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95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 12 - Thursday, July 17: Lavelanet - Narbonne, 168.5km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Shane Stokes

With the Pyrenean stages over, the Tour now begins its journey across to the Alps. This stage features just one fourth category climb as it descends steadily towards the Mediterranean and so is a prime opportunity for the sprinters to reopen their accounts after a hard few days.

Lavelanet, situated in the heart of Cathar country with its hilltop castles, has hosted the start of a Tour stage once before: in 2002. That day saw a very similar course profile – although an entirely different route – and finished not far from today's Narbonne finish in the Herault department's capital Beziers. The stage was won by Scot David Millar (then Cofidis, now Slipstream-Chipotle) from a breakaway group that finished almost ten minutes ahead of the peloton.

Narbonne, with its 13th century Saint-Just cathedral, has been in existence since 118BC when the Romans settle there. The city has hosted the Tour seven times before, most recently in 2003 as it saw the start of the stage to Toulouse that was won by Juan Antonio Flecha. The last stage to finish here – or more accurately at Narbonne-Plage – was the second of five stages won by Belgian sprint legend Freddy Maertens in 1981.

13:07 CEST   
Good morning/afternoon/evening dear readers (depending on where you are reading this), welcome to our live coverage of the twelfth stage of this year's Tour de France. It's another transition-type stage today, heading east from Lavelanet to Narbonne.

After a big breakaway yesterday, we are inclined to think that today's stage is a more likely candidate for a bunch sprint. The teams of riders such as Thor Hushovd, Mark Cavendish, Oscar Freire, Erik Zabel, Robbie McEwen and the other gallopers will be keen to have their fast guys slug it out at the finish. The route should also be conducive to that, with a lumpier first half becoming flatter and faster towards the end.

13:10 CEST   
Today's biggest news is the positive A sample for EPO returned by Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval). He won the Super Besse and Bagneres de Bigorre mountain stages and his performances in the latter were certainly extraordinary. Many comparisons were made to his idol Marco Pantani, not least the dominance exhibited on that stage.

That raised eyebrows; if the non-negative result is confirmed by the B sample, then the suspicions will have been confirmed.

13:12 CEST   
According to l'Equipe's Damien Ressiot, one of the climber's urine samples collected by the French Anti-Doping Agency AFLD showed traces of a third generation EPO called CERA (Continuous Erythropoietin Receptor Activator).

13:21 CEST   
In presuming that Riccò's two wins will be struck off, the new top three for stage six to Super Besse will be:

1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto
3 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank

And the top three for stage nine will be:

1 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale
2 Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
3 Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Crédit Agricole

In addition to those stage wins, Riccò was ninth overall, leading the best young rider standings and also leading the mountains classification.

The new top ten will be:

1 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto                           46.42.13
2 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team CSC - Saxo Bank                        0.01
3 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Team Garmin-Chipotle p/b H30        0.38
4 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner                                0.46
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                                    0.57
6 Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Team CSC - Saxo Bank                 1.28
7 Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia                                 1.56
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott                2.10
9 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale                         2.32
10 Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi            3.51

13:27 CEST   


Mountains classification (updated)

1 David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Saunier Duval - Scott            65 pts
2 Sebastian Lang (Ger) Gerolsteiner                                 57
3 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner                                  56

Young rider classification (updated)
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 2 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone 3 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas

13:34 CEST   
Riccò was taken into police custody and questioned. We understand that Saunier Duval has quit the Tour en masse. So De La Fuente is not the mountains leader, and Cobo is no longer eighth overall.

13:48 CEST   
Returning to the racing, a slightly reduced field took to the start this afternoon.

13:57 CEST   
To sum up the action thus far far:

Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel Euskadi) et Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) attacked five kilometres after the start. They were joined by Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Steven De Jongh (Quick Step), Freddy Bichot (Agritubel), Bram Tankink (Rabobank), Martin Muller (Milram), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Will Frischkorn (Garmin Chipotle). However they were all caught twelve clicks into the race.

14:00 CEST   
Apparently Saunier Duval would have been able to start this morning's stage but the team has decided to both leave the race and also suspend all activities. Time will tell if it will collapse or continue racing later in the season.

