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95th Tour de France - GT

France, July 5-27, 2008

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Stage 17 - Wednesday, July 23: Embrun - L'Alpe d'Huez, 210.5km

Complete live report

By Susan Westemeyer

This is the stage that all climbers want to win. Those mythical 21 hairpin bends have become synonymous with the Tour de France and a year without the Alpe seems somehow to have something missing. This is a long stage that takes in the familiar – but no less brutal – Cols du Galibier and Croix de Fer, although as a change they are tackled in a different order from usual. In all likelihood, the main contenders will sit behind their team-mates for as long as possible and look to make their move on the final steep climb to Alpe d'Huez. The non super-climbers high up in the overall – if there are any left at this stage – will be looking to hold on for as long as possible. For the sprinters, however, this will be a day of pure suffering.

The small town of Embrun must think all of its Christmases have come at once as this is their second stage of the Tour this year (they have been awarded the start of stage 15 due to rock falls in the Alps forcing a course change.) Alpe d'Huez on the other hand has hosted the Tour 25 times since that first time in 1952 when Fausto Coppi won, this equates to almost every other year. Last time the Tour finished here, in 2006, it saw the emergence of Fränk Schleck (CSC) as a future major force in Grand Tours as he dropped riders like former Giro d'Italia winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre) on the way to victory.

11:02 CEST    Good morning and welcome back to our continuing coverage of this very exciting Tour de France. Today we offer start-to-finish live reporting of the Queen Stage -- 210 kms which include the Galibier, Croix de Fer and the legendary Alpe d'Huez, all of them HC (hors de categorie) climbs. Will we see some kind of definite action today? Will one of the favorites take things into his owns hands at last? Will the race be won or lost today?

11:08 CEST    CSC-Saxo Bank did everything it could yesterday to drop Cadel Evans, but the Australian hung on and didn't lose any time. He is still third, only eight seconds behind Fränk Schleck. "It was good to take time on Menchov, but tomorrow is the most crucial day. CSC rode an incredible pace for the entire climb and I'm not sure exactly what happened on GC," he said after the stage. "Schleck and Sastre are still there. But it's tomorrow that's going to be the mountain stage of the tour."

11:13 CEST    Christian Vande Velde of Team Garmin dropped yesterday only one position in GC, from fifth to sixth, but the time loss was bigger: from 39 seconds down to 3'15. "It was a bad day and I crashed," he said. Looking to today's stage, the American said, ""Anything can happen tomorrow. It is not over by any means. There are a lot of guys who are suffering."

11:20 CEST    At least the riders will have nice weather for their difficult day. They are starting out under sunshine and blue skies, with a light breeze and 23 degrees Celsius. It will get hotter as the day goes along, in more ways than one.

11:26 CEST    And they're off! First we have a five km long neutralized zone before things really start happening. The first "difficulty" is actually a Category III climb, the Ste.-Marguerite, which is just a bump in the road compared to what is to come later.

11:28 CEST    We expect 151 riders at the start this morning. Sébastien Chavanel (FdJ) dropped out during the race yesterday and Francesco Chicci of Liquigas is out after missing the time limit.

11:31 CEST    Christian Vande Velde of Team Garmin dropped yesterday only one position in GC, from fifth to sixth, but the time loss was bigger: from 39 seconds down to 3'15. "It was a bad day and I crashed," he said. Looking to today's stage, the American said, "Anything can happen tomorrow. It is not over by any means. There are a lot of guys who are suffering."

11:34 CEST    The race started in Embrun, a small town which is actually hosting its second stage start this year. It was also the start of stage 15, after rock falls forced a course change

11:38 CEST    Bernhard Kohl of Team Gerolsteiner is currently in second place overall, and feels like he is "in a dream, which is slowly becoming real," he told Cyclingnews "I learned a lot from my mistakes in the Tour de France 2007. All my preparations this year were focused on the Tour and I have improved in time trialling" It was, of course, very important that he had "ridden all the important mountains in the Alps and Pyrenees beforehand. It was also good that in Tuesday's stage that he "won time on two time trial specialists and defended the mountain jersey, even though I was at my limit."

11:41 CEST    Kohl's goal is still to finish in the top ten. "Wednesday evening in l'Alpe d'Huez we will know more. He said that he was "speechless" about the excitement in homeland of Austria over his performance. "It is hard to believe what the media is doing there." In addition, Kohl is looking to the future, saying that he hopes "my performance and the team's super performance help Hans-Michael Holczer with the sponsor search," because "this fantastic team simply has to stay together."

11:42 CEST    1.5km/209km to go Things are going fast and furious from the very beginning. A group of about 15 has pulled a few meters away already.

11:43 CEST    2.5km/208km to go Now a trio, led by a Milram rider, have built up a small lead.

11:45 CEST    The three are Peter Velits (Milram), Remy Di Gregorio (FdJ) and someone from Euskaltel.

11:47 CEST    5,5km/209.5km to go The three have only a 10-second lead over the peloton. We still don't know who the Euskaltel rider is.

11:48 CEST    The Euskaltel rider is Ruben Perez.

11:50 CEST    After Gerolsteiner's loss of its title sponsor, and its so far unsuccessful search for a replacement, its performance at the Tour has to be a real boost. Stefan Schumacher started things out with his stage win and his time in the yellow jersey, and now Kohl is continuing the good news for the German team. Surely this will help with the search for a new sponsor? Team manager Hans-Michael Holczer has said that he will make an announcement one way or the other about the team's future by the time the Olympics start. If the team doesn't continue, the riders will need a little time to find new employers.

11:51 CEST    10.5km/200km to go Carlos Barredo of Quick-Step jumps out of the peloton and hopes to make his way up to the leaders.

11:54 CEST    12.5km/198km to go Barredo gives up his lone flight and falls back into the peloton.

11:56 CEST    Bernhard Kohl is relatively unknown, so we thought we would take a closer look at him today. The little Austrian was born in Vienna on January 4, 1982, and now lives in Wolkersdorf. Believe it or not, he is still waiting for his first professional win! He started racing in 2002 with Team Elk Haus, and that same year he was U23 national champion and won the U23 Rund um den Henninger Turm.

11:57 CEST    195km/15.5km to go A larger group has gained a few meters' advantage over the peloton, and a Gerolsteiner rider has broken out of that group. Who other than Stefan Schumacher? He has already reached the three leaders. They don't have a very big lead, though.

12:03 CEST    19.5km/191km to go Schumacher has helped the group to increase its lead, but two riders, including Stéphane Augé, are chasing. The peloton looks to have taken the speed out -- are they willing to let those six go?

12:04 CEST    20.5km/190km to go So of course another handful of riders immediately jumps out of the peloton and gives chase.

