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95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 18 - Thursday, July 24: Bourg d'Oisans - Saint Étienne, 196.5km

Complete live report

By Susan Westemeyer

The Alps are behind us now, but this stage is by no means flat with a third, a second and a fourth category climb to deal with. The course doesn't suit the sprinters, but neither is it tough enough for the climbers and overall contenders, for this reason it has breakaway written all over it. Anyone who has managed to save a bit of energy over the preceding few days will have a go here and in all likelihood the time gap allowed will be enormous providing nobody of any note is in the break.

Bourg d'Oisans has been a stage start time 19 times before, but has never hosted a finish. Sitting as it is at the foot of Alpe d'Huez, it is a natural choice for the next day's stage. The last time a stage started here was in 2006 when the course headed north to another mountaintop finish at La Toussuire. Danish super-climber Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) took the victory alone on his way to taking the polka dot mountain jersey. Saint Étienne is another regular Tour host, having been a stage town 23 times before, partly because it used to be the centre of the French bicycle industry. Last time the Tour was here it saw Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel) cement his seventh and final Tour de France by taking victory in the final time trial of the 2005 race. That day also saw the tragicomic end to Michael Rasmussen's (Rabobank) hope of a podium place, as a disastrous ride saw him crash twice and change his bike three times.

12:59 CEST    Welcome back to the Tour de France and our live coverage. The end is in sight now for the weary riders, with only four stages left to go. Yesterday was our last day in the "High Mountains" and today we move down to the "Medium Mountains" before hitting the flats tomorrow. We are happy because the blimp had to fly so high we worried about oxygen deprivation.

13:06 CEST    33km/163.5km to go The race is only half an hour old and things have gotten off to a furious start. We have a seven-man escape group 45 seconds ahead of the peloton: Marcus Burghardt (Columbia), Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Freddy Bichot (AG2R), Björn Schröder (Milram), Stéphane Auge and Maxime Monfort (Cofidis). They got away at the 2km mark and have maintained a lead since then.

13:08 CEST    In addition, there was a crash a few minutes ago involving Philippe Gilbert and Damiano Cunego (Lampre). The latest word that we have is that Cunego is not yet back on his bike.

13:13 CEST    Looks like this wasn't the escape group of the day -- their lead is down to 15 seconds and they should be caught momentarily.

13:15 CEST    Things got underway promptly at 12:28 today, with only 150 riders. Missing today is Jimmy Casper of Agritubel, who missed the time deadline yesterday. The stage started today in Bourg d'Osains, at the foot of the Alpe d'Huez. This is its 20th time as a start in the Tour, most recently 2006.

13:18 CEST    43km/153.5km to go The peloton didn't manage to catch the group by the time it reached the first intermediate sprint in Grenoble. The points went this way: Bichot first, followed by Schröder and Auge. Only a minute or so later, Monfort, Pozzato, Lang and Burghardt were caught by the peloton. The other three are holding on to a slight lead.

13:22 CEST    48.5km/148km to go The first attack is now over, as the last three have been caught up again. Credit Agricole, Quick-Step and Bouygues Telecom led the charge. So now we have to start all over again -- who will be in the next group, and will it be the successful one?

13:26 CEST    We now have confirmation that Cungeo is back on his bike again, but he is already 7'30 behind the peloton. Does he have any hope of catching up? Does it really make any sense? Especially when you consider how fast the peloton is moving right now, with an average speed of over 50 km/h.

13:30 CEST    54km/142.5km to go They really are racing along today. The peloton has just entered the town of Noyarey, which means they have covered 54 kms in less than one hour.

13:36 CEST    Looks like Lampre is doing everything it can to keep Cunego in the race. He now has three team-mates at his side to bring him back up to the peloton. The only problem is that they are now 9'40 back.

13:38 CEST    The peloton isn't all huddling together today. There have been any number of new escape attempts, but none has gotten anywhere at all.

13:43 CEST    Carlos Barredo of Quick Step tries his luck and gets a slight lead on the field.

