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93rd Tour de France - ProT

France, July 1-23, 2006

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Stage 16 - Wednesday, July 19: Le Bourg-d'Oisans-La Toussuire, 182 km

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

Live report

Live coverage starts: 11:40 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:10 CEST

22:26 CEST   
Stage 16 could be the key to the 2006 Tour. The crucial lynchpin stage begins by immediately ascending the immense Galibier, then descends over 60km to attack the Beyond Category Col de la Croix-de-Fer, then the transition climb of Col du Mollard, and then down to St.Jean-de-Maurienne to the final ascent of the new climb up to the ski station of La Toussuire. It's not a steep grade at 6% but it is 18.4km long, which could lead to big gaps at the finish. Look for Cunego to go on the attack again on the final ascent if he's still in contention, as Landis and Phonak just need to mark their adversaries.

11:47 CEST   

11:47 CEST   
The riders are now in the neutralised zone, but approaching the start of racing...

11:48 CEST   
And they are off...race director Christian Prudhomme waves the flag to start the day's racing. For now the field is all together, nobody has decided to hare on off up the road. A tough two weeks and yesterday's hard mountain stage will do that.

11:54 CEST    2km/180km to go
Race leader Floyd Landis was looking relaxed during the neutralised section, having a laugh with Michael Rasmussen. Rasmussen is from the rival Rabobank team but generally riders can get along despite the different jerseys, even if one is ultimately trying to make the other lose! Of course, different personalities may clash even if they are wearing the same jersey, with great intra-team rivalries including Hinault/Lemond in 1985-1986, Roche and Visentini in 1987 and Simoni/Cunego in 2004.

11:56 CEST   
Once racing starts, though, riders on rival teams have to be able to forget their friendships and click into 'kill or be killed' mode.

The riders are now on the Galibier.. the first climb of the day. Christophe Moreau (AG2R) is the first to attack, haring off up the road and into the darkness of the first tunnel. Maybe he'll pull over in there and hide, causing all sorts of chaos when the chasers try to work out where he has gone.

11:59 CEST   
That has actually happened in the past...can't remember the rider, but someone attacked and then hid with the goal of nipping onto the back of the bunch and enjoying the chaos. However he misjudged the effect of his attack and had himself a very hard chase, trying to latch back on to the peloton...

Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-Fondital) and Jose Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval) nip across to Moreau.

12:00 CEST    7km/175km to go
They are caught by the bunch. Jose Azevedo (Discovery Channel) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre), second yesterday, are very aggressive. Several riders are already in trouble and going out the back, including Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner).

12:02 CEST    9km/173km to go
Rasmussen goes...he is looking for KOM points today. He is quickly joined by a strong-looking Tadej Valjavec (Lampre-Fondital) and the two draw clear.

12:04 CEST    10km/172km to go
They are flying along now on a downhill section...one rider is trying to get across. It is David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne - Illes Balears).

This is a very aggressive start to the stage, something the weaker riders won't be thankful about.

12:07 CEST    11km/171km to go
The two leaders are 20 seconds clear. Bernhard Eisel (FDJ) is chasing.

12:10 CEST   
Eisel is caught but now his team-mate Sandy Casar is on the attack. He finished 2nd in the 2002 Paris-Nice and 12th there this year, so he is a gifted rider, but hasn't been going very well in this Tour.

12:12 CEST    13km/169km to go
He is 99th overall, 1'31"33 behind.

Casar has joined the other two, making it three up front. Rasmussen is driving hard now, conscious that he could pick up a lot of points today.

12:14 CEST    15km/167km to go
Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel) is chasing alone, while Rubiera, Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) and two others are further back.

12:17 CEST   
Ok, the chasers are: Rubiera (Discovery), Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre), Mikel Astarloza (AG2R) and Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne). They catch Verdugo, so there are now three chasers.

12:19 CEST   
The countryside is stunning here...huge scree-covered mountains, dotted with trees wherever there is enough earth to sustain vegetation, and cascading waterfalls. Nice.

12:19 CEST    19km/163km to go
The six chasers are 44 seconds back. Phonak are leading the bunch, but the pace looks steady rather than hectic there.

12:20 CEST   
No cascading cows, you will be glad to hear.

12:22 CEST   
Rasmussen is doing pretty much all the work...ah, Casar comes through now.

The bunch has stalled, and are lined across the road. Ah, that's why...Landis dropped back. He was probably doing his own impression of a waterfall. :)

12:25 CEST    20km/162km to go
Gilberto Simoni (Saunier Duval) has attacked. That was polite..he waited for Landis to get back up to the bunch, then went.

Further up the road, Laurent Lefčvre (Bouygues) and Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre) were chasing and joined up with the other six who are still in pursuit of the leaders.

12:26 CEST   
To recap: Tadej Valjavec (Lampre-Fondital), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Sandy Casar (FDJ) are clear, with Rubiera (Discovery), Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Commesso and Bruseghin (Lampre), Astarloza (AG2R), Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi)and Lefčvre (Bouygues) at 1'10. Simoni is on his own, somewhere in between that group and the peloton. It is 2'15 back.

12:31 CEST   
Sylvain Calzati (AG2R) went back to the doctor for some attention but then rejoined the bunch.

Simoni is about 30 seconds behind the chasing group. Four more riders are chasing him - Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery), Patrik Sinkewitz (T-Mobile), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) and Ivan Parra (Cofidis)

12:32 CEST    26.5km/155.5km to go
They catch Simoni - he'll be glad of some help. Phonak are determined not to let any other riders go clear and are leading the bunch.

The leaders are now just 1 km from the first sprint.

12:35 CEST   
Rasmussen leads as they approach the intermediate sprint... He has been driving this most of the way.

