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Tour de France 2014: Stage 18

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Bonjour and welcome to live coverage of stage 18 of the Tour de France. We'll have all the action from the final mountain stage in the Pyrenees.

The riders are lining up on Pau ready to tackle the final mountain stage of this year's Tour de France.

This is the profile of the stage. It is only 145km long but includes two monster climbs.

The stage includes the Hors Category 2115m high Col du Tourmalet and then climb to the finish at Hautacam (1520m).

The riders are lined up in Pau, under grey skies, with possible rain later in the afternoon.

And they're off!

The four jersey wearers are leading the peloton in the neutralised section of the stage.

There are officially 166 riders left in the race.

All the riders who reached the finish on Wednesday are back in action today.

The white Depart flag is still flying but it will drop very soon and we should expect the first attacks.

According to race radio, there is also a risk of fog and thunder storms later in the stage.

This stage isn't hard enough, they have to have bad weather too??

Just a reminder, our four ranking leaders are: Vincenzo Nibali, leading the GC; Peter Sagan, points; Rafal Majka, mountains; and Thibaut Pinot, best young rider.

Cyclingnews brings you not only the top news stories but also the interesting little things, in our Tour de France shorts. For example, today Marcel Kittel talks finishing last instead of first....

 

The flag has been dropped and the racing has started!

 

Chris Froome is no longer in this race, but may still ride a grand tour this year. Dave Brailsford said the Vuelta is a good possibility for him.

 

And of course the attacks have started! Pierrick Quemeneur (Europcar) was the first to go. Now 10-12 rider are giving it a go. Let's see if they get anywhere...

 

Hm, we think it will be a little bit until the group of the day forms.

 

Heinrich Haussler (IAM) is no longer in the race.

 

Two riders just made a short trip through the front yard of a house along the way  -- unintentionally. They and the lawn are all still in fine shape.

 

137km remaining from 145km

As you might expect, the tempo at the moment is very high, and we already see the first riders being dropped. That is not a good sign this early on.

 

Oss (BMC) and Huzarski (NetApp) have a few seconds on the field.

 

Yesterday was also a very tough Pyrenees stage, which was won by Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo). Read all about it here.

 

132km remaining from 145km

It's a go for Oss and Huzarski. They now have 1:15.

 

 There are two huge mountains at the end of this stage, but there are also two smaller climbs at the beginning. The two cat.3 climbs come at km 28 and 56.

127km remaining from 145km

Oss and Huzarski have friends now. We have a group of 20 with two minutes. We suspect it will take us some time to gather all those names.

 

Here we go: Mikel Nieve (Sky), Jesus Herrada and Jon Izaguirre (Movistar), Yuriy Trofimov (Katusha), Alessandro De Marchi and Marco Marcato (Cannondale), Lars Boom (Belkin), Jan Bakelants (OPQS), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Daniel Oss (BMC), Bryan Coquard, Kévin Reza and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Julien Simon (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel and Marcel Wyss (IAM), Bartosz Huzarski and Tiago Machado (NetApp) and Florian Guillou (Bretagne)

The gap is now at about two and a half minutes. Astana is, of course, at the head of he following peloton. Nibali takes time to wave to the TV camera.

 

Couqard, Reza and Voeckler (Europcar) in the break group. How often have we said that so far this Tour?

 

 Snack time for Majka. However we recommend he peel that banana before he eats it.

The break group is nearly at the top of the day's first climb, the cat. 3. Cote de Benejacq.

 

117km remaining from 145km

Huzarski is the first over this not-so-massive climb.

 

Cheng Li, the first Chinese rider in the Tour, is a true water carrier. He is already loaded with bidons and on his way back to the field.

 

The gap, by the way, is now up to 4:09.

 

IAM Cycling has said that Haussler has abandoned after coming down with the dreaded "stomach bug" overnight. Our sympathies....

 

Cedric Vasseur is impressed with the young French riders he sees in the Tour and calls it "the best French generation of the last 20 years."

 

106km remaining from 145km

The gap is falling ever so slightly, and is now at 3:37.

 

The other day the peloton drove alongside the fields of sunflowers. Today it is fields of corn -- not nearly so colourful.

 

The best rider in GC in this escape group is Trofimov. And since he is 28 minutes down, we can understand why Astana isn't very worried.

 

100km remaining from 145km

100 km to go, and the gap is 3:25.

 

The lead group is now at the second climb of the day, the Cote de Loucrup.

 

This is a two km long climb with an average gradient of 7%.

 

Reza is leading the group, a picture we have become familiar with in recent days.

 

Good heavens, there is a bear at the side of the road. But we assume, and hope , that it is a stuffed one.

