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Photo ©: Sirotti

91st Tour de France - July 3-25, 2004

Main Page     Stages & Results     Stage Profile     Latest Live Report   Results

Stage 18 - Friday July 23: Annemasse - Lons le Saunier, 166.5 km

Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Tim Maloney and Chris Henry

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 13:00 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:21 CEST

Annemasse will this year host its first Tour start, however it won't be an easy one. With five categorised climbs in the 166.5 kilometres, everyone today will looking forward to the final 40 km. which are mostly downhill. At 62.5 kilometres from the start, the riders start to ascend the major climb of the stage, the Cat. 2 Col de la Faucille, which averages 6.3% for 11.5 km. The race finishes up in Lons le Saunier with the Cat. 4 Côte de Nogna at 13 km to go a key point for a late attack. Look for a non-threatening breakaway to go clear in this stage with US Postal riding tempo behind to keep things under control before Saturday's final time trial.


Km 34.5: Côte de: Collonges, 2.5 km at 4.2%
Km 75.5: Col de la Faucille, 11.5 km at 6.3%
Km 87.5: Côte de Lajoux, 3.7 km at 5.4%
Km 119: Côte de Saint-Lupicin, 6.2 km at 3.9%
Km 127: Côte des Crozets, 6.3 km at 3.7%
Km 153: Côte de Nogna, 2.2 km at 4.3%


Km 43.5: Saint-Jean-de-Gonville
Km 144: Clairvaux-les-Lacs

13:06 CEST   
Today's stage starts with a 2.4 km neutral section out of Annemasse before the flag is dropped at 13:04. The weather is not particularly great at the moment. There was a thunderstorm an hour before the start and it's likely to rain off and on throughout the stage, with a chance of hail. There is also a bit of wind blowing from the south east, which will be a cross or tailwind for most of the day.

13:08 CEST    3km/163.5km to go
147 riders started the stage and of course it has been flat out from the gun. The Cyclingnews pundits believe that there is a strong chance that Jens Voigt will attack. Incredible but true - you heard it here first.

13:11 CEST   
The first 50 km of today's stage follows the Franco-Swiss border quite closely, circling round Geneva and crossing the Rhone river after 30 km, just before the first Cat. 4 climb.

13:14 CEST    6.5km/160km to go
The US Postal team is keeping things under control in the early kilometres of stage 18, letting nothing escape yet. Not through lack of trying though.

13:19 CEST    11km/155.5km to go
Well blow me down. Four riders have attacked at the 7 km mark: Jens Voigt (CSC), David Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Laurent Brochard (Ag2r) and Santiago Botero (T-Mobile). But they were recaptured by the peloton, which is still together after 11 km.

13:25 CEST    16km/150.5km to go
Eight riders have attacked at the 9 km mark: Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Sébastien Joly (Crédit Agricole), José V. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Dmitri Fofonov (Cofidis), Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank). They currently have 17 seconds on the peloton.

Scholz punctures out of the break.

Jan Ullrich has a front flat, but is now back in the bunch.

13:28 CEST    17.5km/149km to go
Jalabert punctures out of the break! Now there are six leaders with 38 seconds to the peloton: Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Sébastien Joly (Crédit Agricole), José V. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Dmitri Fofonov (Cofidis), Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank).

Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak) and Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) are chasing in between.

13:31 CEST    19.5km/147km to go
None of these riders are remotely threatening on GC, with Mercado the best placed in 44th at 1:12:13 down. Also Rabobank has managed to put a man in the early move for once, so they don't have to close the gap. It's up to the other teams to react if they so desire, because US Postal will have no interest in hauling these riders back.

Jalabert and Scholz have been passed by the peloton.

13:35 CEST    24km/142.5km to go
Phonak has decided that they don't want to miss the party and the team is chasing on the front of the peloton, with the six man break 40 seconds up the road. Jalabert was in the break at the beginning, but succumbed to a puncture.

13:41 CEST    29.5km/137km to go
By the way, the race organisers have changed the mountain points standings of yesterday's final climb, the Col de la Croix Fry. Lance Armstrong was in fact first to the top, closely followed by Floyd Landis. The adjustments mean that Lance has four more points in the KOM classification and Floyd has four fewer points. But Richard Virenque has clinched the climbers' jersey anyway, with 226 points to Armstrong's 172.

