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94th Tour de France - ProT

France, July 7-29, 2007

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Stage 16 - Wednesday, July 25: Orthez - Gourette - Col d’Aubisque, 218.5km

Live commentary by Shane Stokes and Bjorn Haake

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 10:45 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:15 CEST

Bonjour (although many may not agree we have a good day today) and welcome back to our Cyclingnews live coverage of what could be the decisive stage in this year's Grande Boucle. The final big mountain stage is upon us, running from Orthez to the Col d'Aubisque. Not only is it 218 kilometres long, but besides the final HC climb it features the Port de Larrau (HC), then dives into Spain for the Alto Laza (cat 3), back into France over the inaugural La Pierre St. Martin (cat 1), the Col de Marie-Blanque (cat 1) and then the final climb to the Aubisque (HC)

10:47 CEST   
The départ fictif (neutral start) was expected for 10:40, but all the French teams along with the German squads have vowed to do a sit-in protest at the start, similar to what we have seen in 1998. So the start may get delayed.

10:58 CEST   
The riders have now got moving after that protest took place. They have left the start area and are moving toward the end of the neutralised section.

11:03 CEST   
Today is quite possibly the toughest stage of this year's Tour de France. At 218.5 kilometres it is the third longest and it has a total of five categorised climbs.

Their locations on the route are as follows:

Km 79, Port de Larrau, hors catégorie (14.7 kilometres at an average of 8.1%)
Km 93, Alto Laza, category 3 (3.5 kilometres at 6.8%)
Km 131, Col de la Pierre-Saint-Martin, category 1 (14.2 kilometres at 5.2%)
Km 180.5, Col de Marie-Blanque, category 1 (9.3 kilometres at 7.4%)
Km 218.5, Col d'Aubisque, hors catégorie (16.6 kilometres at 7%)

So as you can see, there is plenty of scope for a big shakeup.

11:07 CEST   
Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) are the two top riders in the race and unless today brings a major surprise, it's likely that one or other of them will be in the yellow jersey this evening.

Contador was certainly a bit stronger than Rasmussen on Monday's final climb, and so he will be hoping to get some time back today. He is likely to be quicker in the final time trial and so even if he doesn't get the jersey, he'd be happy to reduce his deficit to a minute or so.

Rasmussen knows he just needs to hold on today. If he can stay with Contador until the end of the stage, that should be enough. Of course, you never know...!

11:07 CEST    3km/215.5km to go
The peloton is all together at the moment.

11:17 CEST   
The riders face a very lumpy start to the stage, with non-categorised but very rolling terrain on the run-up to the first bonus sprint. That comes at Mauleon-Licharre, 36 kilometres into the race.

11:19 CEST   
After that, they riders move on to the first of two feed zones at Tardets-Sorholus (km 48.5). The second comes 62.5 kilometres from the end of the stage, in Arette.

11:21 CEST   
The peloton then climbs the first category Col du Marie Blanque and drops down to the second sprint at Laruns. This is just before the start of the final climb, so it's unlikely that the green jersey contenders will be still in the mix for those bonus points.

11:28 CEST    18km/200.5km to go
There are currently four riders clear: Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Saunier Duval-Prodir's 1998 king of the mountains Christophe Rinero.

Augé was the catalyst, attacking eight kilometres after the start and then being joined by the other three.

11:31 CEST   
One of those trying for a win today is Iban Mayo. He's not going to win a TT and he's unlikely to take a flat stage, so he knows this is his last chance. He impressed greatly on the second Alpine stage but since then his form has dropped. However if he has the legs, he promises to go up the road early on.

“I´m aware that tomorrow´s stage is my last chance in this Tour. I came here to take a stage win, and I´ll go all out for it, although we know that most riders want to grab victory here. Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador are a little above the rest, so we´ll have to form part of the breakaway early in the stage.

"I really want to get away from the feeling of disappointment that has been staying with me since Sunday, at the mountaintop finish of Plateau de Beille. The team worked hard for me that day and I want to dedicate a triumph to them.”

11:36 CEST    24km/194.5km to go
The leading quartet are now 5'20 ahead.

11:49 CEST    33km/185.5km to go
The gap continues to rise. The peloton is content for these riders to move ahead, knowing that the tough parcours will make it very difficult for a break to stay clear until the finish at the top of the Col d'Aubisque.

The four leaders are now 8'50" ahead.

12:01 CEST   
The entire Astana team pulled out of the race yesterday, removing Andreas Klöden (5th), Andrey Kashechkin (8th) and Alexandre Vinokourov (23rd) from the general classification.

It was 'invited' to leave by the race organisers following Alexandre Vinokourov's positive doping test.

Astana had been leading the team classification, but now Discovery Channel take over there.

12:09 CEST   
Yesterday's news will have come as a big shock to many fans of the sport. Some teams are also losing patience and several protested at the start this morning, as mentioned earlier.

The French and German teams stayed at the start for a minute or so to protest at doping in the sport. Others such as Discovery Channel, Euskaltel, Lampre, Caisse d'Epargne and Predictor Lotto didn't feel the same way and left. Michael Rasmussen also left with these.

Strangely, T-Mobile and CSC also moved off, even though they have strong anti-doping programmes. Hmm, what about solidarity, guys?

12:10 CEST    47.5km/171km to go
There was some booing from the crowd. We don't know if that was for those who left, or those who stayed.

Meanwhile, the four leaders are working well together and are 7'23" ahead now.