 

Boom leads the way over the climb, followed by Huzarski. Only two riders get points here.

 

The lead group is falling apart. Looks like we now have 9 in the lead.

 

But it now appears to all be coming together again.

 

And the gap is back up to nearly 4 minutes. We are now on a fairly flattish section, but soon enough the "real" climbing will start.

 

The day's intermediate sprint is upon us, and the group puts on a good sprint show. The points go to Couquard.

 

Coquard sprinted so hard that his radio bounced off. 

 

80km remaining from 145km

We see a whole flock of baby blue Astana jerseys lined up at the front of the peloton.

 

Coquard is second in the points ranking, with 253 points. Sagan leads with 408 points. It is theoretically possible for Coquard to win the green jersey but......

 

The foothills of the Tourmalet are gradually hurting the riders.

The race is close to Campan, which is famous for Eugène Christophe, repairing the front forks of his bike in the local forge after they broke during the descent of the Tourmalet in the 1913 race.

The Astana team has kept the break in check so far, perhaps indicating that Nibali wants to win the stage at Hautacam.

If he does, we should perhaps call him CaNibali.

64km remaining from 145km

The breakaways are still driving hard, especially the Europcar riders, who are working for Voeckler.

The break is starting to split, with Coquard slipping back. Chavanel is trying to get away but will any of them make it over the Tourmalet before they are caught?  

The Tourmalet is about to be climbed for the 69th time in Tour history. The first time was in 1910, when the road was little more than a dirt track.

The Tourmalet is is 2115m high, 17.1km long and climbs at an average of 7.3%

Behind the peloton, the sprinters and domestiques are forming the gruppetto of the day. If they can make it to the finish inside the time limit, they know they can make it to the finish of the Tour in Paris.

Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb are in the gruppetto again but we can expect them to fight for victory tomorrow. 

Upfront Chavanel has a 50 metre lead but Nieve and Kadri are going across to him.

Only 40 or so riders remain in the peloton with Nibali. Richie Porte (Team Sky) is falling out of the back. 

Nieve and Kadri have dropped Chavanel and he's also been passed by the chasers.

Nibali still has three Astana teammates with him.

The breakaway riders are approaching La Mongie, the ski resort two third up the Tourmalet. Nieve now has a slight gap on Kadri.

The two lead the chasers by 40 seconds, with the peloton at 4:00, with 5km to the summit.

The hardest part is the road out of La Mongie. The gradient is over 9% and opens into the valley in the shadow of the high mountains.

Westra ia setting the steady pace for Astana. Scarponi is behind him, with Nibali tucked in third place.

The riders get a huge cheer as they pass through La Mongie. This is the Tour de France at its very best.

The peloton passes La Mongie as Nieve again tries to crack Kadri. They know they're fighting for the stage victory.

Allez Thomas! Voeckler has now attacked from the chase group. He may try to catch them on the descent.

Westra is digging deep into his box of suffering as he leads the peloton and protect Nibali.

Voeckler is suffering too but he is going backwards rather than across to the leaders.

Nieve and Kadri are approaching the summit. The three chasers are 1:20 behind.

Kadri wants to the special Jacques Goddet prize as first to the summit and crosses the line first.

 

Nieve is with him, with both taking on capes and drinks.

The summit is shrouded in mist but packed with cheering fans. I's a unique place in sport and cycling.

Pinot leads the peloton over the summit. He could be worried about the descent.

Nieve and Kadri are already diving down the twisting descent. Fortunately the road surface is brand new.

Kadri is tucked dangerously on his top tube.

 

In the peloton, Valverde has gone on the attack. He's second overall and clearly out to distance Pinot. This could be a seriously move. He has two teammates up the road who can help him on the valley road.

The two Movistar riders have sat up to wait for him.

There 30 or so riders left in the Nibali peloton.

Valverde has teamed up with his two teammates but only has a 20 second lead on the peloton.

Valverde is trying to rattle Pinot but has little effect so far.

Behind, BMC is also leading the chase with Stetina.

Behind the peloton Jurgen Vandenbroeck (Lotto Beliosl) is struggling again. He is 12 minutes behind.

Valverde's teammates are spinning out their gears as they try to drag him clear.

27km remaining from 145km

Movistar tried hard but the peloton is about to sweep them up.

The riders are heading to the final climb to Hautacam.

To learn the secrets of the climb, check out this special InCycle video with former rider Juan Antonio Flecha.

Click here to see the video.   

Astana is now back on the front of the peloton and back in charge. The two attackers only have 2:45 now.

The descent is about to end and its time to climb again. This time to the finish atop Hautacam.

