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90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003
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Stage 18 - Friday, July 25: Bordeaux - Saint-Maixent-l'Ecole, 203.5 km
Commentary by Jeff Jones with additional reporting by Chris
Henry, Tim Maloney, and Gabriella Ekström
Time conversion guide: GMT = CEST - 2 hrs, AEST = CEST + 8 hrs, EDT = CEST
- 6 hrs, PDT = CEST - 9 hrs
Start time: 12.15 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:05 CEST
Yesterday's winner Servais Knaven
Welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of stage 18 of the Tour, brought to you in association with T-Mobile. Today's stage is from Bordeaux to Saint-Maixent-l'Ecole, over 203 flat kilometres. The last time a town in the Deux-Sevres region hosted the Tour de France was over half a century ago. This stage will be a transitional trek back to Paris, passing through the famous town of Cognac at the halfway point. But no elixir for the Tour peloton, as Stage 18 is quite unpredictable.
Photo: © C.Henry/CN
The sprinters teams may not want to waste too much energy controlling attacks, and look for Brioches Le Boulangere to be particularly aggressive on Stage 18 as the team is based in the region.
There are no climbs during today's stage, but there are two intermediate sprints: Montendre (km 50) and Brioux-Sur-Boutonne (km 164).
Weather conditions: It's a moderately warm and sunny day today, with temperatures in the low 20's and expected to climb later in the stage to the mid-20's.
After 12 km of neutral riding through Bordeaux, race director Jean-Marie Leblanc drops the flag for the start of stage 18. The official start time was given at 12:08.
As the flag dropped, Brad McGee attacked straight away, and Leon van Bon bridged up to him, then Telekom bridged up to them. The bunch is strung out.
Sandy Casar punctured, and is chasing back on.
12:34 CEST 18 km/185.5 km to go
The race has gotten off to a fast start, with continuous attacks by riders trying to get clear. However, there are some teams interested in keeping it together until the first bonus sprint at 50 km.
Cyclingnews spoke to Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) this morning about the team's plan. "The first bonus sprint today is after 50 km and although a break will go, it's possible that since a break went so early yesterday, so many riders are going to try that no proper break will form. Because of that, it could stay together for an hour or two. It sometimes happens like that."
Santiago Botero (Telekom) is reported to have abandoned. That leaves 148 riders in the race.
12:42 CEST 28 km/175 km to go
There's been a big breakaway, with Sacchi (Saeco), McGee, Vogondy (FDJeux.com), Gonzalez de Galdeano, Pradera, Jaksche (ONCE), Bettini (Quick.Step), Millar, Moncoutie (Cofidis), Piil (CSC), Dumoulin, Finot, Jean-Patrick Nazon and Edaleine (Jean Delatour).
Paolo Bettini wants to attack
Paolo Bettini's presence in the break is certainly no surprise. We spoke to him this morning at the start, and he said "I'm going to do my best to get in the break today, and today and Sunday will be two big days on the attack. I'm very motivated."
Photo: © C.Henry/CN
His team director Patrick Lefevere echoed these words. "Whether it's Sunday or today, Bettini's going to win. It could be already today. He wants to win the most combative rider in Paris. He'll attack right from the start today."
12:49 CEST 37 km/166.5 km to go
All but five of the breakaways have been caught, with McGee, Bettini, Van Bon, Flickinger and Dumoulin still in front. Credit Agricole is leading the chase. The gap is just 15".
12:56 CEST 43 km/160.5 km to go
The escape is over, with Brioches la Boulangere contributing to the chase to bring the five riders back. US Postal is on the front as well.
13:02 CEST 48 km/155.5 km to go
Three Lotto-Domo riders, Serge Baguet, Christophe Brandt and Hans De Clercq, have shot off the front of the peloton, just before the intermediate sprint at 50 km. They don't have a big gap at the moment and they are recaptured.
13:07 CEST 54 km/149.5 km to go
Ullrich ahead of Armstrong in sprintThe sprint at Montendre has been won by Robbie McEwen, with....Jan Ullrich in second place, closely followed by Lance Armstrong. Wow - Jan is true to his word, and Lance is also keeping an eye on the situation!
