Bonjour and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 12 of the Tour de France. Today's stage is over 218km from Fougeres to Tours. It is expected to see the sprinters again fight for victory in a high-speed sprint finish.
Allez! Stage 12 is about to start.
The riders are already in the neutralised section of the race and action is about to begin.
Fortunately for the riders, the temperature has dropped to a cool 19C, with grey skies.
The 2013 Tour de France has passed the half way after 11 of the 21 stages. The race has also turned a corner in Normandy and begins to head south-east to the Alps with today's stage to Tours.
The sprinters and their teams will no doubt have studied the finish of the stage. It includes two right hand turns inside the final kilometre.
And they're off! the stage has begun but so far there are no early attacks.
Here we go. five riders have attacked and have a slight gap on the peloton. Will they be allowed to go clear?
We have a breakaway. The five riders are:
Francesco Gavazzi (Astana), Romain Sicard (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoliel-DCM) and Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun).
The five already have a lead of 1:45 after 15km of racing.
Correction, after 8km of racing. The peloton seems happy to let them go. None of the riders are an overall threat to race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). No doubt the sprinters and their teams will be confident of reeling them in the second half of the stage.
As the break hits he 20km mark, the gap is already 4:00.
Gavazzi is the best placed rider overall but is 49:59 down on Froome.
Behind Omega Pharma-Quick Step is leading the chase.
After someone threw urine at him during the TT, Mark Cavendish is no doubt looking to win today.
As expert Cilian Kelly points on Twitter: No French, Italian or Spanish stage winners in the first 11 stages. Hasn't happened at the Tour de France since 1926.
Can their drought end today?
193km remaining from 218km
The gap has grown to five minutes.
186km remaining from 218km
We've had a fast start to the stage, with the riders covering the first 32km at an average of 45km/h.
The gap keeps on rising. It's now 6:45 after 35km.
177km remaining from 218km
As we close in on the first hour of racing the gap keeps on growing. The five breakaways now lead by eight minutes.
Ouch. The first hour was covered at an average of 47.2km/h average.
158km remaining from 218km
Can the break reach double figures? The five now have a nine-minute lead. This stage is going to be a long pursuit match.
There has been much debate about the user of power calculations to understand if performances are credible. It has been dismissed as pseudo science but Froome's TT perfomance has sparked even more debate.
In today's Gazzetta dello Sport, calculations indicate that Froome was 18% more powerful that Contador and Valverde.
You can read the numbers and other Tour de France shorts here.
Has the break reached its peak? The gap is starting to fall after three teams begin to share the work behind.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Lotto-Belisol and Argos-Shimano are leading the chase behind.
There are reports of rising cross winds out on the route. This could get interesting if a team decides to try and split the peloton.
137km remaining from 218km
After 80km the gap has come down to 8:25.
Susan here, jumping in for a spell.
Tony Martin's win yesterday was the fourth German stage win in this Tour, giving that nation the lead -- two by Kittel and one each from Martin and Greipel.
It looks like quite a battle is developing for the white jersey of the best young rider. Michal Kwiatkowski of OPQS and Nairo Quintana of Movistar are the top runners.
The white jersey does look as if those two are the only ones who have a chance.
128km remaining from 218km
The gap continues to slowly shrink, and is now at 7:45.
Yesterday's time trial saw some changes in the overall rankings. Here the top ten:
Hm, we seem to be having some formatting problems there...... sorry about that.
Peter Sagan has a rather massive lead in the points classifications. The Cannondale rider has 269 points, ahead of Andre Greipel (Lotto) with 186 points and Mark Cavendish (OPQS) with 166 points.
Cavendish has been through a lot the past two days. Will that give him extra motiviation? Hard to say, as he always wants to win, and wants to get back on track with Grand Tour stage wins.
Biel Kadri and another rider have had a small crash. The other rider is slow getting back on his bike.
Meanwhile, the gap has now dropped to 6:20.
In the teams ranking, Movistar leads ahead of Saxo-Tinkoff and Belkin.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar) continues to lead the mountain ranking. Chrstopher Froome (Sky) is second and Richie Porte, also Sky, is third.
The break group has gone through the feed zone with a gap of just a few seconds over six minutes.
The gap creeps back up to about 6:20 as the peloton goes through the feed zone. It just takes time to pick up and unpack those bags, and tuck away all the yummies.
A Katusha rider crashed in the feed zone and is now at the race doctor's car, getting a knee attended to.
No French team has won a stage here so far, and Cofidis hasn't had a victory since 2008. Dani Navarro would like to change that.
91km remaining from 218km
With 91km to go, the gap has dropped to 5:46.
Tony is not the only Martin to have won a stage here. Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp did so too. From here out he is taking things one day at a time.
This is a typical flat stage: long break, long chase and -- how can we say this? -- not much happening along the way.
80km remaining from 218km
The peloton is chasing hard with 80km to go. The gap has dipped under five minutes.
Chris Froome has a standard black and blue Kask helmet today. The Movistar riders have yellow helmets today as leader's of the teams classification.
Continuing a dress theme, Marcel Sieberg, Greg Henderson and André Greipel of Lotto-Belisol are all wearing skin suits. Aero helmets are also on show today.
