on De Gendt with 7km to go, so he'll need something very special here.
Boasson Hagen comes across the line with the fourth best time, 41 seconds down on De Gendt.
Apparently, Boasson Hagen had to change his bike after his handlebars worked their way loose halfway through the stage. A pity for the young Norwegian, he had started in fine fettle, and even regained his rhythm in the final section of the course, but that change clearly took its toll.
Tony Martin is churning a monstrous gear on a nasty false flat. His shoulders are swaying almost imperceptibly, but the German still looks very much in control.
Martin powers through the 27.5km point 38 seconds up on De Gendt and 1:02 clear of Cancellara. Barring incident he'll be comfortably on top of the leaderboard when he finishes, and it's going to take a fine performance to deny him stage honours today.
Of course, the main event today is the battle between Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans for the yellow jersey. Speaking on l'Alpe d'Huez yesterday, Schleck was confident of his chances of holding off Evans. "57 seconds is a lot, and when you have the yellow jersey it gives you wings," Schleck said.
Evans wasn't in the mood for making predictions when he reached the mighty summit of the Alpe. "It's a time trial. You have to start as fast as possible, finish as fast as possible. And hope it's fast enough," Evans said succinctly.
With 7km to go, Tony Martin had stretched out his lead to 1:06 over De Gendt and he is now hurtling towards the finish en route to setting the day's quickest time.
Inside the final kilometre for Martin. He's safely through the final bend.
Martin punches the air as he cross the line and well he might. He was only a handful of seconds off his time at the Dauphine in June. He's recorded 55:33 here, 1:29 clear of De Gendt.
Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad) has just started his time trial. In less than an hour's time, Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers will be under way...
Last year, Andy Schleck entered the final time trial in second place, 8 seconds down on Alberto Contador. After giving the Spaniard the fright of his life in the early section of the course, Schleck ultimately faded to lose the Tour by 39 seconds. He can take heart from the knowledge that a similar performance today would win him the Tour de France.
"I have a really good feeling and I gave everything I had," Tony Martin said after the finish. The German clearly believes he's probably done enough to win the stage.
Robert Gesink is struggling out on the course. He's outside the top 30 at the second time check, 3:16 down on Tony Martin. The Dutchman's first week crash ruined his Tour de France, but to his credit he has stayed in the race. It will be fascinating to see if he tries to bounce back at the Vuelta a Espana.
Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) is the next man to start. 14th overall, Coppel is on course to achieve his aim of a top 15 finish, but he surely would have expected that would have made him the first Frenchman on GC. Instead, he lies behind the surprising Europcar duo of Thomas Voeckler and Pierre Rolland.
Further out on the course, Philippe Gilbert almost came a cropper after his chain slipped, but the Belgian did well to keep himself upright.
David Moncoutie (Cofidis) crosses the line in 72nd, 6:24 down. The softly-spoken Frenchman is apparently riding his final Tour, but he showed admirable calm in the wake of his second place finish at Lourdes at the end of week two.
Maxime Monfort flashes through the first time check in 10th place. The Leopard Trek rider will bury himself early on here to give the Schleck brothers a target to aim at when they start their efforts.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar) is the next rider to start. The French revelation moved into the white jersey yesterday on Alpe d'Huez, and now he must defend a 1:33 lead over Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) to bring that jersey to the Champs-Elysees.
Rolland is also defending a place in the top 10, with his fellow countryman Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) just 45 seconds down in 11th place. Peraud, who made his name as a mountain biker before switching to the road, is a strong time triallist, and has enjoyed a very consistent debut Tour.
Robert Gesink comes home in 21st place, all of four minutes down on Martin.
Next off is 9th place Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervelo). The American is unlikely to make up the 2:31 gap to Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale), but he should safely defend a top 10 place, and follow in the footsteps of Christian Vande Velde (2008), Bradley Wiggins (2009) and Ryder Hesjedal (2010) for Jonathan Vaughters' team.
It's worth noting that the sun has pierced the clouds in Grenoble, and the overall contenders should all enjoy completely dry conditions out on the course. That will be a relief to the Schlecks. Although to Andy Schleck's credit, he put in a fine descent of the Izoard on Thursday, especially considering how ill at ease he had appeared on the drop to Gap two days previously.
Alberto Contador is waiting to get into the start house, and the Spaniard is wearing the red dossard of most combative rider in the wake of his show of defiance on the road to Alpe d'Huez yesterday. Contador faces a challenge of a different kind on August 1, 2 and 3, as the Court of Arbitration for Sport deliberates on his Clenbuterol case.