13:48 CEST    The field is approaching the first climb of the day, but it is nothing like those of the past few days. The Col de Parmenie is a category three mountain, with a 5.3km climb and a gradient up to 7 %. Barredo has managed to get a one minute lead. Marcus Burghardt (Columbia) and Romain Feillu of Agritubel are trying to catch up with him.

13:50 CEST    72.5km/124km to go Burghardt and Feillu are only 15 seconds behind Barredo. He would be well advised to wait for them, as three riders can work together and be more efficient than one alone.

13:53 CEST    The climb has started, and Barredo is now 45" ahead of his two followers, who are in turn one minute ahead of the peloton. Cunego and friends are 7:55 behind the field.

13:56 CEST    As always, things are changing rapidly. It is now Barredo 35" ahead of Burghardt and Feillu, who are 2'10 ahead of the field. And Cunego is only 6'55 behind the peloton. The field has now started its way up the climb.

14:01 CEST    Oh, dear, the Tour now reports that Cunego is actually 13'40 behind the peloton, along with his three team-mates Is it too early to wonder whether they will make it to the end within the time limit?

14:05 CEST    And the winner is... Adam Leman! Adam won the Columbia jersey yesterday. What an exciting race it was! And thanks for all those that emailed in with their tips. This was likely our last of the give-aways. We hope you had as much fun as we did.

14:07 CEST    Barredo is going uphill now 20" ahead of Burghardt, who is 40 seconds ahead of Feillu. Two more escapees have gotten away: Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) and Christophe Le Mevel (Credit Agricole). They are 3'55 behind Barredo and one minute ahead of the field.

Current race situation

  • Carlos Barredo (Quick Step)
  • Marcus Burghardt (Columbia) at 0.10
  • Romain Feillu (Agritubel) at 1.30
  • Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) at 3.55
  • Peloton at 4.55
  • Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at 13.40

14:10 CEST    Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown was at the start again today and talked to a number of riders. Maurizio Piovani of Team Lampre said, "Today we have Alessandro Ballan, Sylvester Szmyd, Marzio Bruseghin, there is all of the team to try in these two days. Ballan's well suited for these stages. He managed yesterday's stage well."

14:13 CEST    81km/115.5km to go Burghardt has now caught Barredo and the two have about 1'30 on Feillu and 3'40 on Le Mevel and Astarloza. Barredo was the first over the mountain top, with Burghardt second, Feillu third and Le Mevel fourth.

14:16 CEST    Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) told Gregor Brown, "I was not in the gruppetto all day. I was holding strong on the Col de la Croix de Fer - ahead of the gruppetto - so that I would not risk being cut from the time limit. I went slowly on the last climb." He added, "I hope I have the legs today to attack at the beginning," which obviously hasn't happened, for whatever reason. Ballan was impressed by CSC's Fabian Cancellara yesterday. "He is going very strong and has optimum condition. When he gets to the front and pulls there are only 40 to 50 riders that remain, which is a signal of excellent preparations."

14:19 CEST    Barredo and Burghardt are now 4'10 ahead of Le Mevel and Astarloza, who have caught Feillu. The field is 3'40 behind them, and Cunego is allegedly another six minutes behind the field.

14:20 CEST    Fränk Schleck talked to Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner before the start. The Luxembourger was barely awake. "I hope nothing is going to happen. I am sooooo tired! I got up this morning and was absolutely knackered. It felt as if five cars had driven into me... I didn't want to go on, but of course we have to. I can only hope that other riders feel as bad as I do."

14:26 CEST    We have mail! Anthony M asks, "What do you think the likelihood that either Garmin-Chipotle or, to a lesser extent, Rabobank might try and keep things hot today? It would seem that since Menchov and Vande Velde are much better Time trialists than Sastre that they would want to keep pressure on him and prevent him from getting any rest before the final time trial Both teams did nowhere near as much work in the mountains and are much more suited to today's terrain. It seems reasonable that they might use such a tactic. The temptation certainly has to be there." It's hard to say. If they want to try something, it will have to be soon -- the Tour is coming not so slowly to an end! But they will probably be more inclined to keep things as they are for the moment and gamble everything on the time trial.