12:17 CEST   
The race moves towards the mountains. It's a beautiful sunny day and the field is rolling along quite quickly. The Barloworld team of Juan Mauricio Soler are on the front. They realise that Soler's best chance of taking the mountains jersey is probably to try to get clear early on today. They will hope that Michael Rasmussen gets tied up in the GC battle with Alberto Contador, and has to prioritise the yellow jersey over the mountains classification.

Tomorrow's stage has one third category climb and five fourth-category ascents, but Soler ideally needs to strike today if he wants to win the competition. He's currently just two points behind Rasmussen.

12:25 CEST    58.5km/160km to go
The leaders have 8'20".

The road starts is going uphill as they head towards the hors catégorie Port de Larrau.

Yellow jersey Michael Rasmussen clips out of the pedals and stops. It looked like he was going for a toilet break, but he's actually stopped beside some camper vans. Stomach problems or mechanical troubles? We've no idea.

12:31 CEST   
The leaders are Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) and Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir), and appear to be working well together.

Rinero won the earlier intermediate sprint at Mauléon-Licharre. Augé and Verdugo were next.

As we mentioned, Christophe Rinero won the KOM classification back in 1998. Now 33, that was the highlight of his career.

12:32 CEST   
Vicente Garcia leads, then Rinero takes over. They are riding alongside a river now and the road is slightly uphill.

12:39 CEST   
By the way, we understand that it was the strike-breakers who were booed earlier, not the strikers. When they rolled off their gesture was applauded by the crowd.

12:40 CEST    65.5km/153km to go
The leaders are on the climb now, while behind the peloton is still being lined out by the Barloworld team. It's 8'55" back, though, so there is a lot of work to be done yet.

12:43 CEST    66.5km/152km to go
Barloworld are really driving this along; they want the KOM points. For now the gap remains nearly nine minutes.

12:47 CEST   
Alexandre Vinokourov has protested his innocence to L'Equipe, claiming he never doped. He's come up with a bizarre explanation as to why he failed the test, which was reported to have shown red blood cells from two different people:

'I think it's a mistake in part due to my crash. I have spoken to the team doctors who had a hypothesis that there was an enormous amount of blood in my thighs, which could have led to my positive test.'

He also claimed that un-named people within the sport have been victimising the team, saying that there is a lot of jealousy about Astana. Hmmm..

12:49 CEST   
The peloton split on the lower slopes under the pressure of the Barloworld team's driving. Juan Mauricio Soler, second in the KOM competition but wearing the jersey as the leader Michael Rasmussen is in the yellow jersey, was in the first group. The Rabobank team were trying to close it down.

12:51 CEST    68.5km/150km to go
However Soler has jumped away and has been joined by two other riders. This is good for his KOM chances.

The other two are Carlos Sastre (CSC)! and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel).

Behind, many riders are heading south. Tom Boonen and his green jersey are in a second group.

12:52 CEST   
Wow..that's big news. Sastre is a GC contender, starting the day 5th overall, 6'46" back.

12:53 CEST   
That's a lot of time to bring back, of course, but his move will put the pressure on behind.

The leaders are 9.5 km from the top.

12:57 CEST    69.5km/149km to go
With the gap from the break to the yellow jersey of Michael Rasmussen - still in the peloton - at 7 minutes, things are breaking up.

Sergio Paulinho (Discovery Channel) has jumped away and is now being joined by his team-mate Yaroslav Popovych, Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) and Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step - Innergetic).

Txurruka has been dropped by the Popo group, which is closing up to the Sastre group.

12:58 CEST   
Sastre is on the front, driving it, with Soler on the wheel. Mayo jumped across, leaving Popo and Paulinho!

13:00 CEST    71.1km/147.4km to go
So Mayo has done what he said and gone with an early move. Sastre is gambling everything on a long-distance move.

The four leaders are 6'30" ahead of Rasmussen, with the others in-between.

13:00 CEST   
Many riders are going out the back of the peloton, including Pieter Weening. He's one of Rabobank's strong climbers, so that's a blow to Rasmussen.

13:03 CEST   
Sastre is out of the saddle, driving the pace. Soler and Mayo are just sitting on. Sastre is one of the friendliest riders in the peloton, by the way.

They are 5'06" behind the leaders, and just over a minute ahead of the Rasmussen peloton.

Kim Kirchen is under pressure today. The T-Mobile rider is off the back of the peloton but is chasing to get back on now. George Hincapie is also off the back in this group, which also includes Kirchen's team-mate Linus Gerdemann.

13:04 CEST    72.5km/146km to go
Sastre remains on the front of his group, getting no help from the other two.

The leaders have approximately 7 kilometres to go until the top.

13:05 CEST   
The Sastre group is now 5'15 back, with the Rasmussen group at 5'53". So Sastre isn't really pulling away.

13:06 CEST   
Kirchen is really suffering. He started the day 7th overall after the withdrawal of Klöden and Kashechkin.

13:08 CEST   
Other riders being dropped are David Millar (Saunier Duval - Prodir) and Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel). The peloton is down to perhaps 30 riders now. Rabobank continue to lead there.

13:09 CEST   
Sastre is (still) doing all the work. He's grimacing as he climbs this mountain, which is 14.7 kilometres in length, 1573 metres in altitude and averages 8.1%.

13:12 CEST   
Rasmussen is being shadowed by Contador. Cadel Evans is a little further back. Jens Voigt is still there, working hard. David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) is being dropped.

With just over 5 kilometres to go to the top, Stéphane Augé (Cofidis)and Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir) were briefly dropped by Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne. However they've got back on.

13:14 CEST   
It really is a beautiful day here, and the scenery is amazing.

Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner) has been dropped by the peloton.