Still 40 seconds between the front six and the Phonak led peloton. They're going to have to work a bit harder behind.

13:46 CEST    33km/133.5km to go
The breakaways cross the Rhône with a 45 second gap to the pursuing peloton, which is not making any inroads into the deficit. Right after the river crossing, the Cat. 4 climb of the Côte de Collonges commences (2.5 km at 4.2%).

13:49 CEST    35km/131.5km to go
Sébastien Joly (CA) is doing his lanterne rouge chances a bit of damage today by being in the break. Joly is in 146th on GC, 1'25 ahead of current lanterne rouge Jimmy "Ghost" Casper. But maybe Joly plans to bury himself in the break and if they are caught, soft pedal to the finish. But Casper might be onto his tricks... There's no real 'prestige' for being the second last rider on GC in the Tour.

13:51 CEST    36km/130.5km to go
The pace is still pretty furious behind the break, and there are already riders being dropped from the peloton. Phonak is riding hard on the front and have pulled back the leaders to 30 seconds.

The six in front: Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Sébastien Joly (Crédit Agricole), José V. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Dmitri Fofonov (Cofidis), Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank).

Lance Armstrong and Filippo Simeoni (now there's an unlikely combo!) are 10 seconds behind the break after the climb, with the peloton another 15 seconds back.

13:53 CEST    38km/128.5km to go
Fofonov won the 3 points on the climb, followed by Flecha and Lotz.

Armstrong and Simeoni have closed the gap to the leaders. Simeoni was the first to try to bridge, with Armstrong getting on his wheel. Better to be safe in a stage like this.

The peloton is at 45 seconds. Surely there'll be a reaction...

13:55 CEST    39km/127.5km to go
The leading eight riders now have 55 seconds lead on the bunch, which is in disarray after seeing the maillot jaune go up the road!

<commentator throws script in waste bin>

13:57 CEST    41km/125.5km to go
The leaders are now approaching the day's first sprint at Saint-Jean-de-Gonville with a 1'50 lead on the US Postal controlled peloton. Quite a bizarre situation. Maybe Lance wants five stage wins in a row (presuming he'll win tomorrow)?

13:59 CEST   
14 Riders were blood tested this morning before the start of stage 18 from the following teams: T-Mobile, Lotto-Domo, CSC, US Postal, Gerolsteiner, Alessio-Bianchi and Illes Balears. All riders were declared fit to start the stage.

14:00 CEST    45km/121.5km to go
Finally, T-Mobile mosey on up to the front of the peloton to see what's happening, and have pegged the gap at 1'50. "Lance is up the road? No-one told us!"

14:02 CEST    46km/120.5km to go
Fofonov again takes the points at the sprint, followed by Joly (4 seconds bonus. Think of the GC!) and Flecha.

Armstrong and Simeoni are off the back of the break it looks like. The gap is 2'20.

14:06 CEST    49km/117.5km to go
Armstrong and Simeoni are still at odds off the back of the break. Armstrong chased down Simeoni when he went after them. Simeoni is suing Armstrong for slander after Lance called Simeoni a liar, so the pair are not best buddies. And Lance is now behaving like a real patron, taking charge of the situation personally. Maybe he was talking to Hinault over a bottle of wine last night.

14:08 CEST    51km/115.5km to go
Armstrong and Simeoni have returned to the peloton, leaving the original six in front to their own devices and a 2 minute lead after 50 km.

14:11 CEST    52.5km/114km to go
Order has been restored and we have six riders in front: Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Sébastien Joly (Crédit Agricole), José V. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Dmitri Fofonov (Cofidis), Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank). They have 2'00 lead on the peloton, which is being controlled by US Postal.

A pity we didn't have a microphone in Simeoni or Lance's helmet today. There was probably some colourful language exchanged.

14:17 CEST   
A CN reader has suggested that Armstrong and Simeoni might have been using the time in front to discuss an out of court settlement to their differences.