Maxime Monfort (Leopard Trek) crosses the line in an impressive 6th place, but he is 2:36 down on Tony Martin. These rolling course is certainly opening out sizeable gaps, and that will be music to Cadel Evans' ears...
Contador is the next man to start. He's chasing his three-minute man Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) is cheered raucously as he rolls down the start ramp. His chances of finishing on the podium are at best slim, but he is guaranteed to be the best-placed Frenchman in Paris. He'll need to ride well to hold off Alberto Contador, who is only 1:45 off Voeckler's 4th place overall.
A focused Cadel Evans sits in the start house ready to begin the effort that will decide the destiny of this Tour de France. This is a huge, huge day for the Australian.
Evans closes his eyes briefly as the countdown begins and then rolls smoothly down the start ramp.
Evans is quickly into his rhythm, but the first time check at Vizille will tell us a lot more.
A nervous-looking Andy Schleck waits outside the start house, balancing himself against a barrier. His brother Frank will take off three minutes ahead of him.
Up the road, Contador is on the climb to Brie-et-Angonnes. After the descent, we'll get his first time check.
Frank Schleck starts his time trial. With just a four-second lead over Evans, his chances of riding into yellow today are slim, but both Schleck brothers should be on the podium in Paris tomorrow.
Voeckler is bobbing up the climb, with fans spilling out onto the road to cheer him on.
Evans has barely broken from his tucked position since he rolled out of the start, he is looking comfortable.
Andy Schleck is all in yellow today. He grits his teeth as the countdown begins, and then rolls down the ramp.
Immediately the contrast in styles with Evans is apparent. Schleck's shoulders are rocking from side to side as he attempts to settle into his big gear.
That said, this isn't a pure tester's course, and there are plenty of changes in rhythm and uphill sections that might suit Schleck.
Cadel Evans is out of the saddle on the uphill drag towards Bries-et-Angonnes (9km), but he is certainly doesn't appear to be struggling. He is maintaining a very consistent tempo.
Peter Velits crosses the line 2:03 down in 5th place, but that the real story is the Schleck-Evans battle. At the moment all we have are early impressions of the two contenders, but the first time check will reveal an awful lot about the final destination of this yellow jersey.
Evans has taken 14 seconds back on Schleck's lead in the early part of the course, but we're still awaiting the first official time check for both riders.
Alberto Contador has gone through the first time check in second place, 21 seconds down on Tony Martin.
Rein Taaramae had pegged back 15 seconds on Rolland at the first check, so the Frenchman is looking good to retain that white jersey.
Andy Schleck looks to have settled a little better into his rhythm here, but the shoulders are still rocking and his head is dropping, which won't help his aerodynamic profile.
Contador has already moved up to 5th overall ahead of Damiano Cunego as of the opening time check thanks to the 50 seconds he has made up on the Italian.
Jean-Christophe Peraud is 5th at the second time check, just 1:12 down on Martin and looking at a top 10 finish in Paris.
There are a lot of Luxembourg flags and fans out on the roadside for Andy Schleck today.
Evans looks far more comfortable on his bike than Schleck as he rockets through Vizille, but the word from the opening 10km was that Evans has only pulled back 12 seconds on the Luxembourger. However, we won't have an accurate gap until both men have come through Vizille (15km).
Evans has gone through the first time check in the same time as Alberto Contador, 21 seconds down on Martin. That's a fine start from the Australian, and Schleck is going to have to pull out something special to save the maillot jaune today.
Cunego is grappling with his bike and must know that he is losing 5th overall to Contador.
After a ragged start, Andy Schleck has settled over the past few kilometres, but that time check at Vizille will tell us more...
France Television tells us that Evans has already taken 30 seconds off Schleck even before the first intermediate point, but that is not an official time check.
Evans is up to 2nd overall at the first time check. Frank Schleck came through 55 seconds down on Martin and 34 down on Evans.
Andy Schleck is losing the Tour de France. He was 17th at 57 seconds at the first time check, which means he has lost 36 seconds to Evans in the opening 15km.
Evans is surely riding towards the yellow jersey here. He has 27.5km to make up just 21 seconds on Schleck.
That first time check appears to have upset Andy Schleck. The latest (unofficial) word is that Evans is a mere 12 seconds off the yellow jersey with over half the course still to ride.
There is still the climb towards Saint-Martin-d'Uriage to come for both Evans and Schleck, but it would seem as though the former is riding his way into yellow.
Evans is just two seconds off Schleck's overall lead according to our last unofficial check. Evans is bobbing uphill and looking very comfortable, while Schleck's efforts are becoming increasingly frantic further down the road.