14:02 CEST    32km/136.5km to go
More riders have tried to go clear but nothing has stuck as yet.

Baden Cooke crashed but the Barloworld rider has been able to remount and return to racing.

14:07 CEST   
George Hincapie of Team Columbia gave his reaction this morning. "We can look at the positive side and that we're catching riders that cheat. The sport is doing what it can and it's [putting out] more effort than any other sport out there.

"We have to look to the future and I think we're doing everything we can to clean up our sport."

Hincapie's sports director, Rolf Aldag, was not too happy. "This is really disappointing. There have been a lot of rumours about him in the last few days but this a step back as he's a big fish and he's from a different generation. It was supposed to be a young and new breed but they need to know that they risk more than their careers. They risk the whole sport of cycling. He's caused a lot of damage to the Tour."

14:15 CEST    44km/124.5km to go
Arnaud Gérard (Française des Jeux) and Samuël Dumoulin (Cofidis) attacked 36 kilometres after the start. They are currently 36 second clear.

14:32 CEST    53km/115.5km to go
The duo continue to ride well together, and are now a considerable 3'55 ahead of the peloton.

57 kilometres after the start comes the summit of the day's sole categorised climb, the fourth category Col du Camperie. It's followed almost 20 kilometres later by the first of two intermediate sprints at Saint Paul de Fenquillet (76km). The second comes 142.5 kilometres after the start - and thus 26 from the end - at Thezan des Corbieres.

There is also a feed zone at Maury, almost exactly halfway through the stage.

14:33 CEST   
The first hour of racing saw 51 kilometres being covered by the two leaders.

14:50 CEST    67.5km/101km to go
Dumoulin led Gérard over the top of the Col de Camperié several kilometres ago. Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) took third and fortified his slight lead over team-mate Bernhard Kohl.

The two are now losing time, holding a gap of 2'41.

Baden Cooke has been forced to abandon the Tour due to knee pain. He crashed earlier in the stage. Hard luck to the Barloworld rider, who was hoping to take a stage win in the race.

14:50 CEST   
The bunch is lined out in the right-hand gutter...looks like there's some strong winds blowing.

14:53 CEST   
Mark Cavendish is hoping to take his third stage victory of the race today in Narbonne. Can he do it? Well, of course that will depend firstly on there being a bunch sprint, and secondly on what kind of lead-out Columbia can give him. If he's correctly placed, he could well do so.

It's been a great Tour for a rider who is still only 23 years of age.

14:57 CEST    75.5km/93km to go
Columbia and Credit Agricole are at the front of the peloton. So too the Silence-Lotto team of Cadel Evans. Evans is himself close to the front, staying out of trouble.

The bunch is right across the road. With just two riders clear, there is no major panic.

Up front, Gérard and Dumoulin plug away. They are 2'18 clear now.

15:00 CEST   
Oscar Freire looks concentrated; he wants the remaining points in this bonus sprint. And he gets them, quite easily.

15:01 CEST   
Gérard got first there, with Dumoulin following him over the line.

15:09 CEST   
Quick Step's Sébastien Rosseler talked to Brecht Decaluwé from Cyclingnews before the start. Rosseler had a clear opinion on today's stage. "I am convinced it will be a bunch sprint. Some guys need points [for the green jersey] and it is one of the last chances before the Champs-Elysees."

As for the team's tactics, nothing has changed. "We still believe in Gert Steegmans. But we won't work right from the start. Other teams, like Crédit Agricole and Columbia, will be interested in chasing breaks down."

15:12 CEST    86.1km/82.4km to go
With the teams working on the front, the gap is now down to 54".

Dumoulin and Gérard are in the feed zone, and are followed shortly afterwards by the peloton who also get chomping.

15:13 CEST    88km/80.5km to go
Gérard gets some encouragement (and grub!) from the team car.

15:21 CEST    92.5km/76km to go
Feeding time at the zoo enable the gap to go back up again. It's now 1'31. The roads are very exposed here, and so any wind will buffet the riders.