The two French riders in the break are being dropped once again. The Sastre group is now 3'45" back, while the peloton is at 5'05".

13:15 CEST    74.5km/144km to go
Now it's Michael Albasini's turn to crack from the peloton. The Liquigas rider is slipping back. So too Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis).

Rasmussen has three team-mates left in the peloton, with Thomas Dekker on the front now.

13:17 CEST   
Vladimir Karpets (Caisse d'Epargne) heads south.. He doesn't have his Tour de Suisse-winning form.

The Rasmussen group has 25 riders or so. No attacks in the past few kilometres..only those going off the back!

13:17 CEST    76.5km/142km to go
Sastre remains on the front. All three chasers are out of the saddle on a steeper section.

13:19 CEST   
Now Dario Cioni (Predictor Lotto) cracks. Voigt, too. He's maybe 20 metres off the back of that group, but will try to get back on after the summit. If Sastre is caught he may need Voigt's support.

13:20 CEST   
Verdugo and Garcia Acosta are 1.6 kilometres from the top. Verdugo leads for now.

13:22 CEST    78.5km/140km to go
The riders are being cheered by a yodeling spectator..well, it is the mountains after all.

Dekker, Flecha and Boogerd lead Rasmussen, Contador and the rest. Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) is up there too..he's on a good day.

Sastre, Soler and Mayo are 3'31 behind the leaders. The Rasmussen group is 4'37" back.

13:22 CEST   
Augé and Rinero are working hard but they are losing time.

13:25 CEST   
Soler now takes over as they near the top. Mayo has still not taken a single turn.

The leaders now sprint for the summit; Garcia Acosta gets it ahead of Verdugo.

13:25 CEST    79.3km/139.2km to go
The Rasmussen group are 4'27" back.

13:26 CEST   
He's sitting fourth in line, but will most likely go for the points to try to limit Soler's gain.

Soler is doing all the work. Mayo is under pressure.

13:29 CEST   
Soler winds it up as they near the prime line. He goes over the top, 3'06" behind the two leaders. We presume the two French riders are still ahead and so he'll have got the points for fifth.

Current situation

  • Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne)
  • Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
  • Carlos Sastre (Team CSC), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) at 3.14
  • Peloton at 4.29
Carlos Sastre (CSC)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

13:34 CEST   
Rinero and Augé were third and fourth on the climb. Rasmussen got seventh, leading the peloton over, but that means he lost five points to Soler. Soler now leads the KOM by three points.

13:35 CEST   
The leaders, the two chasing groups and the peloton (or what is left of it) are on the descent now.

13:44 CEST   
Sastre, Soler and Mayo continue to chase hard.

13:46 CEST   
Rinero and Augé are 1'10" behind the two leaders. Then Soler, Sastre and Mayo are at 2'40".

13:47 CEST   
Sastre is really pushing along here. It's all or nothing today; if he doesn't get a big enough buffer before the final climb, he'll likely fall back in the general classification tonight.

13:50 CEST   
The Sastre group goes over the top of the third category Alto Laza 2'33 back. Soler gets the points.

13:51 CEST    94.5km/124km to go
On the descent, that group catches Rinero and Augé, so there are five chasing two. Meanwhile the yellow jersey group is 5'40" behind the two leaders.

13:52 CEST   
Contador has had a puncture on the descent.

14:01 CEST    104.5km/114km to go
The two leaders are in Isaba and will start to climb gradually towards the first category La Pierre-St Martin Pass.

Behind, Rinero leads the chasers. The plan may well have been for him to go up the road early and then help out Mayo once he got across.

14:03 CEST   
The chasers are now 1'20" back. The two leaders are 5'40" ahead of the Rasmussen group. So it looks like the chasers should join up.

14:05 CEST    108.5km/110km to go
The two leaders are waiting for the others, using this time to soft-pedal.

14:08 CEST    109.5km/109km to go
It's come together. So now the leading group has seven riders: Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) have been joined by Carlos Sastre (Team CSC), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) and Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir).

This is very good for Soler, as if he tops the climbs first, there are plenty of other guys to absorb the remaining points He could be on his way to winning the mountains classification today, depending on how things go.

Rasmussen doesn't want to give away the KOM jersey, but he has to choose which one is more important.

14:08 CEST   
We suggest that is a no brainer; yellow.

14:11 CEST   
Newsflash: Word from our ground-crew is that - unfortunately - another positive doping test is about to be announced. Please standby for more details.

14:12 CEST   
Please go to our home page for details of this story. No name as yet, but we expect that shortly.

14:13 CEST    113.5km/105km to go
Rabobank is on the front in full force, guiding its leader Rasmussen in the valley. Kirchen and Gerdemann are at the back of the field. All the main contenders like Evans, Contador, Leipheimer are also here.

14:16 CEST   
These positive tests are hard to stomach, we know, but with each one more pressure is put on teams and riders to change. It's going to take some time...

Mauricio Soler (Barloworld)
Photo ©: Cyclingnews.com
(Click for larger image)

14:17 CEST   
Cycling already does far more testing than other sports. So it's not a case of saying that cycling is x times worse than y based on the test results. Many sports simply don't have complete testing, so there is no way of knowing what the rate is out there.

14:18 CEST   
Golf's Gary Player made the news last week when he said he knew for a fact that growth hormones and steroids were being used. Presumably to increase the long game, of course. Pro golf has no testing whatsoever at the moment.

14:21 CEST    117.5km/101km to go
Back to the racing, and the leaders are on the next climb.

The gap is down to 3'49". Augé slips back.

