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92nd Tour de France - GT

France, July 2-24, 2005

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Stage 15 - Sunday, July 17: Lézat-sur-Lèze - Saint-Lary Soulan (Pla d'Adet), 205.5 km

Commentary by Jeff Jones and Shane Stokes, with additional reporting from Anthony Tan and Hedwig Kröner

Live report

Live coverage starts: 11:10 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:15 CEST

Stage 15 profile
Click for stage map

11:16 CEST   
Welcome back to the Hindenburg IV, which is floating lazily above the start in Lézat-sur-Lèze before the kick off of the 15th stage of the Tour de France. Today's stage is the Grande étape pyrenéen from Lézat-sur-Lèze to St-Lary-Soulan, over 205.5 km and six categorised climbs. They are:

Col du Portet d'Aspet (souvenir Casartelli) (Cat. 2, km 85, 5.9 km climb at 6.9 %)
Col de Menté (Cat. 1, km 100.5, 7.0 km climb at 8.6%)
Col du Portillon (Cat. 1, km 137.5, 8.4 km climb at 7.3%)
Col de Peyresourde (Cat. 1, km 162, 15.3 km climb at 7%)
Col de Val-Louron-Azet (Cat. 1, km 182.5, 7.4 km climb at 8.3%)
Saint-Lary-Soulan (Pla-d'Adet) (HC, km 205.5 (finish), 10.3 km climb at 8.3%)

There are also two intermediate sprints today, at Clermont (km 37), and Argein (km 69.5), which means that the sprinters interested in the green jersey won't have to climb any mountains before the bonus sprints.

After yesterday's fireworks en route to Ax-3-Domaines, where T-Mobile took the race to Lance Armstrong and the Discovery Channel team, today will be a very tough stage with so little time to recover from yesterday's efforts. In stage 14 we saw a very good T-Mobile, which managed to successfully isolate Armstrong from his teammates with two major climbs to go. In past years, this has almost never happened - Armstrong has always had at least one teammate to help him out in case something went wrong. But this year, Discovery has been a bit lacking in that dept.

Fortunately for them, Lance is the strongest rider in the race and rode very well yesterday, putting time into all of his rivals. At the end of the day, that's what counts.

11:18 CEST    5km/200.5km to go
Today's stage got underway at 11:10am, and it's been a fairly brisk start, as usual. Weather conditions today are warmish and overcast again, with temperatures expected to reach 30 degrees. At the moment, it's about 24 degrees.

Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) has made the first attack.

Click for larger image
Armstrong salutes
Photo: © AFP

11:25 CEST   
Today's stage is also the one that Lance Armstrong wants to win most of all, as it's almost exactly 10 years ago that his friend and teammate Fabio Casartelli died while descending the Portet d'Aspet. The race will cross over this climb today (km 85) and will pass the Casartelli memorial on the descent, which is about 4 km from the summit. You can be sure that Armstrong, and many others, will be thinking of Casartelli then. Many riders in the peloton are wearing white sweatbands with "Fabio" printed on them today.

In Stage 13 in 2001, over a very similar course to that of today, Armstrong captured the maillot jaune after winning on Pla d'Adet, 1'00 ahead of his rival Jan Ullrich. The latter actually crashed on the descent of the Peyresourde, but Armstrong did not take advantage of the situation, and Ullrich rejoined in time for the final climb, where Armstrong was simply too good.

Armstrong will certainly be wanting to repeat that performance, especially as he hasn't yet won a stage in this year's race.

11:26 CEST    13km/192.5km to go
Dumoulin has been caught, and the attacks continue in the early part of the stage. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) was another to try, without success.

11:33 CEST    17km/188.5km to go
It's still all together at the 17 km mark, after attacks by Brochard, then Botero, Martinez and Contador have all been caught.

11:39 CEST    21km/184.5km to go
After 20 km, we have a new attack with 10 riders: José Luis Arrieta (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne), Santiago Botero (Phonak Hearing Systems), Alberto Contador and Marcos Serrano (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Salvatore Commesso (Lampre-Caffita), Sandy Casar (Française Des Jeux) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

The group has a 10 second lead.

11:41 CEST    23km/182.5km to go
The Rabobank team is chasing the break hard, and the lead drops to 8 seconds.2

11:44 CEST    26km/179.5km to go
The break has now been caught after a hard chase. The riders are about 10 km from the first sprint.

11:48 CEST    30km/175.5km to go
The peloton has split after catching the latest break, and Klöden, Hushovd, and Leipheimer are in the second group, chasing.

Boogerd has attacked now.

11:52 CEST    33km/172.5km to go
Boogerd now has 15 seconds on the peloton, and has been caught by another 13 riders.

The second part of the peloton, with Leipheimer, Klöden, and Hushovd, has rejoined the first.

11:59 CEST    35km/170.5km to go
With Boogerd in the break are: George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile Team), Erik Dekker and Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), Oscar Pereiro Sio (Phonak Hearing Systems), Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), Laurent Brochard and Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Alessandro Bertolini (Domina Vacanze), Iker Camano (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mikel Astarloza (Ag2r-Prevoyance). The gap is still 15 seconds to the peloton, as the first intermediate sprint approaches.

