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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

90th Tour de France - July 5-27, 2003

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Commentary by Roger Hughes, with additional reporting by Jeff Jones, Tim Maloney, Chris Henry, and Gabriella Ekström

Stage 11 - Thursday, July 17: Narbonne - Toulouse, 153.5 km

Complete Live Report

Time conversion guide: GMT = CEST - 2 hrs, AEST = CEST + 8 hrs, EDT = CEST - 6 hrs, PDT = CEST - 9 hrs

Start time: 13:30 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:00 CEST

12:43 CEST    
Welcome to our coverage, brought to you by T-Mobile, of stage 11 of the Tour, a brisk run across the Languedoc from Narbonne to Toulouse. The course is mainly flat, passing the spectacular ramparts of the city of Carcassonne, to finish on the airport runway at Montaudran. There is a single listed climb, the third-category Côte de Saissac at around half distance; its 8.4 km at an average 4.2% will hurt some legs but is unlikely to break the race up much. the weather is hot (29 °C) and sunny.

With the time trial tomorrow and the Pyrenees to follow, we can expect the main contenders to have another quiet day; the protagonists will be the green jersey crowd and the baroudeurs, the troublemakers, the usual suspects up for a long breakwaway and maybe an opportunist win.

Toulouse was one of the six original 1903 stage finishes (the stage winner was Hippolyte Aucouturier) and as such counts for the special "centenary classification", currently led by Damien Nazon, so if he is up the front today it will not be a surprise...

14:03 CEST    16 km/137.5 km to go
A flurry of early attacks and a fast start end up with Brad McGee (FDJeux.com) up the road, which will serve to protect his team-mate Baden Cooke.

He is joined by Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel). Behind, Anthony Geslin ((Brioches La Boulangère) has crashed after hitting a spectator and isn't back with the bunch yet, although he's back on his bike receiving attention from the race doctor.

14:27 CEST    38.5 km/115 km to go
McGee and Etxebarria don't stay out there too long, with a fast moving bunch behind them. Other attacks follow in quick succession, but the bunch aren't letting anyone get out of sight. Another crash victim earlier on was Lotto's Rik Verbrugghe; he is OK, though, and back with the bunch.

The day's first bonus sprint is at Carcassone, after 59 km.

14:41 CEST    47.5 km/106 km to go
The pace is very fast but the racing is a bit, well, like watching juniors in action - constant attacks which get only a few seconds in front before getting swallowed up again. The US Postal squad are taking their responsibilities now, however, and the pace is a bit less stop-start than it was before as the blue train gets going.

Arnold's back!
Photo: © J. Jones/CN

Guess who was at the US Postal-Berry Floor bus this morning? That's right, mega-movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger, who caused quite a stir when he appeared with Lance Armstrong. Fortunately, the village depart is still intact.

14:51 CEST    59 km/94.5 km to go
As the race approaches the city of Carcassone there is another flurry of attacks and a group of eight or nine riders pull out a gap of around 10 seconds.

Carlos Da Cruz (FDJeux.com) takes the sprint ahead of Stuart O'Grady (Credit Agricole) and Bram de Groot (Rabobank) - Da Cruz protecting Baden Cooke's lead in the points classification. The octet get back together and are now riding clear; the bunch is looking a great deal less excitable now.

The other riders in the break are:
Isidro Nozal (Spa) ONCE-Eroski,
Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) iBanesto.com,
Inigo Cuesta (Spa) Cofidis,
Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick.Step-Davitamon,
Nicolas Portal (Fra) Ag2R-Prévoyance

15:09 CEST    
Rik Verbrugghe (Lotto-Domo) is getting patched up a bit by the race doctor as the bunch lets the break go; US Postal are now setting a moderate pace, as although he is no real threat on general classification, Michael Rogers is "only" 23 minutes down on Lance Armstrong, so this break will not be allowed to get as far clear as Tuesday's on the road to Marseille.

