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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

93rd Tour de France - ProT

France, July 1-23, 2006

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Stage 15 - Tuesday, July 18: Gap-l'Alpe-d'Huez, 187 km

Live Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Anthony Tan, Hedwig Kröner and Brecht Decaluwé

Live report

Live coverage starts: 11:45 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:10 CEST

09:09 CEST   
Phase three of the 93rd Tour de France goes full bore with a massive stage through the dark heart of the Hautes Alpes into Isčre. An early break of contenders' teammates will get established on the Col d'Izoard, then it's up and over the Col du Lautaret, where the long descent will probably bring the race back together at the foot of l'Alpe d'Huez for a ding-dong battle up the final 14km to the legendary finish. Menchov and his strong climbers' team at Rabobank will certainly go on the attack Tuesday, while Landis and Klöden will try to hang tough.

11:45 CEST   
Welcome to Gap for the start of the final onslaught of this year's Tour de France. The destination today is cycling's best known mountain, L'Alpe d'Huez: 13.8km at 7.9% with 21 tortuous switchbacks, tautology intended. That will come at the end of 187 km of racing up some fairly serious Alps. The first is the Col d'Izoard, an hors categorie 14.5 km climb at 7 %, which has its summit after 86 km. Then it's the Cat. 2 Col du Lautaret, 12.1 km climb at 4.4% after 134 km, and then the Alpe.

The sprinters have a bit of action too, with the intermediate sprint at Embrun coming after just 35 km, then one in Le Monętier-Les-Bains at km 121.

It's sunny at the start, but we could be in for a thunderstorm by the finish. Hopefully no mudslides though. We had enough of those yesterday.

11:53 CEST    1km/186km to go
The 156 riders left in the race complete a 2.3 km neutral zone out of Gap and the flag drops to commence the stage.

11:58 CEST    3km/184km to go
Mountains leader David De la Fuente (Saunier Duval) attacks and gets away in a group of five riders. Meanwhile, GC hope Cadel Evans has punctured, but he's back in the peloton.

12:01 CEST    6km/181km to go
The group contains Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Joost Posthuma (Rabobank), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital), Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) and Michael Albasini (Liquigas). But it's not allowed to get far, and the peloton is once again groupé.

12:09 CEST    14km/173km to go
It's still together at the 14 km mark, as riders look for the early break.

We spoke to CSC's Christian Vandevelde this morning. He is having a great Tour so far, and gave us his thoughts. "I did a little training ride on the rest day. I have mixed feelings for today, but I'm looking forward to an amazing stage," he said.

12:10 CEST   
French riders Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Benoît Vaugrenard and Sebastien Joly (FDJ) try the next attack at km 13.

12:13 CEST    17km/170km to go
The French trio is caught by the bunch, which is still racing hard. The first part of the stage is fairly flat.

12:20 CEST    23km/164km to go
The bunch continues to roll onwards, towards Savines-Le-Lac. Ruben Lobato (Saunier Duval) and Patrick Calcagni (Liquigas) are the next to try.

Luxembourg climber Frank Schleck (CSC) told us today, "We'll have to wait and see. It's gonna be hard. I did l'Alpe in training, but it might be different during the race. I expect a big bunch to arrive at the foot of the climb. I'll see how I survive the first few kilometres."

12:21 CEST    25km/162km to go
And that one goes nowhere too. The first sprint is in about 10 km, so perhaps the sprinters teams will keep it together until then.

12:26 CEST    29km/158km to go
Bernhard Eisel (FDJ), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) have a crack at an escape attempt. They are joined by Fabian Wegmann, but lose Flecha, Chavanel, and Voeckler.

12:29 CEST    31km/156km to go
A medium sized group of riders has split off the peloton in pursuit of the leading trio, as they hurtle towards the first sprint with a 50 second advantage.

12:37 CEST    37km/150km to go
The break is caught by the chase group, and we now have an interesting mob of 25 riders leading the race: George Hincapie and Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel), Frank Schleck, Jens Voigt, David Zabriskie (Team CSC), Eddy Mazzoleni (T-Mobile), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R-Prevoyance), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Axel Merckx (Phonak), Damiano Cunego and Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), David Arroyo and Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Ińigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), David De La Fuente and Ruben Lobato (Saunier Duval), Bernhard Eisel and Benoît Vaugrenard (Française Des Jeux), Michael Albasini (Liquigas), Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), and Christian Knees (Milram).