None of these riders are remotely threatening for the GC (Pereiro is at 24'40, Hincapie at 24'59), or the green, or the polka dot jerseys.

12:00 CEST    38km/167.5km to go
Davis takes out the sprint in Clermont ahead of Caucchioli and Astarloza. The break still holds a slender 15 second lead.

12:05 CEST    41km/164.5km to go
And, just like that, the breakaway has 4'00 on the peloton. Obviously, the Powers That Be have decided that this break is OK to let go.

12:13 CEST    48km/157.5km to go
The break is now 4'40 ahead of the uninterested peloton, and will almost certainly mop up the next sprint points at Argein (km 69.5). Interestingly, there are no CSC riders in the break, but there are three Rabos, one Discovery, and one T-Mobile. These riders will try to stay ahead for as long as possible so they can help their teammates if and when they come through on the final climbs. You saw that yesterday with Nardello doing a bit of work for Ullrich on the Pailhères. Even if it's only for a kilometre, it all helps.

12:22 CEST    55km/150.5km to go
The gap continues to grow as the break rolls along, now 7'20 ahead of the peloton. Interestingly, five of these riders (and all three of the Rabobankers) have won individual Tour stages before.

12:27 CEST    60km/145.5km to go
46.8 kilometres have been covered in the first hour of racing. Fast, but not as fast as some of the Tour stages. The break is now approaching the 60 km mark.

200 metres to go.
Photo ©: Anthony Tan
Click for larger image

12:29 CEST   
Chris Brewer, from Behind the Blue Curtain, has checked in with his pre-stage report:

Speaking with Discovery Channel Assistant DS Dirk Demol, he confirmed what most suspect. 'Today's a tough day, but I was watching the final ascent highlights on Eurosport last night. I saw a lot of guys who were really on the limit when they crossed the finish line. There will of course be the usual attacks from the beginning, but I expect the GC riders will await till the second to last or the last climb to attack.'

12:34 CEST    65km/140.5km to go
We spoke to Discovery Channel's George Hincapie this morning at the start in Lezat-sur-Leze. "Today's stage is the most difficult...there are six big climbs whereas yesterday there were only two. So today is much more difficult, a lot harder."

Lance hasn't won a stage up till now, will he have extra motivation today? "I think his main concern is to try to win the Tour. And if a stage win comes, then we will take it."

Do you think these last Pyrenean stages are special to Lance? "Well every day is his last one – alpine stages, Pyrenees stages, Tour stages. I think his main goal is stay focussed and not think too much about that."

12:37 CEST    66km/139.5km to go
The gap is now up to 10'20 as the break enjoys a bit of freedom. Do I hear the cry, "Let 'em go, they'll die in the hills"? [note to self - must stop using that]

12:42 CEST    70km/135.5km to go
The big bad break reaches the second sprint at Argein with an 11'40 lead on the peloton. They'll need another 13 minutes for Pereiro to take the virtual maillot jaune, so there's no panic behind.

12:44 CEST    72km/133.5km to go
In the peloton, Ullrich has punctured, but is back with the group after a wheel change.

The second sprint was won by Alessandro Bertolini ahead of Pietro Caucchioli and Allan Davis. None of these riders are remotely threatening for the green jersey, so these sprints are more for the team coffers.

12:51 CEST    75km/130.5km to go
The break is now 13 minutes ahead of the bunch, as they near the Portet d'Aspet.

12:57 CEST    80km/125.5km to go
The lead of the break continues to grow, and it's now 14'25!

The riders in the break again: George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile Team), Michael Boogerd, Erik Dekker and Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), Oscar Pereiro Sio (Phonak Hearing Systems), Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), Laurent Brochard and Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Alessandro Bertolini (Domina Vacanze), Iker Camano (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mikel Astarloza (Ag2r-Prevoyance).

13:03 CEST    82km/123.5km to go
The 14 man break is on the Col du Portet d'Aspet, a 5.9 km switchbacked climb averaging 6.9%. The Casartelli memorial is 4 km down the other side, at the same point that Casartelli crashed in 1995.

13:05 CEST    83km/122.5km to go
The gap is still going up, not coming down. It's 15'24 now between the break and the peloton, which is still just rolling along.

13:10 CEST    84.5km/121km to go
Erik Dekker is riding hard on the Portet d'Aspet, with Pereiro on his wheel. Kroon and Boogerd are next in line. The last time check to the peloton was 16'10. Padrnos and Noval are leading the yellow jersey in the bunch.

13:19 CEST   
The break has 17 minutes on the Discovery led bunch as it reaches the top of the Portet d'Aspet. That's quite a lead!

Click for larger image
Casartelli's memorial
Photo: © AFP

13:24 CEST    93.5km/112km to go
Dekker took the points on the Portet d'Aspet, ahead of Caucchioli, Boogerd, Pereiro, Kroon, and Brochard.

They pass the Casartelli memorial on the descent, and are now on the Cat. 1 Col de Mente, a steep 7.0 km climb at 8.6%. The gap seems to have stabilised at 17 minutes, and is now coming down as plenty of riders are getting dropped by the bunch. Beloki and Bäckstedt are in trouble already on the Aspet.