Valjavec rolls through and is first across the prime line, ahead of Casar and Rasmussen.

12:37 CEST   
This morning, the first five riders in the KOM classification were:

1 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 108 pts
2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team CSC 74
3 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 73
4 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 63
5 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance 62

Rasmussen is 35 points down so he needs to score well if he is to win the KOM classification for a second time.

12:39 CEST   
There is 20 points up for grabs on a HC climb. Today offers two HC climbs, one cat 2 and one cat 1 (which comes with double points as it is the last of the day). So it's certainly possible to get a lot of points on this stage.

12:43 CEST    30km/152km to go
David Moncoutié (Cofidis) attacked a couple of kilometres ago and is chasing alone, behind the other groups.

Landis only has four team-mates left with him at the front...others may be further back. This early action will suit his rivals as it will tire out his team-mates and make him more vulnerable to attack later.

12:46 CEST   
The two chasing groups have merged now.

Alexandre Moos (Phonak) is off the back of the peloton. Looks like he is under pressure, rather than on bottle duty.

Simoni leads the big chase group now. They are 1'55 back with a chaser, Calzati (AG2R) 2'30 down.

12:48 CEST    30.5km/151.5km to go
Calzati gets a bottle from the motorbike, holding on for a couple of seconds and then pushing hard off it. This helps him to close the gap - he's about to latch on now.

He does it.

12:55 CEST   
Casar is riding well here, leading Rasmussen and Valjavec. The Lampre rider doesn't seem do be doing any of the driving.

The fourteen chasers are:

Popovych, Rubiera (Discovery), Sinkewitz (T-Mobile), Astarloza, Calzati (AG2R), Bruseghin, Commesso (Lampre-Fondital), Arroyo, Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Verdugo (Euskaltel), Parra (Cofidis), Simoni, Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) and Lefčvre (Bouygues).

12:56 CEST   
They are 2'17 down, with the peloton exactly a minute further back.

The chasers are riding very hard to try to get across.

12:57 CEST    34km/148km to go
Phonak are continuing to lead the bunch. The sky is completely blue, looks like a hot day in the Alps.. Water bottles are cascading out of the bunch so we guess the fluid intake is going to be very high today.

12:59 CEST   
Landis is now third in line...just three team-mates left up at the front of the peloton with him. One is riding on his wheel, presumably to stop riders a) running into his back wheel, or b) nicking some food out of his pockets in an attempt to cause hunger knock.

We reckon it is b) : )

12:59 CEST   
Cyclingnews spoke with Phonak manager John Lelangue this morning, and he told us the team's tactics for today: "If there are guys in the breakaway who are at 40 minutes on GC, we are not going to chase. We only have to look at the five riders who are within three minutes."

Race leader Floyd Landis told us, "I'm feeling good. A little tired, but everybody is. The plan is essentially like yesterday. To let a breakaway go, control the race, catch it again on the last climb. There'll surely be plenty of attacks. Everyone tries to win a stage in the Tour."

13:02 CEST   
The leaders are now just under 8 km from the top of the climb.

13:03 CEST   
Maxim Iglinskiy (Milram) has retired.

13:06 CEST   
Referring to the comments earlier re riders hiding after attacking the bunch, Jean-Marie Machiels from Sint-Truiden in Belgium writes with this:

"Roger de Vlaeminck tells a classic cycling joke: "One time, during a Tour de Lombardie' we hid behind a railway verge. We had someone tell Merckx we escaped. So, he chased us like mad, while we were at the back of the bunch. He went so fast, we nearly got dropped.

When we got back on, we came up to him saying: "Hey man, are you nuts? Is there a fire?" Merckx was a very serious guy. He was not amused!"

(Written down in "43 wielerverhalen van Tim Krabbé – 1988)

13:08 CEST    39.5km/142.5km to go
The chasers are being led by Gomez Marchante. They are 2'00 back, with the Phonak-led peloton at 4'00".

13:10 CEST   
Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) is up for another big ride today, or so he hopes. "We will see that later on, won't we?" he told Cyclingnews. "I'll see how the legs are during the race. If they feel like yesterday, then I'll be on the attack again. The stage is hard enough on its own. It'll be selective and then we'll see on the last climb."

Teammate Michael Rogers said, "Of course I'm going to defend my GC, but the first objective is to help Klöden. Our goal is to put him on the podium in Paris. Today's course is so hard that there's going to be a natural selection. But all will be decided on the last climb."

13:10 CEST   
Phonak are still on the front now. Pena did a big turn, then sat up/blew up and went back into the shelter of the peloton.

The gap is now 2'05 and 4'20.

13:13 CEST   
Looking for an anchor point earlier, we secured the Hindenburg V-1 to a small herd of animals. However the breeze carried the us away, so we now have the embarrassing situation that five very bemused cows are dangling from the blimp.

As a result, there are now several hundred confused spectators on the mountainside plus one very angry farmer. He doesn't find it amooosing, to say the least.

13:15 CEST   
Casar drives the pace as they head towards the top. Rasmussen gets some food and drink from his team car, while all three get hollers of support from the road.

Further back, Rubiera and Popovych are on the front of the chase group. Sinkewitz is also up there. Parra then thunders to the front, trying to inject some speed.

13:20 CEST    44km/138km to go
Of the chasers, Popovych is best placed overall. He is 13th at 7'36.

The three are on a very exposed section of the climb, where the road loops around to the right. The scenery really is spectacular.

The chasers are 2'32 back while the peloton is at 4'35. Gomez Marchante drives it now, with Simoni dropping back after a turn. He's now sitting second last in the group, out of the saddle.