14:19 CEST    58km/108.5km to go
Things have calmed down a little after some fireworks involving Armstrong and Simeoni. The six man breakaway that they were part of now has 3'15 on the peloton as it approaches the second climb of the day, the Cat. 2 Col de la Faucille (11.5 km at 6.2%). This climb takes the riders across the Jura mountain range, according to my Livre de Route

14:28 CEST    63km/103.5km to go
The leaders hit the foot of the climb with 5'10 on the peloton, which has now clicked into cruise control mode. It's quite likely that these six will stay away unless the sprinters teams wake up.

14:34 CEST    66.5km/100km to go
A recap: The leading six (Flecha, Joly, Garcia Acosta, Fofonov, Mercado and Lotz) escaped at the 9 km mark. Phonak kept the peloton at 30-40 seconds until the first climb at 34 km. Filippo Simeoni tried to bridge across to them, but an annoyed Lance Armstrong got on Simeoni's wheel and although the pair made it across to the break a few km later and started working, increasing the lead out to 1'50, Simeoni and Lance dropped off the back and went back to the peloton.

In normal circumstances this wouldn't happen - both are good enough to stay with this sort of break. But the off the bike issues that Simeoni and Lance have (Simeoni is suing Lance because Lance called him a liar after Simeoni testified against Dr Ferrari in a trial in Italy) caused the pair to drop back after they kept arguing.

Weather update: It's not raining at the moment, but it is cloudy and the roads are a little bit wet.

14:37 CEST    67km/99.5km to go
Armstrong is now sitting comfortably in the peloton, looking a little fiery, behind his Blue Train®. The leaders have 5'39 as they climb the Col de la Faucille, the highest remaining climb in this year's Tour.

14:42 CEST    69km/97.5km to go
Jan Ullrich is now chatting to Armstrong, asking him what the hell was going on earlier. Armstrong explains.

Hincapie on the front of the peloton, riding tempo.

14:45 CEST   
A correction to an earlier post: Simeoni is suing Lance for slander after *Lance* called him a liar.

Simeoni is now lurking at the back of the peloton.

14:49 CEST    72km/94.5km to go
The leading six are rotating well on the climb, which is not too steep and is on nice smooth roads.

The peloton is unchanged, with a host of blue riders in front protecting the maillot jaune, who is chuckling as he shares his tale with Paolo Bettini and Andreas Klöden. Simeoni will never hear the end of this one.

Thomas Voeckler (in white) is a fair way down the peloton now, but in no danger of being dropped.

Halgand (CA) is off the back a little way.

14:55 CEST   
There have been many emails about the Armstrong/Simeoni dynamic. Consider this: Armstrong clearly didn't want Simeoni in the break or to win the stage, hence he chased him down. If Armstrong had stayed in the break, he could have sat on all day and just watched Simeoni. Simeoni's chances of winning would have been remote because Armstrong was marking him so closely. Hence there was no alternative but for them both to drop back to the bunch.

Armstrong has never considered himself a "patron" of the peloton, but today he has really shown that he is. No-one gets away without his team's permission.

14:56 CEST    73km/93.5km to go
Flecha is not a little off the back of the break chatting to his DS Ferretti in the car.

The peloton is rolling along 6'16 behind. Euskaltel riders Unai Etxebarria and Iker Flores are getting bottles for their teammates.

14:59 CEST    74km/92.5km to go
Joly is hanging off the back of the break. He hasn't earned his near-lanterne rouge position by being a good hill climber.

Mercado, Fofonov and Garcia Acosta have opened up a small gap on Joly, Flecha and Lotz as they ride towards the top.

15:01 CEST    76km/90.5km to go
Mercado takes the points on the Faucille ahead of Garcia Acosta, Fofonov and Lotz. Joly and Flecha follow at five seconds, and bridge back on on the descent.

Nicolas Jalabert, who was in this break very early on before he punctured, is now off the back of the peloton with his teammate Jose Enrique Gutierrez.

15:05 CEST    78km/88.5km to go
Fred Finot and Christophe Laurent (RAGT) are losing the peloton slowly on the climb. Voeckler is in trouble too, and he's sitting next to Simeoni. But the white jersey should be safe today.