13:27 CEST    93.5km/112km to go
The break takes a short descent and is now on the Col de Mente proper. Hincapie is not doing too much work.

The peloton is still on the Portet d'Aspet, at 17'05.

13:29 CEST   
Oscar Sevilla is in a bit of bother on the back of the break on the Mente.

13:30 CEST   
The main bunch, led by Noval and Padrnos, passes over the summit of the Portet d'Aspet, 17'24 behind the break.

13:33 CEST    95km/110.5km to go
Sevilla is back with the break, riding a fairly big gear. Bertogliati is suffering to hold on though.

13:38 CEST   
We spoke to T-Mobile's DS Mario Kummer about the slightly bizarre tactics towards the end of yesterday's stage, particularly when Klöden and Ullrich "chased down" Vinokourov's little attack at the foot of the final climb.

Kummer explained that he wanted the team to keep the pace high: "The situation was that nobody reacted behind so we decided to put on the tempo. That's how this situation came about."

On the second last climb, the others knew Vino had troubles. "Yes exactly. Vino's performances were excellent before, but he didn't have the legs like, say, at the Galibier, where he had a super day, so as the others didn't react, we had to. He was out to tickle the others a bit, but unfortunately it didn't work."

There you have it.

13:39 CEST    98km/107.5km to go
The gap is still going up - 18'10! This good be a stage for one of the Rabobank riders or Pereiro.

Botero has rejoined the bunch after suffering a bit on the Portet d'Aspet.

13:41 CEST   
The peloton passes a few horses near the Col de Mente, which look more interested in the grass than the Tour de France. Priorities.

Noval and Padrnos are still leading the bunch, riding a very steady tempo with Armstrong in fifth wheel.

13:42 CEST   
We talked to Magnus Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi), who hasn't been well for the last few days. "I had a really rough day yesterday with stomach problems and my throat isn't all that good either. Today it's a little bit better but still not good. I'll just struggle through this stage."

13:47 CEST   
The break nears the top of the Col de Mente, with Erik Dekker riding a solid tempo again. He is obviously trying to set up Boogerd for a stage win later today.

13:49 CEST    100.5km/105km to go
Dekker and Boogerd are chased by two lunatics in polka dotted clown suits as they cross the summit of the Col de Mente. Dekker takes the points from Kroon, Boogerd, Pereiro, Caucchioli, and Sevilla.

Menchov and McGee are in trouble in the peloton.

13:52 CEST   
Brochard, Astarloza, Camano, and Bertolini have to chase back on after the climb.

In the peloton, Garzelli is in a bit of bother as well.

13:52 CEST    114km/91.5km to go
The descent of the Col de Mente is steep and hairpinned, and the Bouygues car squeals its tyres as it sits behind the break.

13:59 CEST   
Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues) is being shelled from the peloton on the steep slopes of the Col de Mente. McGee is back here too, looking very cooked, head down, swerving from side to side (although deliberately).

14:00 CEST    111km/94.5km to go
The break is in the feed zone at Saint-Beat, still enjoying an 18 minute advantage over the Armstrong group.

14:05 CEST    113km/92.5km to go
Oscar Sevilla sculls a coke can as the temperatures rise in the valley. Hincapie seems to have a full bladder, and performs some on the bike relief.

Philippe Gilbert is dropped by the peloton, which is near the summit of the Col de Mente, led by six Discovery riders, including Armstrong. The bunch is still fairly large though - well over 100 riders.

14:08 CEST    118km/87.5km to go
The peloton now rides past the four clowns in polka-dots, who manage not to get run over. Padrnos and Noval lead the bunch over the top, 17'57 behind the break. Voeckler is still there, on the back.

Rasmussen is spotted (hah, pun!) squeezing a carton of Extran down his throat. "I hope to feel better today," he told Cyclingnews this morning. "Yesterday was a difficult stage, but I limited my losses so it was OK."

14:09 CEST    120km/85.5km to go
The peloton snakes down the descent of the Mente, not taking too many risks on these steep hairpins.

The leaders are nearly at the Spanish border - we go into Spanish road/airspace for a few km today.

14:12 CEST   
Voeckler has punctured on the descent and is signalling for his team car.

14:14 CEST   
Voeckler stops on a corner where there is a yellow clad cheerleader, but doesn't have much time for a chat. He gets a new wheel and he's on his way again, chasing.

14:23 CEST    125km/80.5km to go
The gap is now up to 18'44 as the peloton passes through the feed zone at Saint-Beat. Armstrong gets out the route profile and has a look at it, his "Fabio" wristband clearly visible. Four climbs to come. He says he feels pretty good.

Like yesterday, the gap might be too big to pull back, because there are some handy climbers up front. Caucchioli is good, as is Pereiro. Don't underestimate Boogerd, Hincapie, and even Sevilla.

14:24 CEST   
Beloki is trying to chase back onto the peloton, all alone.

14:25 CEST   
Beloki's going to have a hard time making the time limit today - he's 22'50 behind already, and four minutes behind the break. No-one to help. That could be an exit for the rider who finished third on this stage in 2001.