We spoke to Verbrugghe's team-mate Hans de Clercq, the lanterne rouge of the Tour so far, more than two hours and eighteen minutes down, about the tactics behind the green jersey battle between Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke.

"I think it's a big mistake for the team and Robbie to go for the bonus sprints, because it takes the energy away from the big bunch sprints," he explained. "Last year Robbie just focused on the bunch sprints in the beginning, and that was much better, in my opinion. After the climb we'll decide how to handle the second part of the stage."

"I've been feeling better and better. Yesterday (the rest day) was good. If we get a chance, we will try to make it a bunch sprint for Robbie, because that's where the points are."

15:18 CEST    78.5km/75 km to go
Portal has some mechanical problems and gets a bit of attention from his team car. The front group are working well together, but behind them Lotto are starting to come up and help US Postal to keep the gap down.

Behind, Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole) is delayed and Stephan Auge pauses to help him. Voigt was sick two days ago, and is looking pretty rough today. He sends Auge on, though; he's all over the bike on a fairly modest gradient and I wouldn't fancy his chances on a day which is likely to have quite a tight time limit.

15:36 CEST    82 km/71.5 km to go
The race tackles the long drag up to the third-category climb of the Côte de Saissac fairly steadily; the bunch is being led now by a cluster of Brioches La Boulangère team jerseys; meanwhile Robbie McEwen has punctured so Lotto have eased off to help him.

Voigt is being nursed along by his second team car. If he can get over the climb it is a fairly easy ride in, but it's going to be tough.

Baden Cooke, current green jersey holder, told Cyclingnews before today's stage that FDJeux.com might let a break go in the early stages. "If we're close enough to a break at the finish, or if it comes down to a bunch sprint, I'll be up for it," he said.

Iñigo Cuesta takes the points on the climb ahead of Da Cruz; the road still drags on upwards for a couple of kilometres after the prime line, however.

15:45 CEST    90.5 km/63 km to go
Sandy Casar (FDJeux.com) is also in a bit of difficulty on the climb, but is able to get together with a group of Lotto riders who have dropped back to help McEwen back up.

The wooded descent is fairly gentle and the bunch is going steadily rather than spectacularly; as far as US Postal is concerned, the longer the break lasts, the less energy they will have to put into policing other attacks.

Voigt grovels over the top of the climb 13 minutes down; with a time limit likely to be around 20 minutes, he is going to be throwing himself on the mercy of the commissaires if he is to be allowed to continue tomorrow.

15:57 CEST    101.5 km/52 km to go
Through the feed the bunch has eased up with no team really taking up the chase and the gap widens. Voigt looks to be on his last legs, down to walking pace (somewhat reminiscent of our correspondent Ralph Dadswell over the last 30 miles of his trike Lands End-John O'Groats record attempt - hi, Ralph); I suspect he will pack when he reaches the feed zone.

The pace picks up again, once more with La Boulangère and Lotto riders setting the pace for Damien Nazon and Robbie McEwen (who is safely back in the bunch).

Stuart O'Grady offered more than a subtle hint to Cyclingnews today about his plan for the day. "This is going to be one of the last chances for me to win," he explained. "A break will go away, and I want to be in it, of course."

16:12 CEST    111.5 km/42 km to go
Telekom and Caldirola have moved up to help the chase. US Postal are now riding guard for Armstrong behind them, taking things steady; his best placed challenger Alexandr Vinokourov is keeping close to him.

The gap is fairly steady, but with only a minute to make up in each 10km to come, the bunch seem to have it under control and we will probably have a bunch sprint up the runway in Montgeron.

Jens Voigt calls it a day and climbs off and into his team car; he'd done his best but he would have been miles outside the time limit.

16:24 CEST    118 km/35.5 km to go
The gap is now coming down at more or less the asking rate.