13:25 CEST   
Cunego and a team-mate have attacked. Phonak have chased, and the peloton is fragmenting now, scattered back down the mountain. Meanwhile Rasmussen has gone clear towards the top in order to nab the 20 points.

Casar goes after him but doesn't have it, taking second at the line. Valjavec is third.

13:27 CEST   
Leipheimer is now leading the bunch, with Landis back in about 20th place.

Vila and his Lampre team-mate Cunego are riding very hard, putting the pressure on the Phonak team and thus disrupting any later chase.

13:29 CEST   
Anthony Charteau (Credit Agricole) attacks the bunch and gets a gap, due in part to Michael Boogerd slowing things down behind. He will be keen to do whatever he can to help Rasmussen stay clear.

Astarloza is next over the top, 3'00 down. The rest of the chase group are there or thereabouts.

13:30 CEST   
The peloton go over the top, approximately 4'40 down. It really is broken up now.

13:33 CEST    46km/136km to go
Up front, Casar leads down this fast descent.

Crash! Back in the bunch, some riders go down on a bend. Amongst the fallers is Christophe Brandt (Davitamon-Lotto) and Landis' team-mate Miguel Angel Perdiguero. One rider moves wide to avoid them and comes within a few inches of heading down a steep incline. He stays upright and on the road, though. It looks like Brandt and Perdiguero should be okay to continue.

13:34 CEST   
This descent is very long; approximately 35 kilometres!

13:35 CEST    56km/126km to go
Popovych has gone clear of the chase group, pulling ahead on the descent...

13:39 CEST   
We got an email from Bob Steele in Wilmington:

As you view the ascent of the Galibier you may notice on the road a few bends from the summit FIREFLIES in large yellow letters. Five years ago a group of five riders from the UK rode the Alps for the hell of it and to raise money for a UK based Leukaemia Charity. They arrived at the Col de Turini in the Maritime Alps late in the evening and had to descend in the pitch black only to find as they came down to the tree line a host of fireflies hovered above the road soaking up the remains of the heat of the day; the fireflies literally lead them down the road to safety.

This year 50 people who ride their bikes for fun rode la Route des Grande Alpes from Lake Geneva to Cannes for Leuka a charity based in London and our goal is to raise 150,000 pounds. The moto of the Fireflies is, "For those who suffer we ride"

Incidentally le Patron gave the Fireflies on of his yellow jerseys to auction on ebay last year and has been very supportive. One of our number, Jake Scott of RSA films in LA, directed Lance in some of his Nike commercials last year.

13:41 CEST   
Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto) hopes he can do more today to help Cadel Evans. "Yesterday it wasn't 100 percent, but finally I got something back," he told us. "I had antibiotics that must have killed whatever was in my body. It wasn't normal, it was hard to get anywhere on the bike. It wasn't bad form, it was no form. But I hope I can be there for Cadel too today, just like yesterday."

Sprinter Bernhard Eisel (FDJ) wasn't looking forward to this stage. "Today we are back into the hurt box. But there's no way I'm going to be in the break again. Today, the big guns will do it."

13:43 CEST    63km/119km to go
Landis is fourth in line as the bunch descends. As mentioned, this descent is very fast..not much pedaling going on.

Popovych is all alone now, riding hard. He is approximately 2'30 behind the three leaders and 40 seconds ahead of the big chase group. The bunch are 4'55 behind Rasmussen, Casar and Valjavec.

13:44 CEST   
Landis is near the front...there were no Phonak riders there for a while, but Hunter and Merckx have just arrived back at the front.

13:47 CEST    65km/117km to go
Some readers have been asking how riders such as Rujano, Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers have been doing today. They haven't been prominent thus far, but that doesn't mean they are under pressure. They may have decided to remain in the middle of the bunch and bide their time for later.

13:51 CEST   
Rasmussen has certainly timed his form well. Back in June, he went for a stage win in the Tour de Suisse but blew up dramatically near the end and lost out. He was very annoyed/unhappy that day, given that it wasn't a good sign for his KOM hopes in the Tour, but seems to be in good form again. Of course the overall hasn't worked out as well for him this year as in 2005, but we think he'd be happy to take another maillot ŕ pois.

13:53 CEST   
An update of the situation: Popovych is not making up any ground...he is 3'00 down while the other chasers are 16 seconds further back. The peloton are 5'42 behind the leading trio.

13:56 CEST   
The leaders covered 34 km in the second hour of racing.

13:59 CEST   
Floyd Landis and Oscar Pereiro were chatting a couple of minutes ago. The latter rode well on l'Alpe d'Huez yesterday but fell just short of defending yellow.

At the back of the peloton, Jimmy Casper is. (Yoda speak)

13:59 CEST   
Casar leads on this descent, with Rasmussen sitting a little back off him and Valjavec.

14:01 CEST   
Popovych is still chasing alone, but is now 3'50 back. The rest of the chase group is at 4'05 while the Landis group is at 5'52.

14:02 CEST   
Jose Rujano, who has been dropped, wasn't feeling the best when we spoke to him today. "My foot is better, but now I have a sore throat. I'll see how I go during the stage. I certainly like the final climb."

14:07 CEST   
Ouch...Sylvain Chavanel crashed hard on the descent. It looked for a moment like he hit the barrier face-first, judging by where he was lying, but he's up now. He's back on his bike...that's good.

14:09 CEST   
Chavanel is going very slowly on this descent..some photographers have pulled up alongside, he's shaking his head. He is continuing for now.

Popovych, meanwhile, is back in the chase group.

14:15 CEST   
The crash brought back memories of the tragedy which befell Fabio Casartelli eleven years ago. But fortunately Chavanel seems to be okay, and didn't hit the barrier too hard. He's still riding, taking it very gingerly down the descent.