14:30 CEST    130.5km/75km to go
The break hits the third climb of the day, the Cat. 1 Col du Portillon, and 8.4 km climb at 7.3 %. They have 18'52, down from 19'11.

Brochard empties a bidon of water over his head, as he sits behind Davis. All 14 are still together with Pereiro riding tempo.

14:33 CEST   
The peloton rides past a dam on the Garonne river.

CSC has now taken up the chase with Arvesen and Roberts. That's a necessary change, if the Others want to take the race to Armstrong.

14:34 CEST    132.5km/73km to go
The break is out of Spanish territory, as it tackles the Portillon.

The peloton is now strung out, reducing the gap to 18'23.

14:35 CEST   
Basso punctures - that will not do the CSC chase much good. He's back now.

14:37 CEST    133km/72.5km to go
Discovery gets back on the front but at an easy pace, letting Basso and co. catch back on. That wheel change took a while. He's in the caravan, and will rejoin the peloton very quickly. Gap is 18'06.

Dekker is dropping off the back of the break, 4 km from the summit of the Portillon.

14:41 CEST   
CSC is back on the front of the bunch, having given up 30 seconds or so to the break after Basso's puncture. They ride past a supermarche in Bossost, which is selling pottery.

Astarloza is now in trouble in the break, 3.6 km from the summit of the Portillon. The Basque asks his director what to do: "Ride faster!"

14:41 CEST   
Pineau is next to be shelled from the break. It's Kroon setting tempo.

14:44 CEST    135.5km/70km to go
And then there were 10...Bertogliati goes out the back of the break, and makes his way back to Pineau and Astarloza. Dekker is a fair way behind now.

14:46 CEST   
Chris Brewer, from Behind the Blue Curtain, reports from the finish:

"Hot and windy, that's the simple description atop Pla d'Adet. The wind is blowing so hard that rocks and trash are being blown into the hundreds of parked cars at the top, and small tornado-like whirlwinds are quite frequent as well. Orange is definitely the color of the day as the Basques are out in the thousands and already very fired up.

"The climb up Pla d'Adet is not as vicious as the say second half of Port de Pailhères yesterday with its many switchbacks, the main thing today is that 1] you've already ridden 5 major climbs and 2] then final 10.7 km in the stage are just unrelenting. And unlike many mountaintop finishes where the leader gets a bit of a break at the summit, the final 500m here are possibly the hardest on the climb in terms of steepness."

14:50 CEST    136km/69.5km to go
A sprinters bus is starting to form on the Portillon as CSC's Luke Roberts sets a hard tempo. McGee is still here, and should be able to find the bus. Moncoutié is also here, and Cioni and Garzelli are suffering.

The gap is down to 17'20 - still a little large given the distance to the finish.

14:50 CEST   
Bertolini is in trouble in the break, but is hanging on as Kroon drives it towards the summit.

14:53 CEST   
Bertolini drops off with 500m to the summit, but should catch them on the descent. 16'30 is the gap as Sorensen does the tempo making for CSC.

Astarloza, Pineau and Bertogliati are together, fighting their way up the Portillon. No sign of Dekker, who dropped off before.

14:53 CEST    137km/68.5km to go
Kroon, Boogerd, Pereiro and it looks like Davis were first over the top of the Col de Portillon.

Bertolini catches on on the descent, which is nicely paved.

14:55 CEST   
Those left in the break: George Hincapie (Discovery Channel), Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile Team), Michael Boogerd and Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), Oscar Pereiro Sio (Phonak Hearing Systems), Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), Laurent Brochard (Bouygues Telecom), Alessandro Bertolini (Domina Vacanze), Iker Camano (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

Chasing them at 1'20 are Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Mikel Astarloza (Ag2r-Prevoyance), then Erik Dekker at an unknown distance, then the peloton at 16'20.

14:57 CEST    139km/66.5km to go
The results of the climb: 1. Karsten Kroon, 2. Michael Boogerd, 3. Oscar Pereiro, 4. Pietro Caucchioli, 5. Allan Davis, 6. Oscar Sevilla.

Sorensen continues to hammer the peloton on the climb.

15:02 CEST    145km/60.5km to go
The peloton is slowly thinning down under the impetus of CSC. Maybe 40 riders left now, with bits and pieces chasing and/or going backwards. Beat Zberg, Garzelli (again), Mayo, Da Cruz, Noval, Padrnos, Hushovd are all gone.

David Herrero has become the first rider to abandon from Euskaltel.

15:06 CEST    146km/59.5km to go
The leaders pass through Saint-Mamet with 16'00 plus on the peloton, which is led by Sastre and Sorensen of CSC. Popovych is at the back of this group, getting bottles.

15:08 CEST   
Sastre drops off the front of the peloton, work maybe done for the day. At the back, Steinhauser is getting bottles for his T-Mobile teammates.

15:09 CEST    149.7km/55.8km to go
The leaders are starting the cat 1. Col du Peyresourde. Bertolini looks to be in a bit of difficulty and goes back to his team car for refreshments. He's back on now. Alan Davis is sitting second-from-back in the break while, up front, the two Rabo boys are driving it onwards.