14:22 CEST    118.5km/100km to go
Sastre is leading it, with Mayo next in line. Rabobank are chasing behind. They have four support riders there now, with Rasmussen sitting behind.

The gap is 3'52".

14:24 CEST   
The race goes through Spain right now. We are in the province of Navarra, home province of Miguel Indurain (he's from Villava). We haven't spotted him yet, though he once said he enjoys watching the race from the side of the road better than form a team car. But in this part there aren't many spectators - it's pretty much uninhabited, except for the occasional bears and cyclists.

14:25 CEST   
Hopefully not together!

14:26 CEST   
Ok, here you can read up on the latest leaked doping case from this year's Tour.

14:26 CEST   
Soler is now on Sastre's wheel. They still have 11.5 kilometres to go to the top. If Rabobank bring them back before the top that would enable Rasmussen to get the points. But using up his riders like that could cost them later on.

14:28 CEST   
There are some orange-clad spectators here, Basques cheering Mayo on to what they hope will be a stage win.

14:30 CEST    120.5km/98km to go
The Rabo guys are putting a good rhythm. Leipheimer is close to the front, as is Evans, who has still a few team-mates as well. He praised Horner yesterday. The group trails by 4'11" right now.

14:30 CEST   
We understand that Alexandre Vinokourov's A sample has been tested from stage 15 to Loudenvielle Le Louron, the second stage he won. This test has also shown the presence of a second person's red blood cells; in other words, a blood transfusion.

14:32 CEST   
Providing both tests were done correctly, it would have been impossible to have a positive first test and a negative second test, as the rider could simply not remove those third-party red blood cells once they were in his system.

Once again, we must wait for B samples to confirm his guilt, but it's not looking good.

14:33 CEST    122km/96.5km to go
The yellow jersey group is losing riders now. Leif Hoste for example, so Evans has one guy less. Also Kim Kirchen is having trouble, while Thomas Dekker is setting the pace up front.

French bulls are big
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

14:38 CEST   
There is a spot with an incredible number of Basque out here on the climb. They are all dressed in orange jersey and wave the red-green-white Basque flag.

14:39 CEST   
But mostly we are still in an uninhabited area where the riders are only accompanied by cows, bulls and sheep.

14:41 CEST    125.1km/93.4km to go
The leaders are 4'20 ahead. Augé was dropped several kilometres ago.

14:44 CEST   
Speaking to Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé this morning, Belgian Tom Boonen heralded Cadel Evans as a clean rider. He was expressing his doubts about Rasmussen.

Evans was pleased to hear that. "There are not many prices and accolades for doing your job correctly, the prices and accolades are for the winner. I'm proud of the fact that someone like Tom said that about me. I am very happy to hear that."

14:47 CEST   
While we were reporting matters doping, it appears that Rinero was also dropped a little earlier on the climb. The five leaders are 1’35" ahead of Augé and a further 20" ahead of Rinero.

14:49 CEST    129.5km/89km to go
The five leaders are less than 2km from the top of the Pierre St. Martin pass.

14:52 CEST   
The top of the climb will also mark the re-entrance into France. Both are EU, so no passports required. The mountains are spectacular. Definitely worth to come back form some hiking. Some of the spectators are out with their camper and certainly will relax in the mountains once the race is past.

14:54 CEST    131km/87.5km to go
The leaders hit the top and nobody contests it, so Soler gets the highest points, with Sastre in second.

14:56 CEST    133km/85.5km to go
The front group is at a stretch of road that goes underneath a bridge, then does a sweeping circle and continues on top of the bridge. The main group is 1 km from the top now. The lead has increased again, it's now 4'49"

14:57 CEST   
Augé goes over the top, 3'56" behind the front group.

14:57 CEST   
Rinero goes over at 4'11". He can see Augé ahead of him.

14:58 CEST   
Jens Voigt attacks out of the front group and is getting some mountain points. Rinero has caught up with Augé and the two are chatting away, waiting now for the yellow jersey group.

15:00 CEST   
Ballan has crashed! Just before a very sharp left hand turn.

15:01 CEST    137.5km/81km to go
He looks a bit shaken, but has remounted and is on his way. It happened not too far after the top.

15:03 CEST    140km/78.5km to go
The order of the top of the climb again in its entirety is Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), Carlos Sastre (Team CSC), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Jens Voigt (Team CSC)

15:04 CEST   
Jens Voigt has also crashed and is now trying to catch up. Not an easy descent right at the top, there were a few really sharp turns that were almost 180 degrees.

15:06 CEST   
And there is some accelerations on the front as well, in the descent. Sastre is dropping back a bit, as he is not too comfortable with the downhill. Mayo and another rider are slightly ahead.

15:08 CEST    143.5km/75km to go
Linus Gerdemann is trying to bring back Kim Kirchen to the maillot jaune group on the downhill. Kirchen is not feeling too hot today.

15:09 CEST   
But the group has now Zabel and Jens Voigt, who was joined by the others following his crash.

15:10 CEST   
Arvesen and Gusev are also in this group. The front 5 are all together again, but Sastre really needs to have a word with Savoldelli about descending.

15:11 CEST   
We are still waiting to hear the identity of the positive test at the Tour...we should have news shortly about this case.

15:11 CEST    148.5km/70km to go
Zabel doesn't want to end up in the autobus today. Hm.

15:13 CEST   
Rinero and Augé are still descending slightly ahead of the group with the favourites. That group is now five minutes behind the leaders, so they can't even pull back time on the descent. Maybe in the flat part. We'll see how it goes on the next climb of the Marie-Blanque

15:14 CEST    150.5km/68km to go
Gusev and Voigt should also talk to Savoldelli. They are are getting gapped by the T-Mobilers and Zabel.