Eisel wins the first sprint at Embrun ahead of Albasini and Vila.

The leaders have 1'30!

12:39 CEST   
Frank Schleck is the best placed rider in this high powered break of 25. He sits in 20th overall at 10'06. Merckx is in 21st at 10'08.

12:41 CEST    41km/146km to go
There are two riders from the leader's team in this break: Arroyo and Garcia Acosta. They shouldn't be working though. Arroyo is the better placed, in 35th at 19'43. But he's not really high enough up on GC to 'protect' Pereiro.

12:46 CEST    45km/142km to go
It's been a mighty quick start to this first Alpine stage - the riders have already covered 44 km in just over 52 minutes. The gap between the front break and the peloton remains more or less steady at a minute and a half.

Axel Merckx looked calm and relaxed when we chatted to him briefly this morning. "I had a good rest day and I'm fit," said the Phonak rider, who is having a good Tour so far.

12:50 CEST   
The lead grows to 2'50, so this break is going to stay away for a while. The Caisse d'Epargne riders up front will probably be trying to save themselves for later, when they may be able to help Pereiro when he comes up.

12:53 CEST    50km/137km to go
The break is looking on track for a 50 km/h first hour(!). The gap grows to 3'10 as the peloton has no choice but to let it go. The situation can change on the climbs.

12:56 CEST   
Bernhard Eisel (FDJ) is in the break, but is not particularly looking forward to the finishing climb. "It is true that l’Alpe d’Huez is a mythical place, but all we know today is that we will be in a lot of pain," the Austrian told Cyclingnews. "But if it goes like in the Pyrenees, I won’t have any problems to follow."

13:03 CEST    56km/131km to go
The lead keeps increasing to 3'30, but Caisse d'Epargne starts to ride a bit harder behind and it's not ballooning out. This is going to put a lot of pressure on the Spanish team, with some potentially dangerous riders up the road but none of the really big hitters.

13:06 CEST    58km/129km to go
Lobato attacks the lead group, which obviously isn't going fast enough or isn't cooperating well enough for his liking. It's hard to get 25 riders to work together. The Saunier man leads by 15 seconds.

13:10 CEST    62km/125km to go
And the average speed in first hour is 50.8 km/h. Ouch, that can't be good for you. That was even quicker than the first hour of stage 13, which was 50.4 km/h.

Lobato still has 15 seconds on the rest of the break as the road starts to go uphill, while the peloton is at 3'53. There's another 10 km before the Izoard starts for real.

13:14 CEST    65km/122km to go
Lobato comes back to the fold as the break regroups before the Izoard. The peloton is fairly stretched as it rides up the valley.

13:17 CEST    67km/120km to go
Brard leads the peloton, resplendent in his tricolore French champion's jersey. Leader Pereiro is in fourth wheel, with the long mullet of Vladimir Karpets flowing in the wind behind him.

13:22 CEST   
Bram de Groot is suffering at the rear of the peloton. We asked his team director Erik Breukink how things were with Rabobank this morning. "Everyone's fit except for Bram de Groot," he said. "He had a cold and didn't feel well on the rest day. He's scared of this stage. Little problems might lead to big ones."

As for the team's strategy, Breukink wants to save his riders. "If we're there in the finale, and we feel good, then we'll try it."

13:27 CEST    72km/115km to go
The break hits the Izoard with 4'20 on the bunch. Arrieta feels good and does a strong turn. Eisel and Chavanel sit at the back.

13:27 CEST   

13:29 CEST    73km/114km to go
Rujano has attacked the peloton! The first good sign from him since the start of the race. The small Quick.Step climber has a good gap.

Meanwhile, Thomas Voeckler is dropped from the bunch.

13:32 CEST    74km/113km to go
Voigt and De La Fuente swap off in the break, trying to keep the tempo high.

In the peloton, there's still three Caisse d'Epargne riders ahead of Pereiro. McEwen is at the back of the bunch.

Rujano is within 4'01 of the leaders, while the peloton cruises at 4'43.

13:38 CEST    77km/110km to go
The Izoard is starting to take its toll on the bunch, as Tom Boonen is fairly visible at the rear with teammate Steven de Jongh. Boonen puts in a little effort and regains the peloton.