Back in the bunch, Savoldelli (Discovery) has punctured.

15:14 CEST    151.7km/53.8km to go
We've checked up some interesting stats about the Col du Portet d'Aspet stage of the Tour. Every time the race has visited the climb since Lance Armstrong starting winning his Tours de France, the Texan has been fired up by the chance to pay tribute to his fallen team-mate Fabio Casartelli. The race passed over the climb in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. Armstrong has won all bar one of those stages, with Simoni's victory in 2003 being the exception.

Lance was below form that year, so that one slipped from his grasp.

Interestingly, French riders were first to the top of the climb on each of those four years. Laurent Roux, Laurent Jalabert, Richard Virenque and Sylvain Chavanel were the riders in question.

15:17 CEST    152.8km/52.7km to go
With today being the tenth anniversary of Casartelli's death, Armstrong might have been expected to go for today's stage. Especially as he hasn't won one yet. However, the gap is still over 16 minutes so it looks extremely unlikely today.

Kroon has blown. He smiles at the camera but his time at the front is done. Bertolini, Davis, Camano went before he did, leaving six up front. They are Hincapie, Brochard, Sevilla, Pereiro, Caucchioli and Boogerd.

15:20 CEST    153.6km/51.9km to go
Sevilla is now at the back of the break. He was seen as a possible future Tour winner a few years ago but hasn't been anywhere near that level for a couple of seasons. He's 34th overall, 37'27 down on Armstrong.

CSC are still driving the bunch along while, up front, Boogerd goes back to his team car for a chat and a drink.

15:24 CEST    155.3km/50.2km to go
Davis, Bertolini and Camano are 0'26 down. The bunch are heading through Luchon now, with Sørensen leading Azevedo, Savoldelli and Popovych.

Pereiro is at the front of the break, with Boogerd next. Hincapie is sitting at the back, looking comfortable. He's under no real obligation to contribute as his team-mate is leading overall.

Davis is now leaving Bertolini and Camano behind.

15:29 CEST    156.8km/48.7km to go
Sastre is digging in now, driving the bunch along and putting those down the back in trouble. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) is second in line, waiting his turn. There are only about 20 riders left in the peloton now.

Kessler takes over, then swings off quickly. Sastre didn't get much of a break. He's hurting now but he'll drive it as long as he can.

Ullrich is sitting about ten back, impassive behind those shades. Armstrong's fifth in line, sitting behind the white jersey of Popovych.

15:32 CEST    157.3km/48.2km to go
Savoldelli has been dropped. It's all go now...the screw is being turned.

There are approximately 22 guys left, although this is prone to change ; )

They are, in no real order: Armstrong, Popovych, Azevedo, Rubiera, Ullrich, Klöden, Vinokourov, Basso, Landis, Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Mazzoleni, Moreau, Piepoli, Moreau, Kashechkin, Horner, Mancebo, Contador, Jaksche, Evans, Sastre. No sign of Julich.

15:40 CEST    159.3km/46.2km to go
Back to the front...if that makes sense. Pereiro is leading, then Caucchioli comes through. Davis is 50 seconds back and looking rather lonely, chasing on his own.

Armstrong looks focussed. Basso's on his wheel, showing a fraction more discomfort. The leaders are 3.28 km from the summit of the Peyresourde.

Sastre has gone backwards now...he did a lot of work there. Now Discovery take over. Evans is in trouble and also goes south. Further back, Guerini is some way down on the Armstrong group, so Ullrich, Klöden and Vinokourov are missing a good team-mate today. He probably did too much yesterday.

15:44 CEST    161km/44.5km to go
Davis is 0'56 back and the peloton are 12'30. Azevedo is setting the pace with Rubiera, Popovych and Armstrong in close attendance.

Davis is doing pretty well for a sprinter. He gets some grub in..some hard kilometres lie ahead.

Hincapie is at the back of the break again. Dekker's been caught by the bunch, making him the first of the original break to do so.

15:47 CEST    161.6km/43.9km to go
The break pass by someone playing the bagpipes. They don't seem too disturbed by it ; )

Armstrong's looking impassive. Landis is looking wet, coz he's just emptied a whole bottle over his head. Ullrich is shadowing Armstrong and also has his best poker face on. He and Basso have their tops open to the waist...it's pretty hot out there again today.

15:52 CEST    166.5km/39km to go
The six leaders crest the top of the climb together. Brochard sprints for the points, followed by Boogerd, Pereiro, Sevilla, Hincapie and Caucchioli. Davis is next, 1'09 behind. He looks stuffed.

The Discovery-led peloton are still down the mountain and can see the summit in the (far) distance. It's going to be hard to take back the leaders.

Horner and Vinokourov are sitting at the back of the bunch, which contains all of the top ten riders on GC. Jaksche, 11th this morning, has been dropped but he isn't too far back.

Vinokourov has ridden up alongside Ullrich and has given him bottles. Looks like he has forgiven him for the chase yesterday ; )

15:57 CEST    170.8km/34.7km to go
No sooner said... Jaksche gets back on with Evans.

