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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

92nd Tour de France - GT

France, July 2-24, 2005

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Stage 18 - Thursday, July 21: Albi - Mende, 189 km

Commentary by Roger Hughes, with additional reporting from Anthony Tan and Hedwig Kröner

Live report

Live coverage starts: 12:10 CEST
Estimated finish: 16:45 CEST

Stage 18 profile
Click for stage map

12:19 CEST   
Good afternoon and welcome to the Cyclingnews online dirigible for our live coverage of Stage 18 of the Tour de France. We're starting in Albi, home of the Cathar heresy, for the first of the two Massif Central stages that are the sting in the tail of this Tour. We're expecting a lively start, not just because the stage has "long breakaway" written all over it, but also because there is a bonus sprint at kilometre 13, which should interest the teams that are chasing the green jersey.

The riders are now in the neutralised procession leading up to the start proper.

Today' stage contains several medium difficulty climbs, which will probably seem like major cols to the tired legs of the peloton.

The climbs are:

Côte de la Béssède (km 53, Cat. 4, 8.3 km climb at 2.9 %)
Côte de Raujolles (km 99, Cat. 3, 2.7 km climb at 5.2 %)
Côte de Boyne (km 131.5, Cat. 2, 9.2 km climb at 5.3 %)
Côte de Chabrits (km 180, Cat. 3, 1.7 km climb at 7.1 %)
Côte de la Croix Neuve (montée Laurent Jalabert) (km 187.5, Cat. 2, 3.1 km climb at 10.1 %)

The sprints are at Villefranche-D'albigeois (km 13) and Le Massegros (km 138).

It's about 24-25 degrees, sunny, with a 20 km/h wind blowing from the northwest, which will be across the riders for much of the day as they head northeast.

A minute's silence was held at the start of the stage for Australian national team rider Amy Gillett, who was killed on Monday when a car ploughed through the Australian team who were out reconnoitring the opening stage of the Thüringen Rundfahrt. All five of her teammates are still in hospital as a result.

12:23 CEST   
Frederic Bessy (Cofidis) is the first to attack, and is being chased by Daniele Nardello (T-Mobiel), Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas), Lorenzo Bernucci (Fassa Bortolo) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel).

Another five riders come across and the group have a scant ten seconds lead over the peloton.

12:29 CEST    8km/181km to go
Garzelli keeps going hard, with Botero and Commesso joining him. But the peloton reacts and it's all back together again at km 7.

12:36 CEST    10km/179km to go
Now it is the turn of Christophe Moreau to have a try. He is marked by Lotto's Johan Van Summeren and Michele Albasini.

12:38 CEST   
An attack by a rider as highly placed as Moreau isn't going to go unnoticed, and the ever-attacking and contract-hunting Alexander Vinokourov jumps across. This is probably unlikely to last long as Discovery aren't going to want to let them go off all day...

12:43 CEST    16km/173km to go
Brad McGee, whose tour has been disappointing and uncomfortable so far, tries to bridge the gap now to the breakaway, who have mopped up the points available for the bonus sprint without affecting the green jersey classification - Van Summeren took it ahead of Vino and Moreau, who will have picked up a few bonus seconds for the tight battle for the lower GC places.

The break and McGee are all mopped up by the Discovery-led peloton, but the Australian tries again on his own. It doesn't last too long, though, and the race is all together once again.

12:50 CEST    21km/168km to go
The pace is unremittingly high, with Phonak also up the front, but not enough to stop the attacks - now it is Roberto Heras in company with Juan Antonio Flecha who get a gap, with a few more trying to get across to them.

12:58 CEST    27km/162km to go
The big chasing group - 23 of them - have got across to Flecha and Heras, and they now have 25 seconds on the main field. Among them is green jersey Thor Hushovd, and a few other interesting names.

13:02 CEST    30km/159km to go
Azevedo, Guerini, Julich, Arroyo, Menchov, Moos, Bernucci, Flecha, Horner, Heras, Contador, Hushovd, Garzelli, Moncoutié, White, Sinkewitz, Tankink, Fedrigo, Voeckler, Wegmann and Casar are the men ahead, but it's probably too big a group to maintain momentum and the unrepresented Davitamon-Lotto in particular won't want to let it go.

