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Tour de France 2013: Stage 18

Bonjour and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 18 of the Tour de France. Today's stage is the first of three big mountain stages in the Alps: from Gap to Alpe 'dHuez..

As the music blast out 'The final countdown' the riders are gathered on the start line for the start of the stage.

The sun is out in Gap but rain is expected for the climb up Alpe d'Huez.

The riders have left Gap and now face a 4.8km ride to the official start on the outskirts of Gap.

With two climbs of the legendary hairpins of Alpe d'Huez and the very technical decent of the Col de Sarenne, the stage is expected to inspire a great day of racing.

We will have all the action live here on Cyclingnews and complete coverage from our reporters at the finish in Alpe d'Huez.

The riders are tucked in behind  the race directors red car. When he drops the flag, the first attacks will no doubt begin.

Today's stage is 172.5km long but will be another hard day in the saddle.

The race begins with the Col de Manse, which is a fast main road and so perfect for attacks from riders looking to get in the break of the day.

Froome is riding next to Quintana behind the car. Will they go head to head on the second climb of Alpe d'Huez for the stage victory today?

And they're off!

The race is on and the first attacks have been made.

Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) was the first to surge away. Jens Voigt (Radioshack) is also now driving hard.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) is again wearing the yellow jersey today.

Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) is also on the attack. It's his 27th birthday today.

Riders keep attacking, checking to see if they have a gap and then easing up.

Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) is on the attack but so too is Jesus Hernandez (Saxo-Tinkoff) one of Alberto Contador's loyal teammates.

Some riders are already being dropped at the back. They face a long battle to finish inside the time limit today.

Upfront Brice Fiellu (Sojasun) joins Hernandez, as does Team Sky's Pete Kennaugh.

Sky does not want any Saxo-Tinkoff riders to go up the road to be there later for Contador and Kreuziger.

10km remaining from 172km

Now we have a more serious attack with the peloton lined-out.

Even Froome is closing gaps to stop a 20-rider attack going clear.

The contrast in speed between the front and the back of the race is dramatic. Those behind face a terrible fight for survival today.

Three riders have gone clear but Contador also accelerates, forcing Froome to follow him.

Saxo-Tinkoff riders are taking turns to attack, forcing Froome to move and close the gaps.

Fortunately for Froome and Team Sky, the early climb is about to come to an end.

Movistar is also on the attack, chasing a surge by Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp). 

Froome responds to another surge. These attacks are just a starter to what will come later on Alpe d'Huez and the descent of the Col de Sarenne.

Hesjedal has a gap now and is set to reach the summit of the Col de Manse first.

Over the top of the climb other riders attack, trying to spark the break of the day. Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) and Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) are both in the action.

Seven riders have a slight gap but the peloton is leading the pursuit.

Both Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) are in the attack.

There are nine riders in the move and their gap is growing.

Some of the riders dropped on the first climb have managed to get back on to the peloton, with Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) also close to making it back on.

The peloton seems to have eased, allowing the break to extend its lead.

The nine riders in the break are: Lars Boom (Belkin), Jens Voigt (Radioshakc-Leopard), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Tom Danielson (GArmin-Sharp), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ.fr) and Andrey Amador (Movistar).
 

The roads is now largely flat until the 80km point.

Behind Contador drops back to his team car to resolve a quick mechanical problem. his mechanic Faustino seems to have adjusted his rear brake.

Upfront the Tv camera has spotted Froome going up to Rogers to talk about something. Tactics? the weather or perhaps Roger's series of attacks.

140km remaining from 172km

The gap to the break is up to 3:40 now. 

The road is still dry but it is starting to rain.

Team Sky is leading the peloton, with Ian Stannard on the front on this long flat section of road through the N85, the Route Napoleon, the road he took when returning to France after exile on Elba island. 

Team Sky has five riders on the front ahead of Froome, with Richie Porte tucked in on Froome's wheel. The Saxo-Tinkoff riders are lined out behind him.  

The breakaway riders are on the Ramp du Motty. it lives up to its name: it's a short (2.4km climb) at 8%.

The nine attackers are working smoothly together, taking turns on the front to share the work.

We're hearing that it has stopped raining at the top of Alpe d'Huez but it is cold. The crowds are huge too!