12:05 CEST    The two riders chasing the leaders are Stéphane Augé and Geoffroy Lequatre of Agritubel.

12:07 CEST    To get back to our look at Bernhard Kohl: He then rode for two years with the Rabobank amateur team, before turning pro with T-Mobile team in 2005. He stayed with the magenta team for two years, winning the national championship in 2006 and finishing third overall in the Dauphine Libere that year, too. He was not named to the Tour squad that year, which was one of the reasons which led to him leaving the team for Gerolsteiner in 2007.

12:08 CEST    187km/23.5km to go 30 seconds now for the leading quartet, which includes U-23 World Champion Peter Velits.

12:10 CEST    184km/26.5km to go The peloton takes a nature break at the same time that the four leaders pick up the speed. Their lead is now about 43 seconds.

12:12 CEST    182km/28.5km to go And now the lead is 1'12. Looks like this little group is going to be away for a while. But how long will they be able to stay away on this difficult stage?

12:14 CEST    Euskaltel's Perez really stands out in a crowd. He is very colourful in his orange kit and bright yellow shoes. The lead is now 1'35.

12:16 CEST    On the personal side, Kohl (who is single) is really one of those little climbers. He is only 172 cm tall (about 5'7") and weighs only 58 kg, or 127.6 lbs. Kohl is not just a pro cyclist, by the way. He has also completed his education as a chimney sweep! (As has his team-mate, Swiss rider Oliver Zaugg). Check out Kohl's website, bernhardkohl.at -- the background is all white with red polka dots! Now, that's a great way to celebrate!

Current race situation

  • Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rémy Di Gregorio (Française des Jeux) and Peter Velits (Team Milram)
  • Peloton at 1.57

12:21 CEST    31.5km/179km to go Schumacher leads his little group over the first climb of the day, the Ste.-Marguerite. CSC-Saxo Bank heads up the peloton, which is now 2'14 back.

12:21 CEST    Di Gregorio was the second one over the top, followed by Perez and Velits.

12:23 CEST    One rider who was really itching to start the day this morning was Rémy Di Gregorio (Française Des Jeux). He revealed his dream to Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner. "It would be great to be in the front today and try. But it will be hard to get into a break." Well, well, maybe it wasn't that hard after all, since Di Gregorio managed to get into the first move and that is where he is right now. He gave away his tactics, too. "I hope to play it cool. I don't want to attract too much attention. It will be hard to get to the finish [in a break], though, with the GC battle going on."

12:24 CEST    The whole peloton is now over the first climb of the day. No doubt most of them wish that all the day's climbs were as simple as this one!

12:29 CEST    Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) spoke to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown before the start today. Looking back to yesterday's finale, he said, "I tried to cut the gap to the front runners. It was going well, but I was feeling muscle pains [inside of both thighs]. After a while, I was not able to pedal. I hope I have recovered from yesterday and that I can escape on the Alpe d'Huez for what would be an emotional victory."

12:33 CEST    Hans-Michael Holczer of Gerolsteiner told Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown, "The move with Schumacher (yesterday) went well, but if we could have done it better we would have had him ride the Bonette-Restefond in a way to protect himself. The group with Cunego and Hincapie were closing too fast. I said, 'Okay, just keep on pedaling.' In the end, it would have been better if he did not go full gas uphill, then he would have maybe had a chance to come over the hill and contest the sprint." Menchov's time loss "was important because Menchov and Evans are the most important in the time trials. Sastre and Kohl cannot give them time so that they will have a chance in the time trial." And what was today's plan? "Just like yesterday, we will try something. The escape of Schumacher yesterday was not even planned." Well, we assume that Schumi's attack today was not planned either. But he certainly seems determined to make his mark on this Tour!

12:34 CEST    41.5km/169km to go Over three and a half minutes now for the escapees. Schumacher won the red back number for the most aggressive rider yesterday, and seems to be on the way to defending it today.

12:36 CEST    Another round in the Cyclingnews live coverage jersey contest. This time, win a Columbia jersey with signatures from the Tour team! Rules are as last time. Guess the top three in the correct order at the finish of today's stage in Alpe d'Huez. Write the top three into the subject line and send the email to commentator@cyclingnews.com. Your email has to arrive before the first rider arrives at the 20km to go mark. Good luck! The winner will be announced in tomorrow's live coverage.

12:38 CEST    Jerry of Alameda, California, (who is either up very early or staying up very late) and wants to know, "Could you explain how the time cuts are computed? Or is it a formula only a computer would understand?" As far as the Blimp Lady is concerned, it is something only a computer would understand, being based on a percentage of the winner' time, with that percentage changing depending on the severity of the stage.

12:40 CEST    Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown also caught up with Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) this morning, who said, "I will try to save myself today and make it to the finish. First I will pull in the gruppo and then look for the sprinters' gruppetto to arrive within the time limit."

12:41 CEST    45.5km/165km to go The four in front now have a lead of over four minutes.

12:48 CEST    Jacos of the Netherlands has figured out what Rabobank can do today to help Menchov. "I would do the following: Make sure Ten Dam is in the escape on the Galibier. He has the skills to stay in the front until after Croix de Fer. Then Menchov has to make his attack on the last steep sections of Croix de Fer, Ten Dam can wait for him on the descent, keep him out of wind between this mountain and the last and take the first 5km on Alpe d'Huez at killer speed, Menchov should be able to take at least two minutes this way. CSC will not expect a Menchov attack on Croix de Fer. Ideal would be to have both Ten Dam and another rider after Croix de Fer. But I think Menchov is too scared to attack this early. But maybe that's why I'm currently in an office instead in the car behind the peloton." Maybe Rabobank is reading here too, and can pick up this tip.

12:53 CEST    52.5km/158km to go There's not a whole lot happening right now in the race. The four leaders have an advantage of 4'47. There is still an intermediate sprint to come before they all start on their way up the first HC climb of the day.

12:57 CEST    Matt White (Garmin DS) also spoke to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown this morning. Yesterday "definitely was not a bad day. We are sixth overall. Christian lost 35 seconds over the top of the 25km climb and then lost time with the crash. It is a three-week tour and not a one day, so it was not a bad day." Menchov's time loss "was a surprise. I did not see the descent or the circumstances, so I have no idea, all I know is that he lost time." When asked if he expected any podium changes, White answered, "We are riding day to day. I think it will all come down to Alpe d'Huez, and that is what we are concentrating on today. After today, we will know more what will be possible for Saturday's time trial. "CSC has to turn the screws today, they are the strongest team in the race and if they don't get rid of Menchov or Evans on Alpe d'Huez then they are riding for third place. Those two guys are much better time triallist than Carlos [Sastre] or Fränk [Schleck]." His pick to win today's stage? "Valverde."