15:07 CEST    83km/83.5km to go
Dekker attacks a few hundred metres from the top with Rasmussen on his wheel, and Rasmussen takes the zero points for seventh. That was a bit of a waste of energy. Cat. 2 climbs only go down to six places, and there are already six riders up the road.

The gap is 6'19 at the top.

15:09 CEST   
We've been informed that Blue Train® is a trademark in South Africa.

<Foghorn Leghorn>

I say boy, it's a joke

</Foghorn Leghorn>

15:18 CEST    86km/80.5km to go
The leaders are now on the Cat. 3 Cote de Lajoux, having covered 86 km of today's 166 km stage. Their gap is 7'11 and US Postal's men in blue are controlling the bunch.

Voeckler is sitting last wheel in the peloton, right behind a few Domina/RAGT/Cofidis riders.

15:20 CEST    88km/78.5km to go
Fofonov takes the points at the top of the climb ahead of Mercado and Lotz, the six leaders still together. The peloton doesn't look particularly interested in the day's proceedings.

15:24 CEST    90km/76.5km to go
An update on Simeoni's lawsuit. His lawyer said that he is demanding a "symbolic sum of €100,000" from Lance Armstrong, after Armstrong said in a Le Monde interview that Simeoni was telling lies.

Simeoni told Cyclingnews at the start of the Tour: "Remember that I denounced him for this defamation when he declared publicly to newspapers that I was a liar, when I simply testified as an honest citizen in front of a judge, telling my personal experience. (Armstrong) publicly insulted me and took advantage of his media power. That really bothered me and so I'm seeking legal recourse for this."

15:27 CEST    93km/73.5km to go
According to the unofficial word in the press room, when Armstrong reached the break earlier with Simeoni, he allegedly said to the others in the break, "If you ride with Simeoni in this breakaway, I'll put my team on the front to chase you down." There will no doubt be more to come in this story today.

The peloton comes across the Cote de Lajoute at 6'58 behind the break, led by the blue boys.

It's downhill for the next 10 km.

15:31 CEST    98km/68.5km to go
The peloton rolls off the Jura mountains (famous for Swiss watch makers of course) some 7 minutes behind the break of six.

For those who've just joined us or been asleep, the leading group is: Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Sébastien Joly (Crédit Agricole), José V. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Dmitri Fofonov (Cofidis), Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank).

Mercado is the best placed on GC in 44th at 1:12:13, so the break presents no threat to the GC leaders. It looks like the peloton will be sprinting for 7th today.

Of the leaders, Garcia Acosta and Flecha have both won Tour stages before.

15:38 CEST    101km/65.5km to go
Armstrong is momentarily off the back of the peloton for a break of some sort, but he's quickly towed back to the front by his teammates. Armstrong chats to team director Bruyneel on the way through, trying to keep a straight face.

8'00 with 65 km to go. The gap to the leaders is rapidly becoming irrelevant and one of these six will win the stage. The descent down to Rochefort is relatively fast on good roads, with a few hairpins to break up the monotony.

15:40 CEST    104km/62.5km to go
Armstrong is now chatting to Tosatto at the back of the peloton. Everyone wants to know what happened between him and Simeoni earlier.

The weather has cleared at least, and the roads are dry now.

15:44 CEST    108km/58.5km to go
The six leaders know that they've got this stage in the bag, with only two more climbs to come in the last 60 km. They're approaching the feed zone at km 113 and then will tackle the Cat. 3 Cote des Crozets.

Gap: 9'18 and increasing. Ekimov working on the front of the bunch with Noval on his wheel.

15:48 CEST    111km/55.5km to go
The peloton is navigating the very technical (and verdant) descent off the Jura mountains. There aren't too many folks out to watch as they race through the small villages. It's very picturesque.

9'54 between the bunch and the break.

15:52 CEST    113km/53.5km to go
Ullrich is sitting behind the blue train in about 10th wheel, pedalling a gear that looks the same as Rolf Aldag's in front of him. i.e. about 80 rpm.

