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Tour de France 2012: Stage 18

Hello and welcome to our live coverage from stage 18 of the Tour de France, a 222.5km test from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde.

Although classed as a flat stage, the profile and local knowledge suggests it will be anything but. The first third of the day is flat but the middle section is distinctly lumpy. Most of the peloton will have a mark next to this stage as it offers many riders their best and perhaps only chance of a win before Paris. That being the case, the main break of the day could be very large indeed, perhaps with a dozen or more riders and potentially enough leg power to go all the way. With the Olympic road race little more than a week away, it will be interesting to see if the sprinters respond on such a long stage.

With just a time trial and the sprint to Paris remaining after today's stage this is THE last chance for a number of riders and teams to salvage their Tours.

The peloton are about to roll out, with Wiggins, in yellow, near the front of the peloton.

Roy:

"This long stage will be very tiring and it’s also the last chance to shine for many riders. Do I think a break could succeed? Yes, I’m 99 percent sure. The GC leaders must keep their strength for the next day’s time trial and the teams will be tired."

 

The likes of Euskaltel, Lampre, AG2R, Cofidis, Saur, Katusha, Omega and GreenEdge have gained very little from this year's Tour.

The bunch are heading through the neutralized zone, leaving the town of Blagnac, which has been a stage town on 6 occasions over the years.

From there it's almost a straight line north, Castelsarrasin, Cahors and then onto the finish. Four categorised climbs, but nothing that should trouble the GC men. It's perfect terrain for a  break.

We of course have the intermediate sprint today, that comes at Cahors, after 115km of racing.

After yesterday's stage, here's where we stand on GC, with Wiggins leading from Froome, Nibali looking pretty safe in third and Van den Broeck in fourth place.


1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 78:28:02
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:41
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:53
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:08:30
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:09:57
7 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:10:11
8 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:10:17
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:11:00
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:11:46

And the bunch are off. Over cast conditions at the moment.

One competition that has been sewn up is the KOM, with Thomas Voeckler out of sight. Yesterday's stage sub plot saw the Frenchman go head to head with Kessiakoff in the mountains. Simply put, Voeckler is the better climber but fair play to the Astana rider, he pushed Voeckler all the way with some inspired riding.

1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 134 pts
2 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team 123
3 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 77

RadioShack the epitome of team riding and solidarity are leading the teams classification. They'll hold that all the way to Paris now.

1 RadioShack-Nissan 235:40:21
2 Sky Procycling 0:14:09
3 BMC Racing Team 0:36:21

Initial attacks out on the road, as soon as the flag goes down, just like in yesterday's stage.

While we wait for the customary break to form,  lets have a flick through the news and see what's been happening in the world of pro cycling..

First up and USADA's latest on the Armstrong case and his expensive stalling tactics.

Danilo Hondo aka Teen Wolf lookalike, and all round nice guy, is looking at setting up his own team. I genuinely hope he pulls it off.

And in other news Tinkov wants to build the team up in order to challenge Sky.

212km remaining from 222km

You probably want to know what's happening in the race, don't you? Well the bunch is still all together after 12 km of racing. There have been a flurry of attacks, but nothing has stuck yet.

Who do you think will win today? If he gets into a break, I'll go with Gerrans. He's been quiet throughout the Tour but today could be his day.

By the way, if you've not seen this gallery from the Sky service course, go and have a look. Mr Huang hung out there back in April and took some great behind the scenes shots.

Still, a break can't go clear, every time a handful of riders attack they're brought back.

200km remaining from 222km

We finally, have a break, with 6 riders from 6 different teams up the road. That could work. They've already got 46 seconds on the bunch.

Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun), Cdric Pineau (FDJ-Big Mat), Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Dmitriy Fofonov (Astana), and Matthieu Sprick (AG2R Le Mondiale) are in the break.

192km remaining from 222km

The leaders still haven't established a sizeable gap, it's currently at 52 seconds. Teams  like Quickstep, and Cofidis have missed the split and are chasing them back,

Good chat with Oleg Tinkov this morning. Compared Riis to his wife and said he'd love to sign Cavendish & Cancellara.

@friebos Fri, 20th Jul 2012 11:04:16

It's actually a fairly strong break, lacking in some star studded quality but certainly not lacking guys that can take a turn on the front.

It's not looking good for the six riders though, and the bunch are just 12 seconds back now.

The break are still pushing ahead, now with a 15 second lead but it doesn't look good for their chances at this stage.

Too many teams have missed out on the break so they've having to chase this move down in order to then try and launch a counter attack.

172km remaining from 222km

50km raced and the break has been caught. Cue moment of relaxation before the next attack is made.

Quickstep, Cofidis, Garmin, and FDJ: they're all trying the same move by launching riders from the front but so far nothing is sticking. There's a 3rd cat climb in about 13km, perhaps that will be the ideal launch pad.

The climb of Cote de Saint-Georges, is a lot closer actually, less than 7km away now. It's just a third cat climb though.