They are now on an uncategorised climb. It's nothing serious, explaining the lack of a rating for it.

Columbia and Chipotle riders are at the front. David Millar is prominent. The peloton is spread right across the road, and there's no sense of urgency. We imagine that this morning's news about Riccò has deflated the mood somewhat, as it paints the sport in a bad light.

Certainly some of the riders were hoping for an incident-free Tour; that's not happening now. We can only hope that there's no more doping cases.

15:23 CEST   
Check out this interview by Daniel Friebe and how one doping expert is stunned by Riccò's positive.

15:26 CEST    96.5km/72km to go
Credit Agricole's Jimmy Engoulvent crashed, as did an Euskaltel rider. Both are up again. The break is a minute and a half clear. They look a lot busier than the bunch, so this move will come back whenever the sprinters' teams decide.

15:27 CEST   
The scenery is superb today, plenty of gorges and rivers. France is the most-visited country in the world, and with many non-cycling fans watching the race each year for the scenery, one has to think that at least some of the tourism is down to the race.

We don't know of any studies that have been done to calculate how much of this is generated by the Tour, but would be very interested.

15:35 CEST    103.5km/65km to go
Engoulvent gets his wounds looked at by the doctor. The damage seems to be just scrapes.

The weather is quite bright now. The peloton is content to soak up some rays, biding time and maintaining the gap at a minute and a half.

Sections of today's route are quite isolated but there's pockets of cheering spectators scattered along the roads.

15:38 CEST   
The bunch is dropping down a winding descent, while the leaders are passing through the village of Paziols. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it sized place..

15:45 CEST   
Dirk Demol, the directeur sportif for Quick Step, rode a bit on the course this morning. He told Brecht Decaluwé about the conditions out in the real world. "There is some wind. It will get stronger later in the stage. It will be extremely fast!" Yesterday saw the riders do an average of 55 km/h over the first 30 minutes. Today's tail wind will have a similar effect. The riders rode an average of 48.2 km/h in the first two hours...

15:49 CEST    112.5km/56km to go
The bunch remains right across the road, and appears not to be trying to hard to catch the leaders just yet. However the gap is dropping down all the time; it's now 35" and those in the peloton can see the following cars behind the break.

15:54 CEST   
Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel Euskadi) has scarpered across the gap. He goes to the front and the other two attach their invisible grappling hooks and try to hang on.

15:55 CEST    115.5km/53km to go
The added ooomph has pulled the gap out to 52". He's doing all the work and tries to get rid of the others on a small climb. They persist, though.

16:04 CEST    122.5km/46km to go
Oroz' driving has pulled the gap back up to 1'26. A bunch sprint is still expected, unless CSC decides to put the hammer down and try to get Frank Schleck into yellow.

It's more likely that they'll wait until the Alps, though, allowing Cadel Evans' Silence Lotto team to wear themselves out a bit.

16:16 CEST    130.5km/38km to go
It is windy alright. And that's not unusual in this area. We see bunch of wind mills on the hillside on the right.

Inspired by the draft, the bunch cuts the lead again, to 1'08. A French fan waves a large French flag. It looks good with the wind catching it full swing.

16:22 CEST   
Jimmy Casper flats, but despite a bit more movement in the peloton, the pace isn't too hard and Casper makes it back to the peloton in no time.

16:29 CEST    138.5km/30km to go
Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) attacks, trying to get a gap before the sprint. The others close him down, though.

16:32 CEST    140.8km/27.7km to go
Barloworld's Kenyan-turned-Briton Chris Froome goes back to the team car and gets some bottles.

Still no major urgency in the peloton...

16:35 CEST   
Oroz sits behind Dumoulin but as the latter is one of the smallest riders in the peloton, he doesn't get much shelter.

16:36 CEST    142.5km/26km to go
Dumoulin leads them over the sprint line, with Gérard and Oroz next. The gap is 1'04 now.

Dumoulin has of course already won a stage, proving victorious in Nantes on day three.

16:40 CEST   
Quick Step and Liquigas come to the front, ramping up the speed. Not long now...

CSC is also there.