15:17 CEST   
We are back in France, and the area is still very remote. And very pretty, with a forest cover on the side of the road. The feed zone is coming up in a few kilometres. Rinero and Augé are still pedalling ahead of the main group by a good 30 seconds. But they are not going all out, now that the descend is finished.

15:18 CEST   
Hey, now there is a nice unpaved trail going up to the right for some mountain biking. There is a reward of a nice view on top. Hiking would do as well.

15:20 CEST    155.5km/63km to go
There are two feed zones today. They are *almost* connected with country road D918 - but not quite, so the riders had to do that extra stunt in Spain. Not that the Spanish riders minded.

15:21 CEST   
If the positive tests weren't enough of a headache, there were also two small explosions along the route of the Tour today. It was before the race passed. Apparently the Basque group ETA is claiming responsibility.

15:21 CEST   
The front group is in Arrette, where the feed is located. Now it's time to look out for the seigneur with the musettes.

15:23 CEST   
Jens Voigt (Team CSC) is back to the med's car and is getting some treatment following his crash. The group has made it back to the yellow jersey group, so Kirchen is back. Levi flats!

15:24 CEST   
Levi's change was very quick and we reckon he'll be back in the bunch in no time. One team-mate has dropped back to pace him back into the caravan.

15:25 CEST    158km/60.5km to go
The five guys in front had no trouble getting their musettes. Garcia Acosta is sorting it out right now, where Sastre still has the bag hanging around his shoulders, but is pedalling through.

15:27 CEST   
The lead group is hitting another small descent and Garcia Acosta is still sorting things out. They have a lot of food at Caisse. The main bunch is now coming through the feed zone, still led by Dekker. He has had a hard day to. The lead is just over five minutes.

15:30 CEST    161.5km/57km to go
The Rabo guys grab the musettes, except for Dekker, who is determined. Levi is back, hanging at the back of the field. he is filling up his back pockets with the goodies as well. The Lampre bags look nice, they will make a good souvenir. Ballan has one of them and will throw it to the spectators later. Ballan is dropping back to his team car, maybe for some treatment after his crash

15:31 CEST   
Still no word on the identity of that rider who tested positive for artificial testosterone on stage 11. We have heard a rumour it was one of the random tests rather than the stage winner (Robert Hunter) or the yellow jersey (Michael Rasmussen) but that's just a rumour. We will bring you more information as soon as it is released. However it's not running later than the stipulated announcement time, so we don't know if it will come soon or later on today.

15:32 CEST   
Mayo in the break is at the team car and gets a couple of bottles to wash the food down. It is very hot today, so it's vital to drink lots.

15:32 CEST   
If Mayo is to win a stage, this is the one to get as the race headed over the border. It's the closest he'll get to a home win, after all.

15:34 CEST    164.5km/54km to go
The flow in the break is a little disrupted right now as various guys go back to the team car. The lead goes down below the 5 minute mark. But once they get it all sorted out they probably go back into a tight pace line again. Now it's Verdugo turn at the Euskaltel car

15:37 CEST   
As the field goes through Issor, with 20km to the top of the Col de Marie-Blanque, we don't know the whereabouts of Rinero and Augé, but assume they are now in the main group with yellow jersey Rasmussen. It's still driven by the Rabo guys, and especially Dekker, and the lead is now down to 4'30"

Current situation

  • José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Carlos Sastre (Team CSC), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Mauricio Soler (Barloworld)
  • Group maillot jaune at 4.31
  • Peloton with Boonen at 16.00

15:39 CEST   
Dekker is really pulling hard on the front. He's having an intense first Tour de France, in several senses of the word.

15:40 CEST    168.5km/50km to go
Kirchen and Gerdemann are hanging on the back of the field, recovering after their chase back down the mountain earlier.

15:41 CEST    170.5km/48km to go
The lead is now down to 4 minutes, as the group is getting closer to the beginning of the climb of the Col de Marie-Blanque. The steeper parts are around 11%. Mayo takes a long pull.

15:43 CEST    171.5km/47km to go
The climb is about 9 kilometres long. The lead group is going through Escot, which is the town where the climb starts.

15:46 CEST    172.5km/46km to go
The field is still in the valley riding next to the river, the Gave d'Aspe. Thomas Dekker will have his work done pretty soon, though

15:47 CEST   
The lead group is in the climb and they have about 7.5 km to go to the top. The Rabos hit the climb now. Dekker looks laboured, but he is still giving it everything for the team. The lead is down to the under 3 and 1/2 minutes.

15:49 CEST   
The group is strung out, with Rasmussen sitting in fourth. Dekker is done and drops back. That was a hard day in the office. He goes to the team car and makes up for the missed feed zone.

15:51 CEST   
The leaders pass a farm and the locals have taken a timeout from their field work and cheer on the riders. Linus Gerdemann drops back. He opens a can and says 'Prost' to the camera. For him it was also a hard day, having to bring Kirchen back at the last descent.

15:52 CEST    175.5km/43km to go
The five up front pass the 5 km to go sign - but just to the summit, there is still over 40km to go to the finish, including the final climb to the Aubisque

15:53 CEST   
The road winds its way around on the left hand side of the mountain. Azana of Euskaltel is dropped from the main group, along with Perez.

15:55 CEST    176.5km/42km to go
Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom) and Thomas Lövkvist (Française Des Jeux) are hanging at the back of the field. But how long can they hang on? The leaders have only 4 more km to the top and the rows of spectators is getting tighter.