12:58 CEST    57.5km/153km to go The lead is now 5'14 and increasing regularly.

13:00 CEST    The leading group has passed the intermediate sprint. Di Gregorio went over first, followed by Velits and Schumacher.

13:05 CEST    Bertus of South Africa asks how John-Lee Augustyn got a new bike yesterday, and whether he "he will have the legs today to stay up front again." He got his reserve bike from the team car, after waiting a while. And as to today? He may or may not have the legs, but he will also have to deal with the psychological aspects. It can't be easy to put a crash like that behind you.

13:06 CEST    The first climb today is the Col du Galibier, which is not a newcomer to the Tour. It first appeared in 1911 and was won by Emile Georget, who was one of only three riders not to walk to the finish.

13:12 CEST    Pete of West Midlands, United Kingdom, has the question of the day: "Who is the Blimp Lady"? The Blimp Lady is the one writing this live report. She is riding in the Cyclingnews blimp floating over the race and sending the report down to earth via messenger pigeons -- or perhaps not.....

13:15 CEST    Since 1947, the Galibier has appeared in the Tour 31 times. The most recent winners were: 2007: Mauricio Soler 2006: Michael Rasmussen 2005: Alexander Vinokourov 2003: Stefano Garzelli 2002: Santiago Botero

13:17 CEST    There is still a large group (now 5'43 behind the leaders) but the first riders are already falling off the back. One of those, surprisingly, is Columbia's Kim Kirchen, who is behind the race car immediately behind the peloton.

13:19 CEST    A pair of mules in a field look at the peloton passing by, wondering, no doubt, what kind of strange creatures those are.....

13:22 CEST    The Galibier has appeared in the Tour more often than any other Alpine climb. Some very famous names have won the climb, such as Coppi, Gaul, Merckx and Pantani.

13:26 CEST    Balland and Ten Dam stop in the middle of the peloton. A crash? They didn't really go down, maybe they just had a little bump into each other. No harm done and everyone is on the way again.

13:28 CEST    68.5km/142km to go The quartet's lead has now sunk to just over five minutes. They are within 10 km of the summit now, and can see the glaciers near the top.

13:34 CEST    That famous climber Stuart O'Grady of CSC leads the peloton up the Galibier.

13:35 CEST    Andy Schleck revealed an important fact to Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner. "I have never done Alpe d'Huez in a race. Only five times in training. It will be faster and harder today. I will help Fränk and Carlos as long as I can." But he didn't want to leave out other options. "If I have the legs, I definitely will try to jump away on the last climb." Schleck the younger was also concerned about one of the GC contenders. "Kohl is a big threat today. He has always been discreet at this race, but I know he prepared for the Tour the whole year and that shows now. We will see how he goes today."

13:37 CEST    The peloton winds its way up the Galibier. The narrow winding road is lined with cars, trailers and lots of fans.

13:40 CEST    CSC's Bobby Julich will be joining us again today, starting with the Col de la Croix de Fer.

13:42 CEST    CSC's directeur sportif Scott Sunderland wasn't quite sure what to make of today. He told Hedwig Kröner "We have to try today. There is a lot at stake, not just for us. We need to be aggressive and careful at the same time. We have a lot to gain, but also a lot to lose – yellow, white and the teams classification." Sunderland mused that "We have to walk a fine line today. We will try to put time into Menchov again. The reason he didn't go down too well yesterday was that he was at 110% on the way up." Another rider they would like to distance today hails from Australia. "We would like to see Evans get distanced, but it could be also the other way round..."

13:45 CEST    Lots of livestock today. A flock of sheep eyes the passing peloton and no doubt wonders how they keep warm with those shaved legs.

13:50 CEST    Roberto Amadio (Liquigas Team Manager) isn't too concerned that Vincenzo Nibali lost the white jersey yesterday for the best young rider. "It is important that he arrives with Schleck today because there are only six seconds separating them for Saturday's crono." he told Gregor Brown. "I think Nibali is a little stronger than Andy Schleck in the time trial and the possibility is there to take back the six seconds. Schleck showed that he is going really strong yesterday. It will not be easy, but we will try something. It is not a huge thing if he does not go on to win the jersey because he is here for experience and he is gaining it." He was a little surprised at CSC's results yesterday. "There were two important climbs yesterday and I think that CSC could have done something more, above all to get ride of Evans. Today is 210 kilometres long and there is all the space CSC needs to explode the race. Tonight, we will really know who can win the Tour."

13:51 CEST    134km/76.5km to go The quartet's lead is now up to 5'37. The peloton is moving fluidly, but getting smaller. The leaders are still not up to the top yet. This is the day's highest climb, but not the hardest.

13:53 CEST    We haven't seen any trees at the side of the road for a while, but there is something green. Pretty soon there won't be any of that, though, and we will just see those gray rocks. Oh yes, and some white patches of left-over snow. Schumacher zips his jersey shut at the thought of that snow.

13:56 CEST    Here's a welcome sight. John-Lee Augustyn has moved up to the front of the peloton, along with polka-dot king Kohl and his Gerolsteiner team-mate Fabian Wegmann. Good to know that Augustyn has recovered from the shock of his horrifying crash yesterday.

13:57 CEST    132km/78.5km to go One kilometer to go to the top of the Galibier for the leading quartet. Which one of them will take the 5000 Euro prize for being the first to the top?

13:58 CEST    The leaders continue to grind their slow way up. They don't have time to look around at this beautiful, rugged and raw landscape.

13:59 CEST    Within sight of the top, Schumacher picks up the pace and Perez falls back slightly.

14:00 CEST    Schumacher is the first over, and his team will be happy to have the addition to its bank account. Di Gregorio is second and Perez third.

14:01 CEST    Wegmann, Augustyn and Kohl built up a little lead over the peloton to pick up some mountain points. Who shoots out around them? Thomas Voeckler!

14:02 CEST    Wegmann leads the trio up to Voeckler. They have a 10 second or so lead over the peloton, but it is still a ways to the top.

14:03 CEST    Sprinter Gerald Ciolek of Columbia is still in the peloton. He has always said that he is more than just a pure sprinter.

14:05 CEST    Kohl and company may have made their move too early, as other riders approach from the rear. But Kohl jumps out and takes the next points, 12 points for fifth place. He was about 4'40 behind the four leaders.

14:06 CEST    Perez goes over the edge, fortunately only a meter or so, and into grass. Schumacher has already disappeared in front. Di Gregorio had to put his foot down, and in attempting to avoid him, Perez went over the other side. No (physical) harm done and the Spaniard is flying down the mountain again.

