Hello and welcome to our live coverage from stage 11 of this year's Tour de France. We're in Eymet with the start a little over 30 minutes away. Riders are signing on, the journalists are picking up the morning papers and fans are gathering to see off their favourite riders for another day's action.
This is perhaps the last real chance for the sprinters before we reach Paris so the likely outcome is another bunch sprint. Before we reach the finish we've the small matter of 203.5km to cover with the finish in Pau - we start there tomorrow too.
Heading into today's stage here's where things stand on GC. Froome leads from Aru by 18 seconds, with Bardet and Uran the only other men within a minute of the yellow jersey. We shouldn't see any significant changes to the top ten today.
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 42:27:28
2 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:18
3 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:51
4 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Cannondale-Drapac 0:00:55
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 0:01:37
6 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors 0:01:44
7 Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott 0:02:02
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:02:13
9 Mikel Landa (Spa) Team Sky 0:03:06
10 George Bennett (NZl) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 0:03:53
The last time we finished in Pau was in 2012. Pierrick Fédrigo won the stage after he and Christian Vande Velde jumped clear from the early break. The Frenchman won in the same city, too, back in 2010.
It's unlikely to come down to break today though. We have a feedzone at 106km and then a 4th cat climb after 142km. That's about it. The run-in to the line is flat to slightly downhill, although there are a couple of tricky corners in the final 2,000m. With around 1,500m to go there's an almost 90 degree left hand bend but it's the final roundabout that a little later that will be crucial when it comes to positioning. Although if you're Marcel Kittel positioning isn't something you really need to worry about.
Kittel's lead in the Green Jersey competition is getting stronger and stronger by the day. The jersey is his, surely, as long as he can get to Paris.
1 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors 275 pts
2 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb 173
3 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal 150
4 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha-Alpecin 140
5 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 89
6 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data 73
7 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 68
8 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo 64
9 Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors 58
10 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo 57
Kittel has four stages wins to his name already in this year's race and it's possible he could win six by the end of the race. That's not been done since Mark Cavendish in 2009 when he claimed stages 2, 3, 10, 11, 19 and 21 in Paris.
Food for thought for the other sprinters and their teams. In a drag race you're just not going to beat Kittel in this race. So will the tactics change? Perhaps the likes of Lotto Soudal, Katusha and Sunweb will try and put more riders in the break today in a bid to put more pressure on QuickStep. Not sure that will work though as the Belgian team already have four wins in this year's race - the onus, they would argue, isn't on them to chase.
The riders are now rolling through the neutralized zone. This section is around 7km in length and once the flag drops we should see some life from the peloton. Albeit brief.
Kittel and Froome are deep in conversation near the front of the bunch as Rowe and Knees sit near the front. There's a bit of wind out there and cloud cover so the weather could be a factor during the stage. Prudhomme is on the mic and then drops the flag.
And we've an attack from the gun. Three riders have instantly gone clear. Is that it? Yes, I think it is. Backaert, Bodnar, Marcato. That took about 200m to form. I'm turning on the cryogenic freezer. Wake me up in a few hours time.
Froome has hit the front. It's not really news... he's just calling for a comfort break - which will allow the break to really establish a significant lead over the peloton.
200km remaining from 203km
200km to go and the break have a lead of 1'53.
Well this is awkward. I feel like I've invited you to a party and no one has turned up. It's just like my 18th all over again.
At least there's time to listen to today's Cyclingnews podcast. This episode features Cedric Vasseur who moved into the yellow jersey in 1997 - 20 years ago - with a long solo breakaway. He kept the jersey until Andorra but his rider to Loudenville was the stuff of legend. We caught up with Vasseur and French journalist Pierre Carrey about that race and of course Vasseur's wonderful ride.
At the front of the peloton we see Lotto Soudal and QuickStep post one man each. Team Sky are near the front but are more than happy to see the sprinters' teams once again do all the work. Kittel is a little further back, one bike length off Froome's back wheel. The gap is at 3'30 with 191km to go.
Meanwhile it's 50 days in yellow for Froome. That's pulled him equal with the late Jaques Anquetil and just ten days off Miguel Indurain's total of 60. In 2011, when Froome was fighting for a contract and not even on Team Sky's Tour de France team few would have seen this coming.
Real wheel puncture from Contador. He's back on the bike and chasing with a teammate. He'll make it back to the peloton without any trouble and has plenty of cars to shelter in as he chases.
175km remaining from 203km
Peter Sagan is going to race the Eneco Tour - although the event has now been given a new name. Here's the news on that.
Back to the procession and the three-man break have over four minutes on the peloton with Lotto Soudal and QuickStep still setting the pace.