15:56 CEST    177km/41.5km to go
Egoi Martínez (Discovery Channel) is dropping back, Discovery is losing one domestique right here. And Garcia Acosta can't follow then pace of the leaders anymore, either!

15:57 CEST   
It's shell time. Next to go are Christophe Rinero (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), who were part of the original break.

15:58 CEST    177.5km/41km to go
Boogerd is in second position, looking down to see if he's got another gear. Nope. But the gap is down to three minutes! The Rabo work is paying off.

16:00 CEST    178km/40.5km to go
About 2.5 km for the leaders and Garcia Acosta trails by 22 seconds. If he can keep it there may be he can catch up on the downhill.

16:02 CEST    178.5km/40km to go
Contador is right on Rasmussen's wheel. Leipheimer behind him and then Evans. The real battle has not begun yet. Gusev of Discovery is getting dropped, though.

16:03 CEST   
And Kirchen is dropped again! He just doesn't have it today. He may be dropping pout of the top 10 again. Valjavec and Chavanel are also having trouble

16:05 CEST    179km/39.5km to go
Astarloza is also dropped, there will be a major shake-up in the top 10 tonight! The top 4 are having an advantage of 2'43 going into the last 1.5 km of the climb.

16:06 CEST   
Verdugo has now also p[problems following the strong pace set by Sastre.

16:07 CEST    179.5km/39km to go
Well, Verdugo pushes a large gear and slowly claws himself back to the front group. Mayo is sitting on for the moment.

16:08 CEST   
And the devil is back! We haven't seen him much this Tour, but he is now running along side the Rabo train. Verdugo is still hanging about 20 metres back.

16:09 CEST   
Patrice Halgand is still in the front group, but is struggling. But only 1 more km to the top. Evans has Horner still. Rabo has Rasmussen, Menchov and Boogerd, Disco Popo, Leipheimer and Contador.

16:11 CEST    180.5km/38km to go
The front is hitting the top, where many spectators line the road with polka-dot hats. It's Soler in front of Sastre, Mayo and Verdugo

16:12 CEST   
Halgand is getting shelled, as is Garcia Acosta

16:15 CEST   
At the top of the climb Rasmussen takes the points from his group, ahead of Contador and Menchov.

Unlike the previous climb, the main field scaled this mountain a minute faster than the break.

16:15 CEST    184.1km/34.4km to go
Arroyo chases back on to the peloton on the descent.

The gap is 2'04", so it's coming down.

16:17 CEST   
Boogerd drops back on the descent; probably looking for the team car.

Garcia Acosta is 1'25" behind the break.

The leading four are three Spaniards and a Colombian.

There are many caravans and camper vans along this section of the route, the plateau de Marie-Blanque.

16:19 CEST   
The peloton is really quite small at this point. Popovych goes back for bottles, then makes his way back up through the cars. Luckily his team car is second in line so not far to go.

16:21 CEST   
Garcia Acosta has now been caught by the main bunch. It is now 1'43" back.

16:26 CEST   
KOM update: Soler has now 182 points, with Rasmussen in second, 156 points. The stage winner will get 40 points. The difference is 26 points, so assuming Soler doesn't get any points (first ten get points), then Rasmussen has to finish at least in fourth place in order to get the jersey back.

16:28 CEST   
The riders are heading towards the final major climb of this year's Tour de France. This will be crucial to the overall standings: if Michael Rasmussen holds Alberto Contador (or puts time into him), then he will have moved a big step forward to winning. However if the Spaniard can reduce his overnight gap to a minute or so, then his expected faster time trial could be enough. The stakes are very high.

16:29 CEST    195.9km/22.6km to go
The break is hanging on for dear life... It is now just 1'06" clear.

16:30 CEST   
And now a Caisse d'Epargne rider goes to the front...maybe Valverde feels good and fancies his chances today.

16:31 CEST   
Rasmussen is being shadowed by Contador, as he has been all day.

16:34 CEST   
Caisse are driving it. Ah, Valverde started the day 9th overall, 2'17" behind Kim Kirchen. The T-Mobile rider is now behind the peloton, so they are trying to get him further up in the general classification.

Kirchen has been feeling rough all day.

16:34 CEST   
The riders are on the false flat before the final climb...it's all going to happen soon...

16:35 CEST   
Sastre continues to lead...he has made a huge effort today. It's going to be hard for him now, though, as the other contenders will start this climb much fresher.

16:36 CEST   
The lead group hits the sprint, but obviously they don't contest it. Sastre is ahead of Soler and Mayo. But it's the last thing they are thinking about, with the lead shrinking rapidly like snow in the hot sun.

16:36 CEST   
Soler is also pushing it. He gobbled up some good KOM points today, but don't forget that there should be double points on the last climb.

16:40 CEST   
Rabobank are back on front on the climb, the final hors catégorie of this year's Tour de France.

Stephen Roche took his first Tour de France stage win on this climb 22 years ago. We will soon have a big feature on his superb 1987 season on this site.

16:41 CEST   
Verdugo has been caught on the climb. He's almost stopped, but doesn't look too shattered. He's looking around quite a lot.

16:42 CEST   
Sastre attacks! Soler goes after him while Mayo is straining to do so...he's inching his way back up but this hurts him.

He goes past Soler, who has blown.

16:43 CEST    204.8km/13.7km to go
Soler really has cracked...that will hurt his KOM chances due to the double points on the final climb.

Sastre pushes it but Mayo finally gets back up. The yellow jersey group is 48" back, with Soler in between.