13:04 CEST    32km/157km to go
Flecha, White, Fedrigo and Casar have gone away from the group now, which was being reeled in by the peloton after getting almost half a minute clear. But it is in vain, and the race comes back together once again.

13:10 CEST    38km/151km to go
You may have noticed that the last failed attack was the first significant move in about a week that didn't have Carlos Da Cruz in it; he's now making up for that, going clear in company with Sébastian Joly.

Franco Pellizotti tries to get across to them. He can't.

13:15 CEST    40km/149km to go
Joly started that move but was unable to hold Da Cruz, who is now riding alone in the lead.

We spoke to one of the earlier breakaways, Chris Horner, this morning:
"There's going to be a break. Who's going to control the field all day for 120 miles? I'm sure they'll race it out for GC on the last climb, but it's only three kilometres. You're not going to lose Lance in three kilometres. Maybe they'll get lucky and have something like yesterday, where they gained time on Floyd or something like that. T-Mobile did a hell of a drive yesterday, bringing it into that climb. I'm telling you, even before we started that last hill, they were opening up gaps left and right on the false flat. My own chances? Well there's going to be a break and it's going to go early. So either I get in the early move or there's not going to be any chance of winning anything. "

13:18 CEST    47km/142km to go
Da Cruz's move has come to nothing, and it's back to peloton groupé once more.

13:22 CEST    49km/140km to go
That is just an invitation to new attacks, of course, and this time it's Luke Roberts and Franco Pellizotti (again) who are having a dig, with Xabier Zandio, Marcos Serrano, Egoi Martinez and Axel Merckx trying to get across to them. The gaps are still all in single figure numbers of seconds, though.

13:26 CEST    51km/138km to go
We are on the long but very gentle climb at La Bessède (4th category) now. The chasers have joined the two leaders and Thomas Voeckler and Cédric Vasseur have got across now, and the resulting group of 9 have a lead around 25 seconds. With no big names in there and a lot of workers, this looks more likely to be allowed to get away.

13:28 CEST   
Chris Brewer, from Behind the Blue Curtain, has checked in with his pre-stage 18 report:

I spoke with Discovery Channel Assistant DS Dirk Demol and asked him about the last third of the day, and specifically about the final 10kms. "Like yesterday today is hot and we expect a break to go up the road. The final third of the stage will bear watching, but it is not too hard. The last 2 climbs are steep, but they are short, so the man to watch especially is Basso and we'll mark him closely."

13:35 CEST    57km/132km to go
The points on the climb were taken by Xabier Zandio (Illes Balears) who is also the best placed rider in the break, 25th 39.40 behind Lance Armstrong. Best placed for the moment, that is, because persistent tryer Christophe Moreau (10th at 12.07) is trying to bridge the gap solo; he is 25 seconds down on the break and the same ahead of the bunch. That wouldn't be such good news for them, since it would get the other teams with contenders for the minor GC placings riding.

13:37 CEST    61km/128km to go
Moreau gives up the chase, however, but the nine leaders have still not opened the gap past a minute. To recap, they are Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile Team), Luke Roberts (Team CSC), Xabier Zandio (Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne), Axel Merckx (Davitamon-Lotto), Marcos Serrano (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas-Bianchi), Cédric Vasseur (Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone), Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

13:44 CEST    66.5km/122.5km to go
The chase has now eased off and the break are now moving clear with the gap up to 2.35.

13:55 CEST    75km/114km to go
After the frantic start the race has now settled down, with a lot of rather relieved riders in the peloton able to take it steady and the ten men up the road moving away. We asked one of the riders who will probably be happier with this state of affairs, Michael Boogerd, what his plans were for today: "We will see." This stage looks like it could suit you? "Yeah but you also have to have the legs. Yesterday I had some antibiotics, so it's a little bit of a problem with the throat."

14:26 CEST    97km/92km to go
The race has been averaging something over 46 kph so far, which is quite brisk for the terrain. Matthias Kessler's presence in the break means that T-Mobile are now virtually back in the lead in the team classification. They are now through the feed with a lead in excess of nine minutes and heading for the second categorised climb of the say, the cat 3 at Raujolles.