Pereiro looks comfy at the front. Rujano is about 30 seconds ahead of the bunch, but not really making much of an inroad into the leading 25.

13:41 CEST    78km/109km to go
Rujano is now 3'20 behind the front runners. That's good going for the Venezuelan climber.

Lance Armstrong visited the Tour in Gap. He was supposed to have flown in by helicopter from l’Alpe d’Huez. He was in the Discovery Channel team bus, and of course the media was waiting outside. He came out, spoke on camera for five minutes, then he was escorted 10 metres to the SRM van and drove away.

13:43 CEST    78.5km/108.5km to go
Jose Angel Gomez Marchante attacks the peloton in pursuit of Rujano, who is 2'45 the leaders. Marchante is caught by an Euskaltel rider.

Boonen suddenly blows a gasket, and drops out of the bunch for good.

13:46 CEST    79km/108km to go
Boonen catches Kopp, while ahead of the peloton, Gomez Marchante is joined by Bruseghin and another rider.

In the front group, Albasini, Vaugrenard, Knees and Pineau are all dropped. Wegmann is also suffering, and Garcia Acosta.

13:46 CEST   
Garzelli lifts the pace on the Izoard, and gets a gap.

13:51 CEST    81km/106km to go
It's getting very very messy... Garzelli leads a small group containing Frank Schleck, Jens Voigt (CSC), George Hincapie and Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel), Eddy Mazzoleni (T-Mobile), Axel Merckx (Phonak), Damiano Cunego and Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Eparnge), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Ińigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Ruben Lobato and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval).

Then the rest of the break are following at dribs and drabs. Rujano should start riding through these soon. Then Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Garcia Lopez (Euskaltel), Bruseghin (Lampre), Calzati (AG2R). Then Mercado. Then the peloton.

I've said it before, but don't try this at home, kids.

13:53 CEST   
The sprinters bus forms with McEwen, Vansevenant, Dean and a few more. Bram de Groot and Gert Steegmans also.

13:55 CEST    82km/105km to go
The peloton still numbers a good 50 riders, including all the GC men. Landis is right up there behind Pereiro and co.

Mercado is gaining on Marchante's group.

Casper and Coyot go out the back with Freire.

13:58 CEST    83km/104km to go
Garzelli has a nice tempo going as he checks behind to see where the rest of the group is.

Rujano has started to make his way through the debris of the breakaway. He passes Eisel. He's about 2'55 behind Garzelli, and 2'20 behind that next group.

Pena and Moos (Phonak) are dropped from the peloton.

Mercado catches the Marchante group.

Why can't we have just two riders in the lead and the whole peloton?

14:00 CEST    83.5km/103.5km to go
Most of the Phonak team has been dropped from the bunch, and there are just two left with Landis. He's probably given them an easy day today, as Caisse d'Epargne will do most of the riding.

Garzelli is 2.5 km from the summit of the Izoard, bobbing up and down, but with a nice style. The former Giro d'Italia winner looks good as he nears the top of this alien looking mountain.

14:02 CEST    85km/102km to go
Garzelli looks up as he powers along. He might have been better advised to hang out with the break for a bit longer, but what the hell. He'll be first to the top of the Izoard. Maybe he could make an attempt on the mountains jersey? De la Fuente is still in that chasing group though.

14:04 CEST   
Landis attacks the peloton to take a nature break on the Izoard. That's gotta be a first! A Rabo rider also does that.

14:06 CEST   
Now Karpets does the same. His teammates slow the tempo in front. Kessler is looking good, up near the front. He's wearing his 'lucky' undershirt it seems. Or maybe he has several. Given the number of times he has crashed in this race, we're not sure about what luck is being conferred on Matze.

The peloton is at 5'00 as everyone follows Landis' example and relieves themselves.

14:08 CEST    86km/101km to go
Garzelli powers to the summit, determined to make this attack work. He's pedaling at 80-90 rpm. The chase group is a minute and a bit down, and De La Fuente takes second ahead of Cunego, and Patxi Vila.

14:13 CEST    90km/97km to go
Martinez, Schleck, Charteau, Arrieta, Voigt and Arroyo are 5th-10th on the climb.