14:27 CEST    The latest report has Cunego 11'40 behind the peloton.

14:29 CEST    Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) was in the first escape of the day, but things didn't go as he had hoped they would when he spoke to Gregor Brown before the start. "Escape? We will see if I am able to find the right move. Today would be the good day to try. There are these two days and then the sprint in Paris. The sprint in Paris suits me well."

14:34 CEST    The peloton is now in the feed zone, 11'10 after B&B. We now see pictures of what happened to Cunego. He seems to have landed on his chin, and ripped it open. Ouch!

14:36 CEST    101.5km/95km to go The Blimp Lady realizes that she hasn't yet given a weather report. We are floating along under blue skies with lots of sunshine at the moment, and it is quite warm.

14:37 CEST    Gerolsteiner's Heinrich Haussler had some problems in his seating area - a common, if unpopular problem from Tour riders. Haussler told Hedwig Kröner that things are improving. "It was really bad at one point, but now I got it under control. My legs are still good. The next two days I will try to get into a break. We don't have to watch out for the polka dot anymore because it is safe for Bernie." Haussler went on to explain which stage would suit him better. "Today's stage is better than tomorrow for me. Tomorrow it is more for climbers. The first pass is uphill. So there are more chances for the climbers."Well, Haussler didn't make it, so he has to hope for tomorrow.

14:41 CEST    L'Equipe is reporting that French customs agents have stopped and searched the car of Johnny Schleck, father of Fränk and Andy. We will keep on top of this story and have more as soon as we can.

14:44 CEST    Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) is being a good team-mate, but hopes to have his own chance, too. He told Gregor Brown, "The team has asked me to stay with Denis, especially in the beginning in case there are any risky situations. Maybe tomorrow I will have my chance to do something - let's see if can do it. Even if I had the freedom for today, it is not really a stage that suits me. "I think it is going to be a war for the classification riders," he noted, adding, "Sastre will try to get a bigger gap on Evans."

14:45 CEST    108.5km/88.5km to go Caisse d'Epargne leads the chasing peloton, which is still 9'34 behind Burghardt and Barredo.

14:46 CEST    Philippe Gilbert was also involved in the crash that may spell the end of Cunego's Tour dream. He told Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner about his last few days. "I made it through the Alps OK. I always made sure to be in the groups that went my pace. Then again there were 80-100 guys who did like me. Waiting to be in the breaks in the next two stages. We are all tired now and my hip injury is still hurting me. Injuries don't heal very well in the Tour." Especially when the riders crash again. Gilbert, who will return to Belgium next season and is joining Silence Lotto, would love to go out with bang. "It would definitely be great to offer Française des Jeux an adieu present with a stage win."

14:49 CEST    Here are the latest time differences: B&B are 3'37 ahead of Le Mevel, Feillu and Astarloza, who are 5'50 ahead of the field. Waaaay back there is Cunego, 10'59 behind the field, or more than 20 minutes behind the leaders. We understand that the time limit today should be about 40 minutes, so Cunego is about half-way there.

14:51 CEST    CSC has taken over the lead of the field. Apparently they thought things were too slow. The difference is still 9'31, so things haven't actually changed much. And now the field goes by a field of sunflowers, for the traditional pretty pictures.

14:53 CEST    This seems to be flower day, as the field passes by a wall full of hanging baskets full of lovely blooms.

14:57 CEST    Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC-Saxo Bank) is a happy man, and why not? "I think everyone on the team did more than they usually do or than Bjarne expected," he told Gregor Brown. "We are really happy. Bjarne was proud of the team and our work." "Yesterday we just enjoyed the day with the incredible win. We will see if we can do something in these two days - it will be difficult. Sastre will just have to go as fast as he can in Saturday's time trial and we will see what happens."

14:58 CEST    115km/81.5km to go Well, apparently CSC didn't want to pick up the speed, as the field is 9'43 behind Barredo and Burghardt. Guess it was just time for them to remind everyone which is the dominant team in this race.