16:43 CEST   
Soler is 10" back, 40" ahead of the yellow jersey group.

16:44 CEST   
Valverde and Pereiro are at the back of the group. There are 14 riders here. Schleck, Chris Horner and the main contenders are here.

16:44 CEST   
Mayo sits on; he's had a lot of practice today!

Iban Mayo
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

16:46 CEST   
It's steep here at Eaux Bonnes, 7%.

Rabobank continue to lead. They are 48" back. Horner is right at the back of the group.

16:47 CEST   
Menchov has blown a gasket.

Sastre attacks! Impressive acceleration..

16:47 CEST   

16:48 CEST    207.3km/11.2km to go
Rasmussen has no team-mates left...Popovych leads from Contador, with Rasmussen on his wheel..

They are 36" behind Sastre. Mayo got back up to him.

16:49 CEST   
Soler is about to be caught...great effort today. Will it be enough?

Zubeldia has been dropped. Boogerd also went a while back.

Leipheimer attacked first
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

16:49 CEST   
Soler is caught. Popovych is driving this bunch.

16:50 CEST   
Schleck hangs on at the back, last wheel. Pereiro and Valverde are there, Evans, Soler, Leipheimer, Rasmussen, Contador and Popovych.

16:51 CEST   
Sastre and Mayo are just 22" ahead now. Mayo is out of the saddle, Sastre is in his. They have 10 kilometres to go.

Schleck, Pereiro and Valverde have been dropped!

16:52 CEST   
Schleck leads the other two. Popovych still leads up front.

16:52 CEST   
Five left; three Discovery riders, Rasmussen and Evans. Soler has also been dropped.

16:52 CEST   
Sastre and Mayo have been caught...
Leipheimer attacks...

16:53 CEST   
Rasmussen goes after him. He's very isolated now. Ah, Popovych is gone. So it's four up front.

16:53 CEST   
Sastre and Mayo have both been dropped, so there are four up front. Leipheimer leads.

16:54 CEST   
Brave effort by Sastre today. Evans is at the back of this group for now. He's out of the saddle, as are Contador and Leipheimer.

16:55 CEST   
These are the first four riders in the general classification.

16:55 CEST   
Leipheimer is setting a steady pace at the front; surely this suits Rasmussen, given that it's what he had his team-mates doing until they cracked?

16:56 CEST   
Now he goes...Rasmussen covers it, so the four are still together heading into a tunnel.

16:56 CEST   
Contador has gone! And Rasmussen can't respond...

16:57 CEST   
He attacked just when they were coming out of the tunnel.

However, instead of trying to go with him, Rasmussen just ups his pace gradually and brings him back.

16:57 CEST   
The four are still together...they all look stuffed. Nobody has any real zip at this point. Rasmussen leads, with Contador and Evans on his wheel.

16:58 CEST   
Leipheimer has attacked! He gets a gap. Rasmussen brings him back again. Evans is at the back.

Contador checks
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

16:58 CEST   
Sastre is 24" down, with the Valverde group 1'02" back.

16:59 CEST   
Mayo is caught by the Valverde/Schleck/Pereiro group.

16:59 CEST    211.3km/7.2km to go
Leipheimer continues to lead. Evans at the back of the group.

17:00 CEST   
Rasmussen won't mind Leipheimer leading.

Ah, Contador goes again!

17:00 CEST   
He has a slight gap but Rasmussen is just a few lengths behind.

17:01 CEST   
Contador is trying but he doesn't have the same fire as two days ago.

Leipheimer blows.... Evans is still there. So the first three overall are together..showdown...

17:02 CEST   
Rasmussen goes! Evans is dropped. He's trying to limit the losses but it's hard..

17:02 CEST   
Rasmussen and Contador are side by side...Evans comes back...

17:03 CEST    212.4km/6.1km to go
Rasmussen leads now, looking more confident. Contador is running out of time...

Evans and Leipheimer
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

17:03 CEST   
Sastre is now 1'00" back, 23" ahead of the Valverde group.

17:04 CEST    212.6km/5.9km to go
Contador goes once more! But Rasmussen goes straight after him. He's not trying to stick tight to his wheel today...he's letting Contador get a gap, then coming back more gradually.

Current situation

  • Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel)
  • Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel)
  • Carlos Sastre (Team CSC) at 0.42
  • Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Fränk Schleck (Team CSC) at 1.12
  • Peloton with Boonen at ?

17:04 CEST   
Rasmussen gets him back and returns to the front. Evans was caught by Leipheimer, who started the day 1'25" behind him in the GC.

17:05 CEST   
Interesting...first and second overall are up front, then third and fourth together. The fifth placed rider, Carlos Sastre, is running fifth on this climb..

17:06 CEST   
Rasmussen seems quite a bit stronger than two days ago.

Leipheimer has dropped Evans...he's fighting to hold onto his podium place..

17:06 CEST    213.5km/5km to go
The two leaders go under the 5km to go banner.. Rasmussen leads.

Leipheimer is coming back!

17:07 CEST   
Rasmussen looks very focussed. He will be encouraged by what has happened thus far. He would have been worried about what Contador could do today but things have worked out well each time the Spaniard attacked.

17:08 CEST   
Soler is attacking out of the Valverde group in pursuit of some more mountain points. The Colombian hasn't given up hope yet on getting the maillot a pois to Paris!

17:08 CEST   
Evans is perhaps 5" behind the front three. He's fighting his bike. If he manages to finish with Contador, he has a chance of taking second overall in Paris..

17:09 CEST   
He started the day 1'37" behind the Spaniard.