14:09 CEST    Another crash on the descent. Adam Hansen of Columbia hit the pavement, as does another rider we were unable to identify. Both are back up and going again quickly.

14:11 CEST    88.5km/122km to go The other three have caught Schumacher again and he is in fact now a few meters behind them. About four minutes back, Voeckler has pulled away and is about 30 seconds ahead of the peloton. The field is now strung out as it flies down the mountain.

14:12 CEST    89.5km/121km to go Barredo and an Euskaltel rider approach Voeckler.

14:12 CEST    Perez and Schumacher now have a slight lead over Velits and Di Gregorio.

14:16 CEST    Txurruka, Voeckler and Barredo are now together and have a 30 second lead over the peloton. Ahead of them, Schumacher fusses with Perez for attacking, and brings the leading four together again.

14:18 CEST    Who was fastest up the Galibier? The break climbed in 59'53. The bunch in 57'53. The Galibier was 20.9 km with an average gradient of 5.6%.

Current race situation

  • Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rémy Di Gregorio (Française Des Jeux) and Peter Velits (Team Milram)
  • Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) at 3.38
  • Peloton at 4.00

14:20 CEST    Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas has now joined the escapees 30 seconds ahead of the peloton. The four in front now have a lead of only four minutes. Nibali lost the white jersey yesterday to Andy Schleck. He is now in second place, only six seconds back. Andy has to stay with brother Fränk, so he can't attack to defend the jersey.

14:22 CEST    The little escape didn't work, they are on the verge of being absorbed into the field again as they pass through a picturesque little town with a lovely stream running through the middle. 3'27 for the leaders.

14:24 CEST    We hear that George Hincapie crashed at the bottom of the descent, but that he is back on his bike.

14:29 CEST    Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Chipotle - H30) had some comments at the start today. "It would be ideal to try to do the same thing; be representing the team up front but to also be there for Christian. We will watch out or early moves, especially if it starts to develop like it did yesterday. We saw that a lot of teams had that plan to get a guy up the road -- you got to lend a hand when they [race leaders] come from behind. The plans worked out well but it is unfortunately what happened with Christian." The Canadian continued, "I heard afterwards that Menchov lost a little time. On a downhill like that the guys are willing to take risks and you will get those little differences. In a three-week race, 30 seconds could be a lot and it could be small too."

14:30 CEST    Hincapie is working his way through the team cars back to the peloton. He left a bunch of skin somewhere along the way, along with portions of his shorts. Don't worry, though, he is not only not seriously injured, but also still decently covered.

14:32 CEST    Di Gregorio wobbles several times on his way down. He is at the back of the leading pack. We hope he takes it easy and gets down to the bottom on his bike and not on his bottom.

14:35 CEST    106.5km/104km to go A number of riders who had fallen out of the peloton ar now working their way up through the team cars. This is not an easy thing to do on such a narrow winding road, and there a few fists being shaken at cars and motorcycles. DI Gregorio continues to fall back from the other leaders. It is unclear why he is having such difficulties with this descent. The lead is now down to 3'42.

14:38 CEST    Damiano Cunego (Lampre) isn't real sure what is going on. "I don't know, we will see what happens today. At least yesterday I was able to get a sense of the stage by going on the attack instead of staying in the gruppo all day and doing nothing. I was not able to stay with the favourites, but I gained two classification spots [laughs - ed.]. "I will try my chances in an escape again today," he told Gregor Brown. "I have good memories of the Alpe d'Huez and also because it is a very famous climb with lots of fans. It is mythical because there have always been big names to win on the Alpe d'Huez and every turn has a name of a past champion, it is truly one of a kind. I remember seeing it in TV with Pantani and Armstrong."

14:39 CEST    124.5km/86km to go Schumacher leads Perez down the descent, with Velits a few meters back. Di Gregorio has now lost contact with them and is 15 seconds back. Their lead is now 4'21 over the peloton.

14:43 CEST    Kate Broadhurst of Melbourne, Australia, asks "Today's mountains have caused Cadel Evans grief in the past, is he in better shape this year? And how will he do today?" He seems to be doing quite well this year. CSC tried its best to dump him yesterday, but was unable to do so. All the favourites are still all together so far today. But we still don't know which of them will attack today, or when. Or will they all continue to huddle together and wait for the time trial?

14:45 CEST    116.5km/94km to go Di Gregorio seems to have given up the chase and has turned his speed down a notch. Up front, the Gerolsteiner team car has pulled up and we have a long conversation between Schumacher and team manager Hans-Michael Holczer.

14:48 CEST    Andy Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank) knows what his priority is. "First I will ride for the team and then if I can keep the maillot blanc that is good. Nibali goes good [in the time trial], but I am better now than at the beginning of the race, so maybe I can do a better time trial than him," he told Gregor Brown. "I have a chance to win today on Alpe d'Huez," he continued. But we have to take enough time on the other favourites. I was strong yesterday, but today is another day and I might be tired."

14:49 CEST    119.5km/91km to go The three up front have built their lead back up to 5'10.

14:51 CEST    Bobby Julich of Team CSC-Saxo Bank is back with us today, and give us his view of Di Gregorio, who has now definitely fallen out of the leading group. "Remy di Gregorio has a cool name and seems to want to be the next Virenque in France, but I don't think that he picked a good day to go in the break because all the big guns want to win this stage."

14:52 CEST    120.5km/90km to go And it is lunch time for the three leader as they pass through the feed zone. They stuff their pockets with all kinds of goodies. Stoke up on those calories, guys, the hard part of the stage is still to come!

14:53 CEST    122.5km/88km to go The lead is now up over six minutes, as Schumacher and Holczer confer again.

14:54 CEST    Bobby looks at the peloton and says, "O'Grady and Sorensen are doing a great job riding on the front like yesterday. They know that soon their day will be over when things heat up on the Croix de Fer."

14:55 CEST    Rabobank's directeur sportif Erik Dekker told Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner that he wasn't too concerned with Denis Menchov's time loss yesterday. "Menchov is not a great descender. After all, if you make one mistake, you get dropped and the gap gets bigger and bigger. It's better to lose 30 seconds in the descend than on the climb. He didn't lose time on the climb, so he still keeps his morale going into today's stage." Dekker also talked about the most valuable helper for Menchov. "For Laurens Ten Dam we have a special thing in mind. He is the best rider [in the mountains] behind Denis. He will stay with Denis as long as possible. Afterwards, we will see what happens."

14:57 CEST    Sastre is taking it easy in the middle of the field as they approach the feed zone. This morning he told Gregor Brown, " The team is doing a fantastic job every day. It has been a great Tour de France and I am thankful for what we have today. We have to attack in a clever way today."