Photo: © Yuzuru Sunada
That means that McEwen is now equal to Baden Cooke in the points GC, while Ullrich has pulled back two of the 67 seconds he needs to catch Lance Armstrong. This race is far from over.
The sprint was started very early by Ullrich, who seemed to realise that there weren't too many riders behind him, except McEwen, who went from a fair way out to easily take the points. Armstrong stayed right on Ullrich's wheel the whole way, with the German looking back, almost daring him to come round.
52.5 kilometres were covered in the first hour. In layman's terms, this means that they are not messing around.
13:15 CEST 60 km/143.5 km to go
Paolo Bettini is once again on the attack, but with the high average speed he's going to have a tough time getting away. On the other hand, with the pressure off a little after the first intermediate sprint, now might be a good time to go.
No, the speed is too fast, and Bettini comes back to the fold again.
13:23 CEST 67 km/136.5 km to go
16 men have now attacked: Mikel Pradera (ONCE-Eroski), Daniele Nardello (Team Telekom), Pablo Lastras (iBanesto.com), Paolo Fornaciari (Saeco), Massimiliano Lelli (Cofidis, Credit Par Telephone), Andrea Peron (Team CSC), Dario Cioni (Fassa Bortolo),
Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com), Javier Pascual Llorente (Kelme-Costa Blanca), Davide Bramati, David Canada (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Fabrizio Guidi (Team Bianchi), Christophe Brandt (Lotto Domo), Andy Flickinger (Ag2R Prevoyance), Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere) and Vladimir Miholjevic (Alessio). They have 40" lead and are riding strongly.
Lelli is the best placed rider on GC in the break, but he is over 45 minutes down, so no threat at all to the lead. This break looks like going clear for a while.
13:33 CEST 73.5 km/130 km to go
These 16 riders, representing 15 teams, are pressing home their advantage, and are now 2'40 in front of the peloton after 73 km. Given the large number of teams represented, it's hard to see this break coming back. Brioches has a man in it (Thomas Voeckler), and he will be trying for a "home town" victory for the sponsor today.
That said, there is still 130 km to go, and things could change easily.
13:45 CEST 83 km/120.5 km to go
The gap to the 16 breakaways has stabilised a bit at 4'20, with some teams working a little harder in the peloton to keep it within a manageable distance. If it gets out towards 10 minutes, it's going to be very hard to bring back on this super fast, flat stage.
13:55 CEST 90 km/113.5 km to go
The leading riders are now passing through Le Pas-de-Cierzac, with 4 km to go until the feed zone in Salles-d'Angles. The lead to the peloton is still comfortable.
The latest time check was 7'40, and the lead is rapidly approaching the point of no return for these 16 men in front.
14:07 CEST 102 km/101.5 km to go
The US Postal-Berry Floor team has "assumed the position" at the front of the peloton, setting a steady tempo and keeping Lance Armstrong out of the wind. Jan Ullrich is sitting right behind Armstrong, and both riders are probably thinking about tomorrow's time trial. Ullrich has to take back 1'05 from Armstrong, thanks to his second placing in the first intermediate sprint of the day, won by McEwen with Armstrong third.
The 16 leaders have now passed the halfway mark of this 203 km stage, averaging 52 km/h so far.
14:16 CEST 110 km/93.5 km to go
The peloton passes through the feed zone 11'00 behind the break of 16, and it looks as though that's it for the day. In the peloton, Frank Renier (Brioches) crashed in the feed zone after tangling with a feed bag. He's ok though.
14:26 CEST 118 km/85.5 km to go
As the lead goes out towards 14 minutes, we can start to look at potential stage winners in the breakaway. The only rider who has won a Tour stage is Daniele Nardello (Telekom), and he's certainly capable of doing it again. Fabrizio Guidi (Bianchi) is a good sprinter, and has a good chance if it comes down to that. Da Cruz, Flickinger and Voeckler are good attackers, and that will help in the bagarre in the finale.