The ONCE team is still trying to find its way after the sad loss of Joseba Beloki due to injury. Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano offered a few thoughts to Cyclingnews before stage 11. "I'm afraid there's going to be a lot of wind today, but otherwise I think it will be a good stage," he said. "We know that the team should do something, but it's very hard because we feel very disillusioned and it has been hard for us to have a major change of plan in the middle of the race. It was a big blow to the morale to lose Beloki."

Beloki is in hospital near home in Vitoria, where they are investigating a possible fourth broken bone after a successful first operation; sadly, it appears that he won't be back this season.

16:32 CEST    126 km/27.5 km to go
At the second of the two bonus sprints once again Carlos Da Cruz takes the cash ahead of O'Grady, with Nozal third. The group are quickly back together, but the race is shaping up to come together somewhere around the 10 km to go mark. That puts O'Grady up to 5th in the green jersey competition, in which he certainly still has an interest.

Off the back of the bunch, Oscar Freire is having dealings with his team car. Not clear what the problem is.

16:40 CEST    133.5 km/20 km to go
Under the 20 km banner Juan Antonio Flecha attacks from the lead group and gets a gap straight away; The chase is not concerted at first, but gets going fairly briskly; the disruption to their rhythm may be fatal with the bunch now starting to wind it up.

Flecha's bid doesn't go far and the leading eightsome are back together.

16:47 CEST    139.5 km/14 km to go
Nozal attacks, but can't get clear, and then Flecha has a second go and again opens a gap. The others are not cooperating too well any more. It's touch and go whether they can stay clear from here.

16:52 CEST    143.5 km/10 km to go
Flecha is pressing on at the 10 km banner, about 15 seconds clear; behind him the group are splitting up with Rogers and Da Cruz doing a two-up in pursuit and the others all over the place.

16:56 CEST    145.5 km/8 km to go
Flecha is going very strongly still and Rogers and Da Cruz are not making much impression and look like they are going to be caught by the other five.

16:58 CEST    148.5 km/5 km to go
The seven chasers come back together under the 5 km to go banner, 25 seconds behind Flecha. He might just pull this off. De Groot tries a silly counter-attack that just breaks up the rhythm more.

17:01 CEST    150.5 km/3 km to go
Flecha is right on the rivet, head down, rolling a seriously big gear. Behind them the other seven are attacking each other; now it is the turn of Nozal with O'Grady not far behind him.

The bunch has left it just too late.

17:03 CEST    152.5 km/1 km to go
Flecha comes onto the 1 km finishing straight still going strong; he has it now.

17:06 CEST    
Flecha eases up to sit up over the line, finally smiling rather than grimacing, and gives a personalised victory salute in the style of an archer firing an arrow ("flecha" means "arrow" in Spanish).

De Groot takes second ahead of Nozal, then Cuesta alone, and Da Cruz pips O'Grady for fourth.

Robbie McEwen beats Baden Cooke in the bunch sprint for ninth place, just half a minute down, so he will have closed the gap on the green jersey by a fraction to 8 points.

So no great changes to any of the classifications; Lance Armstrong receives his umpteenth yellow jersey from Arnold Schwarzenegger who has been following the race today. He seems very calm and relaxed with the prospect of the time trial tomorrow; will he put in the killer blow, or can his opponents keep him in reach? Find out here on cyclingnews tomorrow from 10.20 CEST onwards. Thanks for following todays stage with us and T-Mobile.


1. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) iBanesto.com
2. Bram De Groot (Ned) Rabobank                        0.04
3. Isidro Nozal (Spa) ONCE-Eroski
4. Inigo Cuesta (Spa) Cofidis Le Crédit par Telephone  0.15
5. Carlos Da Cruz (Fra) FDJeux.com                     0.23
6. Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole
7. Nicolas Portal (Fra) Ag2R-Prévoyance
8. Michael Rogers (Aus) Quick.Step-Davitamon
9. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo                      0.42
10. Baden Cooke (Aus) FDJeux.com

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