15:00 CEST    125.5km/85km to go The peloton has slowed down while it passes through the feed zone, and the escapee's lead has jumped to 7'18. Let's hope they all packed their pockets full of snacks, because Bobby tells us what they can expect shortly. "The Croix de Fer is a hard climb that is constantly changing. It is also what we call a "dead road" because the pavement is made up of "chip and seal" type material and it constantly makes you push more watts."

15:01 CEST    "The feed zone is again important today, but it is also the calm before the storm," Bobby adds. "I am looking forward to seeing what happens on the Croix de Fer because it could go either way. It could be full gas or just a hard tempo depending on the tactics of the different teams."

15:04 CEST    Laurens Ten Dam gave his view of things to Hedwig Kröner. "I won the Alpe before!" He smiled and revealed that he was talking about the Marmotte sportif, an event rather than a race. It goes over the col de la Croix de Fer, the col du Télégraphe, the Col du Galibier and finishes in Alpe d'Huez. So the route is slightly different than today, but the climbs are the same. Ten Dam was hoping to do something today, as Dutch riders have dominated the climbs in the past. But he was well aware that today would be different. "It'll be difficult. It is not the same. I hope to be good and I will give my best."

15:07 CEST    202.5km/8km to go The three leaders have now started the ascent of the next bump in the road. Ok, this one is a very big bump! The Col de la Croix de Fer (Pass of the Iron Cross) is 2,067 meters high. It is making its 15th appearance in the Tour. This year the peloton will come up the eastern side, from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

15:07 CEST    This is not Columbia's day! Bernhard Eisel is the next one to go down and ruin his shorts. He is back up and scrambling to get back to the field.

15:08 CEST    And for all you numbers freaks, here is some fodder for you: This year's approach is 29.5 km long, with an average gradient of 5.5% and a maximum of 9.5% -- which just really ought to feel great to those tired legs!

15:09 CEST    129.5km/81km to go Jimmy Casper is not having his best day today. He is already 18 minutes down!

15:11 CEST    "I have noticed quite a few crashes today. Luckily, they have not been too serious, but it just goes to show that guys are getting tired after a very stressful Tour," says Bobby. "The Tour by no means is over today, but many riders will be happy that the high mountains are out of the way after today!" Now that is what we call an understatement!

15:12 CEST    Here is news guaranteed to make no-one happy: Saunier Duval is definitely pulling out of the sponsorship immediately. Tuttobici reports that the management of Saunier Duval decided to leave cycling immediately. President Thierry Leroy was disillusioned and angry after Riccardo Riccò returned a non-negative test from the first time trial in Cholet.

15:14 CEST    130.5km/80km to go The trio in front now has a lead of 3'01 over Di Gregorio and 7'02 over the peloton. The field is now passing through a woody section, and is no doubt happy for a bit of shade.

15:15 CEST    We asked Bobby how these "little" crashes affect a rider. "To normal people, road rash would mean a trip to the hospital, but in the world of cycling, if nothing is broken (and even sometimes when it is..) Riders just jump back on their bikes and ride on down the road. Every crash is uncomfortable, but we are used to suffering and not to mention pretty tough! Not like those Soccer players that get tapped and then flail on the ground for a few minutes!"

15:16 CEST    The sprinters are falling off the back of the peloton: O'Grady, Förster, Demoulin. Now Flecha....

15:18 CEST    134.5km/76km to go Frischkorn of Garmin has dropped off the back, too. The lead is now 6'36 for the trio in front, who is finding it slow going. And once again is the Gerolsteiner car giving bottles to Schumacher.

15:19 CEST    This climb was first ridden in the Tour in 1947 and was won by Fermo Camellini. The last five winners here were: 2006: Michael Rasmussen, 1999: Stephane Heulot, 1998: Rodolfo Massi, 1995: Richard Virenque and 1992: Eric Boyer These are the winners of the mountain, by the way, not the stage.

15:19 CEST    Hincapie is the next one to drop off the back. Too much road rash?

15:20 CEST    Bobby sees all those guys going backwards. "Many riders are now getting dropped and it is important that they find a good 'grupetto' and make it to the finish within the time limit. Riders like O'Grady are experienced enough to do this very well, so look for his wheel."

15:22 CEST    Hot race favourite Cadel Evans said before beginning today's cruel affair that "It is a long and difficult stage. CSC has a very strong team. Andy Schleck is strong. Sastre is very close in the overall. Fränk Schleck has yellow." Evans was expecting a big battle. "It will be decisive today. For me and for the others!"

15:26 CEST    Thomas Voeckler is the next to fall back. And who is now leading the (ever-shrinking) peloton? "Fabian 'the Swiss bear' Cancellara is now on the front and doing a good tempo," Bobby tells us.

15:27 CEST    Rowel of Manila, Philippines, is confident that Cadel Evans will do well. "I think Cadel will just follow whatever CSC will throw at him. Nine seconds is nothing with the time trial looming next. Cadel will definitely take yellow if CSC doesn't get rid of him. I am more concerned with Menchov who can match speed with Cadel in the chrono. Cadel is such a calculating rider who'd rather watch and follow and not take the initiative. "For, either Sastre or Fränk Schleck to be victorious, CSC should start doing some serious damage before the final ascent up Alpe de Huez. Let us see if Cadel has the legs to counter the CSC juggernaut."

15:28 CEST    136.5km/74km to go Christian Knees of Milram is the next to be dropped, and it looks like he will soon be joined by Garmin's David Millar. Ahead of them, Schumacher and Velits have dropped Perez. Their lead is now 5'18 over the peloton.

15:29 CEST    Arnaud Coyot (Caisse d'Epargne) crashed yesterday, vanishing into a cloud of dust. But he was upbeat before the start today. "I hit Jimmy Engoulvent's wheel and crashed. Oh well, c'est la vie. You just get up, get a wheel change and go on."

15:30 CEST    There's a bunch of pea-green falling off the back. Pozzato, Quinziato, Nibali -- a little Liquigas gathering.

15:31 CEST    "I am curious about the tactics of CSC-Saxo Bank today," says Bobby, "because they have two jerseys as well as Sastre on the same team. Having more than one leader is always nice, but can get very tactical. Someone is going to have to sacrifice something for the others today and that is when things could get complicated."

15:33 CEST    Bobby continues, "Having the yellow jersey on your team this far into the Tour and on a stage like this gives the entire team incredible motivation. We are seeing that from the CSC-Saxo Bank riders today."

15:34 CEST    138.5km/72km to go The peloton has now caught Di Gregorio. Likely he will just be passed along to join those in back, which now include Sylvain Chavanel and Ronny Scholz.

15:37 CEST    139.5km/71km to go Perez is now 1'18 behind Velits and Schumacher, with the peloton 4'32 back.