We're about to start the climb, and we have around 9 riders off the front of the bunch with a very small advantage.

Hansen, Nuyens, Albasini, they're present. We'll bring you the rest of the names as soon as we have them.

It looks as though the 9 riders are down to just two with Nuyens and Arashiro off the front.

These were the guys who were in the break:

Jeremy Roy (FDJ-Big Mat), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Patrick Gretsch (Argos Shimano) and Julien Fouchard (Cofidis)

The two leaders, Arashiro and Nuyens, are still clear but there's a group of 14 riders in a counter attack. Vino is there, which is incredible considering how many days he's been on the attack, and David Millar, who has already won a stage in this year's race.

152km remaining from 222km

They've formed into a super group now with around 14 riders off the front of the bunch as they go over the top of the climb. If they can organise themselves on the descent they'll stand a good chance of building up a good margin.

The 16 riders (names coming) now have 2:10 on the bunch. Gerrans isn't there, so that's my prediction for today out of the window.

Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Nissan), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Davis Millar (Garmin-Sharp), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoliel-DCM), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Jeremy Roy (FDJ-Big Mat), Rui Costa (Movistar), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) and Patrick Gretsch (Argos-Shimano)

Interesting to see what Boasson Hagen can do today. He's been working for Wiggins and Cavendish throughout the Tour but he's in top form. It just depends what he has left in the tank. Rui Costa, also in the break. He's the highest on GC, 18th overall.

Brajkovic has taken a tumble but is back up and chasing, while the gap to the break is now 3:15

148km remaining from 222km

We've hit the feedzone.

And now I'm passing over to Susan for a while. Thanks

And the field exits the feed zone with a 3:05 gap up to that leading group.

Incredible to think that Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) took to the start today. He did major damage to the fingers on his left hand yesterday and we understand he will undergo surgery next week as soon as the race is done.

127km remaining from 222km

The gap has now dropped to 2:45.

Tom Boonen of Omega Pharma-QuickStep is recovering from his broken rib just in time for the Olympics. He is training again and very optimistic for London.

The day's intermediate sprint is coming soon at kilometer 115. It is followed only 2.5km later by the category 4 ranked Cote de Cahors.

122km remaining from 222km

About 100km still to go and the gap is hovering around the three minute mark. Much too early to say whether this group will get through to the end.

The gap has crept up again to 3:30.

The upcoming climb isn't really much of one. It is one kilometre long with an average gradient of 7.8%.

No points today for Peter Sagan at the intermediate sprint, but he doesn't really have to worry about it.

Boeckmans takes the sprint, ahead of Roy and Gretsch.

There are points at the intermediate sprint for the first 15 riders to cross the line -- and there are 16 riders in this group. Fouchard of Cofidis is the unlucky one who came out emptyhanded.

Boasson Hagen was fourth at that sprint and took 13 points. That leapfrogs him into fourth place in the green jersey ranking, ahead of none other than teammate and 2011 green jersey Mark Cavendish.

And just like that the lead group has the second climb of the day behind them. As a category 4 climb, it could only offer one point and that went to Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge).

102km remaining from 222km

The gap has dropped again, now at 2:10. Has the field finally decided this group is too likely to be dangerous?

There are still two more climbs to come, the final ones in this year's Tour. But both are category four.

A dog runs into the road at a race: does this sound familiar? It just happened again. Philippe Gilbert was one of the victims of the ensuing crash, and made sure the dog's owner knew his opinion of the matter.

Denis Menchov and Arthur Vichot were also involved.

Menchov has not yet caught the peloton again, which is being led by Omega Pharma-QuickStep.

88km remaining from 222km

The gap is now at 2:26, with a variety of teams at the head of the field.

Stephen Cummings of BMC is doing his mummy imitation. His left arm and leg are swathed in gauze.

Menchov is back in the filed. He has a bandage over his blood smeared elbow.

OPQS, Saur-Sojasun and Euskaltel are heading up the chase work.

80km remaining from 222km

Vinokourov has a small snack.

The race is going by another lovely chateau. But we doubt that the swimming pool is the same age as the house.

The pace is high now. The sprinters have had so few chances this year, they don't want to see another one slip out of their hands.

Today's fashion report: We think Europcar might have done better to skip the red polka dot shorts for Thomas Voeckler.

Quite a number of teams are taking their turn at the front of the peloton right now.

There seem to us to be a lot of people along the side of the road this year. That is a good sign.

Wiggins comfortably near the front of the chasing peloton.

If -- and that is a big if -- this group comes through to the end, we would bet on Boasson Hagen to take the win.

We are in the Dordogne Valley, lovely cliffs, river and forests.

Be sure to read the latest of Robert Millar's Tour de France blogs on Cyclingnews: Tommy guns of the Tour de France.

Mark Robinson, one of our people on the scene, tells us that it is pretty overcast but still warm. And fortunately only "warm" instead of the "hot" of the last few days.

The chase is having its effect. With 55km to go, the gap is now under two minutes.