That chase group consists of Frank Schleck, Jens Voigt (CSC), George Hincapie and Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel), Eddy Mazzoleni (T-Mobile), Axel Merckx (Phonak), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R-Prevoyance), Damiano Cunego and Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Eparnge), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Ińigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Ruben Lobato, David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval).

Then Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Christian Knees (Milram), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) at 2'10.

Rujano is with Pineau and Vaugrenard(?) at 3'30.

The peloton is 6'30 back at the summit of the Izoard.

14:18 CEST    96km/91km to go
A Caisse d'Epargne rider crashes on the descent, but is back on his bike again and is going. It was Nicolas Portal.

Garzelli is flying at 70-80 km/h on the nice roads.

14:23 CEST    102km/85km to go
Egoi Martinez has crashed on the descent and is being treated by the race doctor.

Garzelli, alone, still has 1'10 on the Schleck group, with the bunch at 6'20. The wind is behind the riders at the moment, and that will help Garzelli.

14:24 CEST   
Correction to the earlier story about Armstrong. According to Chris Brewer (thepaceline.com), Armstrong did speak on camera for five minutes before leaving.

Boonen is one of the last riders on the road.

14:26 CEST    104km/83km to go
De Jongh also crashed, but he's up and riding again. The peloton strings out on the descent in one long line. Garcia Acosta is leading them, having dropped out of the break.

14:28 CEST    106km/81km to go
Garzelli flies through Briancon, having done a good descent of the Col d'Izoard. The next climb is the Lautaret, but that isn't too difficult.

14:30 CEST   
Landis has a mechanical problem on the descent. Garcia Acosta slows the pace.

Maxim Iglinsky (Milram) has crashed. He nearly got run over by a race car. He's back on the bike, riding very slowly.

14:33 CEST    108km/79km to go
Garzelli rides past some scantily clad spectators, and even takes the time for a look. But the moment is past and he's on his way again.

14:36 CEST    109km/78km to go
The chasers are 55 seconds behind the lone leader. Zabriskie seems to be back with them, so we have: Frank Schleck, Jens Voigt David Zabriskie (Team CSC), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Eddy Mazzoleni (T-Mobile), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R-Prevoyance), Axel Merckx (Phonak), Damiano Cunego, Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Ińigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), David De La Fuente, Ruben Lobato (Saunier Duval).

14:38 CEST    110km/77km to go
The first chasers are coming back to Garzelli, and are now just 35 seconds behind the Liquigas rider. They've caught him.

14:39 CEST   
The leaders pass through the feed zone in Chantemerle, and they all take food on board and eat it as fast as they can. The tailwind is still there.

14:41 CEST   
Wegmann and Flecha have caught the leaders, so we have 18 ahead: Frank Schleck - best on GC at 10'06, Jens Voigt, David Zabriskie (Team CSC), Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Eddy Mazzoleni (T-Mobile), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R-Prevoyance), Axel Merckx (Phonak), Damiano Cunego, Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Ińigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), David De La Fuente, Ruben Lobato (Saunier Duval), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner).

14:43 CEST    115km/72km to go
Knees is the next 'group' on the road at 2'20. Then Rujano's group with Vaugrenard, Mercado and Pineau at 3'02, and the bunch at 4'44.

14:45 CEST   
Michael Boogerd (Rabobank) is in the peloton at the moment. He told us before the start, "Today will be really hard. We will try to do our best and see where we finish up. It is true that I have really good form and I hope that I am in the same shape as in the Pyrenees. I hope that I can be up front today but it will be very difficult. There will be a lot of Dutch spectators today so if I am not on top, it won’t have been for the lack of support, but because I missed my legs. We will see. "

14:47 CEST   
Finally, the situation has simplified a little. In front, we have the group of 18 with Schleck and Hincapie. Then Christian Knees on his own at 2'20, then a group of eight riders: Jose Rujano (Quick.Step), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Benoît Vaugrenard (Française Des Jeux), Juan Miguel Mercado (Agritubel), Jose Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Bruseghin (Lampre), Calzati (AG2R) at 2'59. And then the peloton at 4'41. So simple is it.

14:49 CEST   
Knees has been absorbed by Rujano's group, so we have just two groups on the road ahead of the peloton. Phew.