The chase group is 3'50 back with the peloton almost 7'00 down.

Chavanel started today 17th overall, 9'56 back. So that's hard for him. He's been seen to by the race doctor - looks like his right shoulder is a bit sore. Walter Beneteau (Bouygues) rides alongside him and asks if he is okay.

14:20 CEST    90km/92km to go
Rasmussen is digging deep on this flat section, trying to maintain their gap. They have a healthy lead now; can he do what he did last year on stage 9 and take a full whack of points plus the stage win?

14:23 CEST   
The chasers are 4'45 back but don't seem to be riding well...there's gaps there between them, after some jumping around. The peloton are 6'51 back...this is bizarre...3 Phonak riders are clear with two Gerolsteiners and Anthony Geslin (Bouygues Telecom). The Phonak riders are looking back for the bunch, seeking to lead the chase, but there is a big gap. The Phonak riders are not happy. Looks like someone let the wheel go and then there was a stall in the bunch. Weird.

14:26 CEST   
Landis is back up there now. The riders passed through a feed zone a little while ago so maybe that is the reason for the stall. The Phonak team are leading the bunch now and the speed is on again.

Denis Menchov comes back to the bunch after either a stop or a chat with the team car.

Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner and Oscar Pereiro are amongst those near the front of the peloton. They each look relaxed.

14:30 CEST   
Henry Edwardes Evans has been in touch with the following:

"Is it me, or are the crowds down this year? Any idea why? Anything to do with the reduction in riders turning up with a full service history?

My spin is this – we’ve got to relish this survival grind for what I hope it is – a proper race. Digging at Landis for being conservative is well out of line (re the Guardian today) – the guy is riding a very clever race. The papers demand the sport cleans itself up one day, and the next bemoan the lack of Pantani-style breakaways."

Good point, Henry..

14:32 CEST   
The crowds have seemed smaller this year at times, although one reason is that the mountain stages have been during weekdays. It seems to be a deliberate attempt to control the numbers of fans. On the one hand stages like Alpe d'Huez can be dangerous when there are too many spectators there, but on other, safer mountains, it is certainly nice to see large crowds. The news of Operacion Puerto probably played a part, too.

14:37 CEST    100km/82km to go
Things look civilised in the peloton now. The calm before the storm, we reckon, because this race is going to go nuts on the next climbs.

The three leaders are now on the hors categorie Col de la Croix-de-Fer, which tops out approximately 56 kilometres from the line. They are now a very considerable 5'37 ahead of the chase group and 7'16 ahead of the bunch. Rasmussen must be looking good for the KOM jersey now.

Valjavec took the sprint in Saint Etienne des Cuines (103 km). Casar and Rasmussen didn't contest it and took second and third.

14:39 CEST    101km/81km to go
The chase group is still working but they haven't been able to make any significant impression. Other than the impression that they are going slower.

Back in the bunch, Landis is sitting about tenth. Lang (Gerolsteiner) is leading the chase, then Victor Hugo Pena takes over for Phonak.

14:45 CEST    106km/76km to go
Rasmussen is leading as they head up the Croix de Fer. He's tucked his helmet straps up inside his helmet...not much use if you fall off.

Nicolas Jalabert and Koos Moerenhout (Phonak) lead the chase. Sylvain Calzati (AG2R) has attacked.

Up front, Casar looked to be in a bit of difficulty on the climb, drifting off the wheels.

14:47 CEST   
David Kopp (Gerolsteiner) and Steven de Jongh (Quick.Step) have abandoned.

Casar is swinging. Behind, the chase group has split. Calzati and Popovych have attacked.

14:49 CEST    108km/74km to go
Casar is, to use a tried and trusty word, goooooooone..

Popovych has been caught by the rest of the chasers. Not sure about Calzati yet.

14:54 CEST   
Five riders are clear of the chasing group: Calzati, Simoni, Sinkewitz, Commesso and Arroyo.

Landis is now second in line, with only one other rider from the Phonak team close by. His team appear to have been isolated today, but so far the other big contenders haven't tried anything.

Some of the other riders from the chase group (including Popovych) have been caught.

14:56 CEST    110.8km/71.2km to go
Valjavec leads Rasmussen on the climb, grimacing quite a bit. Rasmussen's upper body is swaying but otherwise he looks composed.

Popovych is now at the back of the bunch..he might pay for his efforts towards the end.

14:59 CEST   
Some other riders have come up to the Simoni group, so there are eight chasers together.

Ahead of them, Astarloza (AG2R) has gone clear.

Valjavec is also gooooooooone. So Rasmussen is alone in front, riding very well.

15:01 CEST   
Ivan Parra, another of those who was clear from early on, is caught by the bunch. Landis is still in second place and looks very relaxed. Moerenhout leads, then the maillot jaune, then Michael Rogers.

15:04 CEST    113km/69km to go
Rasmussen is now 25" ahead of Valjavec, with the remainder of the chase group 6'40 back and the peloton 7'09 down. The chase group should get caught soon.

Gilberto Simoni waves to the camera as he too is caught by the bunch. The Italian is Shiney Boy (TM), having dosed himself with water from head to cleated shoe. It's warm out there today, to say the least...

15:07 CEST   
Casar is still there, in no-man's land.. Meanwhile Simoni is being dropped now, as is Parra.

Landis is being stalked followed by Moreau and Evans.

Rinero attacks.

15:09 CEST   
He is caught but CSC now puts the pressure on. Yesterday's winner Schleck leads from Sastre and Vandevelde, with Landis on their wheel. Evans, Leipheimer and Klöden are also up there.

Vandevelde is in a TT tuck going up this climb, hands holding onto ye olde trusty invisible bars..