The break are speeding down the descent, led by Pereiro and Brochard. If Armstrong can't win, he'll be hoping that Hincapie does the job instead. He's been riding strongly in the mountains, despite being known as a Classics man.

Wilfried Cretskens of Quick.Step has called it a day and packed the race.

Rasmussen is alongside Armstrong while further back, Leipheimer signals for his team car. Their group is pretty bunched, suggesting the pace has eased somewhat.

16:04 CEST    174.1km/31.4km to go
Rubiera leads, from Azevedo. They have just crossed the summit of the Peyresourde and are 11'28 behind the Boogerd group.

The Col de Val Louron-Azet and the final climb of Saint Larry Soulan are all that remain today.

The break are rolling through nicely (except Hincapie). They are passing by the picturesque Lac Genos-Loudenvielle, and have just started the penultimate climb. It is 7.4 kilometres in length, 8.3% average steepness and is a Cat 1. Pereiro leads and looks smooth.

16:10 CEST    176.8km/28.7km to go
Sevilla looked in trouble but has clawed his way back on. Hincapie doesn't seem so comfortable now.

Brochard attacked but got brought back. He leads from Caucchioli. Pereiro goes through and gets a small gap. The break regroups but Sevilla's definitely under pressure, drifting a few lengths off the back.

16:14 CEST    177.5km/28km to go
The six leaders are five kilometres from the top of the climb. The peloton has swelled in size, somewhat, and are over 12 minutes back. So one of these leading riders looks certain to win the stage.

Pereiro leads from Boogerd. The Phonak rider looks strong, doing a lot of turns on the front.

16:16 CEST    178.4km/27.1km to go
Savoldelli got back on and is now riding on the front of the Armstrong group. They haven't started the climb yet... ah, here we go.

Julich and Guerini are back too. Sastre leads on the climb now.

16:21 CEST    179.7km/25.8km to go
Julich's just cracked and is going backwards now. Meanwhile, at the front of the group, Guerini is driving it. He's dropped Klöden.

Zubeldia's lost contact, as has Goubert (Ag2R). Contador is next to succumb, then Jaksche.

Evans and Moreau are at the back of the group, the latter with his tongue hanging out. He's known as 'The Dog' (or rather, Le Chien) for this reason.

Vinokourov is leading the bunch and looking energetic. Guerini's now blown, as has Rubiera.

16:22 CEST    180.3km/25.2km to go
Evans and Moreau have blown. Popovych has gone. Vinokourov did the damage, but now Basso goes. He has a small gap on Ullrich and Armstrong. The race leader zips around the German and gets across, with the T-Mobile rider following suit.

Ullrich has blown! Basso is flying...

16:24 CEST    180.8km/24.7km to go
Now Armstrong leads, the CSC rider on his wheel. He looks back, then swings over for Basso to come through.

Ullrich is coming back, but is hurting to do so. Is this the podium in Paris?

16:28 CEST    181.1km/24.4km to go
Ullrich is doing a turn now, looking strong again. They are being chased by a group of seven: Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne), Michael Rasmussen and Karsten Kroon, (Rabobank), Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile), Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier), Floyd Landis (Phonak Hearing Systems), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner).

Mancebo's leaving that group and trying to bridge..no joy. He's brought back.

The Armstrong-led group are 9'04 behind the leaders, with the chasers a further 0'10 back.

Up front, Pereiro leads the break as they near the top.

16:31 CEST    184km/21.5km to go
Vino is under pressure in the chasing group but holding on.

Pereiro's doing it all up front. Brochard swings by and takes the points at the top, with Pereiro, Boogerd and Hincapie next over.

Armstrong leads out of the saddle, with Ullrich now looking good on his wheel. Basso third.

Ullrich really seems focussed now. He's coming into form...ah, if only the Tour was four weeks long... : )

16:34 CEST    186.5km/19km to go
Ullrich leads again, then Basso come through. The group behind them are 0'50 back.

Up front, Sevilla's clipped out of the pedals and is stretching his right leg. Brochard is leading down the descent, swinging through a hairpin corner made slippery by melting tar.

The Armstrong group are 7'36 down with 19 kilometres to go.

16:38 CEST   
Davis came over the top in seventh at 4'00, then Camano at 6'00, Astarloza at 6'25, then the other survivors of the early break. The yellow jersey has 1'10 on Rasmussen.

16:41 CEST    191.7km/13.8km to go
Ullrich is driving it.. Just hope he doesn't do too much on this climb, trying to get time on the other GC contenders. The three have picked up Bertogliati (Saunier Duval), who was in no-mans land for quite a while.

Armstrong, Ullrich, Basso and Bertogliati crested the climb 7'37 behind the six leaders. They pick up Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom). The Rasmussen-led group were 1'10 further back.

16:42 CEST    193.5km/12km to go
The six leaders are nearing the foot of the final climb to Pla d'Adet, while the various groups chase behind them. Davis, Astarloza and Bertolini are still surviving, but Armstrong's group (now five) will catch them on the last climb.