15:39 CEST    Evans is losing an important helper. Yaroslav Popovych is at the back of the peloton and about to leave it. Meanwhile, Oscar Freire is riding his own rhythm up this mountain, followed by a trio of Euskaltel riders.

15:40 CEST    This climb reminds us of a Beatles' song: "The long and winding road".

15:41 CEST    Andy Schleck may not have to work too hard to defend the white jersey for the best young rider. Both Nibali and Montfort have already been dropped. As has what seems like the whole Euskaltel team -- aren't they supposed to be climbers?

15:43 CEST    David Millar of Garmin is many things, but a climber he is not. He told Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson: "I’m just suffering enormously now. I came in here at one hundred percent and to try and get the yellow jersey in the time trial so I knew there was a risk of losing form over three weeks. I’m exhausted right now and I have to be realistic in what I can do for the remainder of the race. That means supporting Christian as best that I can. Our team still has great morale though. Christian was really unlucky and he's still racing for the podium. We’re hoping he up there today."

15:44 CEST    Carlos Sastre may wear the captain's number, but he is not too proud to pick up some water bottles from the team car. Or is he discussing tactics? Will we see a big move today, or will CSC-Saxo Bank just grind away and wear everyone else down? That seems to be working well so far.

15:45 CEST    Once again, we aren't sure where Christian Vande Velde is, but he told Daniel Benson that he was feeling confident today. "I’m feeling good today, I feel recovered and my crash wasn't so bad yesterday. If the opportunity arises then I'll try and attack. I still think that if all goes well I can make the podium."

Current race situation

  • Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) and Peter Velits (Team Milram)
  • Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 2.07
  • Peloton at 3.39
  • Group with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)

15:48 CEST    145.5km/65km to go Velits and Schumacher's lead has fallen dramatically, to 3'37. Bobby says, "There is still 12km to go to the top of this climb and Fabian has taken three minutes out of the lead riders by himself! Incredible!"

15:50 CEST    Oscar Freire is hoping for his first ever green jersey in Paris. "Today is an important stage. After today, things will be easier." He was also hoping that Menchov could get closer to yellow today.

15:52 CEST    This doesn't seem to be the steepest of climbs, but Bobby tells us it's not an easy one. "After a few flat sections and even a small downhill, the Croix de Fer doesn't get any easier from here!"

15:53 CEST    147.5km/63km to go CSC pulls the peloton past Perez, who has fallen back from the front. Bobby tells us, "Cancellara has to be towards the end of his pull, but Jens Voigt seems to be chomping at the bit to get some action!"

15:54 CEST    Perez doesn't stay in the peloton at all, he is already off the back. Less than three minutes for Schumacher and Velits now.

15:57 CEST    149.5km/61km to go Schumacher has to pay now for all his efforts the last two days. He is falling back, leaving young Peter Velit alone in the front.

15:59 CEST    We asked Bobby which kind of mountain is harder, a long one like this one, or a shorter, steeper one. He said, "It is the time that you climb that sorts out the men from the boys, more than the percentage of gradient."

16:02 CEST    Bobby is impressed with our momentary stage leader. "For a young rider, who was World Champion U23 last year, Velits is showing a lot of class."

16:03 CEST    151.5km/59km to go And a big name is falling out of the field now: Damiano Cunego. Seems like the young Italian is finding out just how tough the Tour really is.

Current race situation

  • Peter Velits (Team Milram)
  • Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) at 0.54
  • Peloton at 1.45
  • Damiano Cunego (Lampre)
  • Group with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)

16:03 CEST    Cancellara has now dropped out of the lead work. Evans is in sixth position in the field, and may be alone, or with only one helper at his side.

16:06 CEST    Voigt and Gustov are now falling out of the field. "Five kilometers and CSC-Saxo Bank has now lost Cancellara and Voigt and now Sastre looks to be suffering! Is this tactics or does this look to be coming apart for CSC?" asks Bobby. Fränk Schleck now has his brother and Arvesen, and Sastre, who is a bit wobbly.

16:07 CEST    153.5km/57km to go The field now has Schumacher, and his teammate Kohl pats him as he passes. Schumi will be saying his good-byes to the field and looking for the grupetto. Only a 1'31 lead for Velits. Will he be able to make it to the top and win this climb?

16:08 CEST    Have CSC's tactics of grinding along and wearing everyone out backfired? "If things stay like this, CSC-Saxo Bank has to slow down and let the final climb decide the outcome," Bobby says.

16:11 CEST    Andrew of Portland, Oregon, USA, notes "Andy Schleck is the super-domestique for brother Fränk, and sadly Sebastian had to abandon, leaving Sylvain the only Chavanal in the race ... are there other brothers in the race? Is this common?" Those are the only brother pairs in the race this year that we are aware of. There are a number of brother pairs in the peloton, such as Bert and Ralf Grabsch, and of course twins Martin and Peter Velits.

16:13 CEST    Another huge and beautiful glacier is visible in the background. But the riders don't have time to appreciate the natural wonders as they approach the 2 km mark to the summit. The field has gotten noticeably bigger again. Arvesen is leading the way for CSC-Saxo Bank and they seem to have taken things down a notch. That would be good news for Velits, who now has a 1'12 lead, and may make it as first to the top.

16:16 CEST    Gregory of Toronto, Canada, is predicting a bumpy ride for us up here in the blimp. "From the blimp you'll see the fire-works....Who ever wins the Tour it will be made from today. Menchov is good...But I believe Evans will surely respond to the attacks. If he's able he put everyone away today and it will be huge."

16:17 CEST    Bobby agrees about those fireworks, although he might be thinking of a different winner. "Yes, things are settling down now and hopefully the fireworks will fly on L'Alpe. Remember, they guys are not machines and everyone is tired."

16:19 CEST    156.5km/54km to go The cliffs at the top are full of fans who couldn't find a place on the side of the road. Peter Velit takes the title of the Croix de Fer with a 1'10 advantage. He celebrates by stuffing a newspaper into his jersey, to keep his chest warm on the descent.

16:20 CEST    The field lets Kohl move ahead to take the 18 second-place mountain points. That ought to be enough to assure him the mountain jersey.

16:22 CEST    Two down, one to go. How does those riders back in the grupetto feel about the fact that there is yet another monster limb to go? "The guys behind are not worried as much as the guys in the front because their race is already over compared to the riders in the front," says Bobby.

16:23 CEST    A Vande Velde sighting! He is in the Schleck group and took mountain points!

16:25 CEST    When the riders get down this mountain, they don't have much time before they start up the next one. "Eating and drinking on this descent is very important because with all the people on L'Alpe, it is dangerous to even take your hands off the bars!" Bobby tells us.