15:10 CEST    116.5km/65.5km to go
That was on a flatter section...he's back on the hoods now. There is no sign of Phonak riders for Landis, but he looks strong enough to follow the wheels at this point.

15:12 CEST    117km/65km to go
Rasmussen continues to force the pace on the Croix de Fer, putting Valjavec at 1'25 and Casar at 2'09. The peloton is at 7'00, driven by Vandevelde and CSC. They will catch the lone Astarloza soon.

Sinkewitz is dropped.

15:13 CEST   
Rubiera and Hincapie are dropped from the bunch next. The pace has shattered the peloton.

15:16 CEST    118km/64km to go
Astarloza is caught by the bunch, which is slimming down. Rasmussen is looking good for the stage win today.

Moreau and Merckx are sitting last two wheels in the bunch, with Zabriskie. They are getting tailed off slowly.

Leipheimer attacks!

15:18 CEST    119km/63km to go
Leipheimer gets a bit of a gap, but he'll need quite a lot if he's to stay ahead of the bunch on the descent of the Croix de Fer. The American has had his teammates riding on the lower slopes to try to pull the gap back, but now it's time to go.

"I'm going to look out for the break, but I think maybe halfway through the stage will be the moment to go," said Leipheimer to us, who has been true to his word! "I've done this stage already in the Dauphiné, and that's where it worked. Yesterday, Floyd and Klöden were just one level above where I am now, so I'll take it day by day."

15:20 CEST    119km/63km to go
The peloton is down to about 20 riders, with Schleck and Sastre leading Landis. Klöden, Azevedo, Dessel, Moreau, Evans, Horner, Pereiro are all there.

Rasmussen still leads the stage by 1'20 over Valjavec, with Casar falling back to 3'02, then Leipheimer at 6'10. Calzati has been caught, it looks like. The peloton is at 6'30.

Rasmussen has fixed his helmet straps.

15:22 CEST    120km/62km to go
Leipheimer looks solid as he carries out his cunning plan. He sits in 9th on GC at 6'18, so he's not a direct threat to Landis yet. He has 30 seconds on the bunch as he gets towards the summit of the Croix de Fer.

Dessel gets to the front of the bunch with Fothen on his wheel. Michael Boogerd is also there.

15:24 CEST   
Rasmussen continues to focus on getting to the summit, which is still 6 km away. Look out for falling cows!

The group maillot jaune is now led by Schleck and it looks like Dessel, with Landis sitting in 10th wheel looking comfy. Everything's going to plan for the Phonak rider.

15:28 CEST   
Astarloza makes his way back to the rear of the group maillot jaune. Not sure where Moreau is though. AG2R is probably pinning its hopes on Dessel.

Rasmussen has 5 km of climbing to the top of the Croix de Fer.

Leipheimer has a minute on the bunch, but that isn't going to move him up many places on GC yet.

15:29 CEST   
Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) is in the maillot jaune group, and he told us today, "I'm feeling tired. Yesterday was also a very hard stage. I had a bad day with fever. Today I'm feeling better. I've been able to sleep well. I still want to make up a few places on GC and try to win a stage. I'm more than six minutes down, and Phonak will control the stage, so they might let me go. Maybe I can do something."

15:31 CEST    123km/59km to go
Leipheimer now has two minutes on the maillot jaune group, which is lagging 7'38 behind the lone leader Rasmussen. Calzati is leading it, setting tempo for Dessel. Boogerd sits second wheel as a 'policeman' for Rasmussen, then Rogers, Schleck, Fothen, Dessel... Zabriskie is on the back too, as they pass some brown cows.

15:34 CEST   
Rasmussen is now 3'25 ahead of Valjavec, 4'20 ahead of Casar, and 5'36 ahead of Leipheimer.

The maillot jaune group: Floyd Landis, Axel Merckx (Phonak), José Azevedo (Discovery Channel), Carlos Sastre, Frank Schleck , Christian Vandevelde (Team CSC), Andreas Klöden, Giuseppe Guerini, Matthias Kessler, Eddy Mazzoleni, Michael Rogers (T-Mobile), Christophe Moreau, Mikel Astarloza , Sylvain Calzati , Cyril Dessel , Stephane Goubert (AG2R-Prevoyance), Marcus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), Denis Menchov, Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Cadel Evans, Christopher Horner (Davitamon-Lotto), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital), David Arroyo, Vladimir Karpets , Oscar Pereiro , Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Pietro Caucchioli (Crédit Agricole), Iker Camańo , Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

15:36 CEST    124km/58km to go
Rasmussen is chased by fans as he get closer to the top, but there are still a few km to travel.

Meanwhile, Moncoutié has ridden away from the bunch, which is shedding Astarloza and Sprick.

15:38 CEST    125km/57km to go
Leipheimer looks very solid as he follows 5'30 behind Rasmussen. But the maillot jaune is now 8'10 back! Rasmussen will surely win the stage, even from this far out.

15:39 CEST   
Leipheimer catches Casar, and goes past the Frenchman, who holds on for a bit.

15:41 CEST    125km/57km to go
Rasmussen rides up the final kilometre of the Croix de Fer, leading Valjavec by 4'05 and Leipheimer and Casar by 5'26.

Jens Voigt (who is not anywhere near the front now), spoke to Cyclingnews at the start today. "I'll try to be with the boys as long as possible, but my hip hurts where I received some stitches [after a crash yesterday]. My shoulder just has some skin off but it's not so good that the fans hit me on the shoulder, yelling 'how's it going Jens?'. I'll see how my hip goes. It certainly hurts, but it's not so bad."

15:43 CEST    126km/56km to go
Rasmussen takes the points at the summit of the Croix de Fer, and with it the mountains jersey, the maillot a pois. Valjavec should hang on for second, but we'll wait for the Slovenian.