Marcato takes a long pull on the front as the three-man move try and push the gap out to five minutes. The Italian has drifted a bit in the last few years but won Paris-Tours back in 2011 while on Vacansoleil. 2011 Vacansoleil were an interesting bunch. They had both Ricco and Mosquera on their books that season.
Further down the field Bouhanni is being looked after by his team. He was fined yesterday for his actions ahead of the sprint, when he hit Jack Bauer. Some called for him to be excluded from the race but he's here and should be in the mix later today. He's not at his best though, but on his day, he's perhaps the best chance of toppling Kittel.
The gap is holding at 4'24 as a few riders pull over for a comfort break. Lotto still have one man on the front as they and QuickStep keep the three man move in check. Just over 160km to go.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 12th Jul 2017 12:10:01
There's a slight increase in pace and that's seen the gap come back down to 3'45 with 149km to go as we continue to head south. Some breaking news to bring you - Katusha have posted man at the front so that's three in the break and three chasing, with Team Sky lined out near the front of the peloton.
140km remaining from 203km
Lotto Soudal, QuickStep and Katusha continue to exchange steady turns at the head of the peloton, and the break's lead has come down to 2:32.
After yesterday's stage, Kittel's lead in the green jersey competition is almost 100 points over Michael Matthews (Sunweb), who was bitterly disappointed by how his day panned out. The Australian would always have expected to concede ground to Kittel yesterday, but not this much. "Devastated, I think is the word to put out now," Matthews told press assembled at the team bus post-stage. "I think normally we have been going quite well. Today was really one of the days we really needed to nail it, and we didn't." You can read the full story here.
133km remaining from 203km
The three escapees reach Montegut still with a lead of 2:30 over a rather relaxed peloton. Chris Froome and his Sky team sit grouped towards the front.
Haimar Zubeldia (Trek-Segafredo) was a late call-up for the Tour de France after Andre Cardoso tested positive for EPO ahead of the race. It is the Basque's 16th Tour de France appearance since he made his debut in 2001 - he missed the 2010 edition - and he spoke to Alasdair Fotheringham about his race so far.
119km remaining from 203km
Nacer Bouhanni was fined 200 CHF and docked a minute on GC for his altercation with Jack Bauer in the finale of yesterday's stage. The Frenchman preferred not to speak on the incident at the start this morning, but Patrick Fletcher has the thoughts of Cofidis manager Yvon Sanquer and Bauer on the episode here.
112km remaining from 203km
There's a hint of a slow bicycle race about the peloton at the moment. The gap to the break drops to 1:40 and suddenly the pace eases. They don't want to reel in the escapees quite yet...
Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) sits in his customary position at the rear of the peloton, chatting with Ben Swift (UAE-Emirates). The break's lead is back to 2:07.
There's a large delegation from Lotto Soudal gathered near the head of the peloton. Greipel's red guard was very prominent in the finale yesterday, but the German could only manage 12th in Bergerac. He has won a stage in every Grand Tour he has ridden since 2008, and he is eager to keep that run going.
101km remaining from 203km
Through the midway point of the stage, Backaert, Bodnar and Marcato continue to clip along 2:10 clear of an ambling peloton. In the days of the Nissan Classic, race director Pat McQuaid would regularly drop back in the lead car to ask Sean Kelly and co. to start speeding things up around this point.
96km remaining from 203km
96km to go and the gap is at 2'30 as Gilbert makes an appearance at the front. Vermote has pulled off to take a break and the former World Champion takes over. Gilbert recently re-signed with Patrick Lefevere's teams for another two years as we see the bunch head through the feedzone.
Through the feedzone and there's a crash. That looks like Cataldo holding his wrist.
Degenkolb has his hands outstretched, shrugging as he looks for a team car. He needs a new bike after being involved in the crash. A few other riders were down too but it's only Cataldo sitting on the road. The medical staff are with the Italian but it doesn't look good. The former Team Sky rider is sitting up but his wrist looks to be a real concern. His race looks over.
Race radio is cracking through with the news that Cataldo has quit the race. That's a massive blow for Astana who are protecting two GC cards in this year's race. Cataldo is an excellent climber and has plenty of experience to his name. Aru and Fuglsang will certainly miss him.
Degenkolb, meanwhile, is coming back through the team cars,alongside Frank from AG2R. 86km to go and the break is at 2'33.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 12th Jul 2017 13:47:02
QuickStep and Katusha still set the pace but Lotto Soudal have moved up in numbers. The intermediate sprint is still a long way off but they're looking to keep Greipel out of trouble. There's only a slight breeze at the moment so perhaps they think the crosswinds might pick up.