15:02 CEST    Let's have a look at our two leaders. Carlos Barredo Llamazales, to give him his full name, has been with Quick Step two years now. The 27 year old turned pro in 2004 with Liberty Seguros, and he stayed with that team under its various names before moving to Quick Step last year. This year he won the fifth stage of Paris-Nice. At 1'77, he is rather smaller than his escape companion Burghardt.

15:06 CEST    Oopsie, of course Philippe Gilbert is joining Silence Lotto and not Quick Step. Actually we knew that all along and wanted to see if our readers were really awake and paying attention....... cough cough.

15:07 CEST    124.5km/72km to go 10'11 for Burghardt and Barredo. Cunego and companions are now over 22 minutes back.

15:12 CEST    At 1.89 m, Marcus Burghardt towers over his escape companion. The 25 year-old has spent his entire career with one team, although it has had a variety of names. He first signed with T-Mobile, as it was then, in 2005. His biggest win to date has been Gent-Wevelgem in 2007. "Burgi" had hoped to repeat this year, but a knee injury knocked out the spring season for him. He finally had surgery, from which he has obviously recovered well.

15:13 CEST    129.5km/67km to go Whoosh! One of those high-speed trains zips by the field. We suspect it is going a tad faster than the cyclists.

15:16 CEST    There was some discussion among the French about making Jimmy Casper the combative of the day yesterday. But the rules clearly state that a rider has to be classified to qualify. Casper crashed and bravely fought on by himself. It sure was an honourable performance. He reached the finish, but outside the time limit.

Current race situation

  • Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and Marcus Burghardt (Columbia)
  • Romain Feillu (Agritubel), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) at 4.15
  • Peloton at 10.29
  • Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at 22.00

15:18 CEST    Volodymir Gustov (CSC-Saxo Bank) told Gregor Brown that CSC may try something today. "There is the climb of second category today and we will try to put on some extra pressure. Every day Evans is feeling more and more wear. It is better to make sure he arrives for the time trial non molto fresco. "In these two days I will stay right at the side of Sastre. If Sastre is calm then I am calm."

15:21 CEST    Freddy Bichot (Agritubel) and Remy Di Gregorio (FdJ) are having a nice chat at the end of the peloton.

15:23 CEST    Steven De Jongh (Quick Step) was prophetic this morning. "We think that in the next two days there will be successful escapes so we will try to in there and try to get a good result.," he told Gregor Brown. "All seven of us have a chance, taking turns. Barredo has been a little ill and it has not been his Tour, but if he makes the escape he get a good result." Barredo seems to have gotten over whatever his medical problem was, we would say.

15:24 CEST    Good heavens -- a flock of emus! They are no doubt rooting for Cadel Evans.

15:25 CEST    137.5km/59km to go Burghardt's hair is long enough to pop out of the openings in his helmet and to flutter in the wind. Right now he is also enjoying a little snack.

15:29 CEST    140.5km/56km to go Here is the latest time update: B&B have a lead of 4'17 over Le Mevel, Feillu and Astarloza, and the field is another 6'06 back. Cunego is 22 minutes behind the leaders. Barredo and Burghardt are now approaching the next climb.

15:32 CEST    And here is a series of sunflower fields -- how pretty! But let's hope that Carlos Sastre doesn't lose his way and ride into the field, he might never be found again since his yellow jersey matches the blooms!

15:35 CEST    Even if Barredo and Burghardt go on to win this stage with this lead, they won't be any threat at all to the leaders (which is why they were allowed to get away, obviously). Barredo is currently 100th, over two and a half hours down, and Burghardt is 134th, at over three hours.

15:37 CEST    Rolf Aldag, directeur sportif for Columbia, cautioned his riders this morning. He told Hedwig Kröner that "There is a category two climb. You have to be alert. If you only think about the time trial you may wake up and realize you lost. As far as I remember, the area around St. Etienne is not really easy. I don't think it is coming to a mass sprint with 120 guys. I think there are still guys who want to battle for the GC. Today is the day." Aldag added, "[For the GC contenders] it is not about the stage win. There probably will be a break. But for the GC you never know if someone is trying to do something. It is too early to sit in the bunch and spin your legs. You have to watch out today." The action on the Croix de Montvieux will start soon and we will know more.