14:53 CEST    120km/67km to go
Gonchar comes to the front to help out Caisse d'Epargne chase in the peloton. Meanwhile, up front, De La Fuente gets some mechanical adjustment for his derailleur.

The crowds on Alpe d'Huez are significantly lower than in previous years, but that has largely to do with the fact that this stage doesn't fall on a weekend. There's a marching band playing at the finish. Yes!!!

Zabriskie takes the sprint points ahead of Lobato and Hincapie in Le Monętier-Les-Bains.

14:55 CEST    122km/65km to go
The leaders are on the Col de Lautaret, a 12 km climb averaging 4.4%. Gonchar is pulling on the front of the bunch, which is at least 100 riders strong. He's working with Caisse d'Epargne.

The Rujano group is at 3'23 behind the leaders, while the peloton is at 4'17.

14:57 CEST    124km/63km to go
Rujano leads his chase group through under the sprint banner, still determined to do something today. But it doesn't look like happening. His group is 3'32 behind the bunch, while the peloton follows at 4'06. Phonak's Victor Pena is back with the bunch, and working.

14:57 CEST   
Bram de Groot has abandoned.

14:59 CEST   
Rujano's group will probably be swallowed on the Lautaret. Nice try, but a bit futile. Yep, they've sat up and the peloton sweeps them up, strung right out.

15:00 CEST    125km/62km to go
Patxi Vila attacks on the Lautaret, and gets de la Fuente for company. He looks frustrated. De la Fuente could secure his lead in the mountains comp today. They have a 5 second gap over the rest of the break.

15:10 CEST    129km/58km to go
The two leaders get to within 5 km of the summit of the Lautaret, with the rest of the break pursuing at 10 seconds. Flecha is dropped from the break.

Boonen has abandoned. He had problems breathing today.

In the peloton, Weening (Rabobank), Gonchar (T-Mobile) and Pena (Phonak) are helping the chase. Brard (Caisse d'Epargne) has been dropped, as has Rujano.

15:11 CEST   
Egoi Martinez is back in the peloton after his crash.

15:12 CEST    131km/56km to go
Pineau is also dropped from the bunch. And Nicolas Jalabert. The Lautaret may only be a cat. 2 climb, but it's hard enough. Garcia Acosta leads the bunch 4'10 behind the front riders. Pereiro looks good in yellow, but Alpe d'Huez is going to hurt.

15:13 CEST   
Ekimov is with the caravan, just off the back of the 60-strong bunch as it rolls up the Col de Lautaret.

15:18 CEST    133km/54km to go
The leaders are 1 km form the summit of the Lautaret.

The average speed after three hours is 40.2 km/h. That's pretty darn quick for a mountain stage.

15:20 CEST   
Voigt and Zabriskie lead the break up behind Vila and de La Fuente. This break has lost Charteau, Wegmann and Flecha. The wind is more across them now as we turn back northwest.

15:20 CEST    134km/53km to go
David de la Fuente takes more points for his mountains jersey at the summit, with Patxi Vila second.

15:21 CEST    135km/52km to go
The chase group comes up wt 25 seconds, then Wegmann, Charteau and Flecha at 1'25, and the peloton still at 4'00.

15:22 CEST   
The time for the Lautaret: 26'52 for the 12 km. That's 26.8 km/h.

Garzelli, Voigt, Zabriskie, Merckx take third through sixth on the climb.

15:24 CEST   
The peloton now has the Caisse d'Epargne riders in front as they get towards the summit of the Lautaret. Sandy Casar is chasing through the caravan, where Chris Horner is getting bidons for Evans.

Garcia Acosta leads the bunch over at about 4'20.

15:26 CEST    138km/49km to go
Landis is right behind Pereiro in the peloton, with two teammates (and he has Merckx up the road).

De La Fuente and Vila have sat up and are absorbed by the front group.

15:31 CEST   
The peloton snakes down the descent of the Lautaret, with dark clouds hovering in the horizon...

15:35 CEST    147km/40km to go
The break is still mainly powered by two of the three CSC riders. Lobato is also working hard for De La Fuente. It looks like a few rain drops are starting to fall. But the riders won't have to descend in the wet today.

15:38 CEST    150km/37km to go
And now the storm starts. Well, they're two thirds of the way down the descent of the Lautaret. Garzelli puts his rain jacket on at 50 km/h.