Leipheimer attacked, probably to distance Evans again. His move was marked by the other two. Rasmussen waves the TV cameras away...the motorbikes were quite close.

Evans is coming back!

17:10 CEST   
Evans is showing great guts here...he's really trying to get back to them.

17:11 CEST   
Leipheimer gets some encouragement from a fan - a little too much for the American. He turns his head and tells him to stop, which he politely does,

17:11 CEST   
For a guy who has been away all day, Sastre is riding very well; he's still holding off the Valverde group.

Evans is perhaps 5" back now...he's not getting back to them, but he's keeping them in his sights.

17:11 CEST   
Leipheimer is on the front, riding as much for a possible third place as he is for Contador.

17:12 CEST    215.2km/3.3km to go
Evans is in and out of the saddle, trying to get every bit of energy out.

17:12 CEST   
Soler is coming up to Sastre. What courage from the Barloworld rider!

17:12 CEST    215.5km/3km to go
The three leaders go under the next banner...time is running out for Contador.

17:13 CEST   
Even if Contador goes now and breaks Rasmussen, he won't get much time...

17:14 CEST   
Soler drops Sastre as well. He looks set for a fifth place and retaining the polka dot. Awesome!

17:14 CEST   
Rasmussen again waves to the motorbikes. He was complaining the other day that when Contador got a gap, he was being aided by the bikes. Not sure if that was the case, but he claimed that afterwards.

17:15 CEST   
Leipheimer grabs some water and dunks it over his head. He's still in front.

17:15 CEST   
Evans is now losing time, it looks like...21" down.

17:15 CEST   
Soler is riding very strongly now...he's going to end the day in the KOM jersey, methinks...

17:16 CEST   
Contador sits on Rasmussen's wheel. Even if he wanted to go, he'd find it hard with the spectators here..they are all over the road.

17:17 CEST   
They are behind the barriers now..this gives a clearer road.

17:17 CEST   
Soler passes the 2km sign at 1'04 back. He's well ahead of Sastre now.

17:18 CEST   
Rasmussen will be happy with Leipheimer's riding at the front...this actually helps him a lot.

Once again, he waves at the motorbikes. He seems obsessed about that..

17:18 CEST   
Evans is now 18" back...can he reduce that gap?

17:18 CEST   
Pereiro and Valverde pass the 2km sign at 1'46.

17:19 CEST    217.5km/1km to go
Under the banner, Rasmussen accelerates. Contador goes with him, Levi is slipping back. This will help Evans.

Wow! Rasmussen took off just after the banner! Contador has blown...

17:19 CEST   
Evans passes the 1km sign, at 0'22

17:20 CEST   
He's got a very big gap, very quickly...Leipheimer is leading Contador again.

17:20 CEST   
He'd be a controversial winner, but it looks like Michael Rasmussen could take the stage today, the time bonus and add to his lead..

17:21 CEST   
Contador looks far different from the rider of two days ago.

Rasmussen comes home for his second stage win.. It sounds like he is being booed by some of the crowd. He won't care.

17:22 CEST   
He zips up his jersey and comes across the line. Leipheimer has left Contador..wow... That doesn't make any sense, given that he takes the second time bonus..

17:22 CEST   
So that harms Contador's chance of winning the race.

17:24 CEST   
Rasmussen therefore adds to his lead today...that's the best outcome he could have wished for. He was in trouble two days ago but has recovered well.

17:25 CEST   
It's beautiful weather here at the top of the climb...sunny, clear skies.

Soler takes fifth, it seems, so he will hold the KOM jersey tonight.

17:28 CEST   
It will be interesting to see Contador's reaction to that. Was it team orders for Leipheimer to go ahead at the end?

Overall, Contador is now 3'10" back. Evans is 5'03" down and Leipheimer is 5'59" back. Sastre holds fifth and Zubeldia is sixth.

The time bonuses today for first to third are 20", 12" and 8".

17:36 CEST   
Evans limited his losses. Depending on how the TT goes, he has a chance of second place overall. It will be tough, though; providing there's no change to the overall between now and Saturday, Evans will start the time trial 1'53" behind Contador.

He beat him by 1'04" in the Albi TT, although that was hillier then Saturday's will be.

17:38 CEST   
Rasmussen is being whistled by some in the crowd; they are not happy.

17:47 CEST   
"I haven’t won the Tour today but I have moved a step closer," said Rasmussen. "Everybody knows what happened in St. Etienne two years ago so that just proves nothing is certain."

17:49 CEST   
That completes our coverage for the final mountain stage of this year's race. Tomorrow's stage has six climbs but they are much smaller; one third cat and five fourth cat hills. Will Michael Rasmussen try to take back the KOM jersey, or will he be happy with the one he has? Will Discovery try to force a move clear with Contador in it? Come back tomorrow to find out. Before then, we'll have full results, an extensive report and the latest news from the Tour a little later on. Thanks for reading.

Provisional standings

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank           6.23.21 (34.20 km/h)
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel       0.25
3 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel      0.35
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto             0.43
5 Mauricio Soler (Col) Barloworld               1.25
6 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi       1.52  
7 Juan José Cobo (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir     1.54
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                  2.12
9 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne          2.27
10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne  

General classification

1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank
2 Alberto Contador (Spa) Discovery Channel             3.10
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto                    5.03
4 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Discovery Channel              5.59
5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                         9.12
6 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi              9.39  
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne           13.28
8 Kim Kirchen (Lux) T-Mobile                          14.46
9 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel           16.00
10 Mauricio Soler (Col) Barloworld                    16.41         

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