The riders have been in action for just over three hours now, racing at an average of 45.2km/h. They're not hanging around and the stage should finish 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
Tom Veelers is looking forward to another sprint finish, despite his high-speed crash on Tuesday.
“That was a pretty hectic sprint and a rough fall, but aside from some missing skin I am OK," he said.
"Mark Cavendish and I clashed, but don’t forget that this is a sprint and it’s always very chaotic. My recovery is going well, and even though I crashed quite hard I am looking forward to today and will give myself 100 percent to help position Marcel well. I’m ready to throw myself into today’s battle.”
German riders have won four stages so far in this year's Tour. Will today be number five? Will it be Kittel or Greipel?
Italy has two riders in the break today. Despite being one of the traditional power houses of professional cycling, Italian riders have still leave their mark on this year's Tour.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) won the Giro d'Italia but is not riding the Tour, preferring to ride the Vuelta to prepare for the world championships.
58km remaining from 218km
The long straight road heads to Tours. It is hard for the break to stay away when the peloton can see them in the distance.
It's almost time for the only intermediate sprint of the stage.
The breakaway will sweep most of the points but we should see Saga, Cavendish, Kittel & Co fight for the minor points.
Gavazzi (Astana) comes past Flecha near the line to take the intermediate sprint. Mori is third but the five quickly get back to working together. They will probably accelerate again, trying to surprise the peloton.
Cavendish won the sprint ahead of Greipel after Peter Sagan was squeezed against the barriers by a Vacansoleil-DCM rider.
Sagan gave the Vacansoleil rider a piece of his mind. It cost him a few points but his lead in the points competition is still huge.
Upfront Romain Sicard (Eusaltel-Euskadi) has been dropped by the breakaway and is drifting back to the peloton.
45km remaining from 218km
The peloton has eased a little as we enter the final hour of racing.
40km remaining from 218km
The peloton is spread across the road but all the sprinters' teams are now near the front along with the overall contenders and their teams.
The race route is about to turn left soon and then head straight to Tours. There is a slight headwind for the finale and then those two final corners inside the last kilometre.
The first corner is fast through a roundabout, the second is much sharper and could cause some problems. It comes 500m from the finish and so it will be vital to have a teammate or two for a late leadout.
32km remaining from 218km
Argos-Shimano is now doing the work on the front. They will also need some riders for the finale and it will be interesting to see if Tom Veelers is back to his best after his crash.
30km remaining from 218km
With 30km to go, the gap to the break falls below a minute.
25km remaining from 218km
With the gap falling, the breakaway has begun to break up. Delaplace is the first to attack but is quickly caught.
Andy Schleck is at the back of the peloton awaiting his team car. The bar is about to close (no drinks from team cars are allowed during the last 20km for safety reasons) in the race and so will probably load up for his teammates.
Schleck has a problem with his bike and is getting some help from the team mechanic.
Cadel Evans (BMC) is also near the front to avoid any crashes in the final 20km.
Belkin is also gathering near the front, while Omega Pharma is already riding together, ready to lead out Cavendish.
Peter Velits and Jerome Pineau are on the front for OPQS.
Team Sky is riding on the front to protect Chris Froome, with Pete Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas riding in team pursuit formation.
The peloton can see the break and is about sweep them up.
Delaplace makes one last surge behind Gavazzi and Flecha but their moment of glory is over for today.
Flecha is the last to give up the fight but is about to be caught.
Orica and Saxo-Tinkoff are now on the front. Goss needs to prove he's still a big-time sprinter but he again faces some serious competition.
6km remaining from 218km
Flecha finally eases up and is swept up by the fast moving peloton.
The sprinters are looking around, making sure they are set and ready to go. Here we go!
Stannard is acting as Froome's bodyguard in the sprint finale.
The Orica rider slips out while leading the peloton.
4km remaining from 218km
The tension is high now.
Omega Pharma take control, as Cavendish likes it. Cannondale is also trying to get to the front.
Now Argos-Shimano come up with five riders. OPQS has six riders. This going to be a fast finish.
Just behind the sprinters several riders have gone down.
They are inside the final 3km so nobody will lose time.
1km remaining from 218km
Argos is leading it out but Omega is waiting to pounce.
Here they go!
Cavendish got a good lead out and hits really early.
Cavendish seemed to get it but we need a photo finish. Kittel could have beaten him by inches.
Kittel gets it!
Provisional results show the German rider edged out Cavendish.
The late crash sparked a pile-up of riders but no one seems injured.
Kittel won with a late bike throw at the line. Cavendish went a little too early and was passed in sight of the line. Kittel got it by half a wheel.
Kittel has given Germany its fifth stage win in this year's Tour. That's a record for Germany.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) finished safely in the front group and so retained his team lead.
Greipel was behind his teammates who crashed and so missed out on a chance to sprint.
That's it for today's Cyclingnews live coverage.
Checkout Cyclingnews for a full report, a huge photo gallery, videos, interviews and exclusive news from the Tour de France.
Joins us on Friday for complete live coverage of the 173km stage 13 from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond in central France.
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