Quintana and Dan Martin are coming back from the team cars, and have been paced back by their teammates as we dip into the final 80km of the stage.
Fuglsang was also down in that crash with Cataldo. First images didnt catch that but he's been back to the medical car for treatment. He's up and riding and hovering at the back of the peloton for now. Scary moments for the Astana squad who have lost Cataldo today.
The three leaders are climbing now on the only ascent of the stage - a cat 4 - with the peloton keeping them in check with Machado on the front for Katusha.
The break hit the intermediate sprint and Mercato takes it, Backaert is second and Bodnar third. The peloton are 2'27 behind with 60km to go.
Kittel is going to go for the remaining points, Greipel, Matthews and Kristoff too. Here we go.
Sunweb take over on the front.
Matthews goes first. Kristoff on his wheel. It's close between them with Kittel just behind. I think Kristoff took that but Matthews closes the gap to Kittel for Green but only by a few points. Kittel just did enough and saves his legs for the final sprint and potentially a fifth stage win.
There's an attack from FDJ but there's also a crash in the bunch and Colbrelli and Vichot are both down.
56km remaining from 203km
The FDJ move is caught but at the back of the bunch Vichot is still waitnig for a new bike. He's understandably frustrated as we see the gap to the break drop to 1'10 with 56km to go.
The crash has caught a few splits in the main field but the race is slowly coming back together as Vichot makes his way to the medical car for assistance.
@Cyclingnewsfeed Wed, 12th Jul 2017 14:35:04
Bardet is chasing back through the cars and he's changed bikes. Not sure if he was in the fall with Vichot but he has the FDJ man on his rear wheel as we head inside the final 50km of the stage.
Orica Scott have hit the front with Simon Yates in the white jersey nicely protected. There's still an hour or so of racing in today's stage and the bunch need to ease up if they're to keep the status quo with the break for as long as possible. At the moment the gap is at 1'26.
As we head towards the final 45km of the stage, don't forget that you can listen to our latest podcast - an interview with Cedric Vasseur on winning and losing the yellow jersey back in 1997.
Back to the present and here's a gallery on the footwear on show at this year's Tour de France.
It's still early but Lotto Soudal are starting to put more pressure on the front of the bunch, Katusha too as the gap is down to 1'02. We see Greg Van Avermaet up there as well. 42km to go.
Astana roll to the front as they look to keep Aru and Fuglsang out of danger. Meanwhile, Cummings is on the back of the peloton. He's been there all day as Quintana is also brought to the front by his Movistar collective.
The break are giving it everything with 38km to go but the gap continues to come down. It's at 48 seconds as more and more teams hit the front of the bunch.
The gap is down to just 33 seconds but we've still 31 seconds left to race as the bunch hurtle towards the finish in Pau. Unless the bunch ease up the break could be caught within the next few kilometres.
Bodnar has taken off and gone alone with 23km to go. It's still Lotto doing the lion share of the work on the front as they look to set up Greipel but this is perfect for Kittel too.
Bodnar has moved the gap back up to 43 seconds over the peloton.
And there's a crash for Contador. He's down and so is his teammate. That's terrible news for Trek.
Gogl is also down and he's in a bad way as Contador is paced back by a teammate but it's a long way back from here. Only one teammate for Contador. He's going to lose time at this rate.
Lotto continue to put the pressure on and Contador is in real danger. He started the day in 12th and down on GC. He's being paced back but still just has one man with him. The Trek car is with him as he pings from one car to another. Just Pantano with him.
18km remaining from 203km
Out front and Bodnar still has 46 seconds with 18km to go. Contador is close to the back of the bunch. Safe for another day at least.
15km to go and the gap even moves out further to 49 seconds. The peloton still have the advantage but the Bora rider is doing his part at the moment. Gilbert now hits the front for QuickStep and Kittel.
Sunweb have joined the action for Matthews on the far left as we see Lotto, QuickStep and Team Sky near the front. Froome is well positioned as we head into the final 11km with the gap to Bodnar still at 40 seconds.
Bodnar tucks his body over the frame of his bike as he looks to cut through the air on a short descent. The bunch are full gas as they try and close the gap as Tony Martin hits the front with 9km to go.
Another roundabout taken by the bunch with Team Sky now setting the pace. Bodnar is giving it everything as we move inside the final 7km of the stage. Bauer for QuickStep takes over now.
30 seconds for Bodnar. He's starting to crack as the bunch have him in sight.
Tony Martin once more as Katusha line out their entire team on the front for Kristoff. 4.5km to go with the gap at 19 seconds.