14:36 CEST 126 km/77.5 km to go
The riders in the breakaway have their heads down, and are still working hard. The gap is now 14'48 with 78 km to go, and it looks to be getting higher. No teams are really interested in chasing it down, as 15 teams are represented in the break, no-one is threatening on GC, and all the bonus sprints and seconds will be swallowed up.
The wind is strong today, and behind the riders as they head north, hence the high average speed of 52 km/h so far.
14:47 CEST 138 km/65.5 km to go
The peloton is quite relaxed, although still travelling fairly fast. The leaders have over 16 minutes now, and are working perfectly well for the time being.
Andrea Peron is in the break
The riders in the break again: Mikel Pradera (ONCE), Daniele Nardello (Telekom), Pablo Lastras (iBanesto), Paolo Fornaciari (Saeco), Massimiliano Lelli (Cofidis), Andrea Peron (CSC), Dario Cioni (Fassa Bortolo), Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com), Javier Pascual Llorente (Kelme), Davide Bramati, David Canada (Quick.Step), Fabrizio Guidi (Bianchi), Christophe Brandt (Lotto Domo), Andy Flickinger (Ag2R), Thomas Voeckler (Brioches) and Vladimir Miholjevic (Alessio).
Photo: © C.Henry/CN
The best placed on GC is Lelli, who is 45'48 down in 24th place. He is now almost in the top 20.
14:53 CEST 142 km/61.5 km to go
In the peloton, US Postal is content to set a steady pace, and the rest of the bunch is content to follow them. Gilberto Simoni, who is the runner up in the Stephen Roche "Hangin' in there" classification, rides up and has a chat to George Hincapie. Maybe there are some bridges being mended.
15:05 CEST 149.5 km/54 km to go
The peloton is riding at two speeds at the moment: 16 riders in front averaging around 50 km/h, and 132 riders behind, averaging around 45 km/h.
Julian Usano (Kelme) goes back to the race doctor for some treatment on his knee.
15:12 CEST 153 km/50.5 km to go
After the first two hours were run at 52 km/h, the third hour was just over 46 km/h for an overall average of 50.1 km/h. The stage should finish between 4:10 and 4:15 pm local time, 40 minutes ahead of the fastest schedule.
The gap is now over 20 minutes.
15:22 CEST 162 km/41.5 km to go
The peloton has slowed its pace, with US Postal still on the front along with a lone Gerolsteiner rider. The gap to the 16 leaders is still growing, and is now 21'51. The best placed rider in the break, Massimiliano Lelli, has moved himself up to about 15th or 16th on GC.
The leaders have just 40 km to go, and are probably thinking about how they will try and win the stage now.
15:24 CEST 164 km/39.5 km to go
The second intermediate sprint in Brioux-Sur-Boutonne is not quite as heavily contested as the first one. It looks like either Bramati or Flickinger got it.
It is confirmed that Flickinger won from Bramati and Voeckler. The peloton is 17 km behind.
15:29 CEST 168.5 km/35 km to go
Euskaltel, Gerolsteiner, and Alessio have now got to the front of the peloton, trying to protect their lower placed riders. The gap is 22'15 with 35 km to go.
15:37 CEST 173 km/30.5 km to go
A Gerolsteiner rider and US Postal are back on the front of the peloton again, followed by Bianchi. The pace is a little faster, but the race is a long way in front of them. The gap has finally stopped increasing, and it's 22'00.
In the break, Andrea Peron (CSC) is sitting on the back. He's a definite candidate for the stage win, and will be looking for an attack.
15:45 CEST 177 km/26.5 km to go
The break is looking a little tired now, as it grinds its way up another small hill. Who will attack first? Lelli is at the back now, signalling for his team car.
15:50 CEST 183.5 km/20 km to go
Thomas Voeckler (Brioches) attacks with just over 20 km to go. It's on!
The break has now changed shape completely. Counter attacks go after Voeckler,
who desperately wants to win this stage. He has a 5 second gap as he powers
up a small climb.