15:46 CEST    129km/53km to go
Rasmussen is now on the steep descent of the Croix de Fer. The top part is particularly steep. He hammers it into a hairpin, then slams on the brakes and gets around it ok.

15:48 CEST    132km/50km to go
Leipheimer rides to the summit of the Croix de Fer, looking rock solid. He will take third place on the climb at 5'31, with Casar on his wheel in fourth. Moncoutié looks good to take fifth.

15:49 CEST   
Michael Boogerd is on the front of the bunch with Calzati. The Dutchman is making sure that the pace isn't too face, to give Rasmussen the best chance of victory. Menchov is right up there.

15:51 CEST   
Moncoutié does take fifth at 7'50 behind Rasmussen. Then Calzati leads Boogerd over for sixth at 8'24. Then Zandio and Menchov for eighth and ninth.

15:52 CEST   
Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) wasn't feeling great today. "I had to throw up yesterday during the stage. I was able to rest and it was OK during the night, but I just feel bad and without any energy." He's definitely not in the group maillot jaune.

15:53 CEST    135km/47km to go
Race leader Landis has been keeping a low profile of late, probably hoping that Merckx gets back to the group.

Rasmussen rides past some horses on the descent.

15:54 CEST   
The bunch sweeps through another hairpin, and Landis does indeed have Merckx on his wheel. One teammate is always handy to have before the final climb.

Leipheimer is descending behind Casar through the rougher section of the Croix de Fer. They're both taking it very steady.

15:58 CEST    141km/41km to go
Rasmussen looks good as he rides past a small dam, over a bridge and onto a flatter section of this descent. He is now going uphill again, with the 6 km Col du Mollard, average 6.8%.

In the peloton, Boogerd has Menchov and Moreau on his wheel on the descent.

16:00 CEST    141km/41km to go
A couple of Caisse d'Epargne riders get a gap over the bunch, with Mazzoleni also there.

Valjavec is 5'00 behind the leader, with Leipheimer/Casar another 30 seconds back, and the bunch at 8'30.

16:01 CEST    142km/40km to go
Rasmussen gets into his rhythm on the Mollard, looking pretty relaxed. Leipheimer and Casar are now on the climb, trying to close to Valjavec.

16:03 CEST   
The Caisse d'Epargne chasers (one of them was Pereiro) are captured by the rest of the group maillot jaune.

16:07 CEST    144km/38km to go
Leipheimer drops Casar and catches Valjavec on the Mollard. He doesn't even look across as he passes the Slovenian, who takes his wheel.

16:09 CEST    145km/37km to go
Pereiro asks his Caisse d'Epargne teammate to ride harder on the front of the bunch. That puts Vandevelde and Moncoutié out the back. Landis sits towards the rear of the bunch, which is still 20-30 strong. There are a lot of T-Mobile riders here too: Kessler, Guerini, Klöden and Rogers. They are 7'21 behind Rasmussen.

16:11 CEST   
Calzati sits last wheel in the bunch, struggling to hold on on the Col du Mollard. Horner is just ahead of him, looking OK. Arroyo is riding solidly on the front.

16:12 CEST    146km/36km to go
Rasmussen is 1 km from the top of the Mollard, and struggling a bit, but he has a good sized lead. What can Leipheimer do with Valjavec? They are still 5'10 back, with the maillot jaune now at 6'56.

16:13 CEST   
T-Mobile has five riders in the maillot jaune group, which is led by the two Caisse d'Epargnes. The tempo will be higher from now on. But enough to get Rasmussen? Only if he blows up.

16:16 CEST   
Rasmussen takes more points at the summit, and secures his lead in the mountains competition. His two pursuers are at 5'00, with Casar another minute back, and the peloton at another minute.

16:18 CEST    148km/34km to go
Rasmussen is now on the final descent of the day, direction La Toussuire. He nearly overcooks it on a corner, but rights himself and is back on the road. That was close...

16:19 CEST    151km/31km to go
The peloton gets to 1 km from the top of the Mollard, led by Zandio all the time. Pereiro is right on his wheel, then five T-Mobiles.

Leipheimer is second over the top at 4'42, ahead of Valjavec. Then Casar might be able to survive the charge of the peloton. Or he might not.

16:22 CEST    153km/29km to go
As the bunch nears the top of the climb, Merckx tows Landis up to the front. Casar is fourth over at 7'00. Zandio is next at 7'20, leading the bunch.

16:24 CEST    156km/26km to go
Rasmussen takes another tight corner on this steep, narrow descent.

Casar is almost caught by the bunch. Just three riders ahead of the maillot jaune now.

16:26 CEST    157km/25km to go
Valjavec is descending ahead of Leipheimer, who definitely knows this, having done it in the Dauphine. In the group maillot jaune, Landis is tucked into third wheel. There are still a good 25 riders in this group.

16:30 CEST    159km/23km to go
Rasmussen hurtles towards the final climb, which is 18 km long at 6%. He has a good 4'40 on Leipheimer and Valjavec, with the American definitely taking a lot of care on the descent.

The peloton has swept up Casar and follows at 7'20.

16:31 CEST    160km/22km to go
Leipheimer doesn't have a team car with him, as Fothen is still in the groupe maillot jaune. But presumably it will come up to him on the last climb, one would think. He goes under 25 km to go, losing some time on Valjavec.

16:33 CEST    162km/20km to go
Rasmussen is now at 20 km to go, powering along on a straighter part of the descent. He gets some instructions from the Rabobank team car.

Leipheimer snakes around more hairpins, keeping upright without losing too much time, which is the main object of the exercise.