14:30 CEST    99km/90km to go
Speaking of T-Mobile, we heard from their top riders this morning. Jan Ullrich told us "Everyone is tired, so now it's all about who recuperates the best at night. I have pretty good legs actually. Today is another hard stage, especially after the one yesterday. It's a hilltop finish with a very steep three kilometres. Surely there'll be a break today. Lance's team will control everything, and in the final climb, everybody needs to give all of themselves."

Alexander Vinokourov was also optimistic: "Another good day. We'll try to do something in the finale. Jan wants to take some time off Rasmussen and me off Mancebo." And what team would we be seeing him with next year? "I've got three offers. We'll see which of those will be the one." Are they French teams? "I can't say."

14:37 CEST    105km/84km to go
Carlos Cruz takes the summit of the climb in the shadow of the impressive new Millau viaduct. The lead is over ten minutes now and still climbing.

14:52 CEST    115km/74km to go
The lead is still stretching out, more reliably than the trivial technical problem that lost about 15 minutes worth of commentary earlier, in case you were wondering.

So, to recap, we have ten men working steadily and looking pretty likely to stay away unless Discovery decide that they really want that team classification back. We have two former maillots jaunes in the break, in the persons of Thomas Voeckler and Cédric Vasseur, plus Carlos Da Cruz who seems to have picked up the mantle of Jacky Durand, Axel Merckx representing Belgium on its national holiday, Luke Roberts as obligatory token Aussie, Franco Pellizotti who seemed to try to get into every break this morning before finding the right one, Egoi Martinez trying to salvage something for the Euskaltel team, Matthias Kessler chasing the team standings, Xabier Zandio about whom I know shamefully little and the decidedly useful Marcos Serrano. The bunch are nearly 12 minutes down and not looking worried by that fact.

15:01 CEST    121km/68km to go
Discovery are (noblesse oblige) leading the bunch with a bit of help from Rabobank. We are on a long flattish section here leading up to the first of the two second-category climbs today, a 9 km grind up from the village of Boyne, which is probably too far from the finish for anyone to want to break up the break, but could be hard for the riders who are just hanging on in the bunch if anyone puts the hammer down there.

15:04 CEST    123km/66km to go
The break are now on the climb, riding a steady tempo, with Kessler and Merckx looking more comfortable than some of the others, Pellizotti in particular having a bit of trouble.

15:12 CEST    125km/64km to go
The situation is unchanged, with the leaders working together well, even if some are coming through with more difficulty than others, and Discovery leading the chase with just two riders; the bunch are now approaching the foot of the second-cat climb around 12.20 down.

15:25 CEST    129km/60km to go
Still 2 km of this climb to go for this breakaway, and it's still pulling away. The possible effects of the two climbs in the final few km is probably going to put any of the GC riders teams off doing anything too serious too early in the stage (much as more serious summit finishes often seem to dampen the action in the early parts of mountain stages).

Cofidis seem to be massing at the back of the bunch; there are a lot of riders going back to their cars, but nobody having any real difficulty in following.

15:27 CEST    131km/58km to go
Da Cruz nicks the points at the top of the climb, as he is inclined to do. There is no descent, as the race has basically climbed onto a plateau here.

15:37 CEST    138km/51km to go
The road on top of the plateau is decidedly rolling; Luke Roberts manages to unship his chain but gets it back on without losing too much time to get back on. They have a slight crosswind here, echeloning a bit onto the right hand side of the road.

Discovery have now put more men on the front of the bunch now in the closing kilometres of the Boyne climb, and the gap has fallen by a few seconds.

Prime-hunter Da Cruz nips off the front to take the second bonus sprint. Could be seen as greedy by some...

15:52 CEST    149km/40km to go
On a sartorial note, Vinokourov seems to be wearing an amended version of his Kazakh champion's jersey, bearing the sponsor's name in black on white rather than the lower contrast yellow on blue. He is riding with the other GC contenders, just behind Armstrong who is at the back of a four-man Discovery train. Gerolsteiner and T-Mobile vests are also up there in reasonable numbers. The break is still going away, however, and look pretty much safe and sound now. Yesterday's winner Savoldelli is back on bottle-fetching duty today.