Brochard attacks in Val Louron to try and get an advantage before the last climb. But Hincapie pulls the other five back.

16:44 CEST    194.5km/11km to go
The six leaders fly through St Lary Soulan and prepare for the last ascent to Pla d'Adet: It's a 10.3 km climb at 8.3 %, rated as Hors Categorie. Who has the legs? Pereiro? Boogerd? Caucchioli? Hincapie? Sevilla? Brochard?

The maillot jaune group has 1'10 over the Rasmussen group, so Basso is effectively second overall and Ullrich is very close to third.

16:45 CEST    195.5km/10km to go
The climb starts, and it's Pereiro who leads with Brochard on his wheel. Big crowds are at the foot of the climb, many clad in the Basque orange.

16:46 CEST   
Boogerd now moves up alongside Pereiro, as does Brochard. Then Sevilla attacks! Impressive - he's looked the tiredest all day.

16:47 CEST    196.5km/9km to go
Sevilla sits up and opens his jersey completely. He rides a big gear, and Pereiro comes by and counters. Pereiro is now alone. But Boogerd and Hincapie close to Pereiro. Then Caucchioli and Sevilla chase, then Brochard in sixth.

16:48 CEST   
It's Hincapie, Boogerd, and Pereiro in front, with Caucchioli and Sevilla being caught by Brochard. Hincapie looks good.

16:48 CEST    197.5km/8km to go
The two main chasing groups (Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel), Ivan Basso (Team CSC), Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Rubens Bertogliati (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier), Floyd Landis (Phonak Hearing Systems), Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile), Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery), Mazzoleni (Lampre), Moreau Credit Agricole), are 1'00 apart. But still 7'40 behind the three leaders.

16:49 CEST    198km/7.5km to go
Pereiro gets out of the saddle, as does Boogerd, but Hincapie remains solidly seated. He's big, but he's strong. Pereiro looks back and checks on the American.

16:51 CEST   
Caucchioli is now riding away from Brochard and Sevilla, but he's 30 seconds behind the leading three.

The Armstrong group rides through St Lary Soulan, as the maillot jaune signals for some help from the team car. He gets it.

The chasers have gained Azevedo and Zubeldia.

16:53 CEST   
The climb starts for the maillot jaune, and the three strong ones put Bertogliati and Pineau in trouble. Ullrich looks a bit better than he did before. Still 1'10 between the two main GC groups.

The stage win will surely be out of Pereiro, Boogerd or Hincapie.

16:53 CEST   
Basso attacks!!

16:53 CEST   
Armstrong reacts, and Ullrich is left with Bertogliati and Pineau. Armstrong is now with Basso.

16:55 CEST   
Basso looks back and sees Armstrong on his wheel. The yellow jersey is solid today. Ullrich follows behind the race director's car, maybe 10 seconds behind the other two. Bertogliati and Pineau are gone, of course.

Camano has been caught and dropped.

16:56 CEST   
Ullrich keeps fighting and drives past Camano, through the massive crowds on this climb. An American fan runs up beside Ullrich.

Basso is doing most of the work with Armstrong in tow.

16:57 CEST    199.5km/6km to go
Armstrong is riding a smart race, once again. He and Basso are 7'03 behind the three leaders, who have about 6 km to the summit. Ullrich is at 7'15, and Rasmussen's group is at 8'30.

16:59 CEST    200km/5.5km to go
Vinokourov attacks the Rasmussen group, and gets Mancebo for company.

Basso and Armstrong are really making inroads into the front riders, but they should be able to hold them off. Armstrong nearly gets taken out by a random spectator.

Caucchioli is back with the three leaders.

17:00 CEST    200.5km/5km to go
Pereiro and Boogerd continue to lead the race, with Hincapie and Caucchioli in tow. Hincapie hasn't done a turn yet. Maybe all day.

Vino has caught Mancebo, Mazzoleni and Popovych. Rasmussen, Leipheimer and Landis follow this group.

17:01 CEST   
Ullrich goes past early breakaway Bertolini, who gives him a small push. He's 12 seconds behind Armstrong and Basso, with the Italian doing all the work. Another fan runs up, trying to get a pic of the two.

17:03 CEST    200.5km/5km to go
Back down the mountain, Mancebo, then Vino goes past Mazzoleni and Popovych, just as Rasmussen comes up to them. The polka dot jersey is in trouble today. No sign of Landis and Leipheimer, who seem to be further behind Mancebo.

The four leaders go under 5 km to go with 6'00 over Armstrong and Basso.

17:04 CEST   
Ullrich has not given in, chasing Armstrong and Basso at 15 seconds. Strong riding by him. He could be getting himself onto the podium.

Armstrong and Basso pass Allan Davis. Just six riders ahead of them now.

17:05 CEST    201km/4.5km to go
Caucchioli attacks the leaders! It's slightly flatter here, and he gets a gap. But Pereiro comes up to him at great speed, then Hincapie in the big ring. Boogerd and Caucchioli are together, just behind.

Hincapie does his first turn.

17:06 CEST    201.5km/4km to go
Pereiro tries a mini-attack but he can't get ride of Hincapie that easily. George is unshakeable. He chats to Pereiro.