15:43 CEST    155km/32km to go
Now the peloton hits the storm as it flies down the valley towards Bourg d'Oisans.

Vila attacks the break.

15:45 CEST    157km/30km to go
Vila is maybe just trying to keep the pace high in the break. He takes his glasses off. Voigt is on his wheel, enjoying the rain. De La Fuente is also there.

The full composition of the lead group: Frank Schleck - best on GC at 10'06, Jens Voigt, David Zabriskie (Team CSC), Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Eddy Mazzoleni (T-Mobile), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R-Prevoyance), Axel Merckx (Phonak), Damiano Cunego, Patxi Vila (Lampre-Fondital), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Ińigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Ruben Lobato, David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval).

15:46 CEST    158km/29km to go
Flecha has dropped back to the peloton, and is helping drive it for Rabobank. Caisse d'Epargne are still there, as is Gonchar for T-Mobile.

Voigt has dropped off the leaders for some reason.

15:48 CEST    160km/27km to go
Voigt is being passed by the team cars now. He may have simply run out of gas, or he may wait for the peloton to help out Sastre.

15:50 CEST    162km/25km to go
The rain is starting to ease and the sun shows itself again. The peloton flows through a tunnel in a long line, in pursuit of the break. Patxi Vila and Cunego are the front two riders in the break, and they are on drier roads.

15:52 CEST    163km/24km to go
The bunch races over the Barrage du Chambon dam wall.

In front, Zabriskie is powering the break along with Vila. Schleck is CSC's protected rider up front.

15:53 CEST   
Voigt is back with the break! Nice chase.

15:54 CEST    165km/22km to go
Zabriskie drives it on a small climb, really suffering as he keeps the break 3'40 ahead of the peloton. Mazzoleni sits in last wheel.

15:54 CEST   

15:54 CEST   
Flecha and Gonchar are hammering the peloton with Casse d'Epargne right on their wheels. Weening is also coming up to help.

15:55 CEST    166km/21km to go
Zabriskie powers on another descent. We're getting close to Bourg d'Oisans now.

15:57 CEST    167km/20km to go
Our TdF science diarist Ric Stern has sent us some stats for the Lautaret:

"Assuming the actual length of the Lautaret is 12 km, then for the 26'52, a
70 kg rider (plus 10 kg for bike, clothes etc) is going to have needed to
produced about 370 W, to get up the Lautaret. About 5.3 W/kg. I could have lasted a couple minutes :-D "

15:59 CEST    168km/19km to go
The German tank Voigt (as he is known in the team) is powering his way up the side of the break to help out Zabriskie with the tempo making. Schleck sits comfortably about six wheels back, eating.

16:01 CEST    170km/17km to go
The gap is down to 3'22 as the bunch winds it up on this steady descent into Bourg d'Oisans. At 14 km to go, l'Alpe d'Huez will start.

Voigt, Vila and Zabriskie are doing all the work in front. Cunego might have a chance today too.

16:01 CEST   
Or Hincapie...

16:03 CEST    172km/15km to go
The peloton is in a very long line, 3'20 behind the leading 15, who are just under 15 km to go. Merckx sits in fifth wheel. He's the second best placed on GC in the break, at 10'08, a couple of seconds behind Schleck.

16:03 CEST    173km/14km to go
The climb starts! Voigt leads, then pulls off. Vila takes over. Zabriskie also dropped.

16:05 CEST    174km/13km to go
Chavanel attacks, but is marked by Lobato. Garzelli pulls the break up. Then Cunego attacks, but is marked by Lobato and Arroyo. Schleck, Chavanel, Mazzoleni, Hincapie, De La Fuente are all left.

Vila is dropped.

16:07 CEST    174km/13km to go
Cunego and Lobato attack again, and Schleck marks them. Chavanel, Hincapie and Garzelli are dropped.

The peloton is at the foot of the climb, about 3'18 behind the break. Dessel drops his chain at the foot, and has to stop.

16:08 CEST    174.5km/12.5km to go
Five leaders: Lobato, Cunego, Schleck, Mazzoleni and Arroyo. Then de la Fuente. Cunego attacks again.

The yellow jersey is in trouble, it looks like.