Andy Schleck is rolling from side to side and visibly struggling with the time trial gear, while Evans is seated and comfortable.
After 27.5km, Contador has the third best time, so we'll get an idea of whether he can make up the ground on Thomas Voeckler.
Pierre Rolland comes home in 14th, 2:50 behind. He will hold his white jersey, but loses his top 10 place to Jean-Christophe Peraud.
Voeckler reaches the 27.5km mark 1:38 down on Martin in 14th, and less than a minute down on Contador. It will be close, but he should hang on to 4th overall.
Evans zips up to the 27.5km mark looking every inch the Tour winner. He goes past just 7 seconds down on Tony Martin in 40:33.
Andy Schleck's challenge is capitulating on these rolling roads around Grenoble. Evans is virtual maillot jaune by over 30 seconds according to France Television. Barring disaster, the Australian is about to win the Tour de France.
Evans is on a long sweeping descent. He doesn't need to take any risks here, but he is running very smoothly through the bends.
Contador is second at the third time check, 53 seconds down on Martin. He won't win the stage, but he has Voeckler's 4th place overall in his sights.
Ivan Basso comes home 3:46 down, and will be 8th in Paris tomorrow.
Frank Schleck is 1:50 down on Martin at the second time check.
Meanwhile, Samuel Sanchez finishes in a remarkable 5th place, ahead of Fabian Cancellara.
Contador comes home in second place 1:05 down on Martin, but he must wait and see if he has overhauled Voeckler and Frank Schleck to move onto the podium.
Andy Schleck is 1:49 down at the second time check, and Evans is 52 second clear overall with 15km left to race in the time trial.
Evans certainly isn't relenting even though he must surely know that he is riding away with the Tour de France.
Thomas Voeckler rides through a corridor of noise as he approaches Grenoble once again.
With 7km to go, Evans is just 2 seconds down on Tony Martin. Not only will he win the Tour, Evans might even take his second stage win of the race.
In the virtual GC, Evans has 59 seconds in hand over Schleck. He has no reason to take any risks in the finale.
Cunego comes in 3:37 down and as expected loses his 5th place overall to Contador.
Voeckler has put in a fine ride this afternoon, and he looks set to hold 4th place overall into Paris as he approaches the line.
Voeckler comes home 2:13 down. He has only conceded 1:07 to Contador and holds fourth overall.
Evans rockets into the finishing straight. The Tour is all but won, can he add the stage?
Evans lunges at the line to stop the clock 7 seconds behind Martin. Second place on the stage for Evans, but he will wear yellow into Paris tomorrow.
Only the Schlecks are left out on the road, and they are both beaten men.
Andy Schleck is 2:12 down at the final time check, and he is going to be over a minute down on Evans when the Tour finishes in Paris tomorrow. He still has 5km to race here.
Frank Schleck crosses under the red kite. In spite of Contador and Voeckler's heroics, he'll hold on to third place overall, but it's been a disappointing outing from the elder Schleck.
Frank Schleck crosses the line 2:41 down on Tony Martin, and will finish in third in Paris tomorrow.
It's a lonely road for Andy Schleck now as he enters the final kilometre. He has already lost the Tour de France at this point, and the outcome was never in any real doubt this afternoon.
The yellow jersey didn't see Andy Schleck grow any wings and the Luxembourger crosses the line in 17th place, 2:37 down on Martin and 2:30 down on Evans.
Evans is now 1:34 ahead in general classification, with just the final promenade to Paris to come.
There was a huge contrast in styles between Schleck and Evans from the very opening pedal strokes this afternoon, and once Schleck hit the first time check 36 seconds down on Evans, his challenge collapsed.
It's worth noting that Evans rode this course in the Criterium du Dauphine, and that may well have been telling, not just today, but throughout the three weeks of this Tour. The Australian knew that he always had a trump card waiting for him in Grenoble, and he was rightly confident that he could make up the 57 seconds on Schleck today.
1 Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad 0:55:33
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:07
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:01:05
4 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:01:28
5 Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:01:30
6 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:32
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:37
8 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard Trek 0:01:42
9 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:02:02
10 Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad 0:02:03
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:34
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:02:30
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:03:20
5 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:57
6 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:04:55
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:06:05
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:07:23
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:08:15
10 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:10:11
Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage on Cyclingnews, as Cadel Evans looks set become the first Australian winner of the Tour de France. We'll be back for more from Paris tomorrow, but in the meantime stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full results, report and pictures from today's stage, as well as all the news and reaction from Grenoble.
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