The leaders have reached the feed zone now in Lavans-les-Saint-Claude, all of them grabbing musettes (feed bags) with delicious and nutritious snacks therein.

15:55 CEST    115km/51.5km to go
Another reader has suggested that Lance may have been attempting to persuade Simeoni to purchase a Livestrong wristband for the LA Foundation. Hmm...

Simeoni is now chatting to Ludovic Martin at the back of the bunch as the peloton rides across the Tacon river in St Claude.

10'34. Vive le difference.

15:59 CEST    117km/49.5km to go
Fofonov does a turn in the break, which is still working pretty well. No-one is doing long turns at the front. Juan Miguel Mercado is the best climber here, so he might have a go on one of the climbs on the run into the finish. The Cat. 4 at 13 km to go presents a good opportunity.

16:05 CEST    118km/48.5km to go
The peloton passes through the feed zone with USPS on the front 11'08 behind the six leaders. USPS soigneur Freddy Viaene hands out five feed bags to the leading riders. That's quick work!

McEwen is right near the front, just ahead of Armstrong, Ullrich and Basso.

Voeckler is at the back again.

16:10 CEST    122km/44.5km to go
CN readers have sent in many tips on what was said between Simeoni and Armstrong during the early part of the stage:

"They were comparing notes in private on the lack of livestock seen so far on the stage: cattle, goats, sheeps, marmots or Alpine goat-monkeys!"

"Lance has encouraged Simeoni to come back to the TDF next year since he'll probably focus on the Giro instead?"

"Maybe Lance was trying to get Simeoni to buy some Sheryl Crow cd's?"

(The gap has finally stabilised at around 11 minutes with 44 km to go)

16:14 CEST    124km/42.5km to go
The leaders are now climbing the day's penultimate climb, the cote des Crozets, a Cat. 3 ascent averaging 3.7% for 6.3 km. They're still all rolling over smoothly, while behind the peloton is sitting contentedly behind the US Postal service train.

A reader has mentioned that it's David Etxebarria birthday today. Happy birthday David!

16:20 CEST    126.5km/40km to go
The peloton is now at the top of long ascent that precludes the Cote des Crozets. Meanwhile, the six leaders (Fofonov, Garcia Acosta, Joly, Flecha, Lotz and Mercado) are getting close to the top. A fan with a "Made in Jura" flag pursues them for a short time, but they're going too fast.

Noval is looking bored and a bit tired on the front of the peloton while he does his job.

Gap is 11'07 and stable.

16:22 CEST    127km/39.5km to go
Mercado leads Joly, Lotz and Flecha over for the points on the Crozets, as a thin crowd of spectators cheer them on. The next 40 km is nearly all downhill, apart from a Cat. 4 climb with 13 km to go.

16:27 CEST    130km/36.5km to go
Noval, Beltran and Hincapie are on the front of the bunch leading the rest of the boys in blue and Armstrong in yellow. Ullrich is up there of course, concentrating hard.

Meanwhile the leaders are 10'47 ahead of the bunch with just over 35 km to go. Mercado drops back to the Quick.Step car to talk with Wilfried Peeters about the strategy for the final. He must attack on the last climb.

16:28 CEST   
It's also Rik Verbrugghe's birthday today. Happy Birthday Rik!

16:32 CEST    134km/32.5km to go
Just to clear up any confusion among our dear readers: Filippo Simeoni (Domina Vacanze) is the rider who is suing Lance, and is also the rider who was in the break earlier (with Lance). Not Gilberto Simoni, who has no lawsuit planned against Armstrong.

The peloton reaches the top of the Crozets with Hincapie on the front, some 10'30 behind the breakaways.

16:34 CEST   
We apologise again for the lack of animal references in today's ungulating stage. There's too many trees to get enough cows near the parcours. The organisers clearly need to address this next year.

16:36 CEST    137km/29.5km to go
Thomas Voeckler (Brioches) seems to be enjoying the back of the peloton, as he's been seen there a lot today. He only has 45 seconds lead over Vladimir Karpets for the young rider's classification, so will probably get cleaned up (sorry) by Karpets in tomorrow's TT.