16:09 CEST   
Perdiguero hammers the peloton, leaving Landis, Kessler, Klöden and Evans. The yellow jersey is dropped.

16:10 CEST    175km/12km to go
Now Schleck and Cunego lead the race, with Lobato and Mazzoleni chasing at 5 seconds, then Arroyo and De la Fuente.

In the favourites' group, Menchov has caught Landis, Klöden, and Kessler. Boogerd is coming up with Leipheimer, but Sastre is further back.

16:12 CEST    175.5km/11.5km to go
Rasmussen is also coming up, and Pereiro is not totally out of it. He's 15 seconds behind the LAndis / Klöden group, where Kessler is putting the hammer down.

Boogerd, Rasmussen and Leipheimer can't quite close the gap to this group. Then Sastre and Vandevelde(?) ahead of Pereiro.

In front, Schleck and Cunego are lookin' good.

Klöden accelerates, with Landis and Evans able to hold on. Then Menchov.

16:13 CEST   
It's now just Klöden, Landis and Evans, with Menchov at 5 seconds, then Boogerd, Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Sastre and another.

16:15 CEST    177km/10km to go
Menchov climbs at his own tempo, but can't get back to the three favourites. Klöden looks good, doing all the work. Evans is glued to Landis' wheel. The crowds aren't insane, but that's probably a good thing.

The Landis group is at 2'50, and the maillot jaune is at 3'17.

16:15 CEST   
Mazzoleni rides away from Lobato and is just 10 seconds behind leaders Schleck and Cunego, who look good to fight out this stage victory.

16:16 CEST    177.5km/9.5km to go
Voigt has been caught by the 'bunch' and does a turn for Sastre, before pulling off.

Mazzoleni is now with Cunego and Schleck.

16:17 CEST    178km/9km to go
Leipheimer's group passes Menchov, who has blown.

Then Landis attacks the Klöden/Evans group. Klöden marks him. Evans doesn't.

16:18 CEST   
Landis and Klöden caught and pass Vila. then Evans is caught by Voigt, Sastre and Leipheimer.

16:19 CEST    178.5km/8.5km to go
Pereiro is with Boogerd, Rasmussen, Rogers and Parra, trying to keep the gap to Landis at a minimum.

In front, Cunego chats to Schleck. Mazzoleni sits on their wheel, looking comfy on a flatter section of the climb. 8.5 km to go.

16:20 CEST    179km/8km to go
Landis and Klöden now have 35 seconds on Pereiro. Then Sastre and Leipheimer have dropped Evans. Voigt has also dropped off. Evans looks to be in the hurt box, maybe paying for his efforts to follow Landis and Klöden in the beginning.

16:21 CEST    179.5km/7.5km to go
Cunego takes another bend, looking great. Lobato is following them at about 20 seconds.

Landaluze has been caught by Landis and Klöden.

16:23 CEST    180km/7km to go
The Landis/Klöden chase duo is being caught by Sastre and Leipheimer, and are just 2'20 behind the three leaders. Bits of the early break are being caught by the GC favourites, slowly.

16:24 CEST    180km/7km to go
There are still plenty of fans on the road, but it's definitely not a crush.

Klöden and Landis keep their rhythm, staving off the attempts of Sastre and Leipheimer to get them.

16:25 CEST   
Landis, Klöden, Leipheimer and Sastre are now together, coming up to Merckx. But Landis attacks up to his teammate!!

16:26 CEST   
Merckx looks surprised, gives Landis a bidon, then sets tempo for a bit. They put Leipheimer in difficulty, but he will come back.

16:27 CEST   
The maillot jaune is at 2'57, while Landis and co are 1'57 behind the three leaders: Schleck, Cunego and Mazzoleni. A mad Norwegian or Luxembourg fan almost brings everyone down in front.

16:29 CEST    181km/6km to go
Moreau, Dessel and Astarloza are 3'27 behind the leaders.

Hincapie is caught by the five man Landis group.

16:30 CEST    181.5km/5.5km to go
Landis is now the virtual maillot jaune, as he has 1'30 on Pereiro. Strategy critics can now be quiet.

16:31 CEST    182km/5km to go
Dessel is riding really well though, saving his top position on GC.

Schleck, Cunego and Mazzoleni (who has not been working much) go under 5 km to go.