Guidi closes the gap, and Lelli counter attacks over the top. The rest of the break sits up for a little while, before Lastras and Fornaciari chase down the Italian.
15:53 CEST 185.5 km/18 km to go
The break is split into two now, but there is not a whole lot of cooperation. Bramati signals for them to work harder. Da Cruz, Lastras, Canada, Flickinger, Lelli, Voeckler, Nardello, Fornaciari are all in the front split. The gap is 16" under the 15 km to go banner.
15:58 CEST 191.5 km/12 km to go
We have eight plus eight, separated by 28 seconds. It looks as though the front eight will stay clear now.
16:01 CEST 193.5 km/10 km to go
Voeckler attacks the front group under the 10km banner, but goes nowhere. The chasers are now at 25".
Flickinger puts in a tentative attack, and gets a small gap. He is caught, as Canada counters. Voeckler tries to chase, but can't do it on his own. The group is totally split up with all these attacks.
16:05 CEST 197.5 km/6 km to go
Canada has 6 km to go, and has opened up a good gap on the remaining seven, who can't work out how to chase him down properly. The other eight are still 30" back. Canada could give Quick.Step two from two...
16:07 CEST 199 km/4.5 km to go
Nardello, Lastras and Da Cruz are trying to chase down Canada with 5 km to go. Further behind them are Fornaciari, Lelli, Flickinger and Voeckler.
16:08 CEST 199.5 km/4 km to go
Canada gives it everything up a small climb to try and hold off Nardello, Da Cruz and Lastras. Nardello does a hard turn, but the gap remains at 10".
16:10 CEST 201.5 km/2 km to go
With 3 km to go, the gap between Canada and the three chasers is just 5 seconds. It's not over.
He's now got two km to go - still the same gap.
16:11 CEST 202.5 km/1 km to go
Canada hits a downhill with 1.5 km to go. He should make it. It's still 5 seconds.
Da Cruz sprints early, and tries to get up to Canada. It's a big effort, and he catches Canada with 300m to go. But Lastras puts in a massive sprint to overtake him to win ibanesto's second stage! What a close finish. Da Cruz was second, Nardello third and Canada fourth.
Lelli wins the next group sprint for fifth place.
Lastras kissed his finger and pointed to the sky as he crossed the line, and afterwards dedicated it to his mother, who died four months ago.
At last count, the peloton was around 23 minutes behind. We'll see who takes 17th in the sprint, and whether McEwen, or Cooke gets the green jersey. Gerolsteiner is currently leading them in. The leaders were 40 minutes ahead of schedule, so we can allow the peloton a little bit of leeway.
Aldag leads out Zabel, with McEwen's train right behind him. De Clercq starts the sprint, then O'Grady comes through with Hushovd on his wheel. McEwen takes it though, with Zabel and Cooke just behind him. McEwen is in green.
Interesting: Jan Ullrich took eighth in the bunch sprint.
That's all from today folks. Tune in tomorrow from 11:00 CEST for the crucial stage 19 time trial, over 49 km between Pornic and Nantes to determine the winner of this year's Tour de France. It promises to be a great time trial.
1 Pablo Lastras (Spa) iBanesto.com 4.03.18 (50.18 km/h)
2 Carlos Da Cruz (Fra) FDJeux.com
3 Daniele Nardello (Ita) Team Telekom
4 David Canada (Spa) Quick.Step-Davitamon 0.04
5 Massimiliano Lelli (Ita) Cofidis, Credit Par Telephone 0.19
6 Andy Flickinger (Fra) Ag2R Prevoyance
7 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Brioches La Boulangere
8 Paolo Fornaciari (Ita) Saeco
9 Fabrizio Guidi (Ita) Team Bianchi 0.35
10 Vladimir Miholjevic (Cro) Alessio
17 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo 24.05
General classification after stage 18
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor 79.07.49
2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Team Bianchi 1.05
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Team Telekom 2.47
4 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5.18
5 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5.27
6 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Team CSC 6.37
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 8.10
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole 11.14
9 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com 16.07
10 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC 16.14
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