The roads here on the Causses are open and fairly empty, with scrubby pine woods on the thin soil not providing much shelter from either wind or sun.

16:00 CEST    152km/37km to go
The lead moves over 14 minutes and the riders in the break and bunch alike will have stopped worrying about each other entirely and now be thinking about their chances and what their opponents are likely to be doing on those finishing climbs. Still no moves, though.

16:08 CEST    156km/33km to go
The bunch have now settled down to a clubrun tempo; this break isn't coming back and there's nothing to chase for. Ahead the ten are still riding a well-disciplined through-and-off, with riders dropping back to team cars for advice and bottles intermittently. The roadsides are mostly deserted up here in this sparsely populated region, except close to the odd holiday campsite here and there and through the villages and small towns.

16:20 CEST    169km/20km to go
The race is now dropping off the plateau with about 10 km to go before the leaders hit the two final climbs. There are a couple of level crossings here - the break have just crossed the first - so we can wait with bated breath to see if the SNCF put any trains in the way of the chasers again today.

16:24 CEST    171km/18km to go
Still no move from the non-climbers in the break, which is still riding as a well-disciplined unit.

16:27 CEST    174km/15km to go
The break crosses the second of those level crossings, which has tracks crossing the road at a fairly awkward angle, like the one that brought several riders down on the run in to Karlsruhe a couple of thousand kilometres back. Still all together as they come into the little town of Barjac.

16:29 CEST    175km/14km to go
This is where the penultimate climb, the côte de Chabrits starts, and now the riders in the break have started looking at one another.

And Carlos Da Cruz opens proceedings with a jump up the right hand side of the road...

16:31 CEST   
Da Cruz has a gap - 15 seconds - but the other riders aren't too concerned yet, still riding tempo.

Serrano counters and the others do chase him, and he sits up.

16:33 CEST    177.5km/11.5km to go
Da Cruz is climbing like a non-climber, all over a big gear. Pellizotti and Voeckler are sitting at the back of the line, Merckx and Kessler staying near the front.

16:38 CEST    179km/10km to go
Da Cruz looks to be struggling, but he's still in front a kilometre from the summit. Martinez is looking fairly limber, more so than the naked fan who runs alongside them for a few yards.

Way back down the road, CSC have taken up the riding at the front of the bunch and the pace has risen.

Zandio accelerates but not for long but it starts a general disintegration, and Merckx is clear on his own, and past Da Cruz.

Voeckler jumps away behind him.

16:39 CEST    180km/9km to go
Voeckler comes up to Merckx just after the Belgian takes the summit in first place, and now it's straight down into Mende and the foot of the final climb.

16:41 CEST    181km/8km to go
Serrano, Zandio and Vasseur look as though they are going to catch the leading pair on this descent, which is a steady run down on wide roads, not too steep to pedal a big gear most of the way.

16:41 CEST   
Chris Brewer, from Behind the Blue Curtain, reports from the finish:

"We just drove the final 20kms. The run into the first cat 3 climb is a non-technical descent, and the cat 3 itself is easy with only one switchback. The final cat 2 effort is 3k long, and the first 1k nothing remarkable. But the road really kicks up - no switchbacks, just up up up. The crowds are very thick on the final 2k and will be pressing down onto the peloton, room for single file climbing only. Over the summit and it's a quick 1k drop to the airport finish in Mende."

16:42 CEST    183km/6km to go
The five come together on the outskirts of Mende; behind them Pellizotti is alone, then Kessler (surprising; he looked pretty strong earlier), Roberts, Da Cruz and Martinez.

In the bunch, Discovery are back at the front; it will be a while before they get to the two climbs though.

16:45 CEST    184km/5km to go
The five leaders come to the foot of the climb up to the airfield on the plateau above Mende, now named the Montée Laurent Jalabert after the Frenchman's epic Bastille Day stage win there a few year back. Pellizotti has got across to them in the town, but that will have cost him energy.

16:46 CEST    185km/4km to go
Voeckler accelerates as the climb kicks up, then Merckx moves up and Zandio and Vasseur seem to be finding it hardest. The Belgian eases up and it comes together again

16:47 CEST   
Merckx jumps again from the front, harder this time; the others respond but Zandio and then Pellizotti are dropped.