Matze Kessler is descending well off the back of the bunch. He has crashed far too many times in this Tour.

16:34 CEST    164km/18km to go
Rasmussen gulps from his bidon again as he nears the foot of La Toussuire. Here we go!!

16:35 CEST    165km/17km to go
Valjavec and Leipheimer are together again, 4'49 behind the lone Dane. But things can change on the last climb.

16:36 CEST   
Rasmussen rides over a 'Le Tour d'Amour' painted on the road, and he gets into his climbing rhythm.

16:37 CEST    165.5km/16.5km to go
Zandio and Pereiro lead the bunch down, with Merckx and Landis in third and fourth, then four T-Mobiles: Mazzoleni, Rogers, Klöden, Guerini (Kessler is still off the back). The group is 6'50 behind Rasmussen, and 2'20 behind Leipheimer/Valjavec.

16:38 CEST    166km/16km to go
Landis should be perfectly happy with how this stage has gone so far. Leipheimer is not really a threat to him with just 2'20 lead. But the last climb is gonna hurt everyone. Pereiro is obviously hoping to take the yellow back.

16:40 CEST   
Now Leipheimer and Valjavec are on the climb, with the American leading. Rasmussen is not going as well as he was, looking a bit ragged. Still a lot of climbing to come before he can celebrate.

16:41 CEST   
The maillot jaune group is now on the last climb, and Moreau and Goubert are dropped immediately. And then Casar and Calzati.

16:42 CEST    167km/15km to go
Leipheimer and Valjavec are now 4'10 behind Rasmussen, as Merckx gets to the front of the bunch to keep the tempo up. Boogerd is up there, slowing things. Landis sits just behind the T-Mobiles, and Kessler has found his way back.

16:44 CEST   
LAndis has Klöden's wheel in the bunch, while Dessel is a bit further back.

Leipheimer has now dropped Valjavec, as he goes in search of Rasmussen.

16:45 CEST    167km/15km to go
And the Gerolsteiner team car is right there behind Leipheimer... Rasmussen goes under 15 km to go..

Dessel sits next to Cunego in the bunch, where we'll see some fireworks soon.

16:46 CEST    167.5km/14.5km to go
Leipheimer now has one goal: close the four minute gap to Michael Rasmussen. It isn't going to be easy.

Merckx, Schleck and Boogerd lead the bunch, which is still at least 20 riders strong. Sastre is up there behind Schleck. Kessler pulls off and packs for the day. He'll be back tomorrow.

16:47 CEST   
Schleck, yesterday's stage winner, is now working as domestique for Sastre.

Iker Camańo goes out the back, and Merckx and Fothen are also in trouble. Evans is sitting next to Klöden, Landis and Caucchioli.

16:49 CEST    168km/14km to go
Patxi Vila is the next to go O.T.B. as the bunch thins to about 15 riders.

Rogers lifts the tempo, but gets Boogerd and Landis on his wheel. Probably working for Klöden.

Schleck is dropped. Sastre looks to be in trouble too.

16:50 CEST    169km/13km to go
Guerini goes out the back next. In front of the maillot jaune group, it's his teammate Rogers leading Landis, Pereiro, Klöden, Evans, Dessel... at 6'10.

Leipheimer is now 3'57 behind Rasmussen, Valjavec is at 4'20.

Menchov attacks!

16:51 CEST   
Menchov is joined by Pereiro and most of the bunch, but not Landis. It's Menchov, Rogers, Pereiro, then Evans leading Azevedo up to them.

16:52 CEST    170km/12km to go
Menchov, Pereiro, Rogers and Evans are ahead of the maillot jaune. Then Azevedo is chasing alone, but he's just been caught by Klöden, Mazzoleni and Landis.

16:53 CEST    170km/12km to go
Menchov listens to his radio and slows the pace. Pereiro looks back as Mazzoleni leads Klöden and Landis back up to those four. T-Mobile chasing T-Mobile. Good to see.

16:55 CEST    170.5km/11.5km to go
Rogers now sets tempo for the group, with Menchov and Evans on his wheel. Then Klöden, Mazzoleni and Pereiro ahead of Landis.

Although Klöden wasn't with that attack by Menchov, it was crazy for T-Mobile to lead the chase. Argh.

16:56 CEST    171km/11km to go
Further back in the group, we have Caucchioli, Dessel, Sastre, Moreau, Zubeldia, Azevedo and Cunego.

Mazzoleni takes over the tempo making.

Meanwhile, at the front of the race, it's Rasmussen leading Leipheimer by 3'45, then Valjavec at 4'15. The group is at 5'42.

16:58 CEST   
Now Sastre attacks the bunch. Trying to keep the pressure on Landis. Mazzoleni doesn't react.

Landis is dropped!!

16:59 CEST   
Landis and Azevedo are riding together behind the bunch. Could Pereiro reclaim the jersey today? Who knows?

17:00 CEST    171.5km/10.5km to go
Sastre has a small gap over the rest of the GC group, which now doesn't contain the maillot jaune.

Now Menchov hammers past Mazzoleni with Klöden on his wheel.

Landis doesn't look good. But he's trying to hold it together.

17:02 CEST   
Valjavec is caught by the GC group, which is being led by Mazzoleni.

Menchov's attack went nowhere, and T-Mobile resumes the tempo making. Mazzoleni, Rogers, Klöden, Pereiro, Dessel, Menchov, Evans are all there.

Leipheimer is at 4'00 behind, being caught by Sastre soon.

Landis is six minutes back, and a good minute behind the GC group.

17:04 CEST   
Landis has found the yellow jersey too heavy today. He's alone, riding at a "I'm blown" tempo.