This is the fifth time the Tour ends atop the climb. Cobo was the last winner in 2008, when Cadel Evans took the yellow jersey.

Other winners are Luc Leblanc in 1994, Bjarne Riis in 996 and Javier Otxoa in 2000.

Nieve and Kadri are on the lower roads of the Hautacam as the peloton blasts along the flat valley road.

Here we go! The duo start the climb to Hautacam.

BMC is matching Astana at the front of the peloton.

Nieve goes! Kadri is unable to respond to the Spaniard's attack.

Nieve is nick-named Frosty by his Team Sky teammates.

Scarponi swings off after doing a short turn for Nibali. The peloton is closing down the last attackers and even Nieve.

11km remaining from 145km

Nieve leads by 1:15. Can he stay away and win a stage for Team Sky?

Kangert is leading Nibali. But Horner is the first to attack. And Nibali goes with him.

For now the other riders have not reacted.

Movistar is leading the chase but the gap is growing.

10km remaining from 145km

Nieve is 10km from the finish.

Horner is dancing out his pace on the pedals, with Nibali sat to one side. It's just like the Vuelta 2013.

Except this time Nibali is much stronger and jumps away. He clearly wants to win the stage.

Nibali is only 30 seconds behind Nieve, with the peloton further back.

It will be his fourth stage win this year and his second in the yellow jersey. 

Nibali is pedalling hard, sat in the saddle, to use his power.

He can see Nieve and is about to pass him.

He blows past him as if he does not exist, with Nieve not even getting in his slipstream.

Horner has paid for his effort and is dropped from the chase group.

For perhaps the very first time in this Tour, Nibali is going very deep on a climb. He has already gained a minute.

Jeannesson is leading the chase for Pinot but they will soon begin to fight for podium places.

After a turn by van Garderen, ten Dam gives it  a dig, before Pinot goes on the attack.

Valverde is suffering, while van Garderen joins Pinot and Peraud. The final 5km will decide the podium places before the last TT.

Majka is chasing Nibali but the Pinot group is closing the gap. van Garderen is having a great day.

Bardet is also suffering but is with Mollema and ten Dam.

4km remaining from 145km

Nibali is 30 seconds ahead of Majka.

Van Garderen is riding smoothly with Pinot on his wheel.

Peraud is also with them as they try to put time into Valverde and other GC rivals. They are close to catching Majka.

Valverde is fighting but loosing precious time.

Nibali is also suffering but has a lead as the hardest part of the climb begins.

Pinot does a super strong turn on the front and then flicks his arm to wave van Garderen through.

Peraud is not helping but is set to gain the most. He could move up to second overall at the finish.

Valverde has lost 30 seconds to Peraud, Pinot and van Garderen.

Nibali remains out front as the trio behind sweep up Majka. Pinot is very strong today and needs to gain time on Valverde before the TT.

Nibali begins the final kilometre of the final mountain of this year's Tour de France.

The quartet is lead by Pinot, with Peraud suffering at the back. van Garderen is still strong and could try to attack soon. Every second he can gain will be important.

Here comes Nibali. The Shark of Messina bites again. 

Nibali points to his heart and punches the air as he crosses the line. He takes his fourth stage win and extends his race lead.

Behind Majka attacks to take more climber's points but Pinot jumps him and brings home the riders at 1:10.

Van Garderen is with him after a gutsy ride by the US rider.

Bardet finishes alone, with Valverde finishing 1:58 behind Nibali. He losses 43 to Peraud and even more to Pinot. For now he seems to be off the podium.

As the calculations are done, Pinot warms down on the rollers.

Van Garderen finished fifth on the stage at 1:15. He also gained time on his GC rivals and has the advantage of the final TT.

Pinot climbs to second place overall, 7:10 down on Nibali. Peraud is third at 7:23. Valverde is fourth at 7:25. Van Garderen is sixth at 11:34.

Wow what a stage! Nibali proved that he's unbeatable in this Tour de France, while his rivals fight for the placings.

Nibali said he was riding to win the stage rather than gain time overall. He wanted to win for his Astana teammates who have worked so hard for him.

"I wanted to win the stage for the team that has worked so hard for me. It's important to win in the Pyrenees, I wasn't really thinking about the GC," Nibali said.

"I've got a good lead which helps me stay calm and relaxed. Tomorrow will hopefully be a quiet day and then there's the time trial before Paris."

Thanks for following stage 18 of the Tour de France with Cyclingnews. 

We will have a detailed stage report, a huge photo gallery, exclusive interviews and news from our reporters at the finish on Cyclingnews very soon.

Join us tomorrow for Friday's flat stage to Bergerac. After suffering in the mountains, it could be a day for the sprinters or a breakaway.

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