10'22 with 29 km to go. It's still dry and the weather should be kind for the rest of the stage, despite the doom laden forecasts of hail earlier.

16:39 CEST    139km/27.5km to go
The leaders are now 5 km from the second sprint in Clairvaux les Lacs.

As mentioned previously in the coverage, Sébastien Joly has basically fallen on his sword in terms of becoming lanterne rouge by getting in the break. He'll never get that 10 mins back on Jimmy Casper, who is the current lanterne rouge.

16:42 CEST    142.5km/24km to go
Flecha asks for his team car. A race moto offers him a water bottle, but he wants more than that. He's chatting to Ferretti now. Flecha has come close to stage wins a few times in this year's Tour, without quite getting there. His best place is 2nd in the stage won by Moncoutié (Stage 11).

16:44 CEST    145km/21.5km to go
Joly takes the sprint points in Clairvaux-les-Lacs ahead of Mercado and Flecha. That's more bonus seconds. Maybe he's planning a late charge up the general classification? He was 3:42:24 behind Armstrong at the start. With today's 10 minute advantage... <calculation in progress>...he's going to need more than that.

16:45 CEST    141km/25.5km to go
The tension is mounting in the break as they go under 25 km to go. Fofonov tightens his shoe straps, Lotz does some back stretches. Who will be the first to attack?

16:47 CEST   
Note: Lanterne rouge = red lantern = last rider on GC

16:49 CEST    144km/22.5km to go
The pace has definitely picked up in the break, which is still working well together with 18 km to the finish. All six know that they can win today, but only one of them will. Rabobank has Lotz in the break, and they will be particularly keen for a stage win. Garcia Acosta's Illes Balears team also hasn't won a stage. All the other four teams have (CA, Fassa, Cofidis and Quick.Step).

16:50 CEST    150km/16.5km to go
The crowds are thickening as the riders get towards the finish of today's stage.

The peloton goes under 25 km to go, a long way behind (well 10'39 is a long way), still led by the blue train.

16:52 CEST    151.5km/15km to go
Joly makes the first attack!

Mercado and Lotz bridge the gap. The climb is just about to start. The other three close the gap as Mercado counters. But Garcia Acosta and Fofonov are right on him. Flecha is suffering. 15 km to go.

16:52 CEST    152km/14.5km to go
The climb (Cote de Nogna) steepens as Mercado puts in a big attack and he is gone. Fofonov reacts rather late in the piece and the other four get on his wheel.

16:53 CEST    152.5km/14km to go
Mercado is going as hard as he can, using the climb to his advantage. He has 10 seconds already.

Flecha does a turn on the front as Garcia Acosta winds up to full speed and bursts up the road after Mercado. Fofonov also tries again.

16:55 CEST    153km/13.5km to go
Garcia Acosta is closing the gap to Mercado, while Fofonov, Joly, Flecha and Lotz are chasing behind.

Garcia Acosta goes straight past Mercado, who gets his wheel.

The others look gone for all money. Flecha takes off, with Lotz and Fofonov in pursuit. Joly is gone.

16:57 CEST    154.5km/12km to go
Over the top of the climb. In front we have José V. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears) and Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) with a 15 second gap on Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Dmitri Fofonov (Cofidis) and Marc Lotz (Rabobank).

Seb Joly is dropped.

The points on the climb went to Garcia Acosta from Mercado and Flecha.

16:57 CEST    156km/10.5km to go
The three chasers are working well together to try and close the 18 second gap. The last 10 km is all downhill. Garcia Acosta is a good man to gave in front. He won't be getting much draft from Mercado.

16:58 CEST    156.5km/10km to go
Flecha looks pretty knackered as he takes his turn with Fofonov and Lotz. Joly is chasing them at about 50 metres.

But they're not making any ground on Garcia Acosta and Mercado who go under 10 km to go.

17:00 CEST    157.5km/9km to go
Joly has almost got onto the back of the three chasers, who are 21 seconds behind the leading pair.

The descent gets steeper now and the front two are flying.

Joly closes the gap, but they're racing for third.