16:26 CEST    The field is now riding alongside a lovely mountain lake. No doubt any number of riders would be happy to jump in and take a nice swim. Triathlon, anyone?

16:29 CEST    164.5km/46km to go Jerome Pineau of Bouygues Telecom jumps out of the peloton to go after Velits.

16:30 CEST    Bobby's best and worst memories of the Alpe? "Best was in 1997 when I did it my first time and then 2001 was my worst because I was dropped immediately. 2004 was also hard because I had a broken wrist, but luckily it was just a TT that started at the bottom." Right, a time trial up the Alpe with a broken wrist is just one of those things....

16:31 CEST    "If someone really wants to make a difference today, they have to attack from the bottom of L'Alpe where it is the hardest, but then have enough to make it to the line, " says Bobby. "With all the riders so strong and motivated, I think that will be hard to do."

16:34 CEST    Lee of the UK predicts, "Team CSC-Saxo will gamble everything on the Alpe. They need a three-minute advantage over Evans going into the time trial." Bobby doesn't necessarily disagree. "Many CSC-Saxo bank riders have caught back on the descent which is nice for the moment, but when the climb starts the gloves will come off and it will be everyman for himself!" Not just CSC riders, but many others have caught back up, too. Meanwhile, Velits is holding on to a 1'20 lead -- impressive work for such a youngster.

16:39 CEST    Scott of Canada asks Bobby who the "real" CSC-Saxo Bank leader is. "I think that Andy is the strongest at the moment, but will sacrifice everything for Fränk. Carlos is still a question mark, but if anyone should go from the bottom to put everyone under pressure, it would be him," he answers.

16:41 CEST    Ed Welty notes, "Julich mentioned he was curious as to CSC's tactics for today's race, what with three potential jersey winners. Does he have much contact with the team when he is not in the race? Does he get to hang out with team at the hotel, give ideas on how the stages might pan out, or have any time on the team bus? For some reason I thought he might be privy to the team's stage tactics." Bobby responds, "I am at home and talk by phone or by text message, but the last thing we talk about is tactics! They are too tired at night to talk about things like that!"

16:42 CEST    174.5km/36km to go Velits has managed to increase his lead, it is now up to 1'45 over Schleck. But Pineau is only 10 seconds behind the young Slovakian.

16:43 CEST    "I have to admit that not seeing Jens in the front is a bit of a surprise and perhaps the reason why CSC-Saxo Bank has ramped down their intensity. Meetings in the morning and a plan of attack is important, but you must be able to shift gears if riders are not able to carry out the plan," says Bobby.

16:45 CEST    179.5km/31km to go Pineau has now caught Velits. Will they stay together?

16:50 CEST    Shaila of Houston wants to know where Vande Velde is. He is safely tucked in the Schleck group, along with all the other favourites.

16:52 CEST    Victor of Toronto says, "It would make sense for CSC to work for Sastre, since Schleck is unlikely to excel in the final TT. What do you think of his form today, Bobby?" Bobby thinks, "I think that is a hard decision because Fränk has the jersey and respect of his whole team. The final time trial in the Tour is not the same as the first and freshness comes into play. Wish I could swap out with him for the day, but no matter what happens, it is important that he learns for the future."

16:53 CEST    To top it all off today, the riders now face the legendary and much dreaded Alpe d'Huez. It is shorter than the other two climbs but with its 21 switchbacks, a lot nastier. It is an exciting challenge to the climbers and contenders, but pure torture to the sprinters.

16:55 CEST    Bobby is not yet ready to predict today's outcome. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves here! Let's wait until the end of the stage today to start that conversation. "25km to go and 15km all uphill, now it gets exciting."

16:56 CEST    187.5km/23km to go 1'55 lead now for Velits and Pineau, ahead of the CSC-led 26-man strong field.

17:00 CEST    190.5km/20km to go 20 km and 1'45 for Velits and Pineau. Right now they are on a flat stretch. That won't last long....

17:00 CEST    Oops, that was the 20 km mark! Our competition is closed! No more e-mails with your predictions please -- they won't be accepted any more.

17:01 CEST    Let us not forget who won here the last time it appeared in the Tour. The year was 2006 and the winner was none other than Fränk Schleck! Now there's a thought to throw terror into the hearts of his competitors. But here's some good news for them. Lance Armstrong and Fausto Coppi are the only two riders to have won Alpe d'Huez and gone on to win the Tour that same year.

17:04 CEST    194.5km/16km to go They slipped in another intermediate sprint on us, and Pineau took the points, with Velits second.

17:04 CEST    The Alpe first appeared in the Tour in 1952, when it was won by Fausto Coppi, and this will marks its 26th appearance.

17:07 CEST    Looking at the Alpe, Bobby says, "CSC Saxo-Bank has to go 'all in' on this climb to make a difference. They came to the Tour to win and not exactly have 2-3 riders in the top 10. "The riders who are working on the front have to basically sprint up the first km of the climb to set their leaders up for an attack, then their job is done for the day."

17:07 CEST    "Bet there are some 'butterflies' in the stomach of these riders now!" says Bobby. Some rather large ones, we suspect.

17:08 CEST    Here are some numbers: The ride up is 13.8 km, with an average gradient of 8.1% on those famous 21 switchbacks.

17:09 CEST    197.5km/13km to go Pineau has now dropped Velits. They are both on their way up, and the field is now at the foot of the climb.

17:09 CEST    197.5km/13km to go Gustov and Sastre lead the way for Andy and Fränk Schleck. No, Sastre attacks and is joined by Menchov.

17:10 CEST    Evans tries to join them, which isn't at all what Sastre had in mind. As soon as they all fall back to the field, Sastre attacks again.

17:11 CEST    Kreuziger falls off the back, as did Cunego. Up front, Sastre has now passed Pineau.

17:12 CEST    198km/12.5km to go Aerts is a meter or so ahead of the field of Kohl, Schleck, Valverde..

17:12 CEST    Vande Velde also in the group.

17:12 CEST    "Looks like Carlos pulled a 'Lance' and was bluffing on the top of the last climb and now it is all on the line," says Bobby.

17:13 CEST    Menchov falls back and is behind the field.

17:14 CEST    199km/11.5km to go Kohl leads the small group. Moncoutie is at the other end.

17:14 CEST    Others in the group: Fränk Schleck, Andy Schleck, Efimkin, Evans, Vande Velde, Valjavec

17:15 CEST    199.5km/11km to go Efimkin attacks but is caught again. "Still 12 km to go, and anything can happen," notes Bobby.

17:16 CEST    199.5km/11km to go Fränk Schleck moves to the front of the group. Now Kohl leads again. Andy Schleck is at the back of the group. Menchov is a few seconds behind them.