Sastre is flying up towards Leipheimer, who is 3'35 behind leader Rasmussen. The CSC rider is 40 seconds behind Leipheimer. Then the group Klöden/Dessel at 4'54, and Landis at 6'00.

17:05 CEST    174km/8km to go
Landis looks like losing all chances in the Tour today.

The group chasing Rasmussen, Leipheimer and Sastre consists of Mazzoleni, Rogers, Klöden, Pereiro, Dessel, Evans, Caucchioli, Menchov, Cunego and Moreau.

17:06 CEST    175km/7km to go
Pereiro is sitting in the boxed seat now. He started the day just 10 seconds behind Landis, and is now in the virtual yellow jersey. Landis is already 7'00 behind Rasmussen, and 2'30 behind the group.

17:08 CEST    181.4km/0.6km to go
Sastre is now with Leipheimer, and the pair are 3'30 behind leader Rasmussen as they motor up this climb, which isn't too steep here.

Sastre is fifth on GC at 2'17, so he could be getting up to the podium today.

17:10 CEST    177km/5km to go
Rasmussen fights for every second, still keeping 3'30 over the two chasers, where Sastre is doing the work. The GC group is at 4'00, now led by Rogers. Cunego is not with that group.

Landis is passed by Karpets and Vila, going backwards. He looks bad today, as bad as a David Hasselhoff music video. He's eight minutes down.

Rogers is dropped from the group, as Sastre drops Leipheimer. 3'24 between first and second on the road.

17:12 CEST   
Can Rasmussen hold off Sastre? It will be close. The CSC rider can definitely climb, as he now hits a steeper bit of the climb. 3'20, then Leipheimer, then the GC group at 3'50. Mazzoleni now sets tempo for Klöden. Menchov hangs tough with Pereiro, Dessel, Evans, Caucchioli, Moreau. And that's it.

17:14 CEST    178km/4km to go
Rogers has glued himself back onto the group for a bit, but now it gets harder. Mazzoleni is riding for Klöden, their main GC guy.

Rasmussen is within 4 km of the summit. Sastre is at 3'00 and closing, but it might not be quick enough.

17:14 CEST    179km/3km to go
Now Menchov lifts the pace with Klöden on his wheel. Pereiro, Evans, Dessel hang on. Mazzoleni and Rogers are gone, but somehow Moreau is still there.

17:15 CEST   
Leipheimer is caught by the group. His effort in vain today. Moreau grabs a can of coke and downs it.

Klöden attacks and Pereiro follows with Evans. Dessel just off the back. Menchov and Leipheimer are dropped.

17:17 CEST    179km/3km to go
Dessel looks back, and gets caught by Menchov and Leipheimer. Caucchioli and Moreau are also there.

Evans, Klöden and Pereiro get to 4 km to go, with Klöden doing all the work. Pereiro is still going to be in yellow.

Rasmussen is now at 3km to go. Sastre is now suffering.

17:18 CEST   
Pereiro now drives with Klöden and Evans. Dessel, Moreau, Caucchioli and Leipheimer have dropped Menchov.

17:19 CEST    180km/2km to go
Sastre is at 2'31, then Pereiro's group at 3'09, then Dessel's group at 3'34. That group has just lost Leipheimer.

Rasmussen has 2 km to go. The stage win will be his, and a very deserved one it will be.

17:21 CEST   
Rasmussen gets towards the top of this climb, which is not quite the finish. He's made a big effort for the mountains jersey today, and it will pay off.

Evans, Klöden and Pereiro are still together, while Landis is reported at 9'30.

17:21 CEST    181km/1km to go
Sastre is at 2'27 and holding, then Pereiro, Evans and Klodi at 3'00, with Dessel, Moreau and Caucchioli at 3'30.

Rasmussen reaches one km to go. This will be another fantastic stage win.

17:23 CEST    181.5km/0.5km to go
Rasmussen will win the second Alpine stage and Pereiro will take the jersey. But it's not a final decision here, not by any means. There's still another day in the mountains...

17:24 CEST    182km/0km to go
Rasmussen rides up to the finish line after a fantastic solo. He's been away since km 6 and has taken all the honours today. Great win by the Danish climber!!!! He's very emotional at the finish, but that's not surprising.

17:26 CEST   
Sastre takes second, about 1'40 behind. Then Pereiro wins the sprint for third at 1'55, with Evans and Klöden next in line. Pereiro new maillot jaune.

Then the trusty Labrador, Christophe Moreau, leads Cyril Dessel and Pietro Caucchioli up to the line at 2'38.

17:31 CEST   
Leipheimer is home for ninth at 3'24, then Zubeldia, Menchov, Rogers and Mazzoleni are 10th-13th at 3'42.

Pereiro is now the new leader with Sastre second overall at 1'50. CSC isn't out of this Tour yet.

17:34 CEST   
Merckx finally leads Floyd Landis home, 10'04 behind the winner. That's the end of Landis' yellow dream.

17:59 CEST   
Well, that was a pretty interesting stage, and the Tour de France is definitely not over! Pereiro has the jersey back, but can he keep it? We'll find out tomorrow... see you then.


1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                       5.36.04
2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                              1.41
3 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears        1.54
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                         1.56
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                                 
6 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance                   2.37
7 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crédit Agricole                       
8 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance                            
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                        3.24
10 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                  3.42
11 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                                 
12 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                                
13 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) T-Mobile                                
14 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                     4.21
General classification after stage 16
1 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    74.38.05
2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                              1.50
3 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile                             2.29
4 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance                        2.43
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                         2.56
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                              3.58
7 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile                             6.47
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) AG2R-Prevoyance                   7.03
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                        7.46
10 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                  8.06
11 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak                                8.08


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