15:41 CEST    We have had several mails questioning whether the final stage would be a "parade" stage without attacks, even if there are only a few seconds' difference among the leaders. That is difficult to say. One can see that it would be tempting -- who doesn't want to win the Tour? -- but that is also one of the most iron-clad traditions in the race. Of course, it all depends on what happens in Saturday's time trial.

Current race situation

  • Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and Marcus Burghardt (Columbia)
  • Romain Feillu (Agritubel), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) at 4.04
  • Peloton at 10.01
  • Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at 22.17

15:46 CEST    151.5km/45km to go B&B are on their way up the next climb, the category two Croix de Montvieux. It is 13.7 km up, with an average gradient of 4.7%. Their lead is falling slightly, down to 9'52.

15:48 CEST    The field is now on a long bridge over the Rhone River. Don't look over the sides, guys, the barriers aren't all that high!

15:50 CEST    We are starting to bump into some clouds up here in our blimp, but blue still dominates over white. Down below, we see that it must be quite warm. Both Barredo and Burghardt have their jerseys unzipped all the way and flapping open.

15:55 CEST    155.5km/41km to go The peloton is now making its way up the climb. It is the last category two climb of the Tour, which will no doubt not make any riders sad. 9'50 for B&B.

15:59 CEST    A pair of horses with a colt ignore the peloton as it rolls by.

16:00 CEST    Bernhard Kohl defended his Mountains Jersey yesterday atop Alpe d'Huez, but was totally exhausted by his efforts. "That was definitely the hard day in my cycling career," he said. "I am happy with the results." He dropped from second to third overall, and doesn't plan to drop any lower. "I absolutely want to be on the podium in Paris." It looks like the polka-dots are safely on his shoulders now and can't be won away from him.

16:02 CEST    The question now is whether Le Mevel, Astarloza and Feillu will catch B&B before the finish line, or will the duo make it all the way to the end? And which of the two/five is the best sprinter?

16:05 CEST    160.1km/36.4km to go Barredo and Burghardt are about 3km from the top. They have 3'46 over their three followers, and 6'03 over the peloton. Cunego is hanging in there, still 22 minutes back.

16:07 CEST    CSC is leading the peloton. John-Lee Augustyn of Barloworld has moved up near the front. We admire the way he is coping with his crash from the other day.

16:10 CEST    162km/34.5km to go The lead for Burghardt and Barredo has now crept up to the 10 minute mark again. They are nearly at the top.

16:12 CEST    163.1km/33.4km to go Even this little climb is lined with fans. They crowd the street, as Barredo goes over the top first, ahead of Burghardt.

16:14 CEST    B&B are now more than four minutes ahead of their three followers and 10'12 ahead of the field.

16:17 CEST    Now the three followers are passing through the rows of fans as they approach the top of the limb. They take a moment to close their jerseys before heading down.

16:21 CEST    Chris W. asks about the helmet rules. "Did they change them? I thought the cyclists could take them off for uphill finishes. Am I behind the times? Too bad, it was a nice touch to see the whole head suffer and get a rare full view of the rider." Yes, the rules were changed several years ago. Helmets are to be worn at all times, no exceptions. It is a pity not to be able to see the riders better, but of course their safety is more important.

16:23 CEST    The fans in the road have to step back as the peloton moves up to the mountaintop. Don't want any run over toes!

Current race situation

  • Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) and Marcus Burghardt (Columbia)
  • Romain Feillu (Agritubel), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Christophe Le Mevel (Crédit Agricole) at 4.11
  • Peloton at 9.56
  • Group of four including Damiano Cunego (Lampre) at 22.24

16:24 CEST    There seems to be a little conversation between B&B, probably as to who is doing lead work and who should be doing more lead work. They probably realize now that they have a good chance to make it through to the end, and that will only raise the tension between them.

16:26 CEST    We have been asked about the Johnny Schleck situation, and understand that news reports say that no doping products were found in the car.