17:01 CEST    158km/8.5km to go
Mercado hammers his turn with Garcia Acosta looking good behind him. The Illes Balears rider is the more powerful, and should be able to beat Mercado in a sprint. The last km is slightly downhill.

17:02 CEST    160km/6.5km to go
Joly, Flecha, Fofonov and Lotz are 26 seconds behind Garcia Acosta and Mercado with 6 km to go.

17:03 CEST    161.5km/5km to go
The leaders are on the outskirts of Lons-le-Saunier now, cooperating well. Mercado looks good.

Lotz does a big turn in the chase group but it's 29 seconds and increasing. 5 km to go.

17:04 CEST    162.5km/4km to go
Mercado looks across at Garcia Acosta, who comes through for his turn. 4 km to go and they have a substantial half a minute lead. It's clear that these two riders are the strongest today, as the four chasers aren't exactly hanging around.

17:05 CEST    163.5km/3km to go
At 3 km to go it's down to 25 seconds. But the lead pair should have enough to stay away.

17:06 CEST    164.5km/2km to go
The chasers have not given up - 22 seconds. If Garcia Acosta and Mercado start playing games...

17:07 CEST    165km/1.5km to go
Garcia Acosta comes through for another big turn with 2 km to go, Mercado on his wheel. Joly does a big turn in the break and gaps Fofonov. Flecha and Lotz are there.

It's 15 seconds.

17:07 CEST    165.5km/1km to go
The leaders tackle the two roundabouts with Garcia Acosta driving all the way. 1 km to go....

17:08 CEST   
Mercado is forced to come through with 1 km to go, looking back the whole time. There is a fast cat and mouse game going on. Garcia Acosta takes over with 800m

17:09 CEST    166.5km/0km to go
Garcia Acosta looks back at Mercado, they have enough to hold off the others. Mercado surprises Garcia Acosta with 300m to go and wins the sprint!!!! Garcia Acosta looked back but Mercado was already gone. He couldn't get round his smaller companion. Nice victory for Mercado. Garcia Acosta nearly broke the handlebars in frustration at losing that.
Fofonov gets third in front of Joly, Lotz and Flecha.

Casar has attacked the peloton in pursuit of white jersey seconds. But the sprinters teams are getting organised.

Casar is caught as the tempo increases. There's points up for grabs for 7th place.

It's Lotto-Domo and T-Mobile working in front. O'Grady, McEwen, Zabel are all up there. Simeoni is still last wheel.

O'Grady gets the leadout from Casper, but it's too early and Hushovd wins the sprint ahead of McEwen, Hondo, O'Grady, Da Cruz and Zabel. That will give Hushovd a few more points over McEwen in his pursuit of the green jersey, but McEwen still has a 10 point advantage.

That's all from us today and we hope you enjoyed our live coverage of the 18th stage of the Tour. Tomorrow is the final time trial in Besançon, and it will be an interesting tussle between Lance and Jan for the stage win, and Basso, Klöden and Jan for second place on GC. Join us from 11:00 CEST for our patented live coverage.


1 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Quick Step-Davitamon                   4.04.03
2 José V. Garcia Acosta (Spa) Illes Balears - Banesto  
3 Dmitri Fofonov (Kaz) Cofidis - Le Crédit Par Téléphone              0.11  
4 Sébastien Joly (Fra) Crédit Agricole                          
5 Marc Lotz (Ned) Rabobank                                 
6 Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Fassa Bortolo   
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole                                 11.29
8 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto-Domo                      
9 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Gerolsteiner                  
10 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis - Le Crédit Par Téléphone  
11 Carlos Dacruz (Fra) Fdjeux.com                            
12 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile Team                        

General classification after stage 18
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) US Postal p/b Berry Floor                 78.20.28
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC                                           4.09
3 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                  5.11
4 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                     8.08
5 Jose Azevedo (Por) US Postal p/b Berry Floor                       10.41
6 Francisco Mancebo Pérez (Spa) Illes Balears - Banesto              11.45
7 Georg Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner                                 12.56
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                       15.14
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Rabobank                                     16.25
10 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Alessio-Bianchi                           16.33

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