17:17 CEST    Sastre has a 24 second lead. Andy Schleck moves up behind him.

17:17 CEST    200km/10.5km to go Efimkin gives it another go. Andy Schleck goes with him.

17:18 CEST    200.3km/10.2km to go Kohl, Evans, Valverde, Fränk Schleck together, as the others pull ahead.

17:19 CEST    All together again, with a 28 second lead for Sastre.

17:19 CEST    200.5km/10km to go Sastre hits the 10 km mark.

17:20 CEST    The small field of favourites eyes one another nervously as they pass under the 10 km marker. Who will be the first to jump?

17:21 CEST    Fränk Schleck leads the way, but now Evans takes the lead next. Fränk Schleck jumps. Kohl follows and brings the others with him.

17:21 CEST    201.3km/9.2km to go Valverde goes for it, and takes two Schlecks with him. They quickly build up a small lead over the others.

17:22 CEST    "A lot of mind games going on right now," says Bobby, and that is for sure.

17:23 CEST    201.8km/8.7km to go All together again. Kohl at the back of the group. A fan jumps in the middle of the road. No danger to the riders, but that is really unnecessary!

17:23 CEST    "All of these small sprints are hurting everyone!" Bobby notes.

17:24 CEST    202.1km/8.4km to go A compact little group here climbing up. Samuel Sanchez is joining them.

17:25 CEST    Menchov can't catch up.

17:25 CEST    202.6km/7.9km to go Andy Schleck and Goubert attack, with a small lead.

17:26 CEST    202.8km/7.7km to go "Looks negative at the moment, but it is still a long way to go. Sastre has the easiest job because he doesn't have to deal with these accelerations," says Bobby. Sastre now has a 55 second lead.

17:27 CEST    It must be frustrating for Menchov. He can see the small group of favourites but can't get close to them.

17:27 CEST   

Current race situation

  • Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank)
  • Andy and Fränk Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle - H30), Stéphane Goubert, Tadej Valjavec and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 1.00
  • Denis Menchov (Rabobank) at 1.09

17:27 CEST    203.3km/7.2km to go Valverde leads the group up to the two escapees. Vande Velde moves to the front.

17:28 CEST    Kohl is having problems hanging on to the group.

17:28 CEST    Bobby notes, "Sastre's attack is making things much easier for Fränk and Andy, but now they must be thinking that Carlos is the 'real leader' of the team."

17:29 CEST    203.9km/6.6km to go 1'17 lead for Sastre. Menchov is 10 seconds behind the favourites' group.

17:30 CEST    The Alpe is lined with thousands of fans. An unfortunate number of them feel the need to stand in the road.

17:30 CEST    204.2km/6.3km to go Menchov and Valjevec have caught the group again.

17:32 CEST    204.7km/5.8km to go Goubert continues to lead the small group, which is 1'25 behind Sastre.

17:33 CEST    204.9km/5.6km to go Sastre is up out of the saddle, moving easily.

17:33 CEST    Bobby says, "CSC-Saxo Bank's plan seems to be working perfectly at the moment."

17:34 CEST    The Schleck group includes Evans, Fränk Schleck, Andy Schleck, Goubert, Efimkin, Valjavec, Sanchez, Menchov, Kohl, Valverde and Vande Velde.

17:35 CEST    205.7km/4.8km to go Those riders in that group can all huddle together the rest of the way. It looks very much like Sastre will take the stage and the yellow jersey.

17:35 CEST    "Carlos needs to dig deep here and take as much time as possible in the GC," says Bobby.

17:36 CEST   

Current race situation

  • Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank)
  • Andy and Fränk Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle - H30), Stéphane Goubert, Tadej Valjavec and Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 2.05

17:37 CEST    206.2km/4.3km to go Over two minutes' lead for Sastre! Behind him, Efimkin attacks. Evans tries to go with him, as does Andy Schleck.

17:38 CEST    Andy Schleck catches Efimkin and hangs on his rear wheel. Evans is back with the others. Ah ha, there was the same fan we saw at the Giro, wearing a bikini bottom and Viking horns...

17:39 CEST    207.3km/3.2km to go There sem to be more fans running with the group than there are in the group. Evans leads the group up, trying to make up as much time as he can on Sastre.

17:40 CEST    Efimkin and Andy Schleck are back with the group, 2'09 behind Sastre.

17:40 CEST    "Cadel Evans is sure one cool customer!" notes Bobby. This got exciting quick!

17:41 CEST    207.9km/2.6km to go Evans pulls the group up, followed by Andy Schleck.

17:42 CEST    208.3km/2.2km to go Valverde take over the lead, even attacking, but Fränk Schleck pulls him back. Evans struggles to the front again, followed by Vande Velde.

17:43 CEST    208.4km/2.1km to go Evans, Valverde, F. Schleck are the first three in the group, 2'16 behind Sastre.

17:44 CEST    208.5km/2km to go 2km to go for Sastre, and 2'10 lead.

17:45 CEST    209.2km/1.3km to go Evans pulls along, followed by Valverde and Andy Schleck. Goubert is out of the group.

17:46 CEST   

Current race situation

  • Carlos Sastre (CSC-Saxo Bank)
  • Andy and Fränk Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle - H30), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 2.25

17:46 CEST    209.5km/1km to go Menchov has found the strength to move to the front of the group, sharing the work with Evans and Valverde. Meanwhile Sastre hits the 1km to go mark.

17:47 CEST    Samuel Sanchez jumps out of the group, as do Andy Schleck, Menchov and Vande Velde.

17:47 CEST    Carlos Sastre now cruises along, on his way to becoming the first Spaniard to win here since 1978.

17:48 CEST    Sastre zips his jersey up and waves a jubilant fist as he crosses the finish line.

17:49 CEST    Sanchez hits the 1km marker, with a lead over Andy Schleck who himself has a lead over the group. In fact, Schleck catches Sanchez.

17:49 CEST    Will they sprint?

17:50 CEST    Yes! Andy pulled past Sanchez, and they sprint at the last second. Who took it? Sanchez! Schleck third.

17:51 CEST    Bobby sums up, "Well say what you want, but Carlos and CSC-Saxo Bank rode a beautiful race and got as much as they could ask for from the day!"

17:52 CEST    It looks like our new GC is: 1. Sastre 2. Fränk Schleck, 1'24 3. Kohl, 1'33 4. Evans, 1'34

17:54 CEST    Well, thing started out a little slow today but that was a typically exciting Alpe d'Huez finish! Congratulations to CSC-Saxo Bank on their stunning performance. We will be back tomorrow and the riders will be happy to be out of the high mountains. Join us again Thursday!

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