16:33 CEST    183km/4km to go
Hincapie is now dropped from the Landis group, which is 1'41 behind the leaders. The yellow is at 2'50, so Landis isn't quite in yellow...yet.

Meanwhile, Dessel is making a great impression. He's caught the maillot jaune, who is with Rogers and a few others.

16:34 CEST    183km/4km to go
Now the fans get closer to the riders, as Cunego asks Mazzoleni to work. He doesn't, so Cunego attacks.

Klöden attacks with Landis. Sastre and Leipheimer can't follow. Merckx is dropped, and Evans and Menchov come up to the Belgian.

16:35 CEST    183.5km/3.5km to go
De la Fuente is caught and dropped by Landis and Klöden, who are joined - temporarily - by Sastre.

Menchov powers away from Evans, and they aren't that far behind Landis and Klöden.

16:37 CEST    184km/3km to go
Pereiro is doing his best to keep yellow. Landis and Klöden are just 1'17 behind the three leaders, with Sastre just off their wheels. Then Leipheimer, then Menchov at 1'54, then Evans. The yellow jersey is at 2'40.

In front, Schleck and Cunego have definitely dropped Mazzoleni. They go under 3 km to go.

16:39 CEST   
Landis and Klöden are just 1'02 behind the front of the race. Klöden is doing a lot of work, and Landis hangs tough. They catch Mazzoleni, who waited for them.

Now Rasmussen and Caucchioli have caught Menchov, and Rasmussen is riding tempo for his captain.

16:40 CEST    185km/2km to go
Mazzoleni does his last turn, bringing Landis and Klöden to 54 seconds.

Schleck attacks and Cunego is broken!! The Luxembourger has 5 seconds, 6, 7...

16:41 CEST    185.5km/1.5km to go
Lobato and Garzelli are caught by the Landis group.

16:42 CEST    186km/1km to go
Mazzoleni, Klöden, Landis, Chavanel, Garzelli and Lobato are together, but fighting it out for third. Landis will be in yellow, as he has two minutes on Pereiro.

Schleck gets to 1 km to go, with Cunego doing his best to close the gap, but failing. Schleck will win.

16:44 CEST    187km/0km to go
Frank Schleck will be the first Luxembourger to win on l'Alpe d'Huez. He takes the last corner, having done this climb in about 41 minutes. He wins the stage!!!!!

16:44 CEST   
Cunego is second at 10 seconds. Then the sprint for third winds up...

16:45 CEST   
Landis leads into the final corner, with Klöden on his wheel. He powers to the line but Garzelli gets him for third, Landis, then Klöden , Lobato, Chavanel, then Mazzoleni. Then Sastre about 20 seconds behind Landis.

16:47 CEST   
Leipheimer comes in another 10 seconds behind. Menchov is about a minute behind Landis, and Evans comes in with the maillot jaune at 2'50 behind the leader, or 1'40 behind Landis. Landis is the new leader!!!

16:54 CEST   
Schleck did that climb in a very unofficial time of 41'00, while Landis and Klöden would have done it in about 39'00. Not a record pace, but still quick enough!

Pereiro drops into second overall at 10 seconds behind Floyd, then Dessel is still in third at 2'02. Great ride by the Frenchman. Then Menchov (2'12), Sastre (2.17), Klöden (2.29) and Evans (2.56) as the top seven on GC.

17:00 CEST   
Jens Voigt, his shoulder bloodied after a crash, comes up to the finish looking like a triumphant warrior. He definitely played his part in Schleck's victory today, and he will be delighted.

And that's where we will leave you. Until tomorrow, for stage 16 between Le Bourg-d'Oisans and La Toussuire, a stage just as tough as today. Au revoir!


1 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC                        4.52.22
2 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                   0.11
3 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas                        1.10
4 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                                  
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                              
6 Ruben Lobato (Spa) Saunier Duval                       1.14
7 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Cofidis                         1.18
8 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) T-Mobile                          1.28
9 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                           1.35
10 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                    1.49
General classification after stage 15
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                          69.00.05
2 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears     0.10
3 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance                     2.02
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                           2.12
5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                           2.17
6 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                          2.29
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                      2.56
8 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                          5.01
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                     6.18
10 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi               6.20
11 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance               6.22


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