The Ramp du Motty has sparked more attacks from Saxo-Tinkoff. This time Paulinho and Roche accelerate away. However nobody has gone after them, with Thomas riding on the front for Team Sky.

Roche and Paulinho have a 200 metre gap with Laurent Didier (Radioshack) trying to go across to them.

The attacks on the Col de Manse sparked a first hour average speed of 44.6km/h.

120km remaining from 172km

Two Euskaltel riders edge off the front of the peloton but Team Sky soon pull them back.

The breakaway includes some quality riders, who have the ability to stay away and win atop Alpe d'Huez. 

Tejay van Garderen (BMC) showed he is back to near his best in the time trial and seems on a good day today.

It could also be a big day for Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp). This could be his final Tour de France and so a stage win could be a great way to go out. 

Danielson confessed to doping as part of the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong but served his six-month ban and is now back racing.

He finished eighth overall in 2011.

The sun is still shining on the peloton and it is now dry at Alpe d'Huez. Race organisers have confirmed for one last time that the race will include the descent of the Col de Sarenne.

Italian television has remembered that today is the 99th anniversary of Gino Bartali's birthday. There are special plans underway to celebrate 100 years since his birth.

Bartali, a tough Tuscan, won the Tour de France in 1938 and 1948.

The break is now passing through the feed zone, with riders taking their musettes and seeing what they have for lunch.

Along the roadside, the fans scramble to pick up the bottles and food the riders throw away.

96km remaining from 172km

This is a quiet moment in the race but the Col d'Ornon could see more attacks from Saxo-Tinkoff, perhaps even on the descent.

Susan here for a short spell. The group is taking a 6:57 gap into the next climb.

The next climlb is the Col d'Ornon (1 371 m)5.1 kilometre-long climb at 6.7% - category 2.

Up front, van Garderen drops back to the BMC team car for a second.

In case you want to know exactly what this stage holds in store for everyone, check out the Cyclingnews preview here.

We wonder how long this quiet spell will last. Saxo-Tinkoff has obviously sent its two riders up the road to set something up for Contador -- the only question is, when?

The average speed for the second hour of racing was 41.8 km/h.

82km remaining from 172km

The gap back to the yellow jersey just keeps getting larger. It is now 7:55-

The lead group is nearing the top of he next climb. That is followed by the descent, a short flat section with the day's intermediate sprint, and then the first climb up the Alpe d'Huez.

The race's oldest rider, Jens Voigt, putting in another strong performance today.

The break group is coming to the top of the day's first climb. A small sprint for the points and Jeannesson takes them ahead of Chavanel and Voigt.

Roche and Paolinho are still there, some two and a half minutes ahead of the field.

The two Saxo-Tinkoff rides are descending, as Sky leads the peloton over the top of this third climb.

So far today the weather has co-operated. There were a few raindrops earlier, but not many. We wouldn't say there is exactly blazing sun, but at least it is dry.

Steve is back, and ready to take you up the Alpe d'Huez, down it and then back up again!

80km remaining from 172km

Thanks Susan. The race is 80km from the finish but what an amazing 80km it is set to be with two climbs of Alpe d'Huez and the testing descent of the Col de Sarenne.

The breakaway is now on the lower slopes of the Alpe and the crowds are huge.

Cannondale is leading the peloton for the intermediate sprint but Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) takes it pick up a few points. However Sagan is there to and so safely defends his lead.

As expected the climb of Alpe d'Huez is hurting the riders, as the peloton hits the first part of the climb.  

 

Upfront van Garderen and Riblon have opened a slight lead on the remains of the nine-rider break.

However van Garderen's team leader Cadel Evans continues to struggle and is at the back of the peloton.

Behind him the sprinters are falling out of the peloton.

The pace is steady in the peloton but Team Sky has swept up Nico Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Mark Cavendish (OPQS) is off the back but has a teammate to help him.

Siutsou is now on the front for Team Sky but the pace is steady so far. 

55km remaining from 172km

Van Garderen is in the thick of the crowds now, opening the road with every pedal stroke.

The other breakaways are spread out on the road behind him.

Riblon is trying to chase after van Garderen and gets a huge cheer as he goes through the Dutch corner.

Riblon is 24 seconds down on van Garderen.

Sadly Riblon had to push away a over keen fan.