16:44 CEST    149.5km/19km to go
The break is putting the hammer down in response, stepping it up a gear. A tactic is for those up the road to keep something in reserve, accelerating when the bunch does likewise.

Oroz is on the front, pumping out the Watts. Dumoulin is also giving it loads.

16:52 CEST   

16:53 CEST    157.1km/11.4km to go
Liquigas and Columbia are keeping the gap sweet until the moment when the teams really want this break back. They don't want to do it too soon, as that will just encourage others to go after the win.

The leaders are in sight, having eight seconds now.

16:54 CEST   
Oroz drives it and then waves his elbow for Dumoulin to come through. Now Gérard does the same.

Lövkvist has a flat tire.

16:55 CEST    158.5km/10km to go
The bunch has eased back a little, toying with the break. The gap is ten seconds.

16:56 CEST    159.5km/9km to go
C'est fini. All together. CSC hits the front.

16:56 CEST   
This stage is full of spectacular scenery, including some ruined - and not so ruined - chateaux.

16:58 CEST   
The bunch is very disorganised this year, in terms of teams trying to set things up for a sprint. Instead of a train of guys, there's a few here and there, most of them from different squads.

16:59 CEST   
Quick Step and CSC are near the front. Stuart O'Grady is driving it now, back to good form after his crash in this race twelve months ago.

17:00 CEST   
CSC riders wear yellow back numbers today - they lead the teams classification.

17:00 CEST   
Evans is near the front. It looks quite nervous in there, with riders moving around and trying to get into good positions.

Dumoulin and Gérard have sat up and gone out the back.

17:00 CEST   
Liquigas and Columbia, with less than four kilometres to go...

17:01 CEST   
The riders now go around a big roundabout, with those on the right having a shorter route and thus gaining a good advantage.

17:01 CEST    165.7km/2.8km to go
It's almost certainly going to be a bunch sprint, unless Cancellara pulls a Cancellara and clips away...

17:02 CEST    166.5km/2km to go
Columbia are leading, looking for win number three from Cavendish. Can he do it?

17:03 CEST   
It's quite messy, with riders moving up and back..

17:03 CEST    167.5km/1km to go
One kilometre to go!

17:03 CEST   
There was a big, sweeping right hand bend, now the bunch is getting back up to speed...

17:03 CEST   
Credit Agricole are there for Hushovd..

17:04 CEST   
Cavendish is in third place now...

17:04 CEST   
Here we go...

17:04 CEST   

17:05 CEST   
It looks like it was the young Manx rider, getting his third win. He crosses the line and holds up three fingers. Sebastian Chavanel got second, nearly a bike length back.

17:06 CEST   
Cavendish gets it all right. He sat up to celebrate his win and some riders got by, but that was after the line. Impressive....

17:09 CEST   
Steegmans (Quick Step), Zabel (Milram) and Freire (Rabobank) were third through to fifth.

Cavendish embraces his team-mates. He's still got bandages on his arms from his crash earlier this week, but it hasn't slowed him down.

Chavanel was right on his wheel when he went, but wasn't able to do anything about it, other than nab second.

17:09 CEST   
No change in the overall, other than the absence of the Saunier Duval riders from the top ten.

17:10 CEST   
Gérard and Dumoulin finished off the back of the peloton; that's to be expected, after spending so long in front.

17:12 CEST   
Team Columbia was targeting two stage wins plus a top five place overall in the race. It's now got three stage victories, and Kim Kirchen is seventh in GC. He's 59" behind fifth-placed Denis Menchov (Rabobank).

18:08 CEST   
Thanks for joining us today. Depending on who you ask today was terrible (for those who think there are still too many cheats) or great (for those who think the controls are working).

Either way, we hope you are back tomorrow to follow Cyclingnews' live coverage. Maybe there will be another surprise waiting, whatever it may be. See you then.

Provisional results

1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Columbia
2 Sébastien Chavanel (Fra) Française des Jeux
3 Gert Steegmans (Bel) Quick Step
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram
5 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
6 Francesco Chicchi (Ita) Liquigas
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole
8 Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis
9 Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin Chipotle - H30
10 Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner

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