16:27 CEST    176.5km/20km to go Still 10 minutes for Barredo and Burghardt, who are four minutes ahead of their nearest followers. Barredo tried an attack, but Burghardt wasn't about to let him get away.

16:32 CEST    181.1km/15.4km to go B&B are approaching the final intermediate sprint of the day. Burghardt is sticking to Barredo's rear wheel, but now they separate as they go in opposite directions around a traffic circle.

16:34 CEST    182.5km/14km to go Burghardt takes the sprint ahead of Barredo.

16:38 CEST    Ed from Tennessee asks if Barloworld ever recovered Augustyn's bike from his mountainside crash. The Blimp Lady is pretty sure that the rider said that a bystander brought the bike up but that it was so badly damaged he was unable to ride it and therefore had to wait for a new one.

16:42 CEST    Whoever wins today will take his fourth career victory. Both B&B have three wins as pros.

16:44 CEST    Barredo makes another move but Burghardt goes right with him. The Spaniard gives up his attempt as he can't get away from the big German. Burgi moves ahead now but keeps an eye on his rival.

16:45 CEST    All three of Burghardt's wins came last season. He won, as we have mentioned, Gent-Wevelgem, and two stages of the 3-Länder Tour.

16:47 CEST    188km/8.5km to go Barredo goes again and Burghardt is once more right on him. They cross the final mountain ranking, with Barredo ahead. As Burghardt tries to close his jersey, Barredo attacks again. Burgi goes after him and after catching him, finally gets his jersey zipped up. The cat-and-mouse games have started......

16:47 CEST    189.5km/7km to go Burghardt goes! Barredo can't catch him.

16:48 CEST    Burghardt has a few meters lead, but now they are together again.

16:49 CEST    The two leaders both dump their water bottles and eye each other nervously.

16:50 CEST    192.5km/4km to go B&B are playing a lot of mind games......

16:50 CEST    192.2km/4.3km to go Barredo shakes his head, as if to say, how do I get rid of this pesky German?

16:51 CEST    192.5km/4km to go B&B spend more time looking at each other than at the road.

16:52 CEST    Now the two have a small chat. The Quick Step car was just by Barredo and now Burghardt calls for his team car.

16:52 CEST    Four minutes back, Astarloza attacks out of the following group, but he doesn't get away.

16:53 CEST    193.7km/2.8km to go Barredo goes again, with Burghardt behind him. These two aren't living up and certainly aren't giving anything away.

16:54 CEST    Three French riders have attackd out of the peloton.

16:54 CEST    194.5km/2km to go Burghardt leads the way and looks nervously back.

16:55 CEST    One of the rides who took off was Roman Kreuziger (and yes, we know that he is not French). Andy Schleck jumps after him to defend his white jersey.

16:56 CEST    95.2km/1.3km to go Another attempt by Barredo, foiled again by Burghardt.

16:56 CEST    195.5km/1km to go Burghardt leads the way under the 1km marker.

16:57 CEST    Burghardt still ahead, the worse position. Barredo bides his time.

16:57 CEST    They are practically standing still, watching each other.

16:58 CEST    Now they go. Burghardt is ahead and takes the win! Barredo is beside himself with anger and pounds on his bike. He can't believe he let the big German stay ahead of him the whole last kilometer.

16:59 CEST    That makes five stage wins for Team Columbia in this Tour!

17:00 CEST    Le Mevel, Feillu and Astarloza now enter the last km.

17:01 CEST    Astarloza drops back but now he moves up again to the others.

17:01 CEST    The three eye each other .. this is deja vu!

17:03 CEST    Feillu takes third place, followed by Le Mevel and Astarloza.

17:04 CEST    That was Feillu's third third place in a stage this Tour.

17:05 CEST    7:03 minutes later the peloton comes in. We won't wait around for Cunego....

17:07 CEST    Well, another one down and only three more to go! We expect a mass sprint tomorrow, but wouldn't mind another successful escape with such a dramatic finish as we had today. Join us then!

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