16:48 CEST    187km/2km to go
Serrano takes the front for a while; Voeckler is in trouble on this 11% gradient, so it's just Merckx, Vasseur and Serrano together now.

16:50 CEST   
Serrano accelerates again and Vasseur stays with him but Merckx is dropped briefly, but grinds his way back.

Serrano jumps again on the steepest pitch of the climb.

16:51 CEST   
The bunch are now on the previous climb, and Kashechkin has attacked the bunch.

Serrano is still a few metres clear while Merckx and Vasseur ride tempo behind him to stay in touch.

16:52 CEST   
800 metres of climbing and a kilometre of descent for Marcos Serrano, who kicks again. Here we really do have some thick crowds, opening up in front of the riders but putting Serrano briefly out of sight.

16:53 CEST   
Serrano looks to have broken the back of the climb as he comes up to the barrier lined section just before the mountains prime; he should be able to do it from here...

16:54 CEST    188km/1km to go
Serrano crests the climb with the best part of 20 seconds lead on Merckx and Vasseur, and he has it in the bag.

16:56 CEST   
Serrano comes in with nobody for company but the neutral service motorbike, punches the air, taking his fifth professional victory. Merckx leads Vasseur down the finishing straight and mouths something probably best left untranslated at the Frenchman when he jumps past him for second.

16:58 CEST   
Back down the road, Carlos Sastre is stretching the front of the bunch at the foot of the final climb

17:00 CEST   
Sastre's efforts have created a split at the front of the bunch, then Basso attacks. Armstrong counters, then Cadel Evans on his wheel, Ullrich on his.

Vino tries to get there and blows. Rasmussen is a way further back with Mancebo.

17:02 CEST   
Rasmussen and Leipheimer are picking up Vino - they've passed him; the Armstrong group are 100 metres in front - the gaps here are only going to be in seconds, but it could change a bit yet.

Armstrong is setting the pace in front now.

17:03 CEST   
Vino comes back to Rasmussen and Leipheimer. Ullrich is looking a bit stretched at the front as BAsso moves to the front again

17:04 CEST   
Ullrich is dropped but holding a ten-metre gap; he claws his way back to Armstrong, Basso and Evans at the summit.

17:06 CEST   
Rasmussen, Leipheimer and Vino come over the top 40 seconds down. WE have completely lost touch with Landis, Moreau, Mancebo and the other GC contenders...

17:08 CEST   
Mancebo has got back to Rasmussen et al; they come in 35 seconds down, with Landis and Mazzoleni about 55 seconds further back, then dribs and drabs - Popovych a couple of minutes down, behind a group with Moreau.

17:17 CEST   
A fine win by Marcos Serrano to make up some way for a fairly disappointing tour for Manuel Saiz's Liberty Seguros team; rock-solid defence by Armstrong, a good ride to hang on to him by Evans who moves up the GC table a place or two; further evidence that Rasmussen and Vinokourov are finding this third week of the Tour a bit too far for comfort. As the autobus comes in some 22 minutes down, thanks for following the stage with us here on cyclingnews; we'll be back again tomorrow to bring you the final lumpy road stage from Issoire to Le-Puy-en-Velay.


1 Marcos Serrano (Spa) Liberty Seguros-Würth            4.37.36
2 Cédric Vasseur (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone    0.27
3 Axel Merckx (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                            
4 Xabier Zandio (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne       1.08
5 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas-Bianchi                     
6 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues Telecom                   1.28
7 Luke Roberts (Aus) Team CSC                                  
8 Matthias Kessler (Ger) T-Mobile Team                     1.44
9 Egoi Martinez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                    2.03
10 Carlos Da Cruz (Fra) Française Des Jeux                 2.38
11 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                      11.20
12 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel               
13 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC                                         
14 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                   
15 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team               11.57
16 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                              
17 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                            
18 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne      
19 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems              12.07
20 Eddy Mazzoleni (Ita) Lampre-Caffita                       

General classification after stage 18

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel              77.44.44
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC                                2.46
3 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                         3.46
4 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team                          5.58
5 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne   7.08
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                       8.12
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                        9.49
8 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team                10.11
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems               10.42
10 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Credit Agricole                13.15


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