We see a number of Rabobank riders near the front. It must be all of them, when one considers how many have already abandoned.

In about 10km we will have the third climb of the day, the category 4 Cote de Souillac.

48km remaining from 222km

Only 1:37 now for the lead group.

Just a reminder as to who is in this break group: Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Nissan), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Davis Millar (Garmin-Sharp), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol),  Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoliel-DCM), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Jeremy Roy (FDJ-Big Mat), Rui Costa (Movistar), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, Nick  Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) and Patrick Gretsch (Argos-Shimano).

The peloton rides into a town, where there is lots of road furniture. Let's be careful, guys!

The lead group is now going up the penultimate climb, with, as always, lots of onlookers.

Millar and Vinokourov have jumped from the group near the top of the climb.

But the others aren't far behind. Those two are really too dangerous to let them get away!

Arashiro is the nex to try, followed by Costa.

Arashiro was the first over the line and gets the one point available.

41km remaining from 222km

Boasson Hagen has taken off out of the group and has a slight lead.

But the others don't want him to get away, of course.

Constant attacks now out of the lead group.

Looks like each rider has the idea of taking off on a solo flight to the stage win.

Boeckmans and Fouchard have fallen out of the lead group and are now back in the peloton.

Vino drops back to the team car for a brief chat. Wouldn't he dearly love to win today, in his last Tour?

Boasson Hagen dropping back -- to the team car or to the field? HIs team does have a sprinter who would like his chance today.

Just the team car. He is now back up in the group.

The break group is working together again. But with only 32 km to go, it seems likely someone will take off soon.

29km remaining from 222km

Adam Hansen is the next to visit the team car. And the gap is now at 1:00.

It almost looks as if there are a few raindrops here...

We still have a mixed bag at the head of the peloton. Doesn't matter, the gap is only 42 seconds now.

Jeremy Roy has been named most combative rider of this stage.

Millar has taken off again, followed by Popovych. They arent't really away though.

We have a VIP at the race. French president Hollande is sitting in the car with Christian Prudhomme for the last 50 km today.

With 21km to go, the gap is still 45 seconds and both teams have turned up the speed a notch or two.

We also have Hedwig Kröner at the race, who warms: if there's a sprint the run up to the finish includes some  pretty dangerous spots, especially with about 5km to go there's a twisty passage with several road furniture on the sides but also in the very middle of the road.

20km remaining from 222km

With 20km to go, Adam Hansen takes off out of the lead group.

The peloton passes a field with three donkeys wearing yellow, green and polka dots....

HAnsen has been joined by Roy. They are being chased by Popovych, Arasiro and Gretsch.

Popovach has been caught and the other two chasers will soon be. Hansen and Roy have 27 seconds with 13.7 km to go.

Four or five riders hav ejumped form the peloton and have caught the two leaders. Vinokourov was one of them and has now taken off again.

The speed is very high here and the road is rolling.

The gap is down to 19 seconds for the three leaders.

An OPQS rider has taken off from the peloton, with the gap only 7 seconds to the three leaders.

Vino leads the trio under the 10km marker. Roche and Klöden are chasing, with LLSAnchez behind them.

Vino "suggests" the others help with teh lead work.

Paolini drives this trio along.

Raindrops again to be seen, as Vino moves back to the head of things.

We will soon be at that 5km area which could be dangerous.

Paolini caught.

Or perhaps it would be right to say, the three chasers have caught the three leaders.

Ten seconds for the leaders, and Hansen has taken off again.

4km to go, and Hansen is caught. The gap is still 10 seconds.

No panic yet in the lead group.

Meanwhile Liquigas is driving the field hard.

Vino and Hansen drop back, leavng KLöden, Roche and Sanchez in the lead.

Last 2 km and a minimal lead. Roche leads the group.

Everyone has accomplished the final turn. 1.3km to go.

Wiggins leads the field, setting up the sprint for Cavendish.

Hansen attacks again!

Boassan Hagan ahead of Cavendish.

Roche gets Hansen and goes for the win.....

The field catches them and Cavendish comes out of nowhere to win by a mile!

It looked as if Roche and Sanchez would fight it out for the victory, but the field caught them (much to Sanchez' disgust). Cavendish turned on the turbo and won by an amazing margin.

Goss was second and Sagan third.

No changes in the top of the GC.

Top ten for the stage today:

1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling  
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team  
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale  
4 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team  
5 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale  
6 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Sharp  
7 Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana Pro Team  
8 Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale  
9 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team  
10 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne

A big hug between Wiggins and Cavendish.

That is the second stage win for Cavendish and the fourth for Team Sky at this Tour.

Looks like some small groups are still coming over the finish line.

The top ten in GC:

General classification after stage 18  

1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling  
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling  0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale  0:02:41
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team  0:05:53
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team  0:08:30
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team  0:09:57
7 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan  0:10:11
8 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar  0:10:17
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team  0:11:00
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat  0:11:46

That was it! Join us again this weekend for the time trial and the closing parade into Paris.

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