17:07 CEST   
Under 4 km to go, Pereiro looks back to see where Boogerd and Caucchioli are.

Meanwhile, back down the mountain at 5'49, Armstrong and Basso have 20 seconds on Jan Ullrich. Rasmussen and Vino are now together, but at 7'14.

17:08 CEST    202km/3.5km to go
Rasmussen now rides away from Vinokourov. He might be able to save his third place on GC from Ullrich. Admittedly, the German will blow him away on the final time trial.

Pereiro and Hincapie are chased by a mad fan, who gets run over by a TV moto. Ouch. The TV moto gets up again, and hopefully the spectator is ok.

Armstrong now does a turn.

17:09 CEST    202.5km/3km to go
Pereiro and Hincapie are under 3 km to go, they're not going to be caught by Armstrong and Basso. No way. They reach a small descent as they ride through another crowd of mad Basques.

17:10 CEST   
Ullrich hammers, trying to gain back the time on Armstrong and Basso, but he's slowly losing it. 23 seconds. Rasmussen is 1'03 behind Ullrich.

17:11 CEST    203.5km/2km to go
Pereiro continues to lead through the orange wave, with Hincapie not doing much. But George looks good, and might be able to take a dream stage win, a present from his Discovery team and Lance Armstrong?

17:12 CEST    204km/1.5km to go
It's steep here as George looks back to see where Caucchioli and Boogerd are. They're not.

17:12 CEST   
Ullrich is now with Sevilla, at 6'00 behind the two leaders. Ullrich is a bit stuffed. Sevilla tries to nurse him along.

17:13 CEST    204.5km/1km to go
Ullrich tells Sevilla to go a bit more, which will help him keep Rasmussen at bay.

Armstrong is now working hard with Basso on his wheel, 5'20 behind George and Pereiro.

17:13 CEST    204.5km/1km to go
The two leaders fight their way through the crowd with 1km to go. Incredible. Amazing that there are not more accidents.

17:14 CEST   
Pereiro has led for the last few kilometres, but it looks like Hincapie has the strength today. He keeps checking behind.

17:15 CEST   
Hincapie stays glued to Pereiro's wheel as Pereiro continues to ride a hard tempo.

Sevilla/Ullrich follow Armstrong/Basso at 35 seconds, with Rasmussen still 1'00 back from Ullrich.

17:15 CEST   
Pereiro doesn't seem too interested in making Hincapie lead out.

17:16 CEST   
Hincapie stays on the wheel until 400m to go, then gets out of the saddle, watching Pereiro, who is tired.

17:16 CEST   
Hincapie waits and at 300m, he's still on the wheel.

17:17 CEST    205.5km/0km to go
Pereiro accelerates at 250m but Hincapie is way, way too strong and wins the stage on Pla d'Adet! Incredible!! He puts his arms up almost in disbelief.

17:18 CEST   
Caucchioli is third, at 37 seconds, then Boogerd fourth at 56 seconds, grimacing. Then Brochard for fifth.

17:22 CEST   
Basso and Armstrong fight it out for fifth, and a determined Basso rides across the line ahead of the maillot jaune. Armstrong has no need to sprint, as there are no bonus seconds to be had. Basso is in incredible pain, but he has a steely look in his eyes. 5'03 at the end. They didn't pull much time back from the leaders.

17:24 CEST   
Sevilla and Ullrich come up to the line, being caught by Rasmussen and Mancebo, who have ridden very well to catch up. Sevilla has done a great job, but Ullrich just wasn't quite good enough today. Rasmussen only lost 3 seconds to Ullrich in the end! Vino comes up for 12th at 7'03.

17:37 CEST   
Well that's it for today - a very emotional victory by George Hincapie almost 10 years after the death of his Motorola teammate Fabio Casartelli. The whole team is very happy for him, especially yellow jersey wearer Lance Armstrong, who showed no signs of weakness today to keep his 2'46 lead over Ivan Basso. Rasmussen lost time, but Ullrich did too, and is nearly 3 minutes behind the Dane. Maybe he can get that back in the last TT? We'll see next Saturday.

Tomorrow is a rest day, so we'll be back with more Live Tour de France action on Tuesday, with a hard but not super tough Pyrenean stage between Mourenx and Pau over 180.5 km, via the Col d'Aubisque. Until then!


1 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel                6.06.38
2 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems            0.06
3 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Credit Agricole                   0.38
4 Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank                            0.57
5 Laurent Brochard (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                   2.19
6 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC                                 5.04
7 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel                       
8 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) T-Mobile Team                         6.28
9 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team                               
10 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                         6.32
11 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne       
12 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team                 7.33
13 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                       7.54
14 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole                  8.14
15 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                  8.47
16 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                            
17 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita                      8.54
18 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel                9.32
19 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                9.34
General classification after stage 15
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel               62.09.59
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC                                 2.46
3 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                          3.09
4 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team                           5.58
5 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne    6.31
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                        7.35
7 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                 9.33
8 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team                  9.38
9 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole                  11.47
10 Andreas Klöden (Ger) T-Mobile Team                      12.01

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