Dimension Data take over now as the gap drops to 16 seconds. We're about to hit a technical section with a few tricky corners.
Kittel is well placed with 2km to go , right near the front as Stybar takes over. Both Lotto trains are in the mix as well as Bodnar has 7 seconds.
Dimension Data lead into the final 1km for Boasson Hagen.
1.5km to go and Bodnar is still out front and still holding the bunch off as Sunweb and Dimension Data still lead.
Bodnar still not caught. 500m to go.
QuickStep take over and Bodnar is caught with 450m to go and here comes Boasson Hagen through the middle.
He leads Matthews, Kittel on his wheel. The Australian goes right and Kittle goes left.
Kittel wins. That's his fifth stage of this year's Tour de France. Groenewegen took second, with Boasson Hagen in third and Matthews in fourth.
1 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Quick-Step Floors 4:34:27
2 Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team LottoNl-Jumbo
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
4 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb
5 Daniel Mclay (GBr) Team Fortuneo - Oscaro
6 Davide Cimolai (Ita) FDJ
7 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal
8 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
9 Ben Swift (GBr) UAE Team Emirates
10 Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing Team
It looked as though Matthews had the legs there but he went to the right of Boasson Hagen and then didn't push for the gap - perhaps sensing that he would be closed out. Kittel, on the other hand, had a clean line to the finish and had plenty of time to celebrate his fifth win of the race.
Blood on the bars for Contador. More from him later after his crash.
Sabatini was crucial in pulling Bodnar back in the final 400m. Then Boasson Hagen went too early - again - and Kittel used the Dimension Data to lead him to the line. Job done for the German sprinter. He's been simply unstoppable in this year's Tour de France. We can question the tactics of the others but Kittel has the legs. The others don't.
Actually Kittel came off Matthews' wheel, who was following Boasson Hagen. They split right/left with the German taking the win.
It's almost a game of 'Where's Kittel?' at this year's Tour. He's finding new ways to win from different positions. Today he was close the front and used his timing and his legs to ease to the win.
Lets hear from the winner:
It’s incredible because ... you know sometimes when you’re on your top level in the sprints, it’s like playing Tetris. The last games I’ve always got the right gaps, I never made a mistake, all the lines were perfect. I could today again jump from wheel to wheel. It’s incredible. I’m so happy.
It’s really nice to give the team again a victory because Julien worked today, Philippe Gilbert worked today, Jack Bauer worked today. They are all champions,. they’re killing it for me. I’m just speechless.
It’s hard to work (on timing). It all comes together. I’ve got the legs and I’ve got the mind for it. It’s perfect. I’m happy I’ve used the chances I’ve had so far, and it can’t get worse from here.
And here's the breakaway rider of the day, Bodnar. Fair play to him, Bora and the rest of the break for least making it a race for the first 200km:
Sorry, I have to (chew) I still have some Haribo from Sagan still in my mouth.
It was so close, I’m a little bit disappointed but what can I say. I’m so happy for a stage in the Tour. Like last year, it was so close - but then last year it was too fast, I wasn’t thinking too much. Today, I did a nice time trial, even better than the time trial (stage) before. I can be happy, maybe we can try in other stages, why not?
I was all day I kept it calm. I knew in the last 20km I had to go, and that’s it.
When I saw it was 40 seconds, I felt I had really good legs, I said I have to go, I can’t wait for them all day. But I have to say thank you to the guys, because we did a lot for 170-something (kilometers) together. We worked very well.
Jack Bauer (Quick-Step Floors)
It’s been great working with Marcel all year. He’s a very easy-going, relaxed and focused bike rider. He’s very easy to work with.
He’s just finding a way to win each sprint as it comes. I wouldn’t say he’s been doing it without a lead-out, Fabio Sabatini is doing a great job in the final kilometre. Marcel has been coming from a long way back but with a lot of speed.
Here's Chris Froome, who leads the race heading into the Pyrenees tomorrow:
It was a bit more nervous today than yesterday. There was more of a threat of crosswinds but never really enough to shake it up. It was one of those days where you had to be concentrated all day and stay near the front. My teammates are great at keeping me in a good position so thanks to them.
We’ve got two uphill finishes left and tomorrow is one of them. It’s definitely going to help shape the GC even further, I think. On our behalf, I don’t think we want to let anyone come back onto GC. We’re really going to want to control things from the start and not allow any of the GC guys who’ve lost time already to come back into the game.
I don’t need to [attack] at this point, but let’s see out on the road.
Our brief report, photos and results from today's stage, can be found, right here.
That's about it from us today. You can find the full report, full results and gallery from today's stage, just here. We will be back with more from the Tour tomorrow with stage 12.
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