53km remaining from 172km

The peloton is 8:00 behind but Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) has gone on the attack but with little effect.

He is with teammate Pierre Rolland and two other riders.

The climb to Alpe d'Huez is like one big fancy dress party, with people dressed in all kinds of things, from bears to spidermen.

 

Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel) has also surged away after Voeckler and Rolland no doubt in pursuit of more mountain points.

Siutsou leads the peloton through the Dutch corner. There were clearly heard booing from the crowd that packed the roadside.

Andy Schleck stopped suddenly at the side of the road but then gets going again.

Upfront Moser has paced his effort and is leading Riblon up to van Garderen. They are inside the final 4km barrier section now.

Siutsou has moved off the front but Froome still has three teammates to help him: Lopez, Kennaugh and Porte.

Schleck attacks from the peloton but the breakaway of van Garderen, Moser and Riblon are right minutes up the road.

The trio are in the houses and appartments of Alpe d'Huez.

To get a real feel for what it is like to ride Alpe d'Huez today, check out this time lapse video we made. 

You can see the madness and thousands of fans on every part and specially on the Dutch corner.

Click here to watch the video.

 

Kwiatkowski (OPQS) has been dropped and takes a bottle from the neutral motorbike. He looked tired and could drop from the GC. Quintana seems in control of the best young rider's white jersey.

The breakaway trio is about to start to Cole de Sarenne. It has been used as an access road in the past and in the recent Criterium du Dauphine but never in the Tour de France.

The road surface is rough and become narrow too.

The Team Sky steamroller rolls on. Voeckler has been swept up.

Rolland, Schleck, Nieve and Poels lead the chase behind but are seven minutes down on the breakaway.

Voigt is just 35 seconds down on the leading trio and chasing hard.

The riders in the peloton  are busy feeding and taking on bottles from the roadside. There will be little chance for feeding from the car on the descent and valley road.

The riders in the peloton  are busy feeding and taking on bottles from the roadside. There will be little chance for feeding from the car on the descent and valley road.

Moser looked strong but has been distanced on the Sarenne and Riblon and van Garderen.

They are 1km from the summit and so from the start of the long descent.

The peloton is lined out as it approaches the start of the Col de Sarenne. Yet again Ryder Hesjedal goes on the attack.

Van Garderen has a chain problem. He's trying to get it back on but may have to stop.

He has stopped and is left behind by Riblon and Moser, who is getting back to the front.

They are the first riders on the descent and showing just how difficult it is.

Hesjedal has been caught by the peloton, with Kennaugh now setting the pace for Team Sky.

Ohhhh Riblon. The Frenchman goes wide on a corner and into the grass. Fortunately he was able to stay up.

The peloton begins the descent. We could see some of them struggle on the descent.

It is an absolutely stunning descent but the riders should not look down the mountain.

Roman Kreuziger has a slight lead on the peloton. Is this the start of a Saxo-Tinkoff attack?

Yes! Contador has also attacked. He's trying to get a gap on the descent.

There are also some drops of rain to make the descent even more unpredictable.

Contador gets across to Kreuziger and says: 'Vamos!"

Do you want know exactly where the Tour de France riders are and have a chance of winning a SRAM groupset?

Then download our free Tour de France Tour Tracker. Click here for all the details.

Do you want know exactly where the Tour de France riders are and have a chance of winning a SRAM groupset?

Then download our free Tour de France Tour Tracker. Click here for all the details.

Do you want know exactly where the Tour de France riders are and have a chance of winning a SRAM groupset?

Then download our free Tour de France Tour Tracker. Click here for all the details.

Do you want know exactly where the Tour de France riders are and have a chance of winning a SRAM groupset?

Then download our free Tour de France Tour Tracker. Click here for all the details.

Van Garderen is 45 seconds down on Riblon and Moser.

Van Garderen is 45 seconds down on Riblon and Moser.

Contador and Kreuziger hit the main valley road with a 20 second gap but Team sky is right behind them.

We apologise for the repetition in some of our postings. Normal service has now been resumed.

We apologise for the repetition in some of our postings. Normal service has now been resumed.

Upfront Moser has been dropped  by Riblon and van Garderen.

Upfront Moser has been dropped  by Riblon and van Garderen.

10km remaining from 172